France at a Glance
Living in France
French people, whether living in France or abroad, usually don´t hide their pride in their nation´s achievements, particularly in arts and culture. When staying in France, you may soon realize that the French possess a seemingly inherent pride in their own culture.
The French population loves to profess major disagreements with political decisions vociferously on the streets. However, while their attitude to French internal politics is not always positive, many locals do not appreciate expatriates, who are only temporarily living in France, openly criticizing the French state unprompted in a casual conversation.
If you need a good conversation opener when talking to French colleagues or acquaintances, try French films, food, or wine. Just as every cliché contains a grain of truth, part of life in France is enjoying a good meal and a general fondness of the sophisticated French cuisine. The French take great pride in this.
The French language is another source of pride, and foreigners are expected to make an effort to learn it. If your life in France finds you outside of the large expat regions, a good command of French is indispensable. Having said this, some expats living in France might experience that poor attempts at speaking French will occasionally be met with some degree of indignation and feigned incomprehension by certain individuals within the French population.
Most residents of France speak or understand some English, Spanish, or German. In an international business environment, English language skills are probably sufficient to get by.
While French is the only official language, expats living in France´s border regions will find that different dialects and languages are spoken by the local population in the provinces. Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Flemish, Catalan, Corsican, and Occitan are important to many people, as local traditions are a big part of life in France.
Social Customs and Business Etiquette
People are expected to show polite behavior in public. Loud sneezing, combing your hair, and similar “private” displays are frowned upon. Casual conversations among business contacts living in France are more likely to be about controversial topics than about private ones, unless you know someone well.
By the way, expats in France consider it impolite to keep their hands in their pockets while talking to someone. Similarly, hands should not be kept below the table during a formal dinner with casual acquaintances or business contacts.
When invited for dinner in a private home of someone living in France, don´t bring wine, as choosing the right wine is considered the responsibility of the host. A small present, however, will be appreciated.
Business and private life are traditionally kept separate in France. Business entertainment is done in restaurants rather than at the home of a business associate, and more often at lunch than at dinner time.
Formal and Informal Greetings
The appropriate formal greeting among people living in France is a light handshake, with women offering their hand first. Among men, the superior in rank usually takes the initiative. Seniors should be addressed first, and you often stand when greeting someone.
Implied kisses on the cheek, though considered very French, are mostly used among friends and younger people. Expats from an Anglo-Saxon background should note that the common form of addressing business contacts is with their correct title and surname rather than their first name.