We’ve created this guide to help you get closer to your French customers. A web presence that is in tune with France’s culture will make your customers feel well disposed to you, and give them confidence in doing business with you. By understanding these little yet important details, you'll be in a good position for your French marketing efforts.
2 The main language
French is the main spoken and written language in France.
Should you be formal or informal when addressing your French customers?
In France, most communication is formal. Your French customers should be addressed in a formal, friendly way in most modes of communication.
The French use the formal form of address 'vous' unless teenagers or children are being spoken to, and then it is 'tu'.
Major marketing campaigns in France are often playful and informal. However, do not assume that you can address your French customers individually this way. Being formal is less likely to cause offence.
Letter and email sign-offs are often formal and should as a minimum say 'kindest regards'.
If you are addressing teenagers, or people between 20 and 40 years old, your sign-off doesn’t need to be formal. A 'thanks' or 'merci' is fine.
If you have a financial product, a legal service, or are talking about money, you should always adopt a more formal tone and style.
Ease of doing business in France
The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report ranked France as 32nd out of 190 countries.
4 Numbering systems and formats
- This is a comma (,).
- e.g. 1,5 hours
- The thousand separator is a space.
- e.g. 1 524 people
The country code is +33. Telephone numbers are usually in the format (+33) 1 23 45 67 89. Domestic numbers have a two digit code (e.g. 04), with the 0 dropped when calling from abroad.
Without the country code, telephone numbers are written with the two digit local code.
- e.g. 0547-123456.
All mobile numbers include 10 digits. They have the prefix 06 or 07.
- e.g. 06 00 11 22 33 or 07 00 11 22 33 etc.
Mobile numbers with a country code use this format.
- e.g. +33 6 00 11 22 33 or +33 7 00 11 22 33 etc.
Freephone numbers span from 0800 to 0805.
Good to know
The French normally write out numerals from 1–9 (one, five, nine) and double digits are written as numerals, i.e. 12, 24, etc.
5 Currency format
The French trade in Euros. This is represented by the euro symbol €. Its trading three letter code is EUR. The € is placed after the figure with a space. The coin denomination is the cent represented by a c.
The note denominations are 500€ 200€ 100€ 50€ 10€.
The coin denominations are 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c.
When writing a legal document or contract it is compulsory to write the code EUR after the figure e.g 'the amount required is 200 EUR'.
6 Date format
In France the date format is DD/MM/YY or DD/MM/YYYY, e.g. 24/03/17 or 24/03/2017.
If written out in full, it should be "monday 5 june 2017" ("lundi 5 juin 2017").
There is no uppercase in days and months, and no ordinals like 'th' or 'nd'. The exception is for 'st' where it is written as 'er', e.g. 'jeudi 1er juin 2017'.
7 Hour formats
The French usually use the 24-hour clock in writing and when speaking, although the 12-hour clock is sometimes used in everyday, informal speech.
The French do not have a p.m. or an a.m notation. This is why they use the 24-hour format in both speech and in writing, because it clearly states whether it is 10 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock in the evening.
The 24-hour format has an h as a separator (h means heure 'hour'), e.g.16 h 05.
A more informal way of writing this is 16h05 with all the characters bunched together.
The minutes are usually written with a leading zero, but can be written without the leading zero, e.g.16 h 5.
The 24-hour format is favoured on digital devices like PCs, phones, tablets, etc. and is the standard format on Android where the separator is a colon, e.g. 14:24.
8 Working days
Standard working days are Monday to Friday. All offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Most shops and many of the offices close for at least one hour between 12pm and 1pm, with many staying closed until 2pm. This tradition is becoming less common in larger cities like Paris and Lyon.
9 Important localization tips
Here are the top seven translation tips that will make you sound like a local in French market in no time:
Take a note of spelling, punctuation, pricing, date formats, measurements and terminology. The French are very sensitive to language quality, so if the language is not correct the assumption will be that your service or product is not credible.
Avoid using an informal tone with professionals: this should be reserved for communications with teenagers.
Take account of cultural differences so that you don’t confuse or offend your French audience. For example, don’t mention Boxing Day in a promotion or assume that it is understood in France.
The use of bad grammar in a source text can cause an incorrect translation.
Use native translators and avoid automated translations as this will give more of a local flavour to your communications.
Make sure that your customer’s journey is a pleasant one: keep any steps clear and short to help them complete an action. Complex steps could make your customers leave your site.
Ensure that your FAQ and Support Sections are localized.