Doing business with the French
WBG member Monica Janssens recently briefed members on how to conduct business discussions with French clients and suppliers – while ensuring the entente cordiale at all times.
Monica, who advises international clients on business English, provides home tuition to youngsters and coaches them for entrance exams to top schools, is a Francophile, whose love for the country was first nurtured spending holidays in Paris with her father.
She explained that to ensure a successful outcome to a cross-Channel business meeting, British business delegates should remember to….
- Dress smartly A suit and tie for men and stylish businesswear for women are ‘de rigeur’.
- ‘Bisous’ are what the French call the light peck on one or both cheeks, which may be proffered along with formal handshakes.
- Understand the French pride in their culture, gastronomy and wine, which is why many business meetings are held over lunch. and it is never a good idea to phone between noon and 2pm Avoid saying how much you enjoy New Zealand sauvignon blanc!
- Napoleon is to the French what Winston Churchill is to the British. No references to Waterloo, please!
- Visiting cards should be printed in French on one side, English on the other.
- Hands out of pockets during meetings, and don’t snap your fingers to emphasise a point – it’s considered rude in France.
- Avoid making jokes. There is a difference between the sense of humour in France and England.
- If you speak a little French, you will know that ‘vous’ is the more formal way of saying ‘you’. ‘Tu’ is more familiar, but don’t use it until you are invited.
If you are not a reasonably fluent French speaker, it is useful to have someone along who can translate if there is a sudden difficulty in communication. Even better, take along someone like Monica who is practised in the arts of negotiating à la française.
Doing business with the French can be enjoyable and profitable. Don’t be afraid to try and export your business expertise across the Channel. Bonne chance!