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Ten tips on French business etiquette

Have you ever faced an awkward moment while working in France? As part of The Local's JobTalk series professional etiquette expert Kara Ronin gives us ten points of business protocol to help you avoid giving the wrong impression.

Ten tips on French business etiquette
Lunch is a serious business in France. Keep your hands where people can see them. Photo: psd/flickr

Whether its a simple handshake or an epic business lunch, professional protocol is serious business in France and it is, at times, very different to anywhere else in the world. To help guide you through the minefield of French business customs, expert Kara Ronin, who runs her own company Executive Impressions in Lyon, has come up with ten points of etiquette, that could help you land that all important job or clinch that crucial deal.

1. Address others using ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’.

Formality is highly regarded in France. You should always address your superiors and those you meet for the first time using ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’. Many people from outside France find it difficult to get used to this level of formality. However, in order to make a great first impression in France, a high level of politeness is critical.

2. Introduce yourself using your first and last name.

In a French business context, introductions are always made using both your first and last name. At times, you may hear others introduce themselves with their last name first, followed by their given name. This is also acceptable in French business culture. If you have trouble remembering names (don’t worry, everybody does), repeat their name aloud when you receive their business card. Another tip is to use their name as much as you can in conversation, of course without sounding like a parrot in training.

3. Use a brisk, light handshake.

French style handshakes are known to be brisk and light. You should expect a loose grip with only one or two up and down movements. If you’re not familiar with this light style of handshake, you could easily walk away with the costly wrong impression that the other person is in a hurry to get away from you! Be careful of this. Similarly, if you use the stronger American style handshake with a firm grip and two or three movements, you could easily leave your French business associate feeling overpowered and inferior.

4. Wear quality business attire, even if it’s Friday!

First impressions in France are heavily dependent on appearance. Quality business attire, jewellery and accessories will earn you valuable points in the office. The concept of ‘Casual Friday’ is not widely known in the French workplace. So don’t automatically turn up to work in your cosy weekend sweater and especially not in your sneakers (trainers)! You need to look like you mean business. Grooming is another important issue in France. Facial hair for men is not well received, particularly with superiors. Before that important business meeting get rid of that sneaky stubble.

5. Learn French gestures.

The French are just as famous for their gestures as they are for ‘les bises ’ (kisses). If you haven’t spent a lot of time in France, it can be difficult to interpret the meaning of certain gestures that often come up in day-to-day business life.. You should be careful using the ‘OK’ gesture (forming a circle with your thumb and index finger) that is common in Anglo-Saxon countries. In France, this gesture actually means ‘nothing’, ‘worthless’ or ‘zero’, which is not the best response when somebody asks ‘Did you like my proposal?’

6. Have one side of your business card in French.

It always shows respect and courtesy for the other person when you have one side of your business card printed in French and the other in your native language. In France, people commonly write their family name in capital letters so that it stands out. You should do the same. If you are interviewing in France, you will be remembered if you present to the interviewer your personal business card. If you attend networking events, you will always look organised if you use a professional business card case. Just make sure there is enough room for both your cards and for the cards that you will receive.

7. Keep your hands on the table at lunch.

The French business lunch is an experience in itself. Be ready for a style of dining that is formal and long. A very important rule in French dining etiquette is to keep your hands resting on the table, never on your lap. If wine is being served, remember the more you empty your glass, the more it will be topped up. If you’ve had enough wine, simply leave some resting in your glass. Business conversation generally starts after the dessert is served and it is up to the host to initiate it.

8. Keep your professional and personal life separate. 

In French business culture people prefer to keep their professional life and family life very much separate. This helps to maintain a consistent structure of formality in the workplace. When you are engaged in small talk at the beginning of a meeting or a networking event, it is in your favour to keep the topic of discussion purely professional and avoid questions about the other person’s personal life, family or even what they did on the weekend.

9. Avoid high-pressure sales tactics.

French business people do not like to be pressured into making quick decisions. Aggressive selling techniques won’t work. If you are in a business meeting, be patient and expect a lot of discussion and exchange of information. Decisions are generally not made on the first meeting. They are made after many detailed discussions and by somebody at the top. Be patient.

10. Expect probing questions and interruptions.

It is not frowned upon in France to ask a lot of questions and to interrupt somebody before they have finished. It is a common French conversation style. In other countries, interrupting may be inappropriate but in France it is simply a way to express your interest in the other person and the conversation. If you are being interrupted, take it initially as a positive sign that they like what you’re saying. Reciprocally, if you want to show your interest, don’t be afraid to interrupt and finish other people’s sentences, too.

Kara Ronin is based in Lyon and runs Executive Impressions. To find out more about business etiquette you can email her at [email protected]impressions.com or follow her on Twitter at @execimpressions

For more on working in France read The Local's Ten Tips for working in France

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language vacancies in France 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WORKING IN FRANCE

How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest

Age

Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 

Salary

Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract. 

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