Whether it’s a simple handshake or an important business lunch, these 5 tips on French business etiquette can be the difference between landing an important job or a crucial client, or offending your host.
1. Dress to impress and then some!
First impressions in France are directly related to your appearance. Quality business clothing, accessories or jewelry, will gain you instant recognition in the workplace. There is no such thing as a “Casual Friday” within the French workplace, so don’t walk in to your place of work wearing your sneakers or your shorts. You have to look like you mean business! Grooming is another critical factor when it comes to your apearance. Facial hair is not welcomed, especially with bosses or seniors. Before that important conference it is best to get rid of that stubble.
2. Address others using Monsieur or Madame
Formal behavior is much appreciated in France. In order to make a great first impression, you must address your superiors or anyone you meet for the first time as “Monsieur” or ‘Madame’.
Always use your first and last name when introducing yourself. You may hear others present themselves with their last name followed by their given name. This is also acceptable within the French business circles, however not very common. Don’t worry if you are not very good at remembering names. A good practice that can help you remember is to repeat their name aloud as you receive the business card or when they introduce themselves.
French style handshakes are known to be brisk and light. You ought to expect a loose hold with one or two up and down movements.
3. Learn French gestures
French people are not just famous for their kisses, they are also famous for their gestures which can be strange if you haven’t spent a lot of time in France. You may find it difficult to understand the meaning of certain gestures that may come up in everyday business interaction. One common gesture that you may come across is the j’ai du nez where you tap your index finger on the end of your nose to indicate that somebody is clever.
You should also be careful using the ‘OK’ gesture (forming a circle with your thumb and index finger) that is common in most countries. In France, this gesture actually means ‘nothing’, ‘worthless’ or ‘zero’, which is not the best response when somebody asks, “Did you enjoy my proposal?”
4. Keep your hands on the table during lunch
The French business lunch is an experience by itself and it is important to be prepared for a long and formal afternoon of style. An important rule in French dining etiquette is to always keep your hands resting on the table and not on your lap.
You can also expect wine to be served during the lunch, and remember that the more you empty your glass, the more it will be refilled by the sommelier. If you’ve had enough already, make sure to leave a little wine resting in your glass, so it is not refilled.
Conversations related to business are usually left for after the dessert is served and usually initiated by the host.
5. Avoid aggressive selling techniques
French people do not enjoy making quick and hasty decisions, especially in a business setting. High-pressure and aggressive sales ttactics simply don’t work. If you are in a business setting, it is important to maintain your composure and be patient. You can expect to share detailed information and plenty of discussions before a deal is finalized, after several meetings and higher approvals. Deals are generally never finalized in the first meeting.