When you start doing business in a different country it’s important to keep in mind that you’re going to have to start seeing things from their point of view instead of your own. Maybe you are from a culture where people are very straightforward with each other and it’s easy to make contact with anyone. You have to understand that this is not the case in every culture. If you want to be successful in the French business culture, you have to get off to a good start. To do this properly, you have to know how to approach French businesspeople, how to get in contact with them and how to successfully schedule appointments. Showing respect and understanding their multitasking culture are things you are going to have to take into account when doing business in France.
La logique de l’honneur
La logique de l’honneur is a concept that French author and researcher Philippe d’Iribarne discusses with regard to French organisations. The so-called logic of honour is something very common in France. The logic of honour can be explained as the drive that motivates the French people while doing business. It shows that status is very important in their culture and that everyone belongs to a certain rank. To understand this it is best to look at the power-distance index of cross-cultural researcher Geert Hofstede. France has the highest power-distance score in the whole of Europe; this shows us that there is a lot of inequality in France and that French organisations are based on hierarchy. With this in mind, the logic of honour makes a lot more sense. French people show a lot of respect when it comes to authority and people are judged by their position in an organisation.
To establish your authority in France you also need to show that you have earned that authority, for example by wearing expensive, fashionable clothes and by driving an expensive car. But merely showing off the things you have won’t be enough to get the respect you want from the French people; you also have to show it in the way you act and talk. Someone in a higher position should have a more authoritative tone when he/she speaks than someone in a lower position.
A good first impression
Since French people pay a lot of attention to the way they present themselves, you as a visitor should do the same. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your money on the most expensive shoes, clothes and cars, but it does mean that you have to keep in mind that the way you dress and your tone of voice will say something about your rank. Your first impression is very important. To make sure you make a good first impression, it is important to keep the French habits in mind. First of all, make sure that you know a couple basic words in French. This is a sign of respect and will make them feel flattered. Also your business card should be both in English and French. To start with, you should be well prepared and have studied the culture and their basic habits. When it’s time to meet the people who you’re going to do business with, it is important to keep in mind that you have to show respect , especially towards the people of the highest rank. When you are about to meet someone of a high rank, make sure that you will be introduced by someone who already knows them. The person with the highest rank should also be the person you approach first during your first meeting with the people with whom you are going to do business.
When you come to the point of making appointments in France it is important to keep in mind that France is a polychronic culture. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall came up with the concept of polychronic time vs. monochronic time. In polychronic cultures people tend to take time and appointments less seriously. In monochronic cultures, such as those in most northern European countries, people are constantly focused on scheduling things to make sure that they don’t waste any time. But in the French culture people look at time as a moment in between other moments, and not as a constant stream full of schedules. French people also tend to multitask more: they can do a couple of different things at once, instead of finishing one task first before starting with the other. It is also considered relatively normal to be late to appointments. Although that can be expected of the French people, don’t be late yourself, because this could be considered as a sign of disrespect towards the people you are doing business with. Because of their constant multitasking it is not preferable to schedule an appointment too much in advance. It could happen that your French business partner might cancel the appointment at a last moment because of other things he/she has to do at the last minute. That is why the safest way to schedule an appointment is at the last minute. It is a good idea to agree to meet in a restaurant where you can have lunch together, because food is very important in the French culture and the French people really enjoy going out for lunch or dinner. One could say that in France they live to eat, while in a more monochronic culture such as Germany they eat to live. This is a good example of the French culture and how they see time and the way they use their time. All in all, when it comes to scheduling appointments with your French business partners try to understand the way they see their time and try to adapt to that.