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Prepare for Your New Office: French Management Culture

The French management culture is relatively conservative in nature. Although there are different business structures, all share similar expectations when it comes to business etiquette and work ethic in the office. This guide will help you understand what to expect in your new work environment.

At a Glance:

  • In business meetings, the French like to get down to business quickly: plan an agenda to stay on track.
  • Gift giving to business associates is not necessary, but if you are invited to a dinner you should bring a small gift for the host.
  • Your CV should include past work experience, educational and occupational training, volunteer work, and any other information about yourself that would be valuable to your employer.

What to Expect in Your Office Environment?

In general, French companies are structured with a defined autocracy in place. Important decisions are carried by the top management officials and then filtered down to the rest of the company. Even though management makes the important decisions, this doesn’t stop those further down the chain of command from stating their own ideas; they might be discarded, though. Although autocratic management is the norm, this structure is not always the model: it depends on the individual company. While companies in France may typically be ruled from the top, all employers appreciate respect, organization, tolerance, punctuality, and professionalism at the workplace.

During business meetings, the French like to discuss business quickly, although, there is room for small talk during the first five minutes. Usually, meetings follow a planned agenda and both parties will need enough time to deliberate before making a final decision. When scheduling an important business meeting, keep in mind that there is five weeks of vacation in France. Most people take time off during the month of August, as well as around the Christmas and Easter holidays. Also, make sure that you plan the meeting far enough in advance so everyone has the chance to be prepared.

The language spoken in the office very much depends on your location and the company.  If you do not speak French but live in a large city, you should not have a problem communicating with your fellow co-workers: most French can speak English, as they are taught it in school.

How to Present Yourself in the Office and at Business Dinners

Firstly, in a business setting you should always introduce yourself using both your first and last name. If you are at a restaurant or a business lunch, it is proper etiquette to keep your hands above the table: they should never be in your lap. If you are drinking wine, remember that an empty glass will usually be refilled. Make sure that you pace yourself, and if you’ve had too much to drink, don’t drink the remainder of the wine in the glass. Typically, it is up to the hosting party to initiate the business discussion and this is only discussed after the completion of the meal.

One thing to keep in mind is that the French do not like to be pressured into making quick decisions. Hence, try not to be too pushy with your sale tactics. This will only make everyone flustered and aggravated. After all, if it is an important decision, it probably won’t be made in the first meeting anyways.

Acceptable Presents for Co-Workers and Outside-Office Entertainment

In France, gift giving to fellow associates is not necessary. If you would like to show your business partners and co-workers appreciation, it’s better to invite them to dinner or host an event. The only time when presents are expected is during small social gatherings. If you are invited to someone’s home, then bring a small gift. Some examples of appropriate gifts are: wine, liquor, dessert, fine chocolate, or flowers.

When choosing flowers, make sure that there is an odd number. If the bouquet has a large number of flowers — let’s say more than seven — it’s fine to not have an odd number. The type of flowers also matter in France: some flowers to avoid are carnations — which are considered bad luck — and chrysanthemums — which are commonly used for funerals.

If you are going to a celebration at someone’s house, it’s customary to bring a bottle of champagne. If you decide to bring a dessert or chocolates for after dinner, make sure to give it to the host as you arrive so they can decide whether or not to serve it.

It’s important to know that business and family matters are kept separate in France. Unless it’s an emergency, you should not call or discuss work with your colleagues after office hours. Also, the French respect hard workers, but they frown upon workaholics. Make sure that you find time to spend on something other than your job.

French Appearance and Body Language

Although it’s a part of French culture to kiss people on both cheeks (les bises), this is only reserved for close family members and friends. You should never kiss a business associate or co-worker on the cheek: this is not appropriate for someone who you do not know personally. For business meetings, it’s customary to shake hands with everyone when you first arrive, and also when you are leaving.

Dress for Success

Appearance matters a great deal in France. Even entry-level workers dress properly and sophisticated throughout the week. Generally, outfits for the office tend to be business formal. However, you should always check your company’s dress code to make sure that you’re following the rules. The company’s dress code is usually stated in your contract.


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