Here is a very useful list of what not to do in France. Yes countries are different, cultures are different. Some things are done here and seem perfectly normal yet they’re not done there and they will make you look like a weirdo or worse… rude!
1- DON’T HUG PEOPLE
You will probably receive a response like… an awkward and confused slight step back, which I doubt you would appreciate and nobody would be happy. You would feel a tad rejected and your French counterpart would be freaked out. Sigh.
Why? Because we just don’t hug in France. Unless we’re meeting our mom or our best friend at the airport and we haven’t seen each her for a long time, it’s just not done. Hugs are very intimate, sensual, sexual in France. So unless you have some kind of agreement, don’t go there.
Instead you need to faire la bise. You touch both cheeks and you make a couple of kisses in the air. Some people do 2, some 3, some even 4, which I think is a little over the top but you just have to go with the flow and do what the locals do. And by the way, faire la bise is the way to say hello and the way to say good bye.
I have to say though that men together tend to shake hands or serrer la main.
Woman + woman = faire la bise
Woman + man = faire la bise
Man + man = serrer la main
2- DON’T FORGET TO SAY BONJOUR
…and au revoir in any French stores you. Unlike in the US, the client is not king in France, le client n’est pas roi. You can’t get away with any behavior just because you are spending money. So just say Bonjour Madame when you enter and Au revoir Madame when you leave. Easy.
3- DON’T SPEAK LOUDLY IN PUBLIC
Nobody wants or needs to hear your conversation in a restaurant, on the street, in a shop, in a park, on public transportation. The French tend to be quiet when they’re not at home and they expect others to behave in the same manner.
4- DON’T ASK SOMEONE IF THEY’RE FROM PARIS
…just because you know they are French! I know you mean well but to us it’s very annoying and believe me I speak from experience. In Paris itself not greater Paris there are a little over 2 million inhabitants while 60 million people live in France.
2 millions vs 60 millions…
So you have a fairly big chance of getting it wrong and upsetting someone. The French are very proud of their regions plus there has been a strong history of Parisians looking down on the rest of France so often the French really don’t like Parisians.
5- DON’T TALK ABOUT MONEY
…and certainly don’t brag about the money you may have. Even though most people in France are atheists, the country remains traditionally Catholic and whether we realize it or not, it’s engrained in our culture. The general belief within the Catholic world is that money is more likely to get you to Hell than to Heaven. So don’t even attempt to talk about money.
Which leads me to my next don’t:
6- DON’T SHARE YOUR RELIGIOUS VIEWS
…unless you’re asked. Like I said, most French people are not religious and hearing how you feel about God and the Angels will probably make them cringe and want to run away. That is not to say the French are not tolerant, far from it, they just want to be left alone on the subject, they don’t want to feel like they’re being converted. I’ll always remember how my mom welcomed the Jehovah’s witnesses after I had opened the front door to them when I was still a teenager. Ouch.
7- AND NOW POLITICS
We looove talking politics and if you see a bunch of French people in a heated conversation at a café they’re probably talking politics. Now I’m sorry but as a non-French person it would seem quite rude for you to give your opinion. However, if you already know the people you are talking to and you haven’t just met them at a BBQ, you can ask genuine questions if the conversation is lending itself to it in a natural way. Needless to say it can’t be a loaded question like “So how come you guys always need the US to get you out of sticky situations?” I have been asked this question twice. Didn’t end well. or “So how come you guys are always on strike?”. A genuine question, oui. A mean one, non.
And I think that’s about it!
Now tell me, is there anything that you did in France and then immediately wished you hadn’t done? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section!