Country Profile - France
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The French adhere to a strong and homogeneous
set of values. They cherish their culture, history, language
and cuisine, which is considered an art. The French have
been and are today world leaders in fashion, food, wine,
art and architecture. They embrace novelty, new ideas and
manners with enthusiasm as long as they are elegant.
Meeting and Greeting
- At a business or social meeting, shake
hands with everyone present when arriving and leaving.
A handshake may be quick with a light grip.
- Men may initiate handshakes with women.
- When family and close friends greet one
another, they often kiss both cheeks.
Names and Titles
- Use last names and appropriate titles
until specifically invited by your French host or colleagues
to use their first names. First names are used only for
close friends and family.
- Colleagues on the same level generally
use first names in private but always last names in public.
- Address people as Monsieur, Madame
or Mademoiselle without adding the surname.
- Madame is used for all adult women,
married or single, over 18 years of age (except for waitresses,
which are addressed as Mademoiselle).
- Academic titles and degrees are very
important. You are expected to know them and use them
- Do not sit with legs spread apart. Sit
up straight with legs crossed at knee or knees together.
Feet should never placed on tables or chairs.
- Toothpicks, nail clippers, and combs
are not used in public.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets.
- Do not yawn or scratch in public. Sneeze
or blow your nose as quietly as possible using a handkerchief
or tissue. If possible, leave the room.
- Do not slap your open palm over a closed
fist (this is considered a vulgar gesture).
- The "okay" sign, made with
index finger and thumb, means "zero."
- The French use the "thumbs up"
sign to say "okay."
- Professionalism is highly valued in business
and is the key to acceptance of outsiders.
- France enjoys a skilled, well-educated
labor force. Hard work is admired, but workaholism is
- Be on time. The French appreciate punctuality.
- Give business cards to the receptionist
or secretary upon arrival to an office and to each person
you meet subsequently. Print cards in English or French.
Include academic degree and/or title.
- Many French speak and understand English,
but prefer not to use it. An interpreter will probably
not be necessary, but check ahead of time. Use French
only for greetings, toasts and occasional phrases unless
your French is perfect.
- Government plays a major role in business.
Find a local representative (banker, lawyer or agent)
to help you through regulatory obstacles.
- Business people tend to be formal and
conservative. Business relationships are proper, orderly
- Don’t discuss personal life with business
people. Personal lives are kept separate from business
- The French get down to business quickly,
but make decisions slowly after much deliberation.
- Organizations are highly centralized
with a powerful chief executive. Bosses are often dictatorial
- French are leaders in the area of economic
planning. Plans are far-reaching and detailed.
- Entering a room and seating is done by
- Meetings follow an established format
with a detailed agenda.
- The French dislike disagreeing and debating
in a public forum, but enjoy a controlled debate, whereby
an informed rebuttal is appreciated.
- The purpose of meetings is to brief/coordinate
and clarify issues. State your intentions directly and
- Presentations should be well prepared,
comprehensive, clear, well-written, informative and presented
in a formal, rational, professional manner -- appealing
always to the intellect.
- The French dislike the hard sell approach.
- Things actually get done through a network
of personal relationships and alliances.
- Avoid planning business meetings during
August or two weeks before and after Christmas and Easter
- Do not call a French businessperson at
home unless it is an emergency.
Dining and Entertainment
- Do not ask for a martini or scotch before
dinner -- they are viewed as palate numbing.
- Before dinner, pernod, kir, champagne,
and vermouth may be offered. Wine is always served with
meals. After dinner, liqueurs are served.
- Business breakfasts are rare.
- Senior managers socialize only with those
of equivalent status.
- Business entertainment is done mostly
- Lunch is still considered a private time.
However, working lunches and breakfasts are becoming more
common in France.
- The French do not like to discuss business
during dinner. Dinner is more of a social occasion and
a time to enjoy good food, wine and discussion.
- Spouses are not included in business
lunches, but may be included in business dinners.
- A female guest of honor is seated to
the right of the host. A male guest of honor is seated
to the left of the hostess.
- Never start eating until your host and
hostess have begun. Wait until a toast has been proposed
before you drink wine.
- Keep your hands on the table at all times
during a meal — not in your lap. However, take care to
keep your elbows off the table.
- Fold your salad onto your fork by using
your knife. Do not cut your salad with a knife or fork.
- Never cut bread. Break bread with your
- There usually are no bread/butter plates.
Put bread on the table next to your dinner plate above
- Cut cheese vertically. Do not cut off
the point of cheese.
- Almost all food is cut with a fork and
- Never eat fruit whole. Fruit should be
peeled and sliced before eating.
- When finished eating, place knife and
fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
- Cross your knife and fork across your
plate to signify that you would like more food.
- Do not smoke between courses.
- Leave wine glass almost full if you don’t
care for more.
- Taste everything offered.
- Leaving food on your plate is impolite.
- Do not ask for a tour of your host’s
home, it would be considered impolite.
- Send a thank-you note or telephone the
next day to thank hostess.
- The French are the world leaders in fashion.
Dress is conservative and understated. Casual attire is
inappropriate in cities. Be clean and well-dressed at
- For business, men should wear conservative
suits and ties; women should wear conservative suits,
pant suits and dresses.
- Suit coats stay on in offices and restaurants.
- Small business gifts may be exchanged,
but usually not at the first meeting.
- Never send a gift for a French colleague
to his/her home.
- Give a good quality gift or none at all.
Give: recorded music, art, books, office accessories.
- Do not give gifts with your company logo
stamped on them (the French consider this garish).
- When invited to someone’s home, always
bring a small gift for the hostess. If possible, send
flowers the morning of the party (popular in Paris). Otherwise,
present a gift to the hostess upon arrival. A gift to
the hostess will probably not be unwrapped immediately
(unless no other guests are present or expected).
- Give candy, cookies, cakes and flowers.
Do not give gifts of 6 or 12 (for lovers); gifts of odd
numbers, especially 13; chrysanthemums or red roses; or
wine unless it is exceptional quality.
- A gift should be of high quality and
- Lower your voice a little and behave
graciously and you will enjoy a warm response from the
- The French value their privacy. Don’t
ask personal questions related to occupation, salary,
age, family or children unless you have a well-established
- Try to demonstrate some knowledge of
history, politics and French culture.
- Compliments may be appreciated, but usually
are received by denial instead of "thank you."
- Do not chew gum in public.
- The French do not tell or like to hear
jokes. They prefer intelligent and satirical wit. Funny
stories of real life situations are appreciated.
Especially for Women
- An increasing number of French women
hold management positions in retail, service, law, finance
and human resources. Foreign women are generally accepted
in business, though they may be flirted with on occasion.
- Women are better accepted in management
positions in the major cities than the provinces.
- Business women may invite a Frenchman
to lunch or dinner and will have no problem picking up
-- Excerpted from the "Put Your
Best Foot Forward" series by Mary Murray Bosrock. These
publications are available for the U.S., Asia, Mexico/Canada,
Russia, Europe and South America.
International Education Systems
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St. Paul, MN 55116
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