Doing Business in France: Investigative Report


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A Comprehensive Guide on Culture, Communication Practices, and Business Practices in France in Comparison with the United States.

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Doing Business in France: Investigative Report

  1. 1. Doing Business inFranceA Comprehensive Guide on Culture, CommunicationPractices, and Business Practices in FrancePrepared By,Gina Hales, Raymond Hovland, Elizabeth Loeffler,Charles Remise, and Christopher SturgeonMay 15, 2013
  2. 2. Doing Business in France 1Table of ContentsExecutive Summary……………………………………...........2Introduction……………………………………………………3Cultural Values…………….………………………….…....….4Communication Styles…………………………………………6Business Etiquette………….………………………..………....9BusinessRelationships……………………………….....…......11Time Orientation…….……………….…………….....…...…..13Recommendations………..………………………..…..………14List of Illustrations…………………….…………..…………..15Bibliography……………………………………….………….16
  3. 3. Doing Business in France 2Executive SummaryAnalysis of France’s Business Communication Practices in Comparison with the UnitedStates:In order to prepare for the expansion of Mustang Jeans into France, the CorporateCommunications department has researched the main cultural differences between France andthe United States. This information will be vitally important in ensuring the appropriatecommunication practices and therefore successful business relationships while interacting withthe French.Analytical Methods:The research documented within this report is gathered from variouscultural information sites, the main resource being The research oncommunication theories and cultural values is based on the findings of Edward T. Hall and GeertHofstede. Other sites visited are identified in the bibliography section of this study.Key Cultural Differences:There are many important differences between the French culture andthe United States culture. Language, time orientation, and communication styles each contributeto these key cultural differences. In order to establish successful business relationships with theFrench, it is vital to first form a personal relationship, due to the country‟s high context culture.Establishing and keeping this relationship on both a personal and professional level will beachieved after a gained understanding of the cultural differences as described in this analysis.Recommendations:In order to achieve a successful expansion into France, we recommend thatall Mustang Jeans employees who will be involved in the expansion participate in a culturaltraining workshop. This workshop will inform employees of the main cultural differencesbetween the United States and France, specifically focusing on the communication practices andbusiness relationships. The valuable knowledge that this training workshop will supply to theemployees will allow them to build long lasting, trusted relationships with the French, which willform into prosperous business relationships for the company.
  4. 4. Doing Business in France 3IntroductionMustang Jeans plans on expanding into the European market through the entry point of France,in a strategic move to increase sales and gain share in the eastern markets. Because of the levelof importance of this expansion, and in a hope to achieve the largest possible market penetration,Mustang Jeans needs to be fully prepared with every advantage possible. One of these majoradvantages is understanding the culture of France, as well as the way that business is done withinthe country.This study was created in order to facilitate that need for information, and provide acomprehensive look into the way that France does business, as requested by the executivemanagement. This study will provide those executive managers with a clear lens through whichthey can set priorities, design work and meeting schedules, and instruct employees on properpractices. This report will focus on several key topics:• Cultural Values of France• Communication Styles of France- Verbal Communication- Non-Verbal Communication• Proper Business Etiquette and Attire• Building Business RelationshipsThrough the use of this comprehensive study, a focal point of which being identifying keycultural differences in business and personal relationships, Mustang Jeans will be more preparedand better equipped to maximize the penetration into this new market, due to the increasedunderstanding of how the culture functions. The report draws on some of the most influential and
  5. 5. Doing Business in France 4Figure 1Hofstede’s Country ComparisonSource: The Hofstede Centerprominent cultural theories to help identify every aspect of French life that could be a potentialproblem to our American company, due to simple differences.Cultural ValuesGeert HofstedeGeert Hofstede, born in 1928, was an influential Dutch researcher in the field of organizationalstudies with a focus on organizational culture. Hofstede also worked on different fields ascultural economics and management. His mostnotable work is a cultural dimensions theory thatincludes 5 dimensions: Power Distance, Masculinity, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance andTime Orientation. This study is considered to be one of the most comprehensive in regards tothe influence culture has on values in the workplace.1Power Distance:The system in France showsthat every decision is carefully studied beforebeing taken, and that a lot of people have to seethe project and to give their opinion. Thatmakes the hierarchy very important, withpower very centralized. That is why the powerdistance in Hofstede´s Analysis is pretty high ata value of sixty eight. In France, it is veryimportant to make a difference betweenhierarchical levels. It is a society in whichinequalities are accepted. Hierarchy is neededif not existential.According to Iribarne, a Spanish politician, the fact that French accord so much importance topower distance in society is due to the fact that a distinction needs to be made between powerdistance and hierarchical distance.2Though power distance may be reduced in one part of a1“The Hofstede Center.”, Felix Brodbeck, and Robert House, Culture and Leadership Across the World
