Help me write business French/Spanish.
March 20, 2012 2:09 PM   Subscribe

What are business email courtesies in French and Spanish?

My current job has me writing emails in languages that I do not speak fluently. I'm wondering about general email conventions, as well as specific email phrases and courtesies. I'm worried Google Translate is leading me astray, and have found no good general info.

1. French
I speak, read, and write French well, but this is the first role in which I've had to email. I'm generally writing to people in francophone Africa, as well as some Europeans who don't speak English (but do speak French).

I'm wondering about general conventions, like opening and closing (Bonjour? Chèr(e)?; cordialement?), as well as the following phrases:
-Please find attached.../I've attached.../attachment (I've seen people use "ci-joint dessous" (?) or "PJ", but am not quite clear.)
-Please let me know if you have any questions or problems ("Si vous avez des questions ou problèmes, n'hésitez pas à me dire."?)

2. Spanish
I speak almost no Spanish but can read it well enough/use Google Translate when confused. I work exclusively with Mexico/Mexican staff in Spanish. I write through Google Translate plus whatever I recall from middle school.

I'm wondering about general conventions (have been using "estimad(o/a)" and "saludos cordiales" as openers/closers in imitation of my Mexican colleagues) and the same phrases:
-Please find attached / I've attached / attachment
-Please let me know if you have any questions or problems (Google Translate is super hackneyed on this one.)

Any suggestions or references I can use in the future for business emails/writing are appreciated.
posted by quadrilaterals to Work & Money (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and any generic friendly opening lines (in English, I might use "I hope you're doing well!" or "Hope you had a great weekend!") in Spanish would be great.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:10 PM on March 20, 2012

Your openers and closers in Spanish are fine. I usually just open with "Hola Juan," and close with "Saludos," if I want to be more casual.
  • I've attached (a document...) = Adjunto (un documento...) or Envío adjunto (un documento...)
  • attachment = archivo adjunto
  • I hope you're doing well. = Espero que estés bien (informal), Espero que esté bien (formal)
  • Hope you had a great weekend = Espero que hayas tenido un buen fin de semana (informal), Espero que haya tenido un buen fin de semana (formal).
  • Have a nice weekend! = ¡Buen fin de semana!
  • Please let me know if you have any questions or problems = Por favor avísame si tienes alguna duda o problema (informal), Por favor hágame saber si tiene alguna duda o problema (formal).

posted by clearlydemon at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I often exchange email with francophone Africans. Most of them start with "Bonjour M. [name]" (M. optional) or occasionally "Bonjour cher [name]."

They usually end with "Cordialement," or "Merci," although sometimes they end with "bon(ne)" plus a noun referring to what the recipient is intended to do next, for example "bonne réception" if you're sending a file, "bonne lecture" if you're sending a report, or even "bonne mission." As for attachments, I see "ci-joint" all the time, although not usually with dessous. More often something like "Je t'envoie ci-joint les rapports..." or "dans le fichier ci-joint..."
posted by theodolite at 2:34 PM on March 20, 2012

With French colleagues, in English or French, always open and close with a formal "hello" and "goodbye", even if it's email 22 in a constant exchange. My French colleagues think it's rude not to do so. My American colleagues (and I) think it's weird. Woohoo, cross cultural communicaation.
posted by atomicstone at 2:49 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

atomicstone, you bring up another good aspect. For example, the people I work with in the Philippines address me and each other as Ms., Mrs., and Mr. Any conventions regarding address or politeness for Mexico, francophone Africa (a large swatch, but mostly DRC/Cameroon/Rwanda/Gabon/etc.), or EU French (Switzerland/France/Italy) would be great. I know I don't pick up as much on subtleties while working in another language.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:57 PM on March 20, 2012

For Spanish, I found closing with 'atentamente' to be more usual than 'saludos cordiales'
posted by saraindc at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2012

One option you could take would be to write the email in English, machine translate it into French or Spanish and then - after some sanity checking - send of an email containing both versions: their language at the top and the original below. That way anybody who speaks a little of both languages can check the two versions to resolve any problems involving meaning or tone.

In French I will echo the pattern of whoever is sending me email whenever possible - and go for a more formal approach when I am in doubt. I have seen a number of books offering templates for letters and emails for French native speakers - so clearly it is not just us foreigners who find this topic complicated.
posted by rongorongo at 3:27 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been in business email contact with French-speaking Europeans, and the emails are very, very, very formal and formal means twelve words where I'd use one. (I saw a great booklet of translations, where there were about two dozen different phrases to end an email ranging from 6 words to 22 words, all of which were translated into English as "Thanks,". This was typical of all the examples.)

If you google French email salutations, there are lots of websites with examples (for instance), and you can pretty much use any of them for your first email, then just follow whatever level of formality you get in response. You can keep track of their stock phrases and use them yourself too.

Don't use tu until they do.
posted by jeather at 3:48 PM on March 20, 2012

-Please find attached.../I've attached.../attachment (I've seen people use "ci-joint dessous" (?) or "PJ", but am not quite clear.)

p.j. stands for "pièce jointe". You usually see it at the end of a letter/email, after the signature.. "p.j. Facture no 2430" or "p.j. Compte-rendu de la réunion du 10 mai". As it has already been pointed out, it's usually just "ci-joint", not "ci-joint dessous".

-Please let me know if you have any questions or problems ("Si vous avez des questions ou problèmes, n'hésitez pas à me dire."?)

