Business culture in FranceFrench business culture

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Business Culture in France is characterised by: business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, internship and student placements, cost of living, work-life-balance and social media guide.

Business culture in France

France is one of the most modern and highly-developed countries in the world. It has one of the largest economies, and the country is a leader among European nations. France is a country that continues to be proud of its rich history and independence. Meanwhile, French leaders are increasingly seeking to tie the future of France to the continued development of the European Union.

The geographical position of France

France has a surface area of over 550,000 km2 (215,000 miles2), including overseas territories. This makes it the largest country in Western Europe. Due to its overseas departments and territories scattered worldwide, France possesses one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the world, covering over 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,000 miles2).

It lies on the western edge of the continent of Europe and shares its borders with six neighbouring countries: Belgium and Luxembourg to the north; Germany and Switzerland to the east; Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west.

The geographical position of France gives the country two salient advantages. On the one hand, partly due to its excellent communications network, it is a crossroads at the heart of the European Union. It is linked to the east by the vast industrial and urban area stretching from the mouth of the Rhine, which forms the border with Germany, and to the plains of the Po River in the north-west. On the other hand it is within easy reach of the industrial centres of the United Kingdom and to the south it forms an integral part of the Mediterranean arc running from Catalonia to central Italy. The French coastline provides access by sea to Northern Europe, America and Africa via the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, which are amongst the world’s busiest waterways.

The French population and language

France has one of the highest populations in the European Union with 65.5 million people. This number includes over 4 million foreign residents and immigrants who live in France.

French is the national language of France and is highly regarded as a symbol of the culture. The people of France generally prefer to speak and be spoken to, in French. Regional dialects found in certain areas include Alsatian (a German dialect), Flemish, Breton, Basque, Provencal, Catalan, and Corsican; however, these are declining in usage. In addition, the large immigrant population brings numerous other languages, adding to the ethnic diversity of France.

About 84% of the French population is Roman Catholic. In addition, 8% are Muslim (mainly North African immigrants), 2% are Protestant, and 1% is Jewish, while 4% are unaffiliated with any religion or church. The church and State have been separate since 1905.

The French climate

France is in the Central European Time (CET) zone. French Summer Time starts from March and ends in October days vary dependent on the year but usually these are the last Sundays of the month.

France can be divided into three broad climatic regions. The oceanic region in the west experiences very little temperature change between summer and winter, and has rain year-round. In the north­ eastern and interior areas, including Paris, the climate is continental, with cool winters, warm summers, and a distinct spring and autumn. Southern France has a Mediterranean climate, with warm dry summers and mild, often wet, winters. ‘Le mistral’, a cold dry northerly wind blows into the southern region often for days at a time in the winter and spring and comes from La Vallée du Rhône near Lyon.

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Xenophobia: being a foreigner in France

France is a diverse country, this is due to its large geographic area and regional differences as well as being a consequence of immigration resulting from France’s colonial past. Despite this, attitudes to foreigners vary but in general, the French are not very tolerant of foreigners. For example, wearing of a full head covering veil in public is banned by law whether you are French or not – the principle of French laïcité states that nobody can show their religion publicly. The (official) reason for the banishment of the full head covering is security.

France has played an important role for centuries as a cultural centre and is noted for its cosmopolitan, civilised approach to life, combined with a great concern for style, fashion and appearance. France’s distinguished individuality is an important cultural characteristic that is encapsulated by the French passion for uniqueness and freedom of opinion, both in society and in business.

One aspect of French culture that has a major influence on business in France is the country’s attention to rules and regulations. The French have a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, which, for those wishing to conduct business there , is significant in that they are reluctant to take risks.

France has always played a crucial part in both European and World events. After experiencing two World Wars, the loss of an Empire and numerous political and social upheavals, France has emerged as a vital component in the European Community with a strong sense of pride and heritage. Today, the French business market boasts a variety of international investors and is an important world supplier of agricultural and industrial products. The country also demonstrates one of the highest rates of economic growth in Europe. However, for those wishing to enter the French business environment, an understanding of the country’s culture is vital .

International Business culture in France

General Education

Since World War II, the education system has been dramatically overhauled. This was designed to accommodate the increasing numbers of children who carry on developing themselves through study beyond primary school. Consequently, collèges, lycées and higher education institutions have expanded their offerings to accommodate the demand for the development of a highly skilled work force.

School education is compulsory in France from 6 to 16 years of age which has resulted in a high adult literacy rate currently standing at 99%. As with other governmental organisations, the French education system is centralised and managed through a number of hierarchies, which are divided into the following stages:

  • primary education (enseignement primaire);
  • secondary education (enseignement secondaire);
  • tertiary or college education (enseignement supérieur)

Although private schools are available, primary and secondary education, are dominated by public offerings. On the other hand, tertiary education has a higher number of privateoptions.

France is approximately in the middle of international tables, in respect of the proportion of students going to university. The majority of students attend the Grandes Écoles of France. These are private establishments and generally specialise in a single subject area such as business. The selective process involved when students join Grandes Écoles results in moderate class sizes. The selectivity also adds to the perception of prestige which is confirmed by the tradition of the Grandes Écoles producing the majority of France’s scientists and leading executives.

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Educational Standards

In France, individuals have life-long access to education and training, at school or university, in the case of pupils and students, and in the form of continuing vocational training for anyone already in work.

Computer literacy is a given when doing business in France. As in most other E.U countries, technological understanding is taken for granted in business activities. The following sections introduce the importance of education and training and its relevance to doing business in France. Also examined is the area of foreign language competency and important cultural awareness issues.

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Other issues such as transport infrastructure

Cultural Issues

The French are very proud of their independence and culture. For successful business liaisons, it is important to be aware of their cultural distinctions.

