The boss of John Lewis has described France as "finished" as he advised investors to take their money out of a country "where nothing works".
Managing director Andy Street said the country was "in decline" as he spoke to entrepreneurs at an event in London.
The department store has described the comments, reported in The Times, as "heavily tongue in cheek" and said "they were never meant to be taken seriously".
Mr Street had earlier this week been in Paris to pick up an international retail award for the high street retailer.
Speaking at an event in London to mark the end of a John Lewis competition for start-up companies, Mr Street said: "I have never been to a country more ill at ease... nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it."
Mr Street described the country as being "in decline" and said: "If you've got investments in French business, get them out quickly."
Mr Street has today apologised for the comments.
He said: "The remarks I made were supposed to be lighthearted views, and tongue in cheek. On reflection I clearly went too far. I regret the comments, and apologise unreservedly."
Earlier, a spokesman for the department store, which is planning to launch a French-language version of its website, told The Independent: "These were heavily tongue in cheek comments that were never meant to be taken seriously."
A spokesman for the French embassy told The Independent that Mr Street's comments "do not reflect the attractiveness of France for foreign investment."
The spokesman said: "France has the fifth largest stock of Foreign Direct Investment in the world, for a total of 1,100 billion euros (approximately $1,500 billion) so obviously many foreign businesses do not seem to share Mr Street's view.
"Also, saying that 'nothing works in France' shows how wide of the mark those comments are.
"Everyone who has lived in France knows that it enjoys world-class public services. Public transport for example is excellent, and at a price that Mr Street is unlikely to find in many countries.
"People working in France enjoy one of the best healthcare systems in the world. And ultimately, workers' average productivity is higher in France than in many other developed countries."
The spokesman said Prime Minister Manuel Valls will be delivering a speech at the Guildhall on Monday.
He said: "If Mr Street takes the time to listen to it, he will find out that far from being sclerotic, France is engaged in wide-ranging structural reforms, with 50bn euros savings over the next three years (including 21 next year) which will mostly be used to reduce taxes on business.
"France is also engaged in a historic simplification of its local authorities. So Mr Street can rest assured that the French government really cares about business.
"France is the fifth biggest economy in the world, the second in Europe. It would be senseless for any major international business to overlook such a market."Reuse content