Business Etiquette in Paris, Your Need-to-Know Guide

We’ve gathered details of everything from your ‘Alors!’ ‘baguettes’ and ‘cravats’, to - well, everything else so you don’t have to. You can thank us later.

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The interior of a typical Paris restaurant

What you wear, how you greet, what you say. Paris is the place to see and be seen and make no mistake, they may look well-put-together, but a whole lot of effort goes into that pseudo no makeup glow. If you’re travelling to the City of Light for business, or planning to relocate there for work, make sure you’re up to speed with everything you need to know. Paris business etiquette requires adhering to a number of unique customs that you need to be aware of so as not to offend your host nor miss out on landing that lucrative contract or client. From discerning whether or not to handshake or air kiss to making sure you eat bread so you don’t get too sozzled during your three-hour business lunch, we here at Plum Guide have you covered with all the basics and plenty more (as always).

Attire

Parisians are known to be fashion-conscious and, ultimately, très chic. Athleisure isn’t really a thing as far as Paris business etiquette goes. Get yourself to the gym, by all means. But just make sure you change afterwards. Casual-chic means put-together, simple, and never scruffy. Smart jeans are permissible for some of the more relaxed working environments, but to be honest, you shouldn’t really own any of the ‘distressed denim’ variety anyway. Err on the side of formality and caution, and stick to suits, skirts, trousers and you won’t go making a faux pas.

Marché Noir, Paris, France

Greeting

You’re in Paris, darling. La Bise, or ‘air kisses’ may be the most common form of greeting in the French capital. Yet when it comes to business meetings, save the kissing for people you’ve already met and stick to handshakes. Paris business etiquette usually dictates that first names are not usually used in meetings, but be sure to take your cues from your host if you’re unsure. And always, always knock before entering.

Business entertaining

Three-hour lunches are not uncommon in Paris. Often involving booze. Be sure to check the menu of the restaurant before you go so you don’t get caught out and have to ask the waiter exactly what’s what in front of your business guest. In order to make sure you don’t drink more than your client or contact, make sure to eat the bread that your meal will inevitably be served with. Oh, and remember, the French way is to place your bread on the table as opposed to the plate.

Typical Paris Restaurant

Dining etiquette

French dining style is long, formal and boozy. If you really want to impress your French counterparts, an important rule while fine dining is to never keep your hands below the table in your lap; always keep them on the table. For some reason, it really matters. Do not make a rookie error and finish your glass of wine. French waiters take this as a cue that you’d like a top up. If you can’t take any more booze, then leave a little in the bottom of your glass and that way, you won’t get too merry. In terms of business etiquette, conversation about business (or what you're really there for) usually starts after dessert is served, but make sure you wait for the host to initiate it.

Tipping

Most bars and restaurants in Paris include a 15% service charge on the bill as well as almost 20% tax in the prices. However, it doesn’t stop there. In order not to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues and clients, Paris business etiquette means that you need to add a tip to bills of up to 10% in fine restaurants. But if you’re only buying a snack and a coffee in a cafe, you can round the bill up with some loose Euros. Tip taxi drivers no more than 10% and Parisian hotel bellmen about €2 per service. Public restroom, as well cloakroom attendants will also expect you to open your wallet and dish out a small tip, but look out for signs reading “Pourboire Interdit”, which mean that tipping is prohibited.

Meeting style

The French, dare we say, are not known for their spontaneity. Paris business etiquette dictates that meetings should be made in advance - expect your diary to be full for the next two weeks. You don’t want to pressure your colleagues or contacts into spending time with you. Although, why wouldn’t they want to? Also remember that if you’re impatient, the French don’t tend to make decisions on a whim nor following a first meeting, so brace yourself for plenty of long and detailed discussions.

Interrupt

It may seem bizarre, but it is common French conversation style to ask a lot of questions, and to interrupt. When in France, it is not at all rude, but instead is merely a way to express your interest in what the other person is saying. So, if you’re being interrupted, take it as a positive sign, and get involved and start doing the same.

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