Guide to Business Travel Etiquette: France

About France
France is the largest country in Western Europe, slightly smaller than Texas. France is between the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean Sea; bordering Italy and Spain. 58 million people live in France, about 4.5 million of them foreigners.

Language
French is the primary language spoken in France. If you plan to travel to France, it is strongly recommended that you learn the basics of the language. Your effort will be noticed and appreciated. If you can’t speak French, begin by saying. “Please excuse me for bothering you, but I do not speak French” – “Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait, de vous deranger, mais je ne parle pas francais.”

Business Dress
The French are very conscientious of their appearance and view dress as a reflection of social status and success. Because of this, be sure to wear well-tailored, stylish clothing. Dark, conservative clothing is most appropriate – avoid bright colors or flashy accessories.

Business Hours
Most businesses in France operate from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, with a lunch hour lasting up to two hours. Many executives or those in senior positions will stay at the office until 7:00 or 8:00 pm.

Holidays
There are 11 public holidays in France. In 2007, they are:
January 1st – New Year’s Day
April 9th – Easter Monday
May 1st – Labour Day
May 8th- 1945 Victory Day
May 17th – Ascension
May 28th – Whit Monday
July 14th – Bastile Day
August 15th – Assumption
November 1st – All Saints’ Day
November 11th – Remembrance Day
December 25th – Christmas Day

Most French employees get five weeks of vacation and many will take up to three weeks of this in July or August.

Conversations and Behavior
The most important aspect of French behavior is the emphasis on courtesy and formality. When meeting someone, it is customary to shake their hand. But, handshakes in France are light and quick – a strong handshake is considered aggressive. Good posture is important to the French – so be sure to stand up straight.

Do not address a business associate by their first name unless invited to do so. The basic courtesy title for women is ‘Madame’ and is ‘Monsieur’ for men. ‘Mademoiselle’ is considered old-fashioned and should be avoided.

Sometimes, the French will introduce themselves using the last name followed by their first name. This can be confusing if they both sound like first names. It is fine to ask for clarification if needed.

When engaging in conversation avoid topics related to individual political views or other personal matters. Stick to topics such as sports, art, music and food. Be prepared to discuss your own countries history and political system.
There are many common gestures and behaviors that are considered offensive in France. Be sure to avoid the following:

– Chewing gum in public
– Putting your hand in your pockets while in public
– Slapping an open palm over a closed fist
– Snapping fingers
– The OK symbol (forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger) actually means zero or useless in France. Use the thumbs up instead.

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