France flag France: Business Environment

Business Practices in France

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Doing business In France
Passport to trade, French business etiquette
Talk in French, French business etiquette guide
Opening Hours and Days
Offices are generally closed on Saturdays, and Sundays are closed. Most shops and businesses are closed on Sundays; however, in the capital many shops are allowed to remain open on Sundays in tourist areas.
Offices are often closed for a more or less long lunch break, between 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Easter Sunday and Monday in March or April
Ascension the sixth Thursday after Easter
Labour Day 1 May
Victory Day (end of the Second World War) 8 May
National Day 14 July
Assumption 15 August
All Saints 1 November
Armistice 11 November
Christmas Day 25 December

Periods When Companies Usually Close

Christmas holidays Between Christmas Day and New Year's Day
Summer holidays July or August according to the company

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Business organisations in France are characterised by a highly organised and hierarchical structure, so positions and power are clearly defined. Professionalism is highly valued in France, and while hard work is admired, workaholism tends to be frowned upon.

Because of the hierarchical structure of organisations in France, once a decision has been reached in the negotiation process, your French counterparts usually have to go through a similar internal negotiation process with their superiors. When an agreement is reached, it is usually formalised in a comprehensive, precise contract. The deliberation and decision-making processes are usually quite slow. Therefore, patience is appreciated, whereas pressure will be taken negatively.  It usually takes several meetings to reach an agreement. Decisions are usually made outside meetings, by those at the top of the company.

French executives tend to focus on building long-term business relationships, and it is considered important to have a wide network of close personal business connections. In order to establish and maintain those relationships, mutual trust and respect are paramount, and are usually earned through proper behaviour and formality. However, the French tend to maintain a clear distinction between their business and personal lives, so business relationships should not be mistaken for friendships.

First Contact
Appointments are necessary prior to any meeting, and can be made either by telephone or email. It is preferable to make appointments at least two weeks in advance and to avoid the months of July and August, as that is the most common vacation period. Appointments usually take place from 9am to 6pm, and tend to be held at the company’s office. It is common to hold (or pursue) meetings in a restaurant during lunch or breakfast. Many business people appreciate these meetings, as they allow informal business discussions.
Time Management
Even though punctuality is important in France, a five-minute delay is generally tolerated if it has been informed. There are some regional differences regarding punctuality, so the further South you go the more casual the approach to time usually is. Meetings should be scheduled about two weeks in advance. They tend to be held primarily to discuss issues, not to make decisions - which are usually made after several meetings. In France, meeting agendas tend to be structured and fairly inflexible. All attendees are expected to contribute to the discussion, so careful planning and preparation are important, ensuring that all objectives and strategies have been set out.
Greetings and Titles
The most common greeting is a handshake, which is expected to be brisk and light, with only one or two up and down movements. It is highly recommended to start a conversation with greetings in French, before moving on to English - even if it's just a simple 'bonjour'. Formality is highly regarded in France, so people often address their superiors and those they are meeting for the first time by 'Monsieur' or 'Madame'. In France, introductions are made using both first and last names, and sometimes people might introduce themselves by first saying their last name, then their given name. It is customary to only use first names to address others when invited to do so. 
Gift Policy
In business, exchanging gifts is rare, except at Christmas and New Year's when it is customary to give chocolates, wine, etc. To express appreciation to a business contact, it is more common to host a special event or dinner than to give a gift. However, at social events - such as dinner parties - gifts should be expected, especially to thank the host. Additionally, it should never be done at the first meeting and business cards should not be given with the present.
Dress Code
Appearances may be very important when it comes to first impressions in France. Quality business attire and accessories will make you stand out in a positive way. It is advisable to dress discreet and stylish, rather conservative for the first meeting, then adapt according to the appointment. Both men and women usually wear classic, dark suits. Grooming is an important issue as well. Beards should be trimmed.
Business Cards
Business cards are exchanged either at the beginning or at the end of the first meeting, without any particular formality. Having a translation in French on the back of the card is considered a plus, as it's seen a sign of respect and courtesy. Another option would be to have two versions of your card printed, one in your native language and another one in French. In France, it is common for people to write their family name in capital letters so that it stands out.
Meetings Management
The initial minutes of a business meeting in France are commonly used to go over the pre-established agenda. Small talk during meetings isn't common, especially when the counterparts are meeting for the first time. Therefore, it's important to focus on the subject matter of the deal and not bring up personal matters such as family.

Business intentions should be directly and clearly stated. It is common for the French to pay attention to detail, so it is advised to have a carefully constructed proposal and to be prepared for numerous direct and detailed questions. When the French begin repeating their viewpoints that usually means they will not change their position. A way of persuading them to do so is through the use of logical reasoning, given that hard sell techniques or hard bargaining tend not to work. Also, since agreements tend to take a long time to be reached, longer negotiations can indicate a higher chance of success.

Meetings are generally conducted in French, unless both parts have previously agreed to do it in English. Therefore, if needed, an interpreter should be arranged some weeks in advance. All presentation material should be bilingual, and it is advised to include some French references, as that would be considered a plus. When meeting and discussing business in France, it is recommended that you lower your voice and behave in a formal way. It is common to interrupt people before they have finished what they were saying, and it might imply that you are interested in what is being said. Humour in meetings is accepted, but it can easily be misinterpreted, so caution is recommended. Also, when making a joke it is important to keep in mind that the French tend to be amused by intellectual jokes, irony and real life funny situations.

Even though formal surroundings are considered more appropriate for meetings, business meals are common practice - but they tend to be less formal. They are usually conducted in restaurants rather than cafes or bars. Lunch and dinner meetings are particularly popular during the initial phase of negotiations. Because of the long term approach in business relationship building, business meals tend to be a way of developing a more personal relationship between counterparts, as well as a way of conducting a more open and less formal business discussion. Additionally, business lunches are not considered appropriate for spouses, but they can attend business dinners. It is also important to note that the person who extends the invitation for a meal is expected to pay for everybody.

Sources for Further Information
Business Culture Expatica Today Translations Commisceo Global

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Latest Update: July 2024