Unveiling the Etiquette and Formality of French Corporate Environment

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French business culture has a long history of formality, etiquette, and tradition. Understanding these cultural norms and expectations is crucial for anyone hoping to successfully export their business to France. In this article, we will explore some of the key characteristics of French business culture in greater depth, including communication styles, relationship building, and negotiation tactics.


Formalism stands out as a prominent characteristic of French business culture. Every aspect, ranging from attire choices to linguistic expressions, greetings, and even the exchange of business cards, reflects the strong emphasis placed on formality and respect for hierarchy by French professionals.

Addressing someone by their title and last name is seen as a sign of respect, and a failure to do so can be seen as a breach of etiquette. When addressing someone in a business setting, it is important to use their appropriate title (such as “Monsieur” (Sir) or “Madame” (Madam)) and last name until invited to do otherwise. You might want to call a woman ‘mademoiselle,’ but keep in mind that it is no longer commonly used for gender equality purposes. The remaining options are now: ‘madame’ and ‘monsieur’. It goes hand in hand with the use of first names without permission, which may be considered rude. It’s important to note that those standards are slowly changing, a good example would be looking into startups, where the outfit is more casual. People will also use ‘tu’ and first names more easily, due to globalisation. 

In professional settings, it is customary to greet your interlocutor with a handshake instead of the traditional French greeting known as “la bise.” This must be a light handshake, made while saying hi and looking at the person in the eyes. 

This formalism extends to other aspects of business culture as well, including dress codes. French business culture values formality and professionalism, so dressing appropriately for the occasion is crucial. Men usually wear suits and ties, while women often wear suits or dresses. Conservative colours such as black, grey, and navy are typically preferred, but this is changing, and of course it depends on the company you’re working for or with!

Furthermore, exchanging business cards is a common practice in France, typically done at the beginning of a meeting. The quality and design of the business card can be seen as a reflection of an individual’s status and professionalism. It is advisable to have your business cards printed in both French and English to cater to the language preferences of your counterparts.

Professional Stability and Diploma Respect

In French business culture, there is a strong emphasis on stability and respect for diplomas. Individuals who frequently change professions are more likely to be evaluated critically, as compared to the UK where it is common to pursue job opportunities that align with personal preferences, even if it involves frequent changes. This preference for stability in France can be perceived as a sign of reliability and commitment. Furthermore, the culture of valuing diplomas above experience remains prevalent, with businesses often favouring candidates with higher education qualifications, particularly those with master’s degrees.

Relationship Building 

French business culture places a strong emphasis on relationship building. Overall, building strong relationships in French business culture requires time, respect, and attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Unlike some other cultures, where business is seen as primarily transactional, in France, business relationships are built on personal connections and trust. Taking time to get to know people on a personal level before getting down to business is seen as essential, and it is not uncommon for French business people to engage in small talk or socialise before discussing business. Building a strong relationship with someone is considered a prerequisite for successful business dealings, and this can take time and effort. Here are four tips for efficient relationship building:

  1. Spend some time building rapport. When doing business in France, it’s crucial to develop a close relationship with both clients and colleagues. Before getting into business, spend some time having a conversation and getting to know them.
  2. Respect hierarchy: Hierarchy is highly valued in France, so it’s important to be respectful of those in positions of authority. As we mentioned earlier, until they invite you to use their first name, use formal titles and address people by their last name.
  3. Express gratitude: It’s crucial to express gratitude in France for the contributions and efforts of others. Praise co-workers and clients for their efforts and contributions, and think about sending a handwritten note or small gift to express your appreciation.
  4. Share meals: Sharing a meal is a common way to build relationships in French business culture. Consider inviting colleagues or clients to lunch or dinner and using the opportunity to engage in informal conversation and establish personal connections. You would be surprised to notice that some employees will take a 2 hour lunch break, and mostly never eat at their desk! Although colleagues do their best to foster positive relationships, one significant difference to observe and appreciate is the use of alcohol at work. In France, it is customary for colleagues to spend time together at bars and restaurants outside of work, but drinking alcohol during working hours in the workplace is significantly less acceptable.  In adherence to labour laws, the consumption of alcohol during working hours, even for celebratory purposes, is subject to strict regulations. While it may be permissible to have a single glass, it is important to note that if you are served sparkling wine that is not champagne, such as cava or prosecco, it should not be referred to as champagne. It is worth noting that France holds the distinction as the birthplace of champagne, so exercising caution and using appropriate terminology is advised when consuming other types of sparkling wines.


