France for Beginners

25 Feb

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea”.  If you have this beautiful city in your agenda any time soon, here is where you can begin. Learn a little bit about the French etiquette to impress that beautiful French lady or gentleman, be it business or social. So let’s talk about France!

Paris being the home for many of the world’s leading designers, the French are particular about dressing well. Professional attire – depending on the business and location, tends to be formal. Paris is the most formal city in the country. The southern area is more casual, but people there are also well dressed.  Bright or flashy jewelry is frowned upon, and classic styles are preferred.

Formal greetings are handshakes and are initiated by the woman or the more important person.  A French handshake is a light grip with a single quick shake. Women may be kissed lightly by friends: men and women both. Kissing is lightly touching of the cheeks and air kissing not touching the lips to the cheeks. The number of kisses varies from region to region and can go from two to four. The standard greeting is ‘Bonjour’ (meaning ‘hello’ or ‘good day’). The French also sometimes use their last names first while doing introductions. If one is not sure, it is polite to clarify instead of using the names incorrectly.

Like many visitors do in China, it is best for business travelers to have their visiting cards printed in French on one side. During business negotiations, like the Germans, the French are analytical and are critical of knowledge without evidence. The French like debate and will bring up all possible objections, during official discussions.

Lunch is the best time for business meals – and be prepared as these can last up to two to three hours. You will most likely discuss the actual business after dessert is served, often followed by coffee. The conversation during the meal is also critical for the relationship. The French highly value  intellectual table conversation.

Do not schedule business trips during the months of July and August as this is the vacation season and most people will head out of the city for some time off.

The French are careful about personal habits, are discreet while sneezing or blowing their nose. They do not use personal items such as a comb or toothpick in public. It is also considered rude to chew gum or put ones hand in the pockets in public. Women sitting with their legs apart are considered rude, and they should have their knees together or legs crossed.

The French are particular about dinning etiquette. Both wrists should rest on the table at all times. While eating salad, the lettuce must not be cut – it is folded into small pieces. Bread should not be cut with a knife, but pinched out into bite sided pieces. In French dinning etiquette this piece can be used to push food on to the fork.

Keep these tips in mind if you have friends and colleagues from France.  You will enjoy their company once they open up with you. The French do take their time to get close, but it is well worth it.

Devika Das is an expert in international etiquette and Protocol – and holds a diploma in the subject from Institute Villa Peirrefue in Montreux, Switzerland and is licenced from the Protocol School of Washington. She is the founder of Raclette International which specialises in global executive presence and image for industry leaders, and is currently based in China.

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