In line with our first blog I thought I would cover some basic French etiquette – after all, there are some strict, unspoken rules that are very precious to the locals, and if you don’t follow them, you will stand out like a sore thumb.
Consider this a comprehensive guide on how to behave in France, taking into account French cultural particularities, etiquette, manners and behaviours that you should adapt to when living in France:
Greeting and Saying Goodbye:
In France, it is customary to greet people with a kiss on each cheek. This is called “faire la bise” and it is a standard greeting among friends and acquaintances. The proper way to do this is to lean in and give two light kisses, one on each cheek, starting with the left cheek. If you are meeting someone for the first time, it’s best to wait for them to initiate the kisses.
Saying “Bonjour!” is essential wherever you go, or whomever you speak to. When entering a shop you should say a general “Bonjour”. Before asking a question to a worker, start first by saying “Bonjour”. So, while in the UK, you’d go up to a worker and say “can you help me x, y, z.” In France it would be “Bonjour, can you help me…” and so on. Here’s Natalie Portman explaining that this was also her experience whilst living in Paris.
Equally important is to say “Au Revoir!” once you leave. You can add a “Bonne journée” if you like, but the “Au Revoir!” is mandatory. If you don’t say it, you might hear an angry “Au Revoir!!!” thrown at you on your way out. Remember, people take French etiquette seriously.
Public Transport Etiquette
Keep to the right whilst moving, and never stop in the middle of a path. More often than not, there will be a lot of people commuting with you. If you stop (like we see tourists do), you are sure to be run over. On the escalator, keep to the right (like in London), and when the train/metro/tram arrives, wait for people to exit before getting on.
Seats are freely available, avoid using the ones reserved for people who need them most (they are marked). When you want to sit in a 4-seater, it is customary for the people sitting closer to the corridor, to just move their legs so you can pass and sit by the window, they will not scootch over to the other seat.
Meals are a central part of French culture, and dining etiquette is an important aspect to keep in mind. When dining at a restaurant, it is customary to wait for everyone to be seated before starting to eat. You should also wait for the host to start eating before beginning yourself. Table manners are quite formal in France, and it is important to keep your elbows off the table and to hold your knife and fork properly.
In France, it is considered impolite to cut in line. Queuing is taken very seriously, and people are expected to wait their turn. If you are in a queue, it is best to wait patiently and not try to push ahead of others.
Tipping optional in France, as the waiters receive a salary. You are welcome to leave a small amount of money to show your appreciation for good service. In restaurants, it is standard to leave a few euros on the table or to round up the total bill. In bars, it is common to leave a small amount of change.
French is the official language of France, and it is considered polite to make an effort to speak the language when in the country. While many French people do speak English, it’s a good idea to learn some basic French phrases to show respect for the culture and to help you navigate your day-to-day life. You’ll feel the appreciation by the locals instantly.
In France, people tend to respect each other’s personal space. It is considered impolite to stand too close to someone when speaking with them, and to invade their personal space.
Punctuality is more relaxed in France, while it is considered polite to arrive on time for appointments and meetings, outside of work there is more leeway. The famous “quart d’heure de politesse” means if invited, to show up 15 minutes late in case the host is not finished preparing yet. If you are actually running late, it is best to call ahead to let the other person know.
In France, it is considered impolite to be loud or boisterous in public places. It’s important to be mindful of your volume and to avoid disturbing others.
Before starting to dive into a topic with a colleague, it’s always polite to first ask “how are you?” and then start the work conversation. I’ve myself fallen into this trap far too often, and it’s not considered good manners. If it’s your first conversation of the day with your colleague, first you say “Bonjour!” and then “how are you?”, and then you can get into the real discussion.
What are some unspoken rules you have experienced yourself? Share your stories and this blog may have a part 2 soon 🐙
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