Business etiquette

France-flag-140Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture, and are the building bricks for developing business culture. Cultural influences, communities. attitudes and behaviour vary within and across nations and within and across ethnicities, and are strongly embedded in

Business executives who hope to profit from their travels to France should learn about the history, culture, and customs of the areas that they wish to visit. Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principles for doing business in this country. Business manners and methods, religious customs, the importance of family are all covered in the following sections. Some of the cultural distinctions that businesspeople most often face include differences in business styles, attitudes towards the development of business relationships, attitudes toward punctuality, negotiating styles, gift-giving customs, greetings, significance of gestures, meanings of colours and numbers, and customs regarding titles. The following headings give an insight into the values, attitudes and culture of the French.

For further information please see below:

Corporate social responsibilities

France’s environmental outlook appears positive, as successive French governments have demonstrated their commitment to protecting the environment, and future governments are expected to continue this trend. France is also a leader in adopting the European Commission’s ‘green paper’ on corporate social responsibility, which requires listed companies to publish information in relation to the environmental and the social impact of their activities, in their annual reports. Thus, companies in France must report on their use of water and natural resources, their emissions of greenhouse gases and energy consumption, and what efforts they have undertaken to reduce environmental risks and to educate their employees about environmental management.

  • France’s commitment to the use of nuclear power has allowed the country to keep a lid on its carbon emissions, since nuclear power emits no carbon or other greenhouse gases. France’s preference for nuclear-generated electricity over thermal (oil-, natural gas-, and coal-fired power plants) power, has allowed it to maintain relatively low levels of both energy and carbon intensity.
  • Despite its nuclear power programme, France still suffers from air pollution, especially in Paris and other major cities. Despite the country’s reduction in its dependence on oil imports, France has been the unfortunate victim of several major oil tanker spills, with disastrous consequences for the country’s tourism and fishing industries along the Atlantic coast.
  • Other environmental issues in France include some forest damage from acid rain. Major forest damage also occurred as a result of severe windstorms in December 1999. One of the country’s biggest concerns is water pollution from urban waste and agricultural runoff. For further information please see below:


In France it is vital to ensure that you make appointments for both business and social occasions. It is not acceptable in France to ‘drop in’ on someone unannounced and such conduct will be taken as an act of rudeness, whatever the occasion. While you should strive to be punctual, you will not be considered to be late, should you arrive ten minutes after the scheduled time.

Punctuality is treated quite casually in France, although there are some regional differences, the further South you go the more casual the approach to time is. The French themselves have a very relaxed attitude when attending appointments themselves, so do not be surprised to find your French colleague arriving fairly late. The French consider this a prerogative, so do not expect any apologies- but as ever it will depend who you are dealing with. However, staying late at the office is common, especially for individuals in more senior positions.

For social events, being on time is more important, especially if your hosts have cooked a meal.

For further information please see below:

Gift giving

Gift-giving among business associates is not common practice in France. To express appreciation to a French business contact, it may be better to host a special event or dinner than to give a business gift. Gifts are however expected at social events, especially to thank the host/ess of private dinner parties.

When Invited to Dinner

  • If you are invited to a French home, consider it a rare honour. Bring flowers, quality chocolates or liqueur for the host, and present your gift before the entertaining proceeds.
  • Flowers should be sent in advance on the day of the dinner (popular in Paris) so that the hostess has time to arrange them and is not faced with this task when she is busy with a meal, or else unwrap them before presenting them to your hostess. Otherwise, present a gift on arrival – this will probably not be unwrapped immediately (unless no other guests are present or expected).
  • In accordance with the old European tradition, a bouquet should have an odd number of flowers, but never seven or thirteen. On Labour Day (May 1) the French give lily-of-the-valley. Red roses are not reserved for lovers in France, but do imply a familiarity that business associates are unlikely to achieve. Carnations are associated with bad luck or bad will. Chrysanthemums are used for funerals, and are placed on graves on All Saints Day (November 1).
  • Do not take a gift of wine, since the host usually prefers to make the evening’s selection themselves – this will have been carefully thought out to complement the food. The only possible exceptions to this would be a special French dessert wine or high-quality liqueur. Other exceptions if you really want to bring a bottle of wine would be one from your own country or a bottle of Champagne.
  • If you have been a guest at a dinner party or similar social gathering in a home, ensure that you send a thank-you note to your hosts the next day. Preferably, your note should be handwritten and delivered by La Poste. Sending flowers or a basket of fruit is another thoughtful gesture appreciated by the French.

