Working in France

With short working hours and long holidays, France offers expats an enviable work-life balance. The country’s main industries are agriculture (most notably wine), fashion and tourism – Paris is the most popular tourist destination in the world.

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Doing business

It may have a ‘work to live’ attitude, but this hasn’t stopped France from becoming the 6th largest economy in the world, while Paris is one of Europe’s largest urban economies. The country was ranked 29th out of 190 countries in The World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Survey, scoring particularly well for trading across borders and enforcing contracts, but poorly for registering property and getting credit.

The government is heavily involved in business and there are many regulatory processes. Despite this, starting a business in France is relatively straightforward and a good legal framework protects investors. The country has a fairly high unemployment rate of around 10%, but the workforce is highly skilled and the services sector is very dynamic.

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Business culture

French business culture is hierarchical. Leaders adopt an authoritarian approach and decisions are made at the top. Business interactions are formal and ceremonial, especially at the outset.

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Communication style

Despite the top-down structure, there’s a lot of healthy debate and deliberation before a decision is made. Being articulate is greatly admired, but avoid exaggerating because the French don’t appreciate hyperbole.

Meetings

While agendas are generally adhered to, meetings are often interspersed with lively arguments and rigorous debate.

Privacy

The French value their privacy and there are clear boundaries between people’s personal and professional lives. It’s best not to discuss your private life in the office or ask colleagues questions about theirs.

Business lunches

An important part of relationship building, extended lunches in restaurants are common. Remember to wait for your host to say ‘bon appetit’ before you start eating.

Fast facts

Business language

French is the main language. English is rarely spoken in business circles.

Business hours

Usually from 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. France has a standard 35-hour working week set by the government. And many companies have flexible hours, giving employees the option to work shorter days or take Friday afternoons off.

Dress

Appearance is very important in France and business dress is stylish, formal and understated. Men tend to wear dark suits while women choose tailored suits or elegant dresses in soft colours. Many people wear accessories to pull together an outfit, but they avoid anything too gaudy.

Greeting

A brisk, light handshake is the standard greeting for both men and women. Friends and close colleagues will kiss on one or both cheeks. It’s polite to address people by their title followed by their surname. If you don’t know someone’s name, use Madame or Monsieur.

Gifts

Gifts aren’t expected and it’s better to express your appreciation by hosting a dinner or social event. If you’re invited to a French colleague’s home, take flowers, quality chocolates or liqueur.

Gender equality

Women are treated equally and hold many senior positions.

Expat salaries

Earning potential for expats in France is roughly the same as in other Western European countries, but it can be considerably less than in Asia and the Middle East.

The job market is very limited and competitive. Speaking French is a big asset.

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Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.