Cultural Differences – France

A splatter grunge effect tricolor flag of France

Enjoying a good meal

In France not only tourists like to enjoy a good meal. Businessmen also have the chance to gourmandise to their heart’s content when visiting French companies. The reason for this is that in France the starting point for negotiations is a cultivated conversation during an extensive meal. Only if the French delegates find their counterparts adequately likeable they are willing to start a collaboration.

Establishing a stable contact

In contrast to some other cultures the French business culture is strongly relationship-orientated. Thus a stable business relation requires a certain degree of emotional attachment between the respective business partners. And this again means that a lively exchange is necessary which implies by far more than the typical small talk that one may be used to e. g. in Anglo-Saxon cultures. The French will check their business partners thoroughly because they want to get to know them really well.

Meetings in French companies

In meetings the French like to invite their guests to a mutual brain storming. When talking about a comprehensive concept they usually just have a rough framework in mind: The basic idea is presented to the large round in order to then elaborate it. Especially in progressed collaboration members of cultures in which detailed planning is common might react rather perplexed when realising that an announced concept actually is not more than a rough idea. Therefore they tend to overlook the invitation to mutual thinking and development. Being confronted with an already elaborated concept the French on the other hand may feel hard-pressed since they get the feeling that they have no equal say in the respective project.

Compared to cultures that communicate in a direct way the French have a more implicit style of communication. This means that you might not find the intended information in the expressed words. The French tend to drop hints and like to spread information. Therefore, the recipient of the message should consider the respective context as well as body language and earlier information in order to understand what has been said. Regarding the flow of information in French culture there is a debt collectible by the creditor: If you need information it is not automatically brought to you but you have to seek it by consistent requires.

Debating is fun!

Even though the French are strongly relationship-orientated it might be surprising that they are not at all consensus-orientated when it comes to negotiations. In fact the opposite is the case: their style of negotiation is often based on deliberately emphasising different opinions. So usually lively discussions evolve during which contraries will permanently be stressed. And yet at the same time the relationship level still has to be taken care of. Even when all facts are clearly on the table chances are high that the discussion will start all over. However, with new business partners this fondness of debates will only be acted out when there is no doubt that the relationship level is stable enough. This means that if you got smoothly through the first stages of negotiation you should prepare yourself for upcoming storms during the next rounds.

Despite of all debates that are carried out during meetings in French companies the decisive power solely lies with the top management. In most cases decisions are made behind closed doors. Business partners may sense the decision-making process as rather lengthy.


All in all members of other cultures may quite often find the behavior and actions of their French business partners hard to comprehend: on the one hand they are very relationship-orientated and on the other hand they are pure individualists. In French companies there are clear hierarchies with defined authorities yet it is the informal relationships that are dominate. And even though they foster an implicit style of communication during negotiations they may express their refusal in a very brusque manner. Without doubt these cultural characteristics may seem confusing to one or the other foreign business partner.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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