Take Note

  • Be aware that displays of warmth and generosity between business associates are not the norm in French business culture. Giving presents is acceptable here, but exercise discretion. Business gifts are usually not exchanged at the first meeting.
  • Give a good quality gift or none at all
  • Gifts are expected for social events, especially as a thank-you after a dinner party.
  • Give candy, macaroons, cakes and flowers. A gift should be of high quality and beautifully wrapped.
  • Esoteric books and music are often valued as gifts. Make sure, however, that you are reasonably acquainted with the recipient’s interests and tastes before making this kind of gift purchase.
  • Good gift selections can also include coffee table books about your home country, or anything that reflects the interests of your hosts and is representative of your country.
  • Do not offer gifts with your company logo stamped on them (the French consider this vulgar).
  • French business etiquette dictates that you do not include your business card with a gift.
  • Never send a gift for a French colleague to his/her home unless it is related to a social event.
  • Card giving at holidays is appropriate and appreciated. Thanking business partners for the previous year’s business and wishing them a prosperous year to come is a sentiment that will be received with gratitude. The practice in France is to send New Year’s greetings and this can occur during the whole month of January but not later.

For further information please see below:

Business dress code

As you would expect, the nation that created ‘haute couture’ puts a premium on style. Fashion and appearance are much more important in France than in most other countries in the world. Even low-paid, entry-level executives buy the best clothes they can afford. Generally, dress tends to be on the formal side for both men and women, whether in business or social situations. As the French will perceive the way you dress as being a reflection of your social status and relative success, do your best to make clothing choices that are tasteful and stylish.

High quality and conservative suits and accessories are recommended. Men should wear dark suits, particularly during the winter and when visiting the north. You’ll notice that men’s suits made in France are cut differently. In France, executives usually do not loosen their ties or take off their jackets while at the office, or in restaurants. Never be the first to shed your jacket. As blue shirts are worn by raw French military recruits, you may be labelled ‘Un bleu’, the French version of a ‘greenhorn’ if you choose blue for your shirt.

Frenchwomen are particularly fashion conscious in both their social and business wear, and are famous for their restrained, feminine chic. Visitors are advised to dress simply and with elegance. A well-tailored business suit or dress is appropriate and good shoes are a must. Careful accessorising r (even of simple outfits), is also widely seen in France. French women are also more careful with makeup than many of their European counterparts and place a huge emphasis on skin care and maintaining a slender figure.

When you receive an invitation stating “informal” dress, don’t assume you’ll be welcome in a t-shirt and jeans. For a social gathering, informal usually means tastefully coordinated clothes, sometimes including a jacket and tie for men. An invitation stating “formal” dress usually means formal evening wear, which is very dressy and involves a tuxedo for men and evening dress for women. On the street, jeans and sneakers can be acceptable leisurewear, although this kind of clothing is often reserved for the gym or the beach. However, increasingly and dependent on the industry, casual Fridays are becoming common in offices where you can wear jeans and even sneakers sometimes. These exceptions to formal attire however are not applicable for business meetings.

For further information please see below:

Bribery and corruption

France is ranked in the top 25 countries (on the Corruption Perception Index of government organisations) in the world for being perceived as least corrupt compared to 176 other countries. There are laws, regulations and penalties to reduce and prevent corruption in France. As a consequence, the French legal system has witnessed numerous investigations and successful convictions of corrupt public officials and businessmen.

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention has been adopted in France and enforced since the year 2000. This was done through amendments to the Criminal code, which includes article 435-3 which incriminates the offer or promise of a bribe. A more detailed explanation of bribery and corruption in France can be found at

For further information, please see below:

Do you want to learn more about business culture in France?