The French tend to dislike Americans

Business Cultures Series: Etiquette and Style in France [Part 6]

France was Germany's most important trading partner for over four decades without interruption. In 2015, the US took our western neighbor in pole position for the first time Import-export statistics replaced. However, this cannot diminish the importance of France as Germany's closest and most important European partner. The trade volume between Germany and France is still a gigantic 170 billion euros. And with no other country is there such regular and intensive coordination in politics and business. No wonder then that the French market is very attractive for German entrepreneurs and offers enormous business opportunities. Although many Germans already had points of contact with their western neighbors - be it in French lessons at school, on student exchanges or on vacation - there are also numerous differences in mentality here that have to be taken into account in business life.

The French know how to enjoy their life in style and elegance (“savoir-vivre”) and display a relaxed attitude towards life. The excellent French cuisine, excellent wines, champagne, luxury goods of all kinds, jewelry and fashion are valued all over the world. The largest country in the EU in terms of area is very proud of its cultural achievements in education, art, philosophy and literature and its democratic traditions (e.g. the declaration of human rights). The motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” - “Liberty, equality, fraternity“- capitalized.

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The French value good clothing


Although French business people also speak good English, the French language is very much appreciated and anyone who can negotiate with their partner in the national language will undoubtedly collect plus points. The greeting is usually warm, with a short, not too firm handshake. The hinted kiss on the cheek between women and men, which is very common in private, is rather avoided at first business meetings. In the fashion nation France, of course, much more value is placed on good clothing and brands than in Germany. That's why it is at business meetings serious clothing is a mustFor men in any case suit and tie, women are best to wear trouser suits or suits, if possible not to emphasize the figure. While punctuality and adherence to deadlines play an important role in German business life, the French place less value on it. You should therefore factor in delays, but always be on time yourself.

A striking feature of the hexagon is the pronounced centralism. The capital Paris is by far the most important political, cultural and economic center of the country. For the French, on the other hand, German federalism, with numerous important cities and economic centers spread across the entire country, is rather unfamiliar. One fifth of the population lives in Paris and all of the country's major transport routes lead to Paris in a star shape, as a look at the map shows. The management style in many companies, which are structured very hierarchically, is also characterized by centralism. This means that important decisions are made centrally and implementation is directed from above.


Authority characterizes the leadership style


Accordingly, the French employees expect authoritarian executives who make decisions, provide strategy and problem solutions. For French managers, authority derives more from the position, personality and reputation of the (elite) university attended than from professional competence. In contrast, the German management culture is characterized by a downward delegation of responsibilities and tasks. The importance of professional competence is also more pronounced here.

At meetings with French business partners, you have to be prepared for a completely different meeting culture. German managers are used to preparing meetings extremely well, with a detailed agenda and the clear goal of bringing about a decision at the end. French managers, on the other hand, tend to meet for an initial exchange of ideas; At the same time, the hierarchy is important for the French and so the highest-ranking person usually sits at the head of the table.


Courtesy, etiquette and style


In France, the first thing is to create a positive mood. The French place particular emphasis on courtesy, etiquette and style. French managers love a witty conversation culture with linguistic finesse and hidden humor. You prefer face-to-face conversations to exaggerated written communication. A lot of instinct is required and an implicit rather than a direct style of communication, as is usual in this country. This includes the fact that the French do not say “No” directly in order not to hurt or embarrass the interlocutor. The truth usually comes from between the lines and from the tone of voice. In contrast to the Americans, the French are not prone to exaggerated hymns of praise. This means that statements such as “that's not bad” can definitely be assessed positively.

In order to do business with the more emotional French, you first have to show your interlocutor your sympathy. A business relationship in France usually begins with lunch, which is a good opportunity for it. The French are gourmets, usually a menu is served, so that the business lunch can last up to two hours. You should therefore plan enough time. The French like to drink wine, but with moderation and purpose. The table talk usually revolves around private matters in order to get to know each other better. Talk about cultural topics such as art, music or literature, travel or family. You should avoid politics and religion. Business is usually discussed towards the end. Splitting the bill is not common - whoever has invited to dinner pays.

While German managers tend to separate personal and professional life, in France, as in many other countries, building a friendly relationship and trust as the basis for professional cooperation plays an important role. Allow enough time to build a personal network that is essential for getting the right information in French business.


About the author

Markus Hofelichis a business and financial journalist and lives with his family in the south of Munich. He gained his journalistic experience as editor-in-chief at DIV Deutscher Industrieverlag, as deputy editor in chief of Cash. as well as editor-in-chief of the business magazine “Unternehmeredition” of GoingPublic Media AG. Markus Hofelich holds a degree in cultural studies and studied at the Universities of Passau and the Sorbonne in Paris.

He currently has the website started an online magazine for philosophy, happiness and motivation and is looking for new challenges.