  6. 6. Doing Business in France 5business, the distance with people who are hierarchically higher in the firm remains still high.There is a desire to limit this power distance between employees and leadership, but the systemand the “logic of honor” is perpetuating hierarchical distance.3Individuality:The issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence betweenemployees or individuals in a society. The French environment at work is very individualistic,because it‟s a characteristic of the culture. The accent is set on competition rather thanteamwork. Thus, people work most of the time alone, which creates an intense environment ofcompetition in some companies. French people are individualistic because they look afterthemselves and their direct family. They do not consider themselves as a part of a specificgroup.4Masculinity/Femininity:The French society is driven by competition, achievement and success.We can explain this fact because men are leading in business environment. This system starts inschool and continues during the all life. This particular environment provokes this distinctionbetween men and women.Men are looking for being the best, and women are looking for having a good quality of life.That is the main difference between them.Nowadays, there are still some inequalities concerning women in a professional environment.Indeed, there are some inequalities concerning salaries, jobs, and power in firms. However, theyare more and more women in business, so things are changing since 10 years. Women haveaccess to executive jobs, and their skills are more recognized in today‟s organizations.Moreover, France is less a competitive country compared to America for example, where peoplecompete for promotions in companies. In France, men and women are more equal aboutpromotions, when it not concerns executive jobs as CEO or high executive jobs.5Uncertainty Avoidance:This dimension relates to the fact that a society can control the future ofits activity or not. Certain societies feel threatened by ambiguous situations and that‟s why they3“The Hofstede Center.”
  7. 7. Doing Business in France 6manage risks in order to limit uncertainties, and anticipate next events. All cultures don‟t viewuncertainty avoidance in the same manner. Some prefer to control the future; some others preferto let it happen. France has one the highest scores in uncertainty avoidance. They like to control,and in order to, they provide a lot of trainings and teach their employees how do manage risks.They are very attentive to details. Moreover, they meet often and plan on how to reduce certainrisks.6Long-term orientation:According to Hofstede´s analysis, French culture is not an ambitiousculture, because people don‟t like to take risks. They don‟t have really a future-orientedperspective, they have more a conventional historical short-term point of view. France has agreat respect for tradition, norms and values as guidelines. Truth is also very important.We canobserve this in business and in politics, where taking risks is not very welcomed in organizations.That‟s why French people are more likely to take a short-term view, and this is explained by thefact that they are looking to have quick results. Management is based on personal achievement,hard work and managers are judged on short-term results.7Communication StylesEdward T. HallEdward T. Hall, a famous American anthropologist from 20thcentury, is credited with some ofthe earliest discoveries of communication factors within culture. Hall is most known for hisstudies in human proximity and the context of cultures. In his study of verbal communication,Hall divides cultures into two contexts: high context and low context. When a culture is lowcontext, the communication practices are highly based on the words that are being spokenbetween people. In a high context culture, communication is less based on words, and much onbody language, positioning, and relationships. In the figure to the left, one can gain a better ideaof high and low context culture habits. In researching proximity, Hall classifies a culture‟s needfor space and ownership as either high territoriality or low territoriality. Hall claimed thatcultures who are high territoriality tend to be low context, and cultures that are low territoriality6Ibid7Ibid
  8. 8. Doing Business in France 7tend to be high context.8After studying the French communication styles, one can discover thatFrance is high context culture, with a low territoriality.8“Hall‟s Cultural Factors.” Jeitosa Group International.2012
