The French take their traditional manners and etiquette very seriously and expect others to observe them. The manners are practiced in both the home and at working environments and family members are equally expected to strictly observe them
Meetings and greetings
When greeting another, the French commonly use the handshake but light kisses on the right and left cheeks are used between and among friends. First names are usually kept for family and close friends. The proper form of address given to others normally involve the words ‘bonjour’ and ‘bonsoir’ followed by the respectable titles of Monsieur (for a man) or Madame (for a woman). Greeting neighbors is a common courtesy.
Odd digits are used for the number of flowers but never 13. Some older French people dislike receiving white lilies (used in funerals); red carnations (bad will); or any other white flowers as they are normally used for weddings.
The young are usually more flexible but to avoid errors, conservatism is advisable at all times.
When drinking, the wine should be of the highest quality to show respect to a people who appreciate good wine. Gifts are usually opened when received.
When invited to dine, arrive on time; to arrive more than 10 minutes late without any explanation is unforgivable. The importance of time becomes flexible as one travels further south. Send flowers on the morning of a large party to which you have been invited, so they can be displayed in the evening. For all formal invitations, dress well. The hosts are fashion conscious and don’t take kindly to casual attire acceptable in many western countries.
In France, table manners are continental with the fork in the left hand and knife in the right when eating. Wait to be directed to a seat and do not start eating before the hostess says ‘bon appetit’. Cross knife and fork on the plate with the fork on the knife to signify you have not finished eating. Never rest the elbows on the table but the hands should always be visible. Eat everything on the plate but while eating, do not cut the salad with knife and fork. Lettuce is folded onto the fork before eating it. Always peel and slice fruit before eating and should you desire no more wine, leave you glass nearly full.
Business etiquette and protocol
The knowledge and practice of business etiquette and protocol should be the first priority of the newcomer to France.
Relationship and communication
Courtesy, formality, trust and respect are fundamental and a personal business alliance is essential. For any inadequacies or faults, an apology is always in order. Learning key words and phrases is always helpful and shows keen interest. Any written communication should always be formal, meetings are scheduled by the Secretaries who also pass information between the business colleagues.
These are made 2 weeks ahead of time in writing or by telephone with the secretary. Know that July or August are normally taken up for holidays so meetings should be avoided. Any delays require prompt notification and explanation. Issues are discussed and not decided at meetings and exaggerations are usually ignored.
The quest should wait for directions as to where to sit and when speaking, keep direct eye contact. Meetings are conducted slowly requiring patience and adherence to protocol. Confrontations and pressure tactics must be avoided and appreciate that the French will carefully analyze the proposal thoroughly regardless of triviality. Good debating skills always impress the French but avoid being too friendly as they differentiate between business and their personal lives. Know that decisions are made at the highest echelon of the company and when an agreement is reached, a most appropriately worded document will be drawn up to close the deal.
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