First time in France? Here are my tips!
Updated: Mar 25
I was 19 when I first came to France, and it was my first time in Europe. I laugh now at certain things I did back then but after deciding to make my life here I did have to learn how to integrate into French society. The French can get a bad rap but I assure you they are just misunderstood! It took me a few years (and now being married to a Frenchman!) to learn certain French subtleties and here are a few of my tips in order to ingratiate yourself with the French!
When you enter a café, a restaurant, a shop, and before talking to someone always say "Bonjour". The French are very insistant on this « politesse ». You will have better interactions with the French starting with this simple word/greeting!
At any rate, try any little French word or phrase you know, the French appreciate visitors making an effort to speak their language. The easiest being "Bonjour" (used during daytime) or "Bonsoir" (used at nighttime). "Merci" for thank you. "Au revoir" for goodbye. Anytime you can stick in a French word/phrase, do it!
The French have quite strict times for eating, at least when it comes to eating at a restaurant. Lunch is served between noon and about 1:30pm, meaning you have to be seated during those times. Unless you are in a big city (Paris, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Nice etc), if you show up at the restaurant after 1:30pm, most restaurants will not seat you. The same goes for dinner, which is served starting around 7 or 7:30pm and up until 9:30ish.
The French love taking their time once seated at the restaurant. They will frequently spend a couple hours over a leisurely lunch or dinner. The waiter will normally not try to rush you nor ask you to leave. It is up to you to ask for the bill ("l’addition s’il vous plait!")
The French love to complain; it is a national hobby loved by all! They bond over complaints! In the States we love to strike up a little conversation about the weather or some sort of small talk while waiting in line, well the French will bond with the other people in line by complaining about the people holding up the line or the bad customer service.
The French really don’t hug, it’s more of an air-kiss-on-the-cheek culture. Depending where you are in the country it can be 1, 2, 3 or even 4 kisses and just to complicate things more, sometimes you start on the left sometimes on the right! However, if you are meeting someone in a more formal/business-like environment, a hand shake will suffice.