Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
A legacy of the Age of Enlightenment, the motto “Liberté,
Egalité, Fraternité” first appeared during
the French Revolution and was finally established under the
Third Republic. It was written into the French Constitution
in 1958 and is part of the French national heritage.
France is the largest country in Western Europe and is fiercely
proud of its history as a political and cultural leader. Despite
upheavals today, the French people remain determined to preserve
their artistic and historical heritage, maintain a place as
a world economic power, and retain a high standard of living.
France has the largest agricultural industry among the European
Common Market nations and leads the world in the construction
of nuclear power plants and is among the top countries in nuclear
applications, medical research, and the aircraft and electronics
French is the official language and the French people are
very proud of their language and in years past it was the international
language of diplomacy for centuries. If you do not speak French
it is best to alert your French counterpart and apologize even
though many French businessmen do speak English.
A top priority in France is education which is entirely state
controlled and supported. Social status and career are very
much influenced by the school one attended. Imagination, individualism
and intellectual achievements are qualities the French value
Initiating contact and doing business in France often involves
going through an intermediary whose credentials are impeccable.
The best contacts are French people who have ties with the
person you are meeting through family status, money or schooling.
This last is perhaps the most important, for the French managerial
elite are linked by having attended the prestigious Grandes
Finding the right initial contact is crucial since it is important
to deal with the most senior person within the organization
as possible. Decision making within the organization is done
from the top levels so it is important to develop those contacts
at this level in order to insure a smooth and successful transition
and provide the platform for successful negotiations.
Though French society is highly stratified class system, most
people are middle-class. However, do not be surprised at the
hostility between social groups. Superiors demand obedience
from subordinates and power is a basic fact of society.
This best explains much of the condescending attitude
many of the French have for other nationalities, especially
Always make appointments for both business and social occasions
and be on time.
July and August are the months that the French take
off for vacations as they do enjoy their four to five week
vacations, not to mention their 35 hour work week.
At the first business meeting be sure to present your business
card carefully and the wise businessman will have one side
of his card printed in French. Business hours are from 8:30
or 9:00 A.M. to 6:30 – 7:00 P.M. Lunch may last for two
hours or more. In Paris, lunch begins at 1:00 P.M. though in
other areas through the country lunch may begin at noon or
12:30 P.M. Due to the long lunch hour, executives often stay
in the office until 7:00 or 8:00 P.M. The optimum time to schedule
meetings are around 11:00 A.M. or 3:30 P.M.
Eye contact among the French is frequent and intense and be
sure you always shake hands when being introduced. The handshake
is not as firm as in the United States. In general, the woman
offers her hand first. In social settings expect to do les
bises, or touching cheeks and kissing the air.
Titles/Forms of Address
Find out the titles of older French people you meet
and address them in that way both during the introduction and
in the course of conversation.
Use Madame for all women except young girls
Never use first names unless told to do so!
The French sometimes say their last names first and
then their first name in formal introductions, so do not be
Men always stand up when a visitor or superior enters
Never chew gum in public!
• At your first
meeting do not present a gift
Good taste is everything – so do not give a gift with
• Do not include your business card with the gift
• Suggested gifts might include: good books, music.
The French especially enjoy American best-sellers
• Flowers are appropriate (avoid roses or chrysanthemums);
fine chocolates or liqueur. Avoid wine as a gift as
it most likely has already been chosen for the event.
Always send a thank you note the next day – do not delay!
• Dress conservatively as the
French attire is almost synonymous with fine styling. French
business executives appreciate
• In Paris, dress is very important, especially for
businesswomen. The key is to combine a businesslike,
conservative tone with some style and flair.
Negotiating in France
• The pace of negotiations
in France is slower than that in the United States. The French
like to look at all possible
alternatives and consequences of what is being proposed.
They do not like to be rushed, and any attempt to rush them
show of impatience is a serious mistake.
• Decision making is centralized and concentrated with
a few executives at the top. This is why it is important,
unless you have a lot of time, to do your research to get the right
French contact person who can introduce you properly
to the decision maker within the targeted organization. Otherwise,
you will have to remain patient and wait until your
messages slowly find their way to the top.
• The French love the art of debate. They rarely are
convinced of anything immediately and most likely
will debate each issue, point by point. They often will interrupt you and
begin to question your presentation. Do not be alarmed
for this is their way of understanding your position. Being well
versed, logical, persistent, and focused on your strong
points should carry you through admirably.
• The French in general do not value the art of selling
as a profession. French executives will not be impressed
by extravagant or emotional presentations, but they will respond
to presentations that deal with facts and that are
rational, reasonable and formal.
• Price bargaining will not be a major issue in negotiations.
In dealing with larger firms, you should emphasize
superior performance and longer product life. With smaller firms, in
contrast, you can emphasize direct and tangible financial
benefits. This is because many of the smaller entrepreneurial or family
owned enterprises dislike using credit and look for
alternate financing methods.
• In major negotiations, do have at least one piece
of your technical literature translated into impeccable
French. Perfect use of the language is important and many agencies
in Paris can help you with this challenge.
• French contracts are very specific and precise, not
subject to interpretation. Every detail no matter
how small, should be covered in the document, since if anything ever comes
to litigation, the French courts pay attention only
to what appears in writing.
is important to the French, and they tend to separate their
business from their social life. Most business
entertaining is done over lunch or dinner at a restaurant.
Business dinners are attended by only those involved
in the business transaction.
• Discussion of business is usually delayed until coffee
is served after the meal which is the protocol for
all western business environments. Good conversation during a meal is highly
appreciated, and favorite topics include culture,
entertainment, books, places of interest in France, or your home.
• An invitation to a French home for dinner is a rare
honor. Spouses are usually included in such an invitation.
Arrive 15 minutes after the allotted time and always
bring a gift of appreciation. Flowers as mentioned earlier are always
appropriate as long as they are not white for white
flowers are associated with mourning.
• Toasting is not done at formal French meals but only
on very informal occasions.
If you are at someone’s home and are offered a drink
before dinner, you should stand to accept it.
• It is
considered an insult to the chef to add salt or other seasoning
to your food, even after you have tasted
• No smoking between courses at the table!
• Your hands should be kept on the table during meals.
• Bread is torn and not cut
• A fish knife only is to be used when serving fish;
however, if you do not have one separate the fish
with the fork only!
We hope you have enjoyed this issue of 'The