French Business Etiquette

When in France, do as the French do

French business meeting
French manners to observe when meeting French customers

As you’ll already know, striking the right cord when interacting with people is key to doing business with them. Your French may not be fluent, and you might not be totally confident on the subject of local business etiquette, but any form of effort in the right direction will be appreciated. In other word, a mispronounced and somewhat hesitant « Bonjour » is still better than a loud and confident « Hello ».

Follow the guide for a few more ideas.

This is serious French business.

Whether you’re here to strike some kind of French deal, to discuss a French contract or tender, or simply to discover or present a new opportunity, this is serious business and there is no need to try and make your contact laugh or smile. Don’t be surprised or upset if they don’t look particularly friendly either: it’s nothing personal (unless you’ve stepped on the boss’s foot on your way in?). In the same vein, make sure you adhere to a reasonably formal dress code (although that may depend on the industry you’re operating in) a give a firm handshake.

Formal French

You should be prepared to speak French as much as you feel capable of. This may not extend much further than « Bonjour », which is still better than nothing, but if you’d like to take it a little further, check out our phrase guide to Business French for the Do’s and Don’t of business French (Here is a free hint, you don’t say « Comment ça va ? » to a business contact unless you have met them several times and have a good relationship with them).

In the same vein, it might pay to prepare some documentation, brochure or at least a web page translated into French or written for the french market. Trust me, your contact will appreciate the gesture and if you’re going to work with France, it will be probably be needed in the long term anyway.

Punctuality

It goes without saying that you should aim to be on time, but don’t be too early. It’s simply not French.

Coffee

The French drink coffee all day, especially in a business environment. If you decide to accept a coffee, expect a strong and small expresso-like drink presented with sugar cubes and a spoon for you to help yourself to. If you’d rather drink yours long, weak and milky, I suggest you ask for a glass of water instead and save that discussion for the Starbucks down the road, later.