French culture has long been revered for its traditions, styles, timelessness and quirks. They’ve got that je ne sais quoi that magazines, TV series and pop culture try to bottle up and sell. But what many don’t realize is that there’s a certain day-to-day etiquette that goes unsaid, but can cause a huge upheaval if not approached appropriately. While some unspoken rules may not be relevant in the U.S., they definitely lend themselves to food for thought, or at the very least, a little perspective. After much research, observation and anecdotes from friends, I’ve compiled a few common faux pas in French etiquette.
Make a great first impression
When entering a store, passing someone in the elevator or buying your morning baguette, it’s always encouraged to say bonjour monsieur/madame, and au revoir on your way out. When meeting someone for the first time, shake hands. From that point forward, it’s polite to give a light kiss or “air kiss” on both cheeks, but don’t be sloppy. 😉 (And hugs are not a thing in France, that’s for les Américains!)
Arriving on-time is impolite
French tend to arrive about 15 minutes late. It’s not only forgiven to be late (not too late), but it’s also proper etiquette. Arriving early or on time to an activity may catch the host off guard and still in prep mode. Here’s the skinny on U.S. time versus French time:
In the US, our culture is taught to see time as sequential. It is one linear element consisting of equal building blocks where activities are placed along the line in a logical and efficient way. We tend to do one thing at a time, and consider our time very valuable and precious. If we’re not keeping up with time then we are running late.
In French culture, time is synchronic or flexible; various activities can take place at the same time, and a person can switch between activities as needed. When setting a time, it should be viewed as an intention to meet at that time…knowing that in actuality it could be rescheduled, start earlier or later than planned, and will take as long as needed.
If you’re not a sommelier, just enjoy the wine
The French take their wine very seriously, and it’s best to only make a comment if you are very versed in wine. Otherwise, politely mention you enjoy it but don’t elaborate too much. It’s also considered impolite to comment on a host’s wine.
Take compliments in stride
The French like to tell it like it is, and they also like to flirt harmlessly. Paying a compliment such as “you are very pretty” or “you look ravishing tonight,” shouldn’t be taken as a come on. Learn to roll with the punches, say thank you and relish the pick-me-up.
Source: Comme une Française
Be couth and quiet
When inside a restaurant, museum, cinema, theater or metro, speak at lower volumes. It’s considered rude and disruptive to speak loudly. You may hear a loud sigh or get a blank stare if you’re being too loud. Take this as a courteous red flag to shut the F up.
Dress to impress
The French like to look at people, and they take great pride in their appearance. Don’t walk around in sneakers, workout clothes or even athleisure, as this comes across like you don’t have respect for yourself. There are plenty of comfortable options that are not only functional but fashionable. Try Revolve, Asos or J.Crew, and make an effort! Also, your abode is not for athleisure, either. When home, it’s expected that you get into your grown up clothes every day just as if you were in public.