France is a wonderful place to live and work, but it can also be quite particular. The French business world is renowned for being accommodating to workers, but not all of those stereotypes hold true. In reality, conducting business and working in France can be more strict than other places in some regard, and less so in others.
It doesn’t pay to be worried about starting work in a new country, but it also helps to be prepared. If you’re just starting a new job in France or are thinking about relocating, here are some simple tips to help you get to grips with French working culture.
English may be the lingua franca of global business, but French is the lingua franca of business in France. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but you also shouldn’t have any airs about talking English, be that in house or when meeting other people and businesses. France does not have quite the same level of English proficiency as some neighbouring countries, and even if it did, ignoring the country’s language can easily come off as arrogant.
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While you may cultivate an international, outward-looking workplace, French fluency should be something you aim and aspire to, with the use of English being a stop-gap solution. Demonstrating this commitment - and eventually carrying it through - will demonstrate to everyone around you the work ethic, openness and positivity that prove you will make a success of life in France.
Language and etiquette are important in France, a country that leans on history and process, if not being quite so dominated by it as some other nations. Adhering to protocol is a matter of basic respect and decency, and while a few slips will be glossed over, ignoring it altogether will set a bad precedent. Again, being courteous and paying attention to these kinds of details reflects well on your attitude and capabilities, even if you end up overdoing it.
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As in other countries, names and greetings also carry some weight. Unless you know someone particularly well, you should address them as ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’, although both parties will usually introduce themselves with their first and last names. Greetings meanwhile tend to consist of a brusque handshake. The image of French people air kissing is still seen but should be reserved only for extremely well-established business relationships, and only do it if your French business counterpart has initiated the tradition first.
To borrow a phrase, while the French work hard, they also play hard. This is a nation of well-earned indulgences, where frequent holidays are prized, and the work-life balance of the average employee is a perpetual battleground. As formal as life often is within a French business, you can also expect to benefit from certain perks that you wouldn’t get in most other countries, and which make France one of the best places to live in the world.
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Long business lunches involving multiple courses used to be the norm but more informal meetings over coffee are now becoming more common as French startup culture evolves. Elsewhere, you can expect a generous amount of holiday, a good pension and other benefits through your union - a central part of working in France, and the French identity in general. Your work life/family life will also be kept in good balance by the fact that most employees are not expected to answer calls or emails at home.
Give and take
The French education system inculcates critical thinking, and while there is order and rigour in business, the illusion of power holds less sway. While nobody is going to insult you, you can expect to receive fair criticism and feedback on any ideas you put out there, and can give it back in kind. Proposals and presentations meanwhile tend to be a little less slapdash than you might have come to expect, and are honed to the nth degree.
This will be a delicate balancing act, and something you will have to learn and negotiate, but is ultimately a boon of French businesses. If somebody interrupts you to ask questions or make suggestions, take this as a complement, as they are engaged with what you’re saying. By being open to constructive criticism and participating in this repartee, you can improve on an idea before it gets put into action.
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No new business environment is ever as hostile as we imagine, and nerves are likely to be a bigger battle than the cultural divide. By keeping these tips in mind, however, you can at least avoid some unnecessary faux pas, and give yourself the best chance to succeed. With all the perks of living and working in France, the rest should take care of itself.
This is where Euro Start Entreprises can help. Our network of contacts will help you to start your business in France with the minimum of hassle and paperwork. We can help with everything from company formation, to opening a business bank account in France, finding English-speaking French accountants that can help with specialist tax advice, finding a registered address in France for your business and we can also help you with VAT services and online payment processing. We're a one-stop shop for everything you need to start a business in France. So feel free to reach out to us by calling us on 0033 (0) 1 53 57 49 10 or email us via our contact page. Or download our free guide below.