In France, maintaining a personal relationship between business partners is of considerable importance. Personality traits such as openness, accessibility, reliability or simply mutual liking usually determine whether business initiation is successful or not.
Get to know each other
It is therefore quite common in France to chat a little with a new business partner in order to “get a feel” for the other. These chats are not about general trivia or the weather. Instead, more personal topics are often discussed, as the aim is to get to know one another better. However, you should not become too intimate. Feel free to say that you enjoy sailing in your free time or that you like to travel to wherever. Talk about yourself, about which football team you support or that you love the theatre. You can even talk about having a family. But don’t get too personal, a marriage crisis or problems with your children have no place in this type of conversation. As a rule, you might say that you can have personal conversations as long as they don’t get too private.
A good first impression in France also depends on your personal appearance. In general, the French tend to be elegantly dressed in the business world. Therefore, it is better to choose a higher quality business suit. Ladies could also pay a bit more attention to their make-up. French women usually use a little more make-up and attach quite a lot of importance to being well-coiffed.
Most definitely, do not wear shorts or sandals in combination with socks. This may cause your business relationship to be terminated before it has begun. It’s fine for men to wear shirts with short sleeves in summer, but a jacket should be worn over it. If it is very warm though, you may take off your jacket.
In France, greeting and introducing oneself personally, i.e. with a handshake, is considered to be good manners among business partners. Even if you are late for your business meeting – which you should avoid – please make the rounds and shake hands with everyone present.
Kissing is de rigeur as a greeting or farewell in France? Not really. In business relationships, men usually wait to see if women offer them the cheek, so to speak. And only in the south of the country do men kiss when they greet each other.
You have to decide what makes you comfortable and stick to that. If you are happy with kissing, do so without hesitation. Otherwise, refrain from it. Nobody will be angry with you for sticking to your comfort zone. If you are uncomfortable with this form of greeting, just briefly make that clear.
You don’t have to hand over your business card right away. In France, these are usually only exchanged after the official part of a meeting or later during the conversation. Business cards play a rather subordinate role here. Just pay attention to what your French counterpart does. When exchanging business cards, make eye contact instead of looking at the small card with your contact details.
As far as seating arrangements are concerned, they are not necessarily clearly identified. You will be assigned a seat at the conference table. However, you cannot necessarily derive a hierarchy from the seating arrangement.
Starting the meeting
A business meeting in France is not started at the chime of a gong, but when all the important people, that means the key people, have arrived and are ready to begin.
If an agenda has been prepared, it will be sent to each participant in advance. The time and topics on this agenda do not necessarily have to be strictly followed. Rather, the order is changed according to an inner logic based on the priorities of the one who is in charge at the moment.
If you want to showcase your product or your company in a presentation, don’t waste your time with small talk. For instance, you don’t have to make jokes to break the ice. However, if you make your presentation witty, your French hosts will appreciate it very much.
Basically, you don’t have to prove to the French that you can build your product or offer your service to the complete satisfaction of your customers. Rather, your presentation should show that you can think intelligently and coherently.
95 per cent of the time, English will be the language spoken at an international meeting in France. Feel free to write and present your presentation in English. However, your French business partners will often give their own presentations in French.
Even if there is discussion, one or the other will revert from English to French. Don’t get into a huff about that. Just ask for a short summary in English and request your French business partners to speak English again, discreetly but definitely, so that you can take part in the lively discussion. In France there is generally much discussion; constructive opposition or critical questioning is welcomed.
Once your first business meeting is coming to an end, don’t leave for the airport right away. In France, having a meal together is part of every business meeting. Talk at these meals is about business and you should listen carefully. Many French people use this more informal setting to summarize the meeting held earlier in the conference room. It can easily transpire that the head of the company or the project manager will use the occasion to give you the good news that they want to do business with you and your company. In spite of this unofficial framework, you can take this announcement absolutely seriously and book it as a successful business transaction. Eating after a business meeting is therefore not yet part of the relaxation phase. You may only start relaxing when you are actually on your way home.