As with most non-English-speaking countries, American business travel to France requires a certain level of cultural awareness and etiquette, especially as it relates to apparel. Wearing the proper business attire in France can mean the difference between success and failure for American import professionals who choose to conduct business there.
Dress up, dress well. Appropriate conservative business clothing is considered de rigueur in France. French business attire is fairly traditional with clean lines. Think simple, elegant, classic and tasteful – dark tailored suits, pants and skirts. Lighter-color attire may signify junior standing, so steer clear of lighter grays and tans. Women also tend to dress in trendy designs and accessorize with tasteful jewelry and cosmetics.
Business casual. Do not dress down or dress casually unless your French contemporaries are planning to do the same. “Business casual” attire such as khakis, corduroy and polo shirts is not normally worn in France. Wearing athletic attire such as baseball caps, tennis shoes and sandals is actually considered a social faux pas in France, and might even get the wearer labeled as a tourist. Still unsure? Err on the side of being overdressed, or ask your French business hosts for guidance.
Business cards and holder. Presenting your business card to French counterparts is almost as important as your clothing choices. Think of business cards, and the classic leather cardholder that should be holding them, as important as a necktie and matching handkerchief, or wearing neatly polished shoes. For French business people, the business card is a natural and personal extension of themselves. Treat any business cards received as you would your own. This is a sign of reverence to the person who offers the card. Losing a French cohort’s business card can be seen as reckless, so secure any business cards received in the same card holder and treat them with respect.