France

France Don’ts

  • Do not start a talk with a Frenchman in English. The French take pride in their language, and the best way to show your respect for that is to do your best to speak French, even if it’s just a badly pronounced word.
  • Do not shake hands if you should exchange ‘la bise’, the kiss on the cheek. After the first kiss on the cheek, the maneuver is repeated at least once on the opposite cheeks.
  • Do not address anyone using ‘tu’ if you should have used ‘vous’. Tu is the familiar you, which demonstrates a certain closeness and informality, whilst Vous is the formal you. It is used to show respect or maintain a certain distance or formality with someone.
  • Do not try to get things done between noon and 2 pm, do not call anyone at 11:55 either. The French will not accept your trying to push work into their lunch break, which is sacred. Try to have lunch earlier, as the restaurants in France general closed at 1:30 pm and after that time you can only eat some sandwich or crepe in the stands by the street.
  • Do not try to impress others with your wealth, which would be seen as bad taste, and it’s not an accepted measure for social status. Typical discussion subjects are culture, food, vacation, politics, family, office gossip etc. Not money!
  • Do not present red carnations to your friends as this flower is believed to symbolize bad will in France.
  • Do not complain about how long it takes for your order in Cafés. For the French, the social aspect of lingering over a coffee is the relaxing experience and part of the pleasure. If you’re in a rush, order a café at the bar and you’ll be “in and out” in no time.
  • Do not communicate across hierarchy lines. France is a very hierarchical society, talk to the boss. do not waste time talking to someone who is not responsible.
  • Do not dig through a stack of sweaters to find your size when shopping. Let a sales person help you to find a size or a color, and pick it out of the pile for you.
  • Do not sit with legs spread apart as it is considered impolite in France.
  • Do not start your eating in France until the hostess says ‘bon appetit’. Do not eat too much of the first course and avoid leaving food on your plate. Do not eat foods with your fingers, which is strictly limited when you are at the dinner table.
  • Do not order only one dish at a restaurant. Do not drink soft drinks or coffee with a good meal, never ask for a doggy bag.
  • Do not expect ice when order a drink as the café won’t have it. Parisians do not add ice to their drinks.
  • Do not take a cab when you explore the city, walk or use metro instead. No building in Paris is more than a few hundred yards from a Metro stop. The cabs in Paris are expensive and you pay by distance and the amount of time in the cab. In terms of traffic jam, the cost of a short trip can be astronomical!
  • Do not be paranoid about pickpockets. Carry what you need and leave excess cash and valuables in a hotel safe. Women should take a bag with the shoulder strap draped diagonally across your body. If in a highly trafficked area with a lot of jostling, pull the purse towards your abdomen and hold it across the front zipper. Men should carry their wallets in an inside front pocket.

France Do’s

  • Do learn some key French phrases before travelling to “break the ice”. ‘Bonjour’ means ‘Hello’, followed by Monsieur (male), Madame (female), Mademoiselle (young female); ‘Merci’ means ‘Thank you’, ‘S’il vous plait’ means ‘Please’; ‘Je ne parle pas francais. En anglais, s’il vous plait’ means ‘I do not speak French, in English please’.
  • Do bring a present to your friends and relatives. For flowers, present in odd numbers but not in 13 which is considered unluckily.
  • Do place your napkin in your lap immediately after being seated and do keep your hands on the table. It is polite to make eye contact as you say, “Santé”, which means health in English.
  • Do tear your bread into a bite-sized piece before eating it. It is very impolite to take a bite from the whole piece of bread. After each course, you should wipe your plate with a piece of bread.
  • Do dress well as the French are very fashionable people.
  • Do shop in Paris, and do say “Bonjour Madame” and “Au Revoir”, the French view their shops as an extension of their homes. So remember to say hello and goodbye when in Paris.
  • Do ride the Metro, and hold your ticket until you exit the station. If you do not have your ticket when the Metro police inspected by the Metro police, you will be fined a €35 on the spot.
  • Do get ready to pay for everything in Paris, even using the toilettes in the bar will cost you 2 francs. Be ready to pay 20 to 30 francs for a 1/4 L. bottle of water. Coffee is about half that price.