Punctuality is generally highly valued in French business culture. Meetings, appointments, and other business-related engagements are expected to start and end on time. Being late without a good reason is considered disrespectful and can be viewed as a sign of unreliability or a lack of respect for the other person’s time. In France, it is common for people to arrive a few minutes early for business meetings or appointments. Arriving late, even by just a few minutes, can be seen as a breach of etiquette. It is also important to notify the other party if you are going to be late or if you need to reschedule the meeting. A five-minute delay is generally tolerated if the other party 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! 

Communication Style

French is the official language of business in France, and it is important to have a good command of the language if you are conducting business in the country. At least a few words like ‘bonjour’, ‘merci’ and ‘au revoir’ (hello, thank you, and goodbye). The French people you are working with will appreciate the effort, and it will help you build a good and trusting relationship with them. Written French is important, and language mistakes are less tolerated than in the Anglo-Saxon world. Therefore, it would be incredibly useful for you to learn the basics! However, many French business people also speak English, so it is a good idea to learn some key phrases in both languages.

An additional important aspect of French business culture is communication style. Compared to other cultures, French business people frequently communicate in a more indirect and nuanced manner, and their language can contain many subtle messages. People regularly transmit their meaning through nonverbal signs and implicit language, and it might take some practice to read between the lines effectively. In French business culture, silence and pauses in conversation can also be significant, so it’s important to be at ease with them rather than feeling the need to fill them right away. In written conversations or in some circumstances, it could be more direct with less chit-chat. For example, there is no ‘I trust this email finds you well,’ and you wouldn’t hear ‘how are you doing today?’ in a store.


Negotiations in French business culture tend to be more formal and structured than in some other cultures. There is often a focus on building a relationship with the other party before discussing business, and it is not uncommon for negotiations to take place over several meetings or even weeks. French business people tend to be well-prepared and organised for negotiations, so it is important to have a clear understanding of your goals and desired outcomes before entering into a negotiation. It is also important to be patient and willing to compromise, as French business culture values consensus-building and collaboration.

Work-life Balance 

Work-life balance is an important aspect of French business culture. French people tend to place a strong emphasis on their personal lives, and work is seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. People typically work fewer hours than in some other countries, and there is a strong culture of taking time off for vacations and personal pursuits. This balance between work and personal life resonates with the time of arrival in the morning: it’s very flexible, as French businesses will focus mainly on the time spent at work, rather than the outcome. They really do value work time, if you’re based in the US, the best would be to avoid late meetings with French associates or clients. Although 35 hours a week can seem light, France is still considered one of the most productive countries, proving that shorter hours don’t necessarily mean lower productivity. (You can find more information within this article). This focus on work-life balance can sometimes be at odds with the demands of business, and it is important to understand the cultural expectations around work and leisure to navigate these tensions effectively. On the list made by CEOworld “Top 10 countries globally with best work-life balance in 2021”, France is in third place. Employees in France have more free time each day than is typical. Personal care and leisure take up to roughly 15 hours every day. The average working hours in France per week are 35. The French government’s policy on working hours appears to have had a positive impact on the workers, allowing them to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

French Rights or Entitlements 

Overall this country’s corporate culture is relatively distinct but well-known worldwide; it is critical for your organisation to adapt and learn about it before establishing a presence there. French people are proud; you shouldn’t condemn their culture too harshly because chauvinism is their way of life! Don’t be surprised if you hear about the numerous benefits of working in France.  Some companies provide transport vouchers, amusement park vouchers, restaurant vouchers and so on. One final aspect to remember is to always keep the French labour laws in mind! Because it is highly regulated (for example, the implementation of Disneyland in France), you cannot actually impose specific outfits on your staff. As previously mentioned, this also englobes alcohol consumption in the workplace. You may have heard of the French strikes, happening for quite a few weeks now, the right to strike is part of the constitution! 

In conclusion, understanding these cultural norms and expectations is crucial for anyone hoping to do business. The French business culture is steeped in tradition and formality but also values knowledge, hard work, and work-life balance. Building relationships and trust is key to successful business dealings in France, and attention to detail and indirect communication are important factors to keep in mind. The operviser team would gladly help you to understand more about French Business Culture!

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