Cross-cultural communication and the great French lunch!

meeting-1453895_640It’s widely recognised that English is the language of business across the world. Here in rural France, I help people promote their small businesses, and although most of my encounters have been with English business women, I’m lucky enough to have joined a great group, Les Dames de FER, which I spoke about in my last blog, which help and support English and French women in business. Through this group I’ve gained so much knowledge about business life in France and find their training sessions and support invaluable. But what support is there available for French people who need to join a business meeting in the UK and what are the differences between English and French business meetings?

British diplomacy

Back in the UK, business meetings are mainly fairly formal and the British are known for their ‘stiff upper lip’ and the ‘grin and bear it’ attitude. Diplomacy is just something the British naturally do. For example, if I was in a business meeting in the UK, and didn’t agree with what someone was saying, I wouldn’t have dreamed of directly disagreeing with them. I would have said something like ‘Yes, that’s really good and it could work – alternatively we could look at it this way’.  But, whether in a business meeting in France or just in general conversation, the French are much more direct and will say exactly what they mean – if they say no, they mean no! There’s no misunderstanding.

When I first came here, I wasn’t used to the direct approach and thought the people were a bit abrupt, but I’ve come to realise that I was wrong –  this is the French way and no offence is meant – it’s just that they state facts.  But the British worry about causing offence or hurting someone’s feelings by disagreeing, so will say things such as ‘I see your point, but….’ which as a British person, I know this means they don’t necessarily agree with me. However, to a non-native English speaker, ‘I see your point….’ means it’s agreeable. The business English language barrier can cause confusion for non-native English speakers. And it’s not just in business that there are cultural differences.

French differences

Since moving to France I’ve noticed many cultural differences; in some ways it’s like stepping back a few decades. Most shops close on a Sunday and often Mondays too. Banks don’t open on a Monday either. And of course, there is the French lunch hour (or two!)

restaurant-1763081_640In the UK, lunch is a very informal affair, especially if like me, you work in an office. It’s accepted that meetings can be conducted over lunch – people will grab a sandwich and take it to a meeting. I nearly always ate my lunch at my desk, whilst carrying on working.  However, in France, this is unheard of… here, lunch is an occasion. Except for the big towns and cities, most shops close between 12 – 12.30 and don’t open again until 2 – 2.30pm. In my village, the church bells go mad announcing that it’s lunchtime. The French take their time over lunch, eating a three course meal with wine. And in rural areas, the timing of lunch is very flexible! If you’re trying to get a renovation project completed by tradesmen, you have to be prepared for the great French lunch – they down tools and disappear for a few hours. However, that’s not to say they’re lazy – they start work earlier, usually at around 7am and often work until it gets dark.

Time is something that is very loosely followed in France too – if a meeting is to start at 10am, it rarely starts on time – people will mill around chatting with a coffee. Everything is very laid back and informal. However, once a meeting starts, things are done in a methodical and direct way with conclusions and any action to take all very clear and concise….…and of course, if a meeting is conducted in the morning, it finishes dead on 12…..time for lunch!

5596899_orig[1] (340x51)Just as I continue to learn about cross-cultural communication in France, with the help of Les Dames de FER, it’s important for non-native English speakers who conduct their business globally, to not only learn the English language in order to compete in the English business market place, they also need to learn the complexities of cross cultural communications – including all the foibles of business English and diplomacy.

There are several companies that help non-native English speakers compete in the business marketplace. Executive Language Tutors is one such company. Based in London, their courses give men and women in business the confidence to perform and communicate in the professional workplace. Their courses range from elocution and accent reduction, to learn business English and cross-cultural communication.

Les Dames de FER and me


When I first became an Auto Entrepreneur in France, it was a daunting prospect. I’d worked for a large, global company in the UK and the thought of going it alone, in a new country, where I didn’t speak the language very well was scary to say the least. I joined a French class, so I could learn more about the language, and it was at one of these lessons that I heard about a group called Les Dames de FER. Set up to support small business women in rural France, I decided it was a good idea to join. It was the best decision I made.

Les Dames dLes Dames de FER lunche FER hold networking meetings, where like-minded women meet up and talk about their businesses, share information and experiences and support each other. There are regular sessions run by members to share their skills, such as social networking, blogging and the legal system, to name a few. I have found it an invaluable group to belong to and have made loads of helpful contacts. If you have a problem, there is always someone to talk to and someone always knows the answer.

President of Les Dames de FER

President of Les Dames de FER

As a freelance writer and marketing and communications consultant, I help people to promote their small businesses, sharing my skills with my clients and helping them with building their business and marketing plans, as well as writing website content, blogs and business articles. Being part of the Les Dames de FER group has helped me find new clients through networking with other members and the Foire Commerciale (Trade fayre) that they ran in September, gave us all a great opportunity to have a stand and show exactly what we could do and brought us a whole new group of potential clients.

Even though some of the seminars held are on subjects I know about, it’s still worthwhile going along as you always pick up extra hints and tips and it’s good to be able to discuss a particular subject with other experienced people. They are always very positive sessions and I always leave feeling fired up about my business and confident that I have a valuable service to offer to my clients.

I’ll never be a millionaire, but what I do have is worth much more than money can buy. I have a business, doing something I love and am passionate about, I have grown in self-confidence and have met loads of lovely like-minded women. The support of Les Dames de FER is second to none and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who runs their own small business here in France.

If you’d like to find out more about Les Dames de FER, take a look at their website, where you can find the application form to join.