French business culture

Quick tips to French business etiquette you should know

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Never underestimate the value of French business culture – you could be making a fool of yourself without even knowing it.

Are you going to France or somewhere abroad for business? Don't accidentally do something stupid or offend your business colleagues. Studying these basic tips on business etiquette in France can help you make a great impression. With some help from Cyborlink, below are some basic French business etiquette to follow when doing business in France.

Tips on French business etiquette

Due to its large geographic area, regional differences and large immigrant population, France is a diverse country.  Despite its huge ethnic and cultural diversity, however, in general France is not very tolerant of foreign customs, although the French attitude towards foreigners varies widely across the country. For example, if you are a Muslim women who wears a full veil, you may have issues conducting business in France since the wearing of such veils in public is banned by law whether you are French or not. The official reason for the banishment of the full head covering is security.

Here are some other tips to help you manoeuvre French business culture etiquette, from how to dress and act to communicating and gift-giving in business situations.

How to dress for business situations in France

The French are very conscientious of their appearance. Both men and women dress relatively conservative. To help you blend in and not call unneeded attention to your attire, below are tips to French business wear.

  • Keep your tie and jacket on: French businessmen do not loosen their ties or take off their jackets in the office.
  • Women should keep it tasteful and elegant: Women should avoid bright or gaudy colours and anything glitzy such as flashy jewellery. Good shoes are a must.
  • Men should keep it solid and dark: Men should invest in well-tailored clothing. Patterned fabrics and dark colours are most acceptable.

How to behave in business situations in France

The last thing you want to do is unknowingly come off as rude or vulgar. Below are some basic French business etiquette rules on how to behave at work in France.

  • It’s ok to be a little late: Punctuality is generally treated casually in France.
  • You should always shake hands when meeting someone, as well as when leaving: French handshakes are not as firm as in the United States. The French handshake is brief and is accompanied by a short span of eye contact.
  • Knock and wait before entering a room: The French have a great respect for privacy. Knock and wait before entering into a room. Additionally, do not 'drop in' unannounced. Always give notice before your arrival.
  • Power lunches are accepted: Business can be conducted during any meal, but lunch is best.
  • Don’t drink hard liquor or smoke between courses: The French believe this permeates the taste buds, compromising the taste of the meal. It is, however, very accepted to smoke after a meal.

How to give a gift to business associates in France

Giving gifts to business associates is not common practice in France so is usually left to the foreigner’s discretion, although gift giving at social events, especially to thank the host or hostess of a private dinner party, is expected.

If you would like to express appreciation to a French business contact, you may be better off hosting a special event or dinner than to give a business gift. If you can’t host a special event then below are some basic tips to follow.

  • Give a good quality gift or none at all: A good gift might include esoteric books or music, since they demonstrate interest in intellectual pursuits.
  • Don’t be vulgar: Do not offer gifts with your company logo on them. It’s considered vulgar in France.
  • Forget the business card: French business etiquette dictates that you do not include your business card with a gift.
  • Don’t send it to their house: Never send a gift for a French colleague to his or her home unless it is related to a social event.
  • Send them a New Year's card: Instead of a gift, consider sending a card during the New Year holiday thanking your business partners for the previous year’s business and wishing them a prosperous year to come. Your card and sentiment will be appreciated. You can send the card during the whole month of January but not later.

How to communicate in business situations in France

You likely already know that French is the official language and that French people have a great appreciation for the art of conversation. If you don’t speak French or speak very little French, you should know that many (not all) French people in business do speak some English. Below are some general guidelines on how to communicate with French collegues and business people.

  • Do apologise: If you don’t speak French, it is very important that you apologise for your inability to speak French.
  • Interrupting is accepted: The French often complain that north Americans lecture rather than converse so don’t be shocked when you see French people interrupting one another. The French frequently interrupt each other because the argument is seen as a form of entertainment.
  • Don’t talk like a loud American: Americans tend to talk at a louder level than French people and are known to offend everyone in a restaurant, meeting or on the street with their loud voices and loud laughter. So please be sensitive to the volume of your voice.
  • Eye contact: Eye contact is frequent and intense and can often be intimidating to some foreigners. Make sure you keep eye contact during handshakes and while clinking glasses and making toasts.

An infographic on international business etiquette

Below is an infographic on French business etiquette from WD Storage, which outlines the do’s and dont’s of international business etiquette and conduct in France alongside several other countries to compare.

Business etiquette  


Reprinted with permission from

AnnieAndre.comAnnie André moved to the south of France with her husband and three children in 2010 for a one-year family gap year that turned into a five-plus-years adventure. She shares what she's learned about the process of moving to France and gives tips on surviving French culture on her blog

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Frederic posted:

    on 17th January 2017, 14:01:23 - Reply

    Great article about the French business etiquette Annie! Those infographics are a great idea! It's well known that European business protocols differ slightly from the American model, which is often considered cooler and non-abusively formal. Though these last years there is certainly some loosen ups going on at different business offices in popular conservative countries, such as France. The new trend is making its way slowly but surely. Startups and young companies are giving the example!