I usually use something like "Si vous avez des questions ou des problèmes, n'hésitez pas à communiquer avec moi [par courriel à] [ou par téléphone au 555-555-5555]." ("dire" is transitive here, so you'd have to use "me le dire", but it wouldn't sound right in a formal environment).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2012

For "please let me know if you have any doubts..." I just got a Mexican email that used, "Quedo a sus órdenes para cualquier duda," which roughly means, "I remain at your service for any questions." I agree with others that it's best to be formal, maybe even very formal, depending on your audience and your employer's style.
posted by ceiba at 5:14 PM on March 20, 2012

Another resource to check is WordReference. On the Spanish side, make clear that you're asking about Mexican Spanish.
posted by ceiba at 6:51 PM on March 20, 2012

Any conventions regarding address or politeness for Mexico would be great

It depends a lot on your industry and the level and age of your colleagues. For example, as a web designer I get to be pretty informal, even with my customers, but I'll use a formal mode if I'm dealing with a person old enough to be my parent, someone that outranks me, or a person I don't know. Also if I want to put some distance between me and the other person (for example, if I'm making a complaint).

Reading again your question, your colleagues' openers and closers are a bit more formal than what I'd use. In case of doubt, you should stick to formal mode. It's ok to switch from formal to informal mode as you get to know someone.
posted by clearlydemon at 9:50 PM on March 20, 2012

Hi! I once worked for a big airline with the name of the country in it (hint: I live in France) and communicated with many of its Francophone African partners. Also, I live in France.

atomicstone is correct, you always want to start with a greeting and a goodbye: beginning with "Bonjour" and finishing with "Cordialement" are used in every Francophone office I've worked in and with. You can also add "bonne réception" or "bonne lecture", but still keep the Cordialement. Sometimes, when you know someone well and there's a firm, acknowledged, reciprocal trust, you can abbreviate it to Cdlt. Never abbreviate Bonjour, however. If you know the person's first name and have spoken with them before, make it "Bonjour Firstname". If it's a first contact, make it "Bonjour Lastname". If you don't know which is their first or last name in spite of your best efforts to find out (been there, done that, eek), make it "Bonjour Whole Name In Order You Were Given".

For attachments, there are a few phrases you can use:
Veuillez trouver ci-joint le document / ci-jointe l'image. (Note gender agreement depending on what's attached. This one's very polite.)
Ci-joint le document en question. / Ci-jointe l'image en question. (A bit terse but in a good, businesslike manner.)
Tu trouveras le document ci-joint / l'image ci-jointe. (Informal, friendly yet businesslike. It's the "ci-joint" that adds class.)

You can substitute "en pièce jointe" or "en PJ" like so, but the abbreviation is less formal/less businesslike:
Veuillez trouver le document/l'image en pièce jointe / en PJ.
Tu trouveras le document / l'image en pièce jointe / en PJ.

Want a full example that freestyles a bit? :)
Bonjour quadtrilaterals,

Suite à votre demande de formules de politesse en français pour les communications par mail, veuillez trouver ci-joint un exemple.

Vous souhaitant bonne réception.


Which reminds me, how to thank someone when you ask them for something:
Bonjour quadrilaterals,

Est-ce que vous pourriez m'envoyer le truc-bidule de machin-chouette ?

En vous remerciant,

Here the "En vous remerciant" is very polite and so it can replace "Cordialement".
posted by fraula at 12:41 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

UGH I said "I live in France" twice. Sigh.
Btw, feel free to Memail if you want, I enjoy this sort of thing.

posted by fraula at 12:42 AM on March 21, 2012

Good answers already on the French here, but I'm just too excited to see a question I can actually respond intelligently to. I"ve lived and worked in Francophone West Africa for nearly four years now.

I like this handy table of how to compose letter closings, but from a quick browse through my emails, the most common ones I see from colleagues are less formal: "Très cordialement," "Cordialement," "Meilleures salutations," "Sincères salutations," and "Salutations distinguées."

There's also many a "Bonne réception" or "Je vous [en] souhaite une [très] bonne réception." "Merci d'avance"/"D'avance merci" is pretty popular, too, as is "Merci pour [la or votre] [sometimes constante and/or diligente] collaboration," though that one may be specific to the context I'm working in, YMMV.

As an alternative to Monday, stony Monday's perfectly useable response, the usual phrasing I see for indicating you're available for follow-up is something closer to "N'hésitez pas à me contacter si vous avez des questions."

Also, you didn't ask, but one phrase that comes in very handy is "cité[e][s] en objet" when you're referring to something from the subject line of the email.
posted by solotoro at 4:18 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great answers, all; I've marked the unique ones (but you're all best answer to me). These are really helpful.

I also like to start the email by saying I don't speak the language fluently or ask for people to excuse my ___, as I do not speak it well.

I should have mentioned - I write mostly to colleagues who work at my company or who work for us who will forgive my French/Spanish errors, but I am occasionally writing to government officials and staff. I keep most things formal because better too formal than not enough. I would never tutoyer (or Spanish equivalent).
posted by quadrilaterals at 5:29 AM on March 21, 2012

Oh, and the 1:1 translation would be great if I were writing to a mixed audience about a nuanced topic, but my correspondence is a) mostly regarding logistics and concrete questions (we need this form; please provide this information) and b) to people who speak virtually no English. Also, as in French I tend to phrase things differently and don't machine translate, it sounds like more work! I'll keep it in mind for the future.
posted by quadrilaterals at 5:32 AM on March 21, 2012

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