For many French people, eating and drinking are the two most important things in their everyday lives. If you are a foreigner working in France, keep in mind that a coffee break, for example, may take a long time since the French will often stop working while they are having a cup of coffee. This is only one example of something about the French business culture that is important to understand if you are going to work in France or with French people.
When you are planning on working with people in France, it is essential to know that for almost the entire population, French is not only their first language, but also the only language they speak. It is commonly known that the French generally don’t speak English very well. If you are planning to work together with French people it can be very handy to study their language before going there. The French will really appreciate it if you can speak with them in their own language. If there is no possibility for you to learn the language, it may at least be helpful to apologise for the fact that you are not able to speak French.
But the language is not the only thing that is important. If you really want to work successfully with French people, it will require some work in building up a relationship. In general, French people are very kind and polite, but you will always feel some distance with those with whom you work. This is because French people tend to be very private. You might only see the real person if you are a close friend or family. But if you are being respectful, if you follow their habits and if they feel that they can trust you, there is a good chance that they will be more open and then working with them can be a lot easier and also very pleasant.
As mentioned before, eating and drinking is not something to do quickly while you are working. For many French people, lunch can be very meaningful. It is very normal for a lunch to take a couple of hours. You should use these moments to build up relationships with your colleagues. Try to talk about things other than work. The more you start to know each other, the more they will trust and open up to you.
When you are having a meeting in France, it is most likely that the goal of the meeting is to discuss problems and to share information. Decisions will not often be made during a meeting. There is often a very top-down hierarchical culture in French companies. Important decisions will almost always be made at the top of the organisation. The consequence of this is that it can take a while before the decisions are made.
If you have to convince French people or if you have to discuss some issues, it is not a problem to be direct, but it is important to be diplomatic. French people are not afraid of arguing and most of the time it is also not a problem if you interrupt them. Sometimes when there is a difference of opinion, a good lunch may solve all the problems.
In the end, if you are respectful and you make an effort to build up a relationship with someone, it’s not that hard to work with the French. If you have to discuss something, do not forget that a lunch can be much more effective than any meeting.