The French flag has three vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red. This became the flag during the French Revolution and was made popular by Marquis de Lafayette. It is commonly known in France as the ‘drapeau tricolore’ (Tri-colour Flag).

Marianne is a symbol of the French Republic. She is an allegorical figure of liberty and the Republic and first appeared at the time of the French Revolution. Under the Third Republic, statues, and especially busts, of Marianne began to proliferate, particularly in town halls. She was represented in several different modes, depending on whether the aim was to emphasize her revolutionary nature or her “wisdom” and she appears on everyday articles such as postage stamps and coins.

Famous French actors, including Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, have been given the title of Marianne. Recent ones include Sophie Marceau, and Laetitia Casta.


Gender does not play a major role within the business culture in France. French organisations and businesswomen, including foreign women, are as well respected as their male counterparts. However, it should be noted that women are more readily accepted in management positions in the major cities than in the provinces, where some gender inequality can still be found.

Females should be aware that flirting is generally considered normal and acceptable behaviour in France, and is seen as harmless entertainment to lighten the day at work and socially. Harmless flirting however, should not be confused with sexual harassment, which is completely unacceptable. For example, paying appreciative comments on a colleague’s dress or perfume choice could be considered sexual harassment in some countries. Meanwhile, in France it is considered a genuine compliment and as such is appreciated. However, within the business culture in France, trying to emulate your French co-workers in flirting should only be done if you can do it elegantly, since crossing the line into vulgarity and roughness can get you into trouble.


There are significant differences in lifestyles with respect to transportation, between urbanised regions such as Paris, and smaller towns and rural areas. In Paris, and to a lesser extent in other major cities, many households do not own a car and simply use the efficient public transport.


Paris has an excellent system of roads, although driving there is not for the faint-hearted. It is better not to drive anyway, since the public transport is excellent. Taxis cruise the streets in Paris. They can also be found at taxi stands by the train station and in the main squares. Nearly all are radio taxis and can be summoned quickly to your hotel by the concierge. All taxis have meters, and there are surcharges for trips to the airport, Sunday travel, late hours and baggage.

Bus & Metro

France’s bus system is mostly run by the national railroad, the SNCF, with routes replacing or supplementing the train lines. Municipal buses in Paris are user-friendly, with well-posted routes. Paris’s subway system is called the Metro and is clean, efficient, and reliable. Metros run from 5:30am until 00:30am (after midnight).


The train service in France is efficient, punctual, and comfortable and is one of the most popular ways to get around. France’s extensive railway network connects large cities and towns throughout the country. Smaller towns without train stations are generally linked by a bus service to the nearest station. The French National Railroads’ (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer or SNCF) network of inter-city rail links also provides a frequent express and high-speed train service known as the TGV or Train à Grande Vitesse. Operating at commercial speeds of 186mph, the high-speed network also includes European routes. Those feature the Eurostar, which connects Paris to London in just 2h35 and the Thalys going to Brussels and Amsterdam in 1h30 and 4 hours respectively. For added convenience, Paris Charles-de-Gaulle and Lyon Saint-Exupery Airports have stations accommodating high-speed train.


If you are coming from the United Kingdom, you can use the Euro-tunnel to get to France. Euro tunnel’s car carrying service runs via the Channel Tunnel from Folkestone to Calais/Coquelles. Taking as little as 35 minutes platform to platform, it is a fast and exciting way to reach France and beyond. The service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with up to 4 departures an hour at peak periods.

Consult the website at for more details


France’s airport network includes 27 airports and serves 130 countries. Its international airports are based in Paris, (Roissy-Charles De Gaulle and Orly) with smaller airports located in Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille. France handles 6,200 flights every week. The two Paris airports handle 20% of the total airfreight in the European Union. Furthermore, their traffic growth, which is more than 10% per year, is far greater than most other European airports (2 to 3% per year). 600 enterprises, employing more than 55,000 people (of which 12,000 work in logistics), have based their operations there because of the location in the heart of the Paris Basin, the region of Europe with the highest GDP.


There are many connections to France by sea. Routes operate from ports in Ireland, the U.K and other European countries to ports in Le Havre, Cherbourg, Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque. A list of the main shipping companies in the U.K is attached.

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Cultural taboos

Within the business culture in France there are a number of issues that are considered inappropriate and that you should be aware of in order to avoid insulting your French counterparts and showing disrespect for their views and values:

  • Don’t start a conversation in English, try to speak French even if your language knowledge is limited, you will increase your chances of a positive business meeting.
  • Don’t ask “how much is your salary?”
  • Do not shake hands if you are exchanging ‘la bise’ – the kiss on the cheek, which is done at least twice.
  • Do not address anyone with “tu” – which is the informal term for ‘you’ use “vous” instead.
  • Try not to call or meet anyone during their lunch break 12 till 2pm – unless you have been invited for a lunch meeting.
  • Typical discussion topics do not include your wealth – showing off your wealth is considered bad taste.
  • French organisations are very hierarchical and communications across these lines can be a time consuming process, if you want to speak to the manager, speak to them directly.
  • Chewing gum in public is considered vulgar.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets when in public.
  • Slapping an open palm over a closed fist is offensive to the French.
  • Snapping fingers is also considered offensive.
  • It is extremely bad manners to ask a French individual about his political leanings or how he voted. You can enquire however about the political system or public opinion about political leaders.
  • Do not criticize Napoleon, since he represents a part of the French spirit.
  • Refrain from using any standard conversation openers such as, ‘What do you do?’
  • Politeness is of the utmost importance to the French. Any rudeness will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

Understanding and respecting these issues will make a significant contribution towards understanding French culture and building and maintaining strong and solid business relationships.

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