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10 Dos and Don’ts When In France

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:


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 plaît”)
  • 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 plaît”)

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.

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

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.

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Louis Vuitton, Paris-Dos and Don'ts When In France
Louis Vuitton, Paris 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 too and take at least 2 hours to savor the flavors.

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

7. Do not assume everyone speaks and understands English.

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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  • Reply
    Karen Warren
    December 29, 2015 at 4:22 am

    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!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

      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.

  • Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    December 29, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Merci beaucoup! J’aime France:-)

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Moi aussi!

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    December 29, 2015 at 9:03 am

    J’aime toute la France! And the people, the cuisine, and the sights!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm


  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    December 29, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Terrific tips Jan! I especially will remember the jug of wine tip.

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      A day without wine is like a day without sunshine (is that how the phrase goes?)

  • Reply
    Kay Dougherty
    December 29, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      Hmmmm….I think I’m pretending to be French. Or I believe I am French!

  • Reply
    Donna Meyer
    December 29, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      I hear you! I love my Cafe Creme too!

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    December 30, 2015 at 9:51 am

    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.

    • Reply
      December 30, 2015 at 9:59 am

      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.

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    January 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      January 4, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      I still make mistakes, but try as hard as possible to speak French so they are a bit more forgiving!

  • Reply
    Rosa K. Torres
    January 13, 2016 at 5:44 am

    Awesome tips! Planning to go there and this blog can really help me while in France. Thank you!

    • Reply
      January 13, 2016 at 5:46 am

      Glad it was helpful!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    While in the past shorts may have been frowned upon, times have changed. I think the summers are very hot now and the French have finally embraced them.

    When packing for Paris this past summer I wouldn’t let my daughter pack shorts so we didn’t stand out as tourists. After never seeing shorts on French people in all my years of travel there, they were everywhere last summer! Not just on tourists! Even the men were wearing shorts! A longer walking short seemed to be popular for males, but shorts of any length (even VERY short) were being worn by females. Even denim cutoffs! Needless to say my daughter was miffed at me and promptly went out and bought a pair of shorts to wear.

    We EVEN saw flip flops! Yes, the elusive flip flop worn by Parisians. They were very nice and stylish (not cheap Target type flip flops) but were flip flops none the less.

    So you need to change your list. 🙂

    • Reply
      February 24, 2019 at 7:05 pm

      Yes, France was incredibly hot this past summer. I think it’s really the young people (under 18) who wear shorts, not folks my age (well over 18!).

  • Reply
    August 22, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    “Do not order or consume soft drinks or coffee with your meal” , as a french woman , I have to say that I have never heard such a weird thing 😮 Not all french are alcoholic lol, of course you can order a soft drink with your meal, thats actually what 90% of people do in here in Paris.

  • Reply
    November 16, 2021 at 12:33 am

    I don’t get the don’t have diner before 8pm. I’ve lived in Paris and people do have diner before that, even I have and we didn’t get any funny looks or found that they thought it was weird. So where is this coming from?

    • Reply
      November 17, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Actually, I should have said dinner is between 7-9 but if you go too early you might be the only one in the restaurant!

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