Excerpted from the France Career Guide
France has become an increasingly multicultural nation since the mid-20th century, owing mainly to immigration from former colonies in Africa, especially Northern Africa, known as the Maghreb. Although French law prohibits the compiling of statistics concerning citizens’ ethnic origins, it is known that France claims more than 5 million citizens of Arab and African descent.
Each region has a distinctive cuisine based on local, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Cuisine from Southern France bears a strong Mediterranean influence, with heavy use of herbs, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, while in the North, cuisine relies more on farmhouse ingredients such as meat and dairy.
The French are very fond of sports, particularly outdoor activities. Popular sports include football (soccer), tennis, judo, pétanque (a Provençal game somewhat akin to the Italian game of bocce), golf, mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing and hang-gliding.
Punctuality may be treated casually in France. As a visitor, it is recommended to arrive on time but important to recognize that French counterparts, particularly if they are hierarchically superior or are clients, may be late.
The French are quite traditional at heart and prefer a formal style of communication. Nevertheless, they can be very direct and are not afraid to ask questions, although they will not probe into personal matters.
French is the official language of business. Although many businessmen and women speak English quite well, they are usually impatient with individuals who do not at least attempt to speak French.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- In France, the North American gesture for 'OK' made with the index figure and thumb means 'zero.'
- Do not start eating until the host has indicated, usually with the phrase bon appétit, that it is time to begin.
- Toothpicks, nail files and other grooming implements should not be used in public.
- When entering and leaving a shop, it is customary to say bonjour/bonsoir (good morning/evening) and au revoir (good-bye). If the shop owner or employee is not in the immediate area, another customer may return the greeting for him or her.
A handshake is the customary greeting in the French workplace. Shaking hands (one brisk, firm shake) with everyone individually in a group when introduced and before departing is the norm. As the work culture tends to be formal, the use of titles or Monsieur (for men) and Madame (for women), along with the formal form of 'you' (vous), is appropriate until you are invited to use first names or the informal 'you' (tu). Never address a stranger with ‘tu’ as this can be interpreted as an insult. Touching cheeks and kissing the air (faire la bise) is a common custom between men and women and among women, although not with a foreigner or visitor in the work environment when meeting for the first time. The number of kisses varies by region, from two kisses to as many as four, so it is recommended to wait for a cue from the host. When meeting a group of people, greet every individual.
The French by nature tend to shy away from risk. Privacy and individual accomplishment of one’s tasks are critical in French business culture; workers provide what their bosses expect of them, and plans, methods and reports can be time-consuming, thorough and complicated efforts toward perfection. All of this occurs in a formal and sometimes very rigid hierarchical structure, which means time, deadlines and efficiency, while important, are secondary to attention to detail, rigorous logic and perfection of form.
Formality and reserve are of utmost importance in any negotiation. A carefully planned, organized proposal is the foundation for successful negotiations. The French can be very direct, questioning and probing; their radar usually focuses on those details of a proposal that, for example, are not clear or that require further explanation or logical exposition. That which is understood is typically not acknowledged, which gives the French a reputation for being detail-conscious and negative. They may want to express every possible objection in negotiating a contract or project; it is not necessary or expected for one to respond to every objection, especially those not critical to the outcome.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete France Guide.