With a population of approximately sixty-seven million citizens and within the top ten for world trade importing and exporting, France accounts for thirty-one of the top five hundred companies in international business.
A strong industrial focus on the pharmaceutical, civil engineering and telecommunications industries, it is perfectly placed within the European Union to extend business in all directions across Europe, whilst providing an established trade connection to the African continent through many Southern ports.
Arranging a business appointment with a French counterpart requires good planning and attention to detail. There are approximately eleven national holidays in France throughout the year which are of historical or religious significance. Businesses will close for these observances so a quick check on these dates before booking travel is important. Many French nationals will take holidays after Christmas, during Easter and in August. Organising anything around these times should be carefully planned with the host before attempting to travel.
Dressing for the occasion is absolutely vital when establishing a good working rapport. The French are renowned for their effortless grooming and style. Business attire should be formal with traditional business suits alongside conservative office wear for women. First impressions are highly important and a smart appearance constitutes significantly towards a successful meeting.
Along with other Western countries, an introduction should always start with a handshake. It should be light, brief and not overbearing. When addressing the host or others, titles should be used to convey the professional approach of the meeting. The use of ‘Monsieur or Madame’ followed by the family name is the best way forward during any engagement, however any invitation to resume the meeting on a first name basis should be warmly accepted.
It is reasonable to suggest that many French nationals within international business circles will have an enhanced level of English language. It is highly recommendable that some effort is made to address the host in French whilst working together to break down the language barrier. The simple act of greeting, thanking and bidding farewell will be highly appreciated.
When settling into negotiations, a disciplined and attentive posture is well received by the host. Eye contact is integral but not too intrusive. Discussions should be articulate and uninterrupted to ensure points are well made, however there will be careful interjections into the conversation to debate certain thoughts. It is considered a positive sign for others to ask insightful questions
Decisions are unlikely to be made quickly and are usually concluded after several appointments. This ensures that a clear, well thought out solution has been reached by the most senior person in their own time. Hostile sales tactics are ineffective and considered rude since it infers a lack of self-discipline and patience.
The French prefer long term business relationships and building trust is an integral aspect of the first appointment. Any proposal will be examined in full detail and further questions will be asked on the suitability of their guest’s company within the local market. Good preparation and research for the meeting will assure the hosts that their guests are serious about working with them.
A Working dinner
Should an opportunity to dine with the hosts arrive, it will normally be held at a restaurant in order to maintain a professional approach. Conversation usually remains on a professional level and the host will be someone of equal status to their guest. Business talk is often substituted for social interaction and general discussion on multiple subjects. Conversations about family life should be kept limited and within the formality of the occasion.
Most opportunities to dine with potential clients take place in the evening, although working lunches are becoming slowly more commonplace in France. Good conversation subjects should include knowledge of French history and culture whilst humour involving satire is preferable to simple jokes.
Presenting gifts when meeting the host for the first time is inappropriate and generally unusual in French business. Once an established professional working relationship has developed, it is considered acceptable, albeit with discretion to offer a counterpart something of good quality which reflects the nature of the occasion such as dinner or a party. Offering anything which is marked with a company brand logo is considered unfitting.