17 In Learning Experiences

6 Embarrassing Mistakes That Tourists Make In France

Every time I go to France, I see tourists make embarrassing mistakes in dealing with the French and there are some that make me cringe or laugh. Just a forewarning that in the French language  there are many double meanings. So, when you go to France, please watch how you handle these situations as some can be very embarrassing.

Embarrassing Mistakes You Say? You Be The Judge.

Hot or Horny?

Mistakes tourists make

Don’t say, “Je suis chaud”. Let’s say it’s summer and it’s 95 degrees in Paris. Yes, you are (temperature) hot and you should say, “J’ai chaud” just as you would say I am thirsty (“J’ai soif”) or I am hungry (“J’ai faim”). You do NOT say, “Je suis chaud”. It basically means, “I am horny”.


Bises-Kisses at Pompidou Centre Paris France
Bises-Kisses in front of the Pompidou Centre. Photo: J. Chung

The Verb “To Kiss”

Don’t use the word “biser” as a verb (to kiss) as it can also be a vulgar slang term depending on the context. If you are not careful, you might say, “Il m’a baisée” which means “He f____ed me” even though you thought you were saying, “He kissed me”.

It’s better to say, “Il m’a embrassée”, “faire une bise”, or “faire une bisou” to mean to give a kiss on the cheek.

Number of Kisses

Don’t kiss the wrong number of times. You’ve seen it in the movies: two people greet each other and kiss each other on the cheek. It really isn’t a “kiss” but a coming together of the cheeks. The kiss is a “la bise”.  Kisses are given on each cheek by men and women to the same and opposite sex. But did you know that different regions have different number of kisses? Here’s the rule:

  • 2 bises (one on each cheek) is for Paris
  • 3 bises are often used in the south of France
  • 4 bises are often used in the north of France

You’re Good….In Bed?

I know you want to congratulate someone by saying, “Tu es bonne” (“You’re good”), but unfortunately, this means “You’re good in bed” (well, actually something worse than that). Instead, say, “Tu chante bien” (You sing well)—say what the person is good at.

Squeezing The Melons

Cavaillon France market Melons
Cavaillon Melons

Don’t squeeze the melons! Just point to what you want or tell the seller what you want and have him/her get it for you. When in France we don’t touch the produce! (Exception: sometimes in a grocery store where you choose and weigh your own products).

Dressing Too Casually

Marathon du Medoc, France

Don’t wear sweat pants, yoga pants, flip flops, shorts or running shoes (unless you are actually running). In some churches shoulders should be covered. It’s more a sign of respect in many churches and dressing inappropriately is frowned upon. The French do casual chic better than any other nation. Join them.

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Top 10 Photo Locations In Paris

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Now that you’re aware of some embarrassing mistakes you could make, be sure to check out these two posts:

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  • Reply
    September 26, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Now I have to return to France….

    Because I have not had the opportunity, which was always a bit surprising now that I think of it, to say I’m horny so kiss me and squeeze me. And in my best French attitude with my head held high, “I’ve course I’m good in bed!” It was probably because of what I was wearing!!!!

  • Reply
    September 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

    When I return to France I’ll make sure I practice these phrases….hilarious!

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    October 19, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Fun post of French faux pas. Your comments about French language errors point out the dangers of literal translation. Not knowing the “double meaning” can certainly lead to embarrassing moments. There are other parts of Europe where modest dress is expected in churches. When I was Spain, not only were shoulders to be covered, but knees as well.

    • Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks so much. I’m sure there are even more things we do wrong without even realizing….in many counties!

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    October 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Good tips no doubt, but from the looks of it I might be better off just keeping my mouth shut. 😉

    • Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      Loved your comment. I chuckled!

  • Reply
    Billie Frank
    October 19, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Well- at least I know that I won’t make mistake #6 in Paris as they aren’t in my wardrobe- the others, well- entirely possible.

    • Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Too funny!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    October 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you for the tips. My French is not very good, so I can always use these tips!

    • Reply
      October 19, 2015 at 10:13 pm

      You’re welcome. And I know there are so many more things travellers mistakenly do (and say)!

  • Reply
    karen escalera
    October 20, 2015 at 9:07 am

    I wish they taught this in French class! Great tips. I particularly liked the part about the number of kisses in different regions of the country. Fascinating.

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 9:12 am

      Definitely wouldn’t learn this at Alliance Francaise, but I did learn it at Ecole des Trois Ponts in Roanne, France! Great school.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I’m pretty sure I’ve said “Je suis chaud” so I’ll be careful about that next time! I’ve also been reprimanded for touching the strawberries, and corrected for saying “Ou est le toilette” – “Non, ou est LA toilette!” oops! 🙂

    • Reply
      October 20, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Yikes! Yes, the French are very good at correcting mistakes we make…..which I don’t mind….or maybe I’m just used to it!

  • Reply
    September 25, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks for the good tips on visiting France.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2022 at 9:47 am

    As someone who lives in France, the one about dressing is just nonsense.

    Dressing too casually is no more of a problem than it is the US. People wear jogging bottoms, leggings and sneakers all the time. It’s just not a problem.

    Of course, if you’re going to a formal event then you need to make an effort, but that’s the same as everywhere.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2022 at 10:00 am

    Other than that, good tips. French can be a confusing language, especially for english speakers

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