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Learning French Social and Business Customs

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If you are thinking about moving or working in France, it is best to learn some practical information on etiquette.

Social Customs:

Greeting:

When you meet someone, the handshake is the usual gesture. Some French friends have the customs of kissing lightly, once on the left cheek and then once on the right. You must wait until the invitation to use first names, as those are reserved for close relationships like family and friends. When entering a shop, you must greet with “bonjour” in the morning and “bonsoir” in the evening, and “au revoir” when leaving.

Gift Giving:

If you give someone flowers, they must be in an odd number that is not 13. Be aware that some older people do not like white lilies or chrysanthemums, because those are used at funerals, and white flowers are only used at weddings. Make sure to give very high quality French wine as a gift, as the French take their wine very seriously. In general, gifts are opened when they are received.

Dining:

If you are invited to dinner at someone’s house, you must arrive on time. If you go to a large dinner party, send flowers that morning to the location, and they will be shown in the evening. Do not eat until the host or hostess says “bon appetit.” Finish everything on your plate, and cross your knife and fork in the middle of your plate with the fork on top. Dress well!

Business Customs:

If you do not speak French, make sure to apologize to French business people for not knowing their langauge. The French may seem very direct in business, and they are not afraid to ask any question. Appointments must be made at least 2 weeks in advance, usually by writing or telephone. Try to avoid scheduling an appointment in July or August, as most French are on vacation for that time. Meetings are where people discuss matters, not make decisions. When you are at the meeting, wait to be told where to sit, and make eye contact while speaking. Discussions are often very intense, and you will be expected to show good debating skills in order to be taken seriously. Make sure to have one side of your business card translated into French, and also include any advanced academic degrees. Business dress is stylish: men should wear dark-colored suits for the initial meetings, and women should either wear business suits or nice dresses in light colors.

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