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Eureka: My experience negotiating with the French
by Joseph Gatt
2018-05-03 07:10:50
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I've had different experiences when negotiating with the French. Some were great, others not so great. Here are general observations that I've derived, in no particular order. 

-They'll corner you. You might have friendly relations with a French person or meet them for the first time. During political or business negotiations, even if you're best friends, they might try to corner you. Here's how. They will refuse to answer any questions you ask them, they will not even allow you to ask them questions. They could spend hours asking you question after question, criticizing your answers and/or interrupting you as you answer the questions. Their body language screams irritation, and they're just trying to control or dominate the deal.

negofra1_400-They're paranoid about questions. In business or politics, we tend not to mind questions and see them as an opportunity to clarify some of our positions. But the French are not big fans of questions, because they tend to believe questions can lead to scams. There's some truth to it in France. A French friend of mine once asked me “do you like clubbing?” to which I tried to answer that clubbing wasn't really my thing. Before I could even answer the question, he left me a couple of kilograms of flyers advertising an event at a night club and asked me to distribute them around. Before I could ask him how much he would pay me for that, he disappeared, and his flyers went to the trash bin.

-Your ethnic origin means a great deal to them. The French believe in stereotypes a lot more than people do in a lot of countries. Jews and Israelis want the money, Americans talk too much, Middle Easterners aren't reliable etc. etc. The French tend to lie about their ethnic background and a lot of them will say that they are from Bretagne, a region famous for its refined cuisine and stereotyped as stubborn and emotional. When in doubt, say you are from Canada. They have few or no bad stereotypes about Canadians.

-There's no win-win. If you win, they consider they lose. They want to win. In a lot of countries we try to negotiate the kind of deal where both parties gain significant advantages from the deal. But a lot of French people will tend to try to put you at a significant disadvantage, and won't mind the fact that you are being put at a disadvantage and won't show empathy for the difficult position the deal might put you in. 

-Microagressions and agonism. Agonism means aggressive talk. The French can be aggressive when discussing the deal, and will shamelessly and unapologetically criticize you, your product, your country or anything else. 

-Plain anger outbursts. When negotiating with the French, you're not a guest and won't be treated as such. Even if you offer what seems like a good deal, expect their anger outbursts until they get what they want. Tantrums are not uncommon. 

-Euphemisms, euphemisms, euphemisms. If your partner keeps repeating that they went to “engineering school” they probably mean that they went to an elite school and are part of the social elite. They might also euphemistically discuss your product or your deal, such as by telling stories that parallel the deal you are discussing.

-They'll try to get you to sign the deal drunk. Some French people I had to negotiate with made me start drinking at 8 in the morning. At first I thought it was part of their culture. But then I quickly realized that by the time you sign the deal, they will hope that you are drunk. 

-They might try to bribe you into signing the deal. This is not uncommon. The French can have very creative ways of offering you bribes so you can make large orders or concessions when it comes to signing deals with them. It could be money, luxury goods, paintings or women or other stuff. 

-If they bring someone to the meeting, listen carefully. In some cases they're talking to the other guy, but they're really talking to you. In some cases they will try to be indirectly confrontational, and tell the other guy what they really mean to tell you.

-Your partner could be so used to dealing exclusively with subordinates that they will treat you like a subordinate. Bring me a cup of coffee! Clean the table! Don't put your arms on the table! A lot of French supervisors deal almost eclusively with subordinates and have no other reflexes than to treat you as such. 

-They'll know very little about your culture and have no interest in such, but will expect you to know everything about theirs, including politics, arts, culture, food and fashion. A lot of times they won't care about your country or culture. But ignorance of their political system, art, food, fashion can lead to irritation from your French counterpart. 

-Unlike many countries, everything is ranked in France. You have high food and “peasant food,” high art and “peasant art” high politics and “peasant politics”. Liking “peasant stuff” won't make you a popular guy. Being a man of the masses won't help you seal the deal. Be careful what artists you like, what books you read or what food you like.

-Don't discuss family, money or religion. The French rarely discuss their family, including brothers, sisters, wife, husband, children, cousins etc. etc. but they might mention that they have royal blood. Money is off limits, including how much your watch cost and how much you paid at that restaurant. Religion is off topic, and if you keep Kosher or Halal ask for a vegan meal, and if there's a religious holiday just say you'll be busy that day. 

-Once you sign the deal, you're going to get all those extra fees and costs they had never mentioned during the negotiation. Extra fees, inculding administrative fees and taxes, will be billed at the end, with no mention of them during the negotiations. They can amount to a lot of money.

-Before you negotiate with the French, practice being the dominant male or female. Practice dominating with friends and colleagues, if possible French, until you master the art of domination. Because the French will try to dominate you so there will be a domination game going on for a while before you can discuss anything.

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