Monthly Newsletter/Vol. III
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
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 industries.
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 highly.
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
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
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 Americans.
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
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 surprised!
Men always stand up when a visitor or superior enters the room
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 company logo
Do not include your business card with the gift
Suggested gifts might include: good books, music. The French especially
enjoy American best-sellers and biographies.
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 fashionable
In Paris, dress is very important, especially for businesswomen. The
key is to combine a businesslike, conservative tone with some style and
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 or any 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.
• Privacy 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
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 it!
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!