  9. 9. Doing Business in France 8VerbalCommunication: The verbal communication style in France is honest and straightforward. TheFrench will not hesitate to ask questions and express their own opinions which often results indiscussions or negotiations which may seem to get heated or intense in comparison withAmerican discussions. It is important to the French that the person they are working or speakingwith at least tries to speak or learn a bit of French, and if not, that the person apologizes for notknowing the language. For example, when greeting all types of people, it is expected to sayBonjour (good morning) or bonsoir (good evening) followed by the title of Monsieur (men) orMadame (women) and to say au revoir (good-bye) when parting from the people. An attempt atusing these small greetings will be expected and appreciated, but the French will speak inEnglish if they realize your French isn‟t very strong. Topics of conversation that are wellreceived include French food, philosophy, and art; conversations involving money or politicsshould be avoided.9Non-verbal Communication: The non-verbal communication in France is characterized by thehigh importance placed on good posture and manners. The French tend to have a low8“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.” 2Low Context Vs. High Context
  10. 10. Doing Business in France 9territoriality, and therefore stand closely to each other during conversations, with body contactinvolving light touching. Eye contact is important, and keeping one‟s hands visible and awayfrom their pockets is normal. Some gestures and actions that should be avoided include the “ok”sign, snapping your fingers, hitting your palm to your closed fist, and chewing gum in public. Toshow your agreement or consent, a “thumbs-up” sign is acceptable.10The written communication is very formal in France. If you are not comfortable writingin French, your business card should be in English. Business meetings can be made by telephoneor by written request, and are scheduled by secretaries. Secretaries may serve as your source ofinformation from French business partners.11Business Etiquette10Ibid11Ibid
  11. 11. Doing Business in France 10Appropriate Business Attire:France is to be considered by many to be one of the most fashion-forward nations in the world and has been for some years. 12In France business dress isunderstated and stylish and you are expected to look your best in any professionalsituation.13Businessmen in France are required to wear traditional business suits that are dark incolor for the scheduled meeting. Women are expected to either wear suits or an elegant orsophisticated dress in soft colors, avoid using bright colors. It is imperative to understand thatjackets must stay, as in France it is a sign of unprofessionalism, and should be avoided at allcosts.Meeting and Greeting:To sustain a professional business relationship with French customers andassociates it‟s important to greet them with the phrase „bonjour,‟ meaning good morning, and„bonsoir,‟ meaning good evening.14The handshake is a common form of greeting in France. It‟sessential to understand that the French only use first names when they are speaking to family andclose friends, so only use first names after you have established this close relationship.Business Meetings and Office Etiquette:In the French culture, appointments are alwaysnecessary, and must be made at minimum several weeks prior to the meeting. Theseappointments can be made over the phone or with written documents, andit is wise not to schedule meetings during the common vacation period,between July and August.15If there are to be expected delays on arrivalof scheduled meeting, telephone straightaway and explain the reason forrunning late. Business meetings in France are to converse issues and notto make conclusions first time, it‟s vital to avoid overstated claims, asmajority of French will not welcome hyperbole.Dining Etiquette and Table Manners:Being on time is crucial in theFrench culture and it‟s unacceptable to arrive more than ten minutes late.It‟s vital to telephone and give an explanation on what is going on. If12“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.” 3French FlagSource: Bows n‟ Ties
  12. 12. Doing Business in France 11asked out to a big dinner party, it‟s important to send flowers the morning of the dinner party, asthe French like to display the flowers at the evening event, particularly in Paris.The way you dress is critical as the French people are very fashion aware and their type of casualis not relaxed as in many western countries. Good table etiquettes are so essential in France, somake sure not to begin eating until the hostess says „bon appetite‟ as it is common courtesy towait. Do not put your elbows on the dinner table; though make sure to keep your hands in sight.Leaving your wine glass almost full means that you don‟t want any more, as soon as the wineglass comes close to empty it will be filled straight back up.Gift Giving: Giving gifts is acceptable but is needed to be exercised with discretion. This isbecause warmth and generosity between business associates is not a norm in the French businessculture16It is suggested that you don‟t include your business card with a gift, as it should relatedirectly to business but rather be on some type of personal level. Gifts are usually opened whenreceived and if given wine make sure that it is of the uppermost quality, as almost all Frenchpeople really appreciate their wines.Business Negotiation: The primary approach to negotiation in France is to engage in a debatetypically aimed at reaching a mutually agreeable solution. The style of negotiation that theFrench use is cooperative. They are very passionate negotiators and they can sometime appear toto be aggressive. It‟s important to stay calm, tranquil, patient and determined when negotiating.A lot of French people spend a numerous amount of time gathering important information anddiscussing details before they begin to bargain in thenegotiation stage. Majority of negotiations that areconducted by the French are slow, they take time inbargaining and decision making, which can be a veryprolonged and time consuming. 