A country known for its culture and etiquette, France is perhaps the one destination where you really don’t want to make a faux pas. While French customs can seem a world away from those that are common in the United States, there’s nothing too challenging about it. At the end of the day, locals value manners and respect, both in private and in public.
There are a few etiquette tips that you should brush up on if you plan on traveling to France. These are certain to make your trip run more smoothly and to leave a better impression on the locals.
10 Remember Your Table Manners
Table manners are important in many western countries. In France, these can be paramount, especially if you’ve been invited to a dinner party or are dining at a high-end restaurant. According to French District, it is considered polite to leave your hands on the table at all times but to never put your elbows on the table.
When it comes to eating bread, be sure to do so with your hands. Rather than cutting a bread roll with a knife, simply break it with your hands and keep it on the bread plate rather than the breadbasket.
9 You Might Get Air-Kissed
Air-kissing is very European. There are some locations in France where this is considered the norm, so be prepared to be air-kissed when meeting someone new. Conde Nast Traveler points out that there are different rules regarding the area of France you’re in at the time.
For example, outside of Paris, people tend to kiss more than twice. East of Nice, you might be in for four air-kisses! It’s also not a good idea to initiate them yourself. Instead, follow the lead of the locals around you to find out what’s appropriate.
8 Avoid Using First Names Unless You Know The Person Well
It might be okay to air-kiss someone you’ve just met in France, but using first names is a matter that can be seen as a little more personal. In general, you shouldn’t use the first name of a person unless you’re close with them or you’ve been invited to do so. Instead, it’s common to address them by their last name.
If someone has an academic title, it is required to use this when talking to them, even if the conversation is very casual. By sticking to these rules regarding names, you’ll be sure not to offend any French local.
7 It’s Polite To Learn At Least A Little French
You’re not expected to learn a whole new language before traveling to France. That said, familiarizing yourself with a little French will make your trip run a lot more smoothly. You’ll be able to understand more signs and menus, and will have a better overall idea of what’s going on around you.
In Paris, locals are sometimes perceived as being a little cold to tourists. If you greet a shop assistant with a little French, they’re almost guaranteed to be politer to you than they would be to other tourists who demand that they speak English in their home country.
6 Always Behave In The Cinema
According to Complete France, the French take their cinema decorum very seriously. While chatting at the movies in America is frowned upon, in France, you’ll probably get loudly berated in front of everyone. It’s also considered bad form to chew loudly on snacks during a film.
While visiting the cinema, it’s best to be as silent as possible to avoid disturbing the people around you. It’s also good form to stay seated until the last of the credits have rolled. Impolite behavior at the cinema in France is just not acceptable in most cases.
5 It’s Up To The Customer To Greet The Shop Assistant
In the United States, those working in retail tend to be extremely friendly and will almost always greet customers as soon as they’re noticed. In France, the onus tends to be on the customer to make themselves known as greeting the shop assistant, rather than the other way around.
Engaging in polite conversation with a shop assistant will get you better service than talking down to a retail worker, or ignoring them altogether. A simple “Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame” will go a long way when the shop assistant is used to tourists ignoring them until it’s time to purchase.
4 Know The Pillars Of French Conversation
When making casual conversation with French locals, there are a few topics that are considered impolite. In general, you shouldn’t discuss money. According to Bonjour Paris, there are some topics that the French are almost always happy to discuss and are generally the safest choices during casual conversation. These are French culture, food, art, music, philosophy, architecture, and depending on where you are, popular events.
If you’re in Paris, it might be a good idea to discuss the latest exhibitions in the city. If you know you’ll have to carry the conversation, familiarize yourself with these topics beforehand.
3 Dress Up Rather Than Down
The French tend to get more dressed up than many Americans are used to. If you want to fit in, it’s a good idea to always dress up rather than down. This means that you should avoid wearing tank tops and shorts, even during the summer months. The rule also applies to both men and women.
For women, in particular, heels and dresses are normally worn when dining out in the evening. French businessmen are also often seen in suits, no matter how hot the weather is. While it’s your choice how you dress, you’ll stand out less if you dress up.
2 There Are Rules Regarding Gifts
If you’ve been invited to a party or gathering while you’re in France, then you might want to bring a gift. And if you’re bringing a gift, there are a few things to know about gift-giving in French culture. In general, the perfect gifts are flowers, chocolates, and wine, but there are rules for these.
When giving flowers, stay away from red roses, which are used in weddings. Yellow flowers might suggest that a woman’s husband has been unfaithful, and flowers in groups of six or twelve are for lovers only. When it comes to wine, the best brands will win you the most brownie points.
1 It’s Not The Best Place To Strike Up Conversation With Strangers
In some countries, chatting to strangers on the street is very common. While the French can be friendly, saying anything more than “Bonjour” to a stranger in passing can be seen as a little overwhelming.
For example, if you’re lining up at the grocery store, it’s not always a good idea to strike up a conversation with the person next to you, as you might back home. In general, the French will respect your right to privacy and quiet, and they expect that you do the same.