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Plan of the lecture:

  1. Country background.

  2. Values and attitudes characteristic of the French.

  3. Business practice in France.

  4. French business etiquette.

  5. Protocol.


France has a population of approximately 58 million people and is the largest West European country.

History. The cultural roots of the French go back to the Celtic Gauls, who were conquered by Julius Caesar in 51 B.C. Some regions of France came under the control of English kings. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) ended with the English expelled from France by Charles VII—aided by Joan of Arc.

The Reformation made inroads into Catholic France, primarily in the form of the Huguenots, causing a series of civil wars. Eventually, most Protestants left, and France remained a Catholic nation.

The French Revolution of 1789 abolished feudalism and absolute monarchy but failed to establish democracy, France was held together by Napoleon I, who established the First Empire. France was at war for most of his reign, which ended in France's defeat by a European coalition in 1815.

Like most of Europe, France suffered badly in the First World War (1914-1918). France entered the Second World War in 1939 and was soon overrun by Nazi Germany. The Allies landed in France at Normandy in June 1944, and the German occupation force was pushed back.

In 1957, France joined with five other Western European powers to form the EEC (European Economic Community), a common market of 165 million people largely free of tariff barriers. This eventually evolved into the European Union. France, one of the founder members of the European Union, certainly sees itself very much as a driving force of the 'European project.

Type of government. France is a multiparty republic. The head of the government Is the prime minister; the president is chief of state. The French people elect the president and the two houses of Parliament. The president, who appoints the prime minister, serves for five years. The president has a large share of the power, including the right to dissolve the lower house of Parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, and call for new elections. According to the constitution, it is the government and not the president that decides on national policy. For current government data, check at http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/world/A0819413 .html.

Language and education. The French people are very proud of their language, which was the international language of diplomacy for centuries. The fact that English is now the international language of finance, science, and aviation is inconsequent. The French believe their language is still superior. Many French businesspeople speak English but will prefer to conduct their meetings in French.

It is interesting to know that in 1966, the French government established a commission to combat Franglais, a mixture of French and English which created French terms to replace words borrowed from English. Education is of great importance to the French. The educational system is almost free of charge from the primary school through the Ph.D. level for French citizens.

Religion. There is no official religion. France is principally a Catholic country (70 percent), although new immigrants are raising the percentage of Islam (5-10 percent). Many other religions, including Protestantism and Judaism, are present, and there are also many people unaffiliated with any religion.

2. Values and attitudes.

National characteristics. According to the stereotype the French are romantic, fond of good food and good art, not overly concerned about doing great business. They are more eager to argue politics and art than to do business. French culture is highly feminine which values interpersonal relationships, putting quality of life before material acquisition. It is also high-context which means that the medium is the message and not overly concerned about precise detail or communication. The French value intelligence and eloquence, French people are said to belong to a generally polychronic culture (although not all people are exclusively polychronic). Polychronic people are used to doing several tasks at the same time. They do not have to complete one task before beginning the next. Instead, they can flow back and forth between tasks easily. As they work on one task, they may decide to go back and change parts of a previous task. In a polychronic culture, the future tends to be seen as unpredictable so that tight schedules are considered difficult and impractical. Therefore, schedules are often flexible to allow for unforeseeable interruptions and changes in plans. People understand that delays are a part of life and are necessary for developing the best possible product or service. They would rather spend more time perfecting a product or service than meeting a deadline. French attitudes about time are different from most of those in Northern Europe, the United States, or the United Kingdom

Surprisingly, a French businessperson might give an excuse for being a few minutes late to a meeting, yet say nothing if he is a half-hour late. No insult is intended by tardiness. To the French, life is complex and many things occur that can cause a delay. People and relationships are always more important than a soulless schedule.

The French tend to be relationship-oriented, although this varies according to the business or profession you are operating in. In the office the French are more formal than the British, and it is easy for visitors to underestimate this.

The French believe the state represents them. From the revolution onwards, the French have seen themselves as citizens rather than subjects. Hierarchy in France is not determined by birth, but by intellectual achievements, technical preparation, diplomas and so forth. The importance of study and certificates cannot be overstated, so if you have a degree or doctorate make sure that you convey this to your French colleagues.

Rationality is an important national characteristic. You will be expected to be logical, and your arguments will be expected to be rational.

The average French citizen develops personal relationships with many people — including local sales clerks. So much is accomplished through personal contacts in France that they do not feel any obligation to be deferential to strangers.

Cultural orientation. The French will readily accept information for the purpose of debate and may change their minds quickly, but strong ethnocentrism will not allow the acceptance of anything contrary to the cultural norm. Ideas are very important to them and they approach knowledge from an analytical and critical perspective. They look at each situation as a unique problem and bring all their knowledge to bear on it.

Locus of decision-making. The French are strongly individualistic and have a centralized authority structure that makes quick decisions possible. The relationship between the participants becomes a major variable in the decision-making process. An individual's self-identity is based on his or her accomplishments in the social sphere. Individual privacy is necessary in all walks of life.

Sources of anxiety reduction. The French seem to be preoccupied with status, rank, and formality. Contacts are of utmost importance, and they may have a low tolerance for ambiguity in one's station. They feel comfortable with rules and regulations. If the French are provided with adequate details and assessments, they are more comfortable with business risks. Their attachment to a public figure gives them a sense of security. Yet, individuality is preferable to conformity. People are allowed to show both positive and negative emotions in public.

Issues of equality/inequality. An informal stratified class system still exists, but most people are middle class. People usually do not socialize across social and economic classes. Different levels of the company, such as secretarial and executive levels, are associated with different classes. So, in office life, secretaries and executives are not expected to socialize together. Superiors expect obedience from subordinates in all walks of life. Power is a basic fact of society, and leaders with the ability to unify the country or group are highly prized. Gender roles in society are fluid, and a person's status is more important than his or her sex.

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