How to communicate effectively n France?

Here are some tips on effective communication in France from our colleague :

  • Formality, politeness and courtesy : Formality and high level of politeness are of importance. «Monsieur» (courtesy title for men) or «Madame» (courtesy title for women married or single aged over 18 years old) are used to address superiors or people you meet for the first time. One of the most important characteristics of French business culture is the emphasis on courtesy and formality, particularly through communication. Politeness is of the utmost importance to the French. Any rudeness will for sure not be welcomed. As an example, at a service counter, you are expected to greet the service provider with a brief «Bonjour» (Hello), even if you are in a rush. S’il vous plaît» (if you please) and «merci» (thank you) are not to be missed either when ordering or asking something. Those principles are also applicable in business life.
  • Meetings and punctuality: Appointments are usually necessary and should be made in advance. In France, the lunch break is sacred. That break period goes from 12:00 to 14:00. Common practice is to avoid calling or trying to meet someone during their lunch break. Avoid scheduling meetings in August (the month of summer vacation) or on workdays next to a public holiday. Punctuality is valued and appreciated in French business culture. Arriving ten minutes late can be however allowed if it is not done on regular basis. If you think you cannot be on time, a call to inform your counterpart that you will be late will be highly appreciated.In the meantime, when invited for a meal at someone’s house, one is expected not to arrive «à l’heure» (on time). In this case, it is best to arrive about 15 to 20 minutes after the set time : that’s the French paradox !
  • Business oriented relationship: Close personal business relationships are important in France. Professionalism is also highly valued and is generally the key to business acceptance. Long-term partnerships maintained through regular face-to-face visits are of high interest. Mutual trust and respect are seen as necessary in order to establish a strong relationship. Trust is earned through proper behaviour and demonstration of professionalism, courtesy and formality. That said, French people maintain a clear distinction between their business lives and personal lives.

Franck Mathout
Country Manager, France
Sales Manager E-commerce Europe