10 Dos and Don’ts When In France

10 Dos and Don'ts When In France
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When in France, do as the French do….and this means it is important to follow the customs and etiquette so that you have a more enjoyable and inviting time in France.

Here are some quick tips to help you adjust to your stay in a country that is set on its rituals and traditions:

DOs

Dos and Don'ts When In France at Louis Vuitton, France.
Louis Vuitton, France. Photo: J. Chung

1. Do say hello (“Bonjour”) upon entering an establishment (ie. store, restaurant, etc) before you begin browsing or asking questions. Say good-bye (“Au revoir”) upon leaving.

2. Do learn some French phrases. It will show you are making the effort to speak the language and shows respect. Some phrases:

  • Hello (“Bonjour”)
  • Thank you (“Merci”)
  • Excuse me (“Excusez-moi”)
  • Please (“S’il vous plait”)
  • I am lost (“Je suis perdu”)
  • Where are the bathrooms? (“Ou sont les toilettes?”)
  • I don’t speak French. In English please (“Je ne parle pas Francais. En Anglais, s’il vous plait”)

3. Do realize that to use the washroom in places such as a train station or department store, you will have to pay a nominal fee (ie. 0.35 Euros)

4. Do take the metro (subway) and hang onto your ticket until you leave your station.  You could be checked by the police and fined if you don’t have your ticket stub.

5. Do remember to validate your ticket before you board a train. Validating machines are located at the entrance to the “quai” or platform.

6. Do dress appropriately. Jeans are OK, but shorts, flip flops, and running shoes are not. They are for the beach and exercising.

7. Do shake hands with acquaintances or “air kiss” those who are close to you when you are greeting the person. Air kissing involves bringing your cheek close to the other’s cheek as if you are going to kiss the cheek. It is a ritual, called “faire la bise” and indicates friendship. The number of kisses depends on the region. In most of France, one kisses each cheek once; however in other areas it could range from 3-5. What side to start on? I have read one starts on the right; however, opinions differ.

8. Do consider a “Prix Fixe” menu, which will include a starter, main course and dessert at a fixed price. Some restaurants have prix fixe menus with many choices for each course. Some offer menus which include some wine.

9. Do consider ordering a “pichet” of wine. Technically, it is a “jug” of wine, but really it is a carafe of wine and comes in different sizes: 25 cl or 50 cl.  (250 ml or 500ml). It is the restaurant’s house wine and is very often very good and a good deal.

10. Do expect to find the sale of wine and liquor in grocery stores and the store, Monoprix.

DON’TS

Prix Fixe Menu. France.
Prix Fixe Menu. France. Photo: J. Chung

1. Do not use “Tu” (you) to address another person unless that person is quite familiar to you. Use “Vous”, as it is more formal.

2. Do not take out coffee and drink it while walking down the street. Drink it at a cafe, either standing at a bar or sitting at a table.

3. Do not touch the produce at an outdoor market. Simply indicate to the seller what you want

Cafe Au Lait. France.
Cafe Au Lait. France. Photo: J. Chung

4. Do not order a cafe au lait to end your meal. This drink is taken at breakfast.

5. Do not rush your meal.  The French enjoy their time to relax over a coffee or meal. You should to and take at least 2 hours to savour the flavours.

6. Do not assume all stores will be open between 12-2 pm as this is when most people have lunch.

7. Do not order or consume soft drinks or coffee with your meal.

8. Do not (have to) tip as the 15% service charge is included in the bill most of the time. The bill will say, “Service Compris”.  However, it is a custom to leave an additional few Euros at dinner if the service was exceptional.

9. Do not expect to get ice in your drink. It is just rare to find drinks with ice in France as compared to North America.

Aperatif in Luxembourg Gardens, Paris France.
Aperatif in Luxembourg Gardens, Paris France. Photo: J. Chung

10. Do not have dinner before 8:00 pm. It is more acceptable to have a pre-dinner drink (cocktail hour or “apero”) such as wine, beer, a kir or pastis between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. It  can be served with nuts or crackers.

Be sure to check out these other posts about etiquette and customs in France:

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18 Comments

  1. One thing I would add is that when using the metro you need to watch that you don’t get into the first class by mistake – you can only tell which is first class by where you stand on the platform. I once got a hefty fine by making this error!

    1. The good news is that Paris eliminated the 1st and 2nd class system on the Metro in 1991, although France’s national state-run SNCF rail system still has it…and there IS a difference, while back in the 1980s, I didn’t see any difference between the two classes on the Metro.

  2. I’m cool with everything but not being allowed to have coffee after my meal. That’s their custom and that’s fine but to be judged on it is silly to me. I’m not pretending to be French – just trying not to be rude or insensitive. My odds of behaving well are higher if I have caffeine to keep me from being grumpy!

  3. Great list of dos and don’t for France. I like knowing how to behave properly so as not to be rude or stand out too much when I travel. The only one of these I simply disregard is the “Cafe Au Lait only for Breakfast” rule. I want my Cafe Creme when I want it and I don’t care! I often order it at sidewalk cafes in the afternoon while wandering the streets of Paris. Fortunately, so far no Parisian waiter has refused to serve it to me or even scowled when I ordered it!

  4. Great tips. It’s always good to know these types of things. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to France, but hopefully will get back there soon. The one item that might be an issue for me is not wearing runners. I have arthritis in my toes and if I am going to do any amount of walking, I need to wear my running (actually walking) shoes.

    1. When you are in France there is so much walking to do and I don’t blame you for wearing walking shoes. After overwalking in France (and running a 20 km race) I came back with a stress fracture, so I totally understand.

  5. Some great tips here! I must confess, a lot of the “don’t do’s” were new to me, and I’m glad to have read this before my next trip to France. Don’t want any faux pas!

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