If you ever have the pleasure of doing business in France here are 8 tips to keep in mind.
1. Speak only the French you know
It’s commonly said that the French appreciate any effort to speak their language, even if she is not so very goodly spoken. When doing business in France, learn a few key phrases you are likely to use in a business setting, but never attempt to say anything truly important in French.
2. Know how to greet properly
As is the case in many European countries, it is not unusual to see two French people (regardless of sex) exchanging “air kisses” when they meet. It is assumed these people have achieved a certain degree of familiarity with each other. When you meet a French man or woman for the (very) first time, a firm handshake is appropriate. In subsequent meetings, if you feel comfortable enough, initiate the “air kiss”.
3. Avoid discussing sensitive subjects
Generally speaking, the French do not discuss provocative topics with strangers or casual acquaintances. Don’t attempt to engage them, for example, on matters of politics. The average Frenchman knows and cares more about American politics than you do. Stick to pets and kids, and above all, do not mention the war.
4. Dress conservatively
Do not attempt to impress your French colleagues with your fashion sense simply because you are in France. Deservedly or not, French fashion is something of a gold standard. As a rule-of-thumb, wear the same attire you would wear to your performance review (supplementing with pants, underwear and shoes as necessary).
5. Be judicious in sampling the local cuisine
It’s highly likely you will eat while in France, especially if you are staying for a week or more. Don’t dismiss unfamiliar foods out-of-hand, but don’t eat something just because it’s French. Avoid anything that blinks at you or moves such that you cannot easily spear it on the plate.
6. Never pass up a free toilet, or any toilet for that matter
Toilets in France are exceedingly rare and, naturally, there is never one nearby when you need it. Public facilities usually require a small payment you are guaranteed not to have handy. And unlike home, it’s virtually forbidden to “pop into” a shop, café or restaurant just to go potty. As a pre-emptive measure, spend as much time as you can in the bathroom during your meeting; and if you really need to go but can’t find a toilet, be discreet.
7. Familiarize yourself with basic art terms and famous works of art
France is renowned worldwide for its museums and its art. When doing business in France, a French colleague may attempt to draw you into a discussion on the subject, the ultimate intent of which is to offer you, the foreigner, an opportunity to heap praise upon the French and France in general. Anticipate and arm yourself with a few bones to throw. If the discussion appears to be headed where you can’t go, excuse yourself to find a toilet. Don’t try to bluff and don’t say anything crass or unsophisticated.
8. Show respect for wine
Like art, wine is a source of national pride. The French drink it and learn about it at a very young age. When drinking wine with a French colleague, exercise restraint. Resist the temptation to guzzle straight from the bottle; instead sip it, gaze at it longingly, and offer it your undying admiration. And do not “discuss” it. You may gravely antagonize the colleague.