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France: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in France

Businesspeople should wear conservative clothes. Prior appointments are expected and the use of business cards is usual. While knowledge of French is a distinct advantage in business dealings, it is sometimes considered impolite to start a conversation in French and then have to revert to English.

Business meetings tend to be formal and business decisions are taken only after lengthy discussion. When conducting business, entertaining is usually held in restaurants, and the first meeting is devoted to establishing a relationship.

It is customary to address colleagues with the appropriate Madame, Monsieur, Professeur or Docteur followed by the surname and a handshake. The informal word for ‘you’ - ‘tu’ - should only be used once the other person has started to use this him/herself. Business cards (preferably in French and English) should be presented.

After an initial meeting, kissing on the cheek is the norm. Always say goodbye to people one by one at the end of an event or else you will risk the term: filer à l’anglaise (literally ‘to leave the English way’). This is not a good thing.

France has a 35-hour working week and office hours are generally between Monday-Friday 0830/0900-1700/1800, with a one- or two-hour lunch break during the day. Some offices close early on Friday afternoon.

In Paris, firmness, not rudeness, is in order. Small talk is an essential part of doing business in Paris, so it is wise to do a quick refresher on French politics and culture prior to the meeting and to take your time getting to the talk of business. Smart, conservative dress is recommended. Business lunches, working dinners and breakfast meetings are common. In addition, whoever fixes the meeting is expected to settle the bill. At formal dinners, diners must wait for the most important guest or the host to give the signal to start eating. Conducting business in August (during the Parisian holiday exodus to the south) is best avoided.

In Southern France, business attire tends to be smart and chic, with light suits a must in the hot summer months. Due to (sometimes) good-natured rivalry, praise of the capital (unless one's colleague is from Paris) should be avoided. Standard business hours in Southern France are Monday to Friday 0830-1200 and 1430-1800. Lunch meetings are common.

In provincial areas, breakfast meetings are rare. Normally, meetings are fixed for mid-morning or mid-afternoon, while lunch meetings usually only involve colleagues already involved on a joint project.

Office Hours

Generally Mon-Fri 0900-1200, 1400-1800.

Economy

France has the seventh-largest economy in the world, after the USA, China, Japan, Germany, the UK and India, and has an annual per capita income of more than US$42,000. It has a wide industrial and commercial base, covering everything from agriculture to light and heavy industrial concerns, advanced technology, and a burgeoning service sector.

France is also Western Europe's leading agricultural nation with over half of its land area devoted to farming. The country is famously one of the world's leading wine producers.

French companies are prominent in many industries, particularly steel, motor vehicles, aircraft, mechanical and electrical engineering, textiles, chemicals and food processing. In advanced industrial sectors, France has one of the world's largest nuclear power industries, which meets about three-quarters of the country's energy requirements, and is a world leader in computing and telecommunications.

The service sector is dominated by tourism, which has long been a major foreign currency earner.

In May 2009, France officially entered a recession after its GDP shrank by 1.2% in the first quarter, as a result of the global financial crisis. After four quarters of contraction, however, it then returned to a period of growth.

Paris is one of the world's leading conference cities. Also in demand are the Riviera towns of Nice and Cannes; other cosmopolitan centres include  Lyon, Strasbourg, and Marseille.

GDP

US$2.47 trillion (2016).

Main exports

Machinery and transportation equipment, aircraft, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, and beverages.

Main imports

Machinery and equipment, vehicles, crude oil, aircraft, plastics and chemicals.

Main trading partners

Germany, Spain, USA, Italy, UK and Belgium.

Keeping in Touch in France

Telephone

Card-only telephones are common, which can be used with pre-paid cards bought from post offices and tabacs. Coin boxes are being phased out throughout the country. International calls are cheaper between Mon-Fri 1900-0800 and all day Sat-Sun. Calls can be received at phone boxes that show the sign of a blue bell. Information in English and other languages can be accessed by pressing the button with a two-flags icon.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is excellent.

Internet

Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in France; most hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops offer customers free access to their networks. Some larger towns and cities have free hotspots. Access is also available in internet cafés, which are found in most towns.

Media

France enjoys a free press and has more than 100 daily newspapers (quotidiens), including an increasing number of free newspapers. Most newspapers are in private hands and are not linked to political parties. State-run Radio France runs services for the domestic audience, French overseas territories and foreign audiences. Daily newspapers include Le Monde, Libération, France-Soir, Le Parisien and Le Figaro. The main English-language daily is the International Herald Tribune. Outside of the Ile-de-France region, the provincial press is the most popular. International newspapers and magazines are widely available, particularly in the larger cities.

France 2, France 3, France 5 are national, public TV channels; TF1 and M6 are national, commercial TV channels; Arte is a cultural channel originally launched by French and German public channels; LCI (La Chaîne Info) is a rolling news channel; TV5 is an international French-language channel and Canal Plus is a national, subscription channel; Télévision Numérique Terrestre is the national digital terrestrial service.

There is only one daily newspaper in Monaco called Monaco-Matin. French papers—and the tabloid magazines—also cover news daily from the principality. A weekly publication, the Monaco Hebdo, covers Monaco's current affairs. The Journal de Monaco is an internal government journal published weekly. Other newspapers include Gazette Monaco-Côte d'Azur, Monaco Actualité and Monte Carlo Société. French newspapers are widely available, as are English books and magazines. The Riviera Reporter, the only English-language magazine for residents in the French Riviera, is published every two months. Riviera Radio is a privately-run English-language network.

Post

Stamps can be purchased at post offices and tabacs. Post normally takes a couple of days to reach its destination within Europe. In Monaco, expect the same rates as France. There are seven different post offices in the city-state - pick up special Monégasque stamps at any of them.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0900-1900, Sat 0900-1200. In smaller towns and villages, post offices may close earlier and at lunch, while in Paris the main office is open 24 hours, but only to send mail in the evenings. In Monaco, the hours are Mon-Fri 0800-1900, Sat 0800-1300.

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