French Faux Pas to Avoid
Des Faux pas à Éviter en France
French Faux Pas – Don’t make French Blunders!
The very words ‘faux pas’ and ‘etiquette’ are both French. Does it mean the French master the ‘right etiquette’? I’ll let you be the judge of that 🙂
The French, like any culture I guess, have a set way of dealing with customs and social rules. Sometimes, it’s funny to be kissed on the cheeks by a stranger, but don’t go and offend your host by offering them chrysanthemums for the dinner table!
But in the meantime, don’t make faux pas in France. Here is a list of what the French do and don’t do.
15 DOs and DON’Ts – A French Etiquette
- Oui – Accept that kiss – or these kisses – a friend is about to give you to greet you ‘Bonjour’ with.
- Oui – Bring a small gift when invited to somebody’s house.
- Non – Don’t bring chrysanthemums to a dinner party – they’re the ultimate death flower.
- Oui – Talk profusely about the food your host prepared for you.
- Oui – Try to avoid money and age topics in a casual conversation
- Non – Don’t pay compliments on the clothes they’re wearing, the jewelry they have, or their hairdos. If you do, you might get a blank look.
- Oui – Have that cocktail or drink your host is offering. If you don’t, your host will look at you like you’re from another planet.
- Non – Don’t use the TU form, unless you’re being addressed as TU. Say VOUS until someone clarifies the social situation.
- Non – Don’t expect to eat at any time of the day.
- Non – Don’t expect your dish to be altered in a restaurant. Be extra careful if you have food allergies.
- Oui – Drink water or wine with your meal. Don’t ask for a soda or a hot beverage.
- Oui – Leave your hands visible on the table. Having them under the table might get you awkward looks.
- Non -Don’t expect to return your purchases to the store for an exchange or a refund
- Oui – Greet the salesperson with a “Bonjour [Madame, Monsieur]”.
- Oui – Learn how to say “Bonjour, Au revoir and Merci’. It will go a long way, I promise! And learn a bit of French with my Beginner’s course before you go to France. You’ll love it.
In Depth – En détail
Let’s learn more about the French and their ways
Les différences culturelles – Cultural differences
List of things French people do or don’t do
- The French kiss easily on the cheeks, even if they’re total strangers to one another. So, you might find yourself being greeted with 2, 3 or even 4 kisses by a friend of a friend, a total stranger to you 🙂
- I never go empty-handed to someone’s house. The gift doesn’t have to be much: flowers, chocolates, or even wine. Don’t worry if your bottle of wine isn’t open that day. It might just be that your host had another varietal in mind. But, don’t come with mums, they’re the flowers you see on all the tombs in French cemeteries.
- When invited to a dinner party, French guests always ask about the food they’re eating: the recipe, how easy or difficult to make, how did the host come about that specific dish…
- French people always say ‘Bonjour’ – or even better ‘Bonjour Monsieur, Madame’ first to people they want to talk to
- French people don’t smile as much as they give stern looks
- French people don’t say ‘Merci’ as often as English speakers
- French people don’t necessarily pay compliment to one another on the clothes they’re wearing, the jewelry they have, or their hairdos. If you do, you might get a blank look.
- French people don’t necessarily look at you right in the eyes
- when invited, French people arrive a bit late, 10 to 15 minutes. They bring a small present such as flowers, wine, chocolate (no chrysanthemums as they represent death)
- French people are râleurs – grumpy, they love to grouch about everything and anything, even though they know they shouldn’t
- French people do not mix professional life and private life. Don’t feel excluded if your French colleague doesn’t want to go out with you. French don’t often have colleagues as friends, as they socialize elsewhere
- French people don’t talk about money and age in a casual conversation
- French drivers aren’t as patient or courteous as others. French people do not stand in line very nicely. And that’s rude, I think 🙂
- French people sometimes drink alcohol at lunch or at dinner. If invited to an apéro to toast, it’s impolite not do drink. I sometimes ‘fake drink’: I take a drink, toast and put my glass down later. You may also ask if they have fruit juices: “Vous avez des jus de fruits ?”
- French people don’t necessarily say ‘Bon appétit’ when sharing a meal. The proper etiquette says we shouldn’t.
- French people always talk about the food they’re eating, comment on it, ask questions about the dish. It’s very impolite not to.
- at the restaurant
- French people don’t alter (add/take out food) the dish they ordered from a menu. They can specify how they want meat or fish cooked, but that about it.
- French people don’t bring a doggy bag home (although that’s changing)
- French waiters are not going to tell you their name, and aren’t necessarily going to be as attentive, as their tip is included in your tab anyway
- French people feel it’s okay to smoke outside the café. They feel entitled. They feel if you don’t like smoke, there is an area inside where you won’t be confronted to smoke
- I hope you’re somewhat thick-skinned as the French tend to talk like sailors sometimes. French language is often more graphic than English. I can think of many words that, if translated literally, will really shock an English speaker. However, these words are very common in French. See for instance the 1998 movie ‘Le diner de cons’ very properly translated by ‘The dinner game’ whereas the literal translation should be something like ‘The dinner for c_nts’.*
- French people use command forms more readily than English speakers do
- Tourne à gauche
- You’ll want to turn left
- French people use exclamation points and capital letters often in writing, which can be perceived as rude
- French people generally don’t return their purchases to the store for an exchange or a refund without having to go through a protocol. It’s a huge ordeal, although again, with big online companies, that might be changing a little in retail store as well.
What do you think? Can you think of other examples? Have you had a funny or a bad experience in France? Let me know here in the comments below.