17It‟s critical to maintaindirect eye contact while speaking and to avoid anyconfrontational behavior or any high-pressured tactics.French business is hierarchical, where all decisions are16“International Gift Giving Etiquette – France” 1WorldGlobalGifts.com17“Negotiating International Business – France” Global Negotiation SourceFigure 4French WineSource:
  13. 13. Doing Business in France 12mostly made at the top of the organization.18Women in Business: Most businesswomen in the French society struggle to reach positions ofsimilar income and power as men. Businesswomen should courteously receive any chivalricgestures that they receive. Exhibiting self-confidence and assertiveness can be effective, thoughit is essential not to appear excessively bold and aggressive.19Business RelationshipsWhile conducting business in France, behaviors that emphasize courtesy and are carried out withrespect for formality are appreciated. By forming a large network of personal relationships, youwill have an advantage that can benefit you later in the business relationship. The way a Frenchperson communicates is governed by three criteria that should be taken into consideration whileanalyzing the target audience: their social status, their level of education and where in thecountry they were raised.20In negotiating winning business deals, respect and mutual trust isessential. Trust is earned by adapting to the cultural norms in the society and get inside theFrench counterpart‟s social circle.Social Circle:The French are very privatepeople, and keep many things only betweenthemselves and those in their intimate circle offamily and close friends. They also functionwith different sets of rules when dealing withthose outside that circle.21The French are politeto everyone, but cannot be their true selvesexcept when with those they see as closest tothem. Friendship in France brings with it a setof roles and responsibilities much stricter that18“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.”“Negotiating International Business – France” Global Negotiation Source20“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.” 5Initial Relational PositionSource: Photo courtesy of Raymond Hovland
  14. 14. Doing Business in France 13in the United States. You are expected to be available whenever you are needed, and thefriendship requires frequent, if not daily contact.22Problems with families should never bediscussed with the French, as they consider it to be rude, along with inquisitions about money.This should only be done if you are considered a true friend or inside their social circle. It isactually acceptable to talk about sex, religion and death no matter what the relationship is.23Your goal is to move inside their “circle of trust” by acting properly in meetings, becausemeetings is where you will deliver your first impression and also show what you have to offer.24Forming Relationships: French men and women approach problems from a theoretical point ofview.25In forming a relationship with a stranger, the French want to know whether or not youexhibit the abilities of giving logical arguments based on facts and evidence, rather thanemotional or high-pressure techniques. They like to have a discussion for discussions sake tointeract in the logical process that the discussion is. You should expect many interruptions whenyou talk. This is considered a necessary part of the conversation and you are expected to do thesame back to show engagement and interest in the topic. It is perfectly normal that everyonetalks at the same time in a seemingly intense argument, but this is in fact just a normaldiscussion.26Also, expect a lot of gesticulations which is also considered normal. The best wayto handle these meetings, if you are unfamiliar with how to behave, is to observe their behaviorand adapt to it.27French people ask personal and probing questions, because they want honestanswers back, as this helps them build the relationship.28That is why they can appear extremelydirect to people not familiar with their way of conducting business. They do not appreciatehidden messages or prepared answers – they want your true, genuine opinion.Business Lunch: A business lunch in France often lasts for an extended period of time, over twohours. these business lunches are very important in the French culture. It is here that business isdone as well as where personal relationships are built. Without this kind of interaction, it will bealmost impossible to develop a long-term relationship with them. After the lunch meeting, you22Ibid23(Blendstrup et al. )24“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.” et al. )26Ibid27Ibid28“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.”
