9 Standard Business Etiquette in France

Business Etiquette in France
French business etiquette is formal and courteous. Business meetings start with friendly but professional small talk to build a rapport. Basic French language proficiency helps when addressing your business associates and colleagues.

1. Timekeeping

Punctuality in a formal French setting is a sign of professionalism and respect. Arrive on time or at least five minutes early.

In social settings, arriving late is a sign of politeness. This is the norm because of an unspoken rule called “the 15 minutes of politeness.” The 15 minutes, which can extend to 30 minutes, gives your host time to finalize preparations.

2. Professional dress code

Business settings require conservative attire. Formal attire should be adhered to even if it’s Friday. Men should wear a suit and tie. During winter, dark suits are the norm. Don’t loosen your tie, and don’t take off your jacket in an office.

Women’s business attire can be a skirt suit, pantsuit, or a blouse with slim pants and a jacket. Makeup and jewelry are acceptable, but avoid flashiness. Wear good shoes such as pumps or boots during winter.

Startups and social settings have a relaxed dress code. Informal attire like sneakers and khakis are acceptable.

3. France etiquette for business meetings

Business meetings are professional and formal. Plan for meetings at least two weeks in advance.

A brief, light handshake and direct eye contact is the standard greeting. Always say bonjour and address your French counterparts using Monsieur or Madame. Learning a few French phrases shows respect and helps make a good first impression.

Corporate handshake in France
Light handshake in Frenc corporate setting

If you need to introduce yourself, start with your first name followed by your last name. It’s common for meetings to start with small talk to build rapport. The talk should professional and friendly. Avoid discussing politics, finances, and religion.

Be prepared for debates and interruptions during meetings. If interrupted, don’t take it personally if your culture discourages interruptions.

4. Business cards

The exchange of business cards is typical in French business meetings. Your business card should be two-sided, one in English and the other in French. The French side should show your university degree and the position you hold.

Most business cards in France have the family name in capital letters. It’s advisable to follow this practice when designing your cards. When receiving a card, it’s polite to study it before putting it away.

5. Decision-making & hierarchy

In France, decision-making is often slow-paced. This means it might take several business coversations before making a decision. French business culture is hierarchical. The person at the top makes the final decisions. Decisions do not happen during meetings.

Although it might be hard to influence them, these tips will help ensure your ideas are heard.

  • Understand the hierarchical structure of the company you’re dealing with
  • Be patient and polite to gain credibility and build trust
  • Don’t oversell yourself or your company
  • Answer questions thoughtfully and with confidence

6. Negotiation style

Debates are the primary approach to negotiation in France. Prepare to argue your case and defend it. Negotiators may appear aggressive if they disagree with you, but don’t assume it’s a personal attack.

Negotiations are slow because negotiators spend time gathering information and evaluating options. Expect a no before you hear a yes.

You can successfully negotiate with them if you follow these tips:

  • Don’t confront them openly or try to force your opinion.
  • Be calm and persistent in your approach

7. Business Lunch

Social gatherings are essential to doing business. Business meals are part of relationship building and provide an opportunity to discuss business in a relaxed setting.

When invited to a business lunch, wear formal attire and be on time. French dining etiquette has rules that you should follow. One popular rule is to keep your hands on the table.

The host will initiate business talk, which happens after dessert.

Social gathering etiquette is different from business lunches. If invited to a social gathering, dress casually and don’t show up early.

8. Giving Gifts

Gift-giving in France’s business setting is rare. Avoid giving gifts during the first meeting. Gifts with company logos might portray you as unprofessional and can be perceived as a bribe.

Give gifts at social events or dinner parties. Give quality gifts like books but avoid sending gifts to people’s houses. Don’t attach your business card to a gift.

9. What are the French ways of communicating?

The official language is French, although most French people speak English. Talk slowly using simple and short sentences.

If you’re attending a meeting where English is the primary language, don’t be surprised if French attendees switch to French. They do this to ensure everyone understands what’s being discussed.

If you’ve learned a few French phrases, try using them. Expect corrections and compliments from them.

Emails should be short and direct. Don’t use emoticons or abbreviations in your emails. Address the email recipient using vous to avoid confusion.

American-style loud and boisterous behavior is not acceptable in their culture. Non-verbal communication involves hand gestures and facial expressions. The acceptable French gesture is a thumbs-up to show approval.

What is the work culture like in France?

French working hours are typically from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, though some companies may offer earlier hours. Lunch break is at least two hours long and is taken between noon and 2 p.m., depending on the company’s location and policy.

Vacations in France last five weeks. French employees earn vacation days at a rate of 2.5 days per month.

What are some customs related to business in France?

  • Offices are closed on weekends and holidays.
  • Vacations include winter, Christmas, all saints, and spring vacations.
  • Cigarette breaks are a thing, but smoking is not allowed in the workplace.

What are the most common faux pas in France?

Here are the common faux pas to watch out for:

  • Arriving early when invited to a home
  • Showing off money
  • Complaining about the country
  • Eating before everyone has been served
  • Initiating la bise when meeting strangers

What are the main differences between business etiquette in France and America?

EtiquetteFrance 🇫🇷US 🇺🇸
NegotiationsSlow pacedFaster
Work-life balanceImportant part of cultureHustle-culture
CommunicationSlowerLoud and open
Business cardsPrevalantOutdated (almost)

Want tips on American businesses? Check 9 US Business Etiquette


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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