Going Global: Flourish in France

Expanding to France is an obvious step for German startups: The market is large, relationships good and regulations consistent thanks to the EU. But there is one unexpected stumbling block: Despite the geographic proximity, the corporate culture beyond the Rhine is quite different. For our “Going Global” series, Nicolas Vermersch, General Secretary of the German-French Economic Club in Bavaria, explains what German companies need to pay attention to when working with French partners.

With its 20 unicorns, France is the European target country that acquired the most international investors in 2019 (source: EY). It has a very positive attitude towards working with German startups to promote the emergence of future European champions.

Although France and Germany have a long shared history as neighboring countries, successfully entering the French market requires knowledge about the cultural specificities of the country.

The French lack knowledge of German culture

In general, the French do not know much about German culture and succumb to some prejudices somewhat too often. Only very few are familiar with the history of the German nation and the pronounced cultural differences between our different federal states. They have a tendency to confuse things. They envy Germany for its economic success, but not for our way of life (food, monotony). So it is a matter of overcoming these clichés when first establishing contact.

While we insist on reliability, risk measurement and profitability when beginning a new project, the French are more interested in the innovative aspects of the project and don’t want to go into too much detail right away. The French are much more concerned about the concept and the willingness to take risks than about security and risk aversion, which are typical for us.

It is therefore of utmost importance when establishing a relationship to communicate this future vision to the prospective partner.

Creative doesn’t mean chaotic

We’re accustomed to saying that Germans never do things out of the ordinary, while the French are very creative. You might therefore be surprised by the chaotic nature of your conversation partners when you first meet them. You might feel like they are talking every which way without any central theme. Don’t let it surprise you.

While our upbringing might make us better organized, they are without a doubt more imaginative and feel more at home in complex relationships.

Knowledge of culture and business as the key to success

The French are much more attached to their identity than we are and are proud of it to a certain extent. They treasure their history, their country, their culture, their republic, their – compared to ours – milder climate and, of course, their French “savoir vivre.”

Knowing this about French culture is your key to success in establishing mutual trust. Show interest in the person you’re talking to and in their interests.

Let’s take an example of the cultural differences between the two countries: While in Germany working late can be viewed negatively as a sign of disorganization, overtime is considered a sign of commitment in France.

Understanding the economic structure of France is also an important element for ensuring your partnership and/or branch in France is a success. Two organizations can help you with this:

  • Business France is a French public institution that can help you found your company in France.
  • In 2013, the French government initiated French Tech, an ecosystem that brings together startups, investors and decision makers.

The main difference between the French and German economic structures is the pronounced centralization of economic players in Paris and its region. Although the government has taken many initiatives towards decentralization, you should be aware of the fact that France is still very much focused on Paris for the moment.

Discussions and negotiations

While we interact in an open, direct and rational manner, communication in France is more indirect, more ambiguous and makes use of more vague euphemisms.

And while it has improved in recent years, the level of English of many French people can be much lower than expected. It is therefore advisable to bring as much as possible “in writing” accompanied by graphic illustrations. A combination of a presentation and visual images (flip chart, etc.) is also quite helpful.

Decision-making processes also take longer in France. Don’t let this worry you, instead, take these elements into consideration while planning the steps you want to take.

“Made in Germany” has a good reputation in France. At universities, companies and in speeches held by senior management, the German economy is often given as an example and envied. That means you will be warmly welcomed.

Final tips

  • Always show your French partners that you respect them and their culture.
  • Don’t be too direct when communicating with your conversation partners.
  • Don’t expect decisions to be made as quickly as you imagine.


Since the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017, France has transitioned to a business-friendly agenda: Employment law was reformed, tax cuts were implemented and new regulations were adopted – including the introduction of the world’s best “startup talent” visa. France doubled its number of “unicorn startups” in the first half of 2019. With its long history of innovation and value creation, the French State has built a good reputation as a supporter of startups.

And if you would like to establish contact here in Munich with Franco-German entrepreneurs, freelancers and employees from a broad range of companies, you are more than welcome to visit us at the German-French Economic Club in Bavaria. At our events and company visits, the focus is always on an economic subject followed by plenty of opportunities to network. Our junior group “NextGen” is meant specifically for graduates and young professionals with a Franco-German background. More information is available at www.clubeco.de or follow us on LinkedIn.

Nicolas Vermersch

Guest contribution by Nicolas Vermersch

Nicolas Vermersch is French and the General Secretary of the German-French Economic Club in Bavaria. He is also a Partner and the Managing Director of the German consulting firm 3C Career Consulting Company. He has more than 20 years of experience in Executive Search in France, the Netherlands and Germany.