  15. 15. Doing Business in France 14should ask the businesspeople present for a further meeting to get to know each other more, suchas coffee or, perhaps, leaving it with a promise to call . These promises are critical to keep,because credibility in France is something fluid. A missed coffee meeting, or a forgotten phonecall can destroy any reputation that has been built with them previously, and can send you backto the very beginning stages of the relationship, if not tarnish it irreparably.Maintaining Relationships: After having formed a successful relationship, it is important tomaintain it. French executives are eager to maintain long-term business relationships, becausethey put much effort into finding trustworthy alliances. Before going to further meetings, it isideal to have some background knowledge of French history and culture. The French are a proudpeople that like to talk about things in the past and expect other people to understand what theyrefer to.29If you do not speak French, sincerely apologize for your lack of knowledge, as thismay assist in the forming of the relationship. The best option would be to learn some key phrases.This will impress the French and show your desire for a long-lasting relationship with them.30Another mean of communication is online networking. This method is effective in maintainingthe relationship, but should never be used to start or build one, especially not with Baby Boomersor Generation X. In all dealings, be polite, honest and keep your promises, this will keep youinside the circle of trust that gives you all the advantages of being a reliable business partner.31Time Orientation:Time is viewed differently in France, depending on where in the country you conduct yourbusiness. In northern France, in the areas around Paris, you should expect to be on time. If youhave a meeting at 12 PM, you should be there at 12 PM. However, the further south you go, themore relaxed punctuality becomes. Being fifteen minutes late is perfectly acceptable in themiddle of France. If you have an appointment at 12 PM in the southern region, be there closer to12:30 PM.32Recommendations29(Blendstrup et al. )30Ibid31Ibid32“Business Etiquette and Protocol in France.”
  16. 16. Doing Business in France 15Create a Workshop Focusing on Doing Business in France: It is imperative for the success of theintegration of Mustang Jeans into the French lifestyle that the employees of the company fullyunderstand what is required to do business there. Through this intercultural training workshop forall employees that will interact with French customers or business partners, an understanding onthe processes of building, fostering and maintaining business relationships, appropriateconversation topics, cultural norms and taboos, and proper etiquette will be obtained. Thistraining workshop will be on a Saturday, with a traditional French lunch provided for allattending employees. The workshop will give employees the tools to first foster personalrelationships with the French that will form into profitable business relationships for thecompany for years to come.Encourage French Language Courses:The French feel that having a basic knowledge of theirlanguage as an outsider implies a great deal about the desire for relationships. Learning basicphrases such as proper greetings will be appreciated by the French because it shows a genuinedesire to understand their culture. Through training courses on the fundamentals of the Frenchlanguage, employees of Mustang Jeans will be better equipped to make a good impression withthe potential business partners in France.List of Illustrations
  17. 17. Doing Business in France 161) Figure 1: Hofstede‟s Country Comparison: France Versus the United States2) Figure 2: Low Context Versus High Context Cultures3) Figure 3: French Flag4) Figure 4: French Wine5) Figure 5:Initial Relational Position When Starting Business With FranceBibliography
  18. 18. Doing Business in France 17Blendstrup, Angelika, Ale Gicqueau, and Pierre-Jean Charra. "Building Business Relationshipsin the French-Speaking World." US Professional Business Communications forInternational Executives and Entrepreneurs. May 5, 2013) “Hall‟s Cultural Factors.”, J. S., Brodbeck, F. C., & House, R. J. (2007). Culture and Leadership Across the World.N.p.: Psychology Press."France - French Culture, Customs and Etiquette." Kwintessential. May 12, 2013).Hofstede, Geert. "The Hofstede Center." Accessed April 30, 2013. Hofstede, G. (n.d.). Whatabout france. Retrieved from Gift Giving Etiquette – France (accessed April 26,2013).Kwintessential “Business Etiquette and Protocol in France” Kwintessential. April 25, 2013).Negotiating International Business – France (accessed April 26, 2013)