French business culture

door Regina Coeli

Success in business in France depends on appropriate behaviour and on mutual trust and understanding. In this article we present some of the aspects of French business culture.

Structure and hierarchy

The French business world is characterized by a number of paradoxes. The Frenchman is torn between the desire for individual freedom and his respect for hierarchy; his professional career and his private life; traditions and innovations. Top down hierarchy dominates in French professional culture. To be successful it is therefore necessary to work with all levels in an organization. However, it will often be the highest-ranked person who will take the final decision.

Business meetings

Relationships play an essential role in professional life in France. Before beginning any discussion or negotiation a few minutes are always spent on getting to know your business partners. Despite the apparently formal culture of business in France, the agenda of a meeting may not always be followed strictly. The first meeting is often used to exchange information and initiate discussion rather than to take any final decision.

Business lunches

These are used for getting to know each other better and are not really the time to discuss a contract or project. The French adore their cuisine and are delighted to talk about it. They love finding good restaurants in their town or city. In addition, don’t be surprised if they suggest a list of restaurants for you to try. You should also be aware that it is considered impolite to accept an invitation to a business dinner. During such a dinner, advisable topics of conversation are sport or travel; keep clear of subjects that could be controversial and enjoy tasting the joys of French gastronomy instead.


Punctuality is the politeness of kings! This maxim is not always adhered to in France where being 10 to 15 minutes late is not uncommon. No one will worry if you are delayed or get caught in traffic. The notion of time differs depending on the country. The French are multi-taskers, always available and ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. It is a system with multiple time lines which is surprising for foreigners but terribly effective and ingrained.

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