Cultural tips: France

Characteristics to be noticed when doing Business with the French

  • When presenting or negotiating, refer to French history, arts, industry or other achievements. The French tend to believe to have set the norms for such things as democracy, justice, government and legal systems, military strategy, philosophy, science, and agriculture. There is some truth in this. Value the haute cuisine and enjoy the relaxed attitude to timing.
  • In general it is unwise to criticise Napoleon or French history in general, though reigning politicians may be attacked jointly with French people.
  • Speak some French. They resent the current supremacy of the English language.
  • Be logical at all times, but show flexibility. Negotiating with French is often difficult, as they themselves judge what is or is not logical. Logic and precision always dominate their arguments and they will not or are reluctant to compromise if the other side does not produce a more logical solution than they already have.
  • Do not express strong opinions until you know their position.
  • Respect privacy and maintain formality, but show your human side. This should include an understanding of human frailty and compassion for others.
  • Show you appreciate the other’s point of view, even if it differs from your own and show willingness to further their interests.
  • In a working relationship, French are not initially generous, but they respond quickly to generosity from your side.
  • Be willing to discuss topics and projects at great length – they wish to see things from every angle. Hence, meetings are generally long.
  • Go for an all-embracing solution rather than a segmented one.
  • Be as imaginative as you can. Be witty as well, they respond well to liveliness.
  • Use humour – they like it – but not always at their expense.
  • They admire self-deprecation, not being very good at it themselves.
  • Let them roam back and forth on the agenda. When they do this, they are thinking aloud. The French prefer to inter-relate all points and go over old ground many times. They are not very good summarizers.
  • Avoid prolonged silences, they usually do not like them.
  • Show you are thinking long-term. They are much more relationship-oriented than deal-oriented. Keep away from bottom-line focus or opportunistic dealing. Remember they are looking for trust more than anything else. French people are cautious with new acquaintances, according trust only when it is merited.
  • Deals and profits must fit into their vision of proper society. French companies are often organic and have socio-political undertones.
  • They are usually very formal in manner and dress. Protocol cannot be ignored. In meetings seating is hierarchical and surnames and formal introductions are used.
  • French are among the most formal of all Europeans. Speeches, often long, must observe all formalities and pay all due respects.
  • They keep things ‘up their sleeve’ and may present their true demands only at a late stage in the negotiations.
  • They do not make decisions in a hurry. They often need to receive direction from their superiors who are not present at the negotiations.
  • It is generally possible to rely on the French to honour their contracts in full. Even so, the French are open-minded about revising agreements when circumstances change or when new ideas emerge, as long as the arguments for contractual changes are based on a new and more powerful logic.

Source: CultureActive by Richard D. Lewis

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