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Communication (Part 4) – Making contact with the French

The French in general are typically conservative when it comes to body language. However, despite the formality of French business culture, people tend to have smaller personal space and are happy to stand within arms length when speaking to one another. The personal space also varies between those living in the country (preferring more distance) to those in larger cities (happy with smaller distances) who tend to use the Metro and crowded places more often.

Moreover, do not be alarmed if your counterpart touches your shoulder or pats you on the arm, since this is commonplace and usually within the bounds of French business etiquette.

In France men tend to stand up, or at least indicate a move to do so, whenever a superior in terms of rank makes an entrance. This is a sign of respect and an opportunity to show your good posture, which is used as a sign of good upbringing and education.

Handshakes are expected as a form of greeting, however a more friendly greeting practice is kissing on the cheeks. When “air kissing” your cheeks can touch but not your lips – one kiss on each cheek – (across genders) starting with a kiss to your left first and then one to your right. The practice of kissing is also used as a greeting by colleagues at work on a daily basis. The kissing practice is not extended to unfamiliar people and if you are meeting for the first time, you should wait until your female counterparts have initiated the move – this is just a warm greeting and should not be interpreted as anything more than that.

Eye contact is important to show your trustworthiness and interest in the meeting, however, constant eye contact such as staring is considered inappropriate, especially during a first business meeting. Smiling has no impact in communicating a greeting or as a sign of agreement. Expressive use of hands to communicate should be kept to a minimum in most conversations.

As business people tend to be formal and conservative, business relationships are orderly and professional. Keep the hierarchy in mind and this will help you maintain proper distance and contact.

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