Mind your Manners: French Etiquette

Everyday Etiquette: France

Meeting People

In general the French prefer to be introduced to strangers, if at all possible wait for a third party introduction when meeting someone new. When speaking with someone it is common to use their title plus their family name (Madame Brown) until given permission to do otherwise.

Personal compliments and comments on physical appearance (I love your dress) are not appropriate as they are considered overly personal.

The exchange of business cards is a common practice when first meeting someone

Physical Greetings

When greeting someone a handshake accompanied by a “Pleased to meet you” is appropriate. When departing be sure to shake everyone’s hand, a general group wave as is often done in the United States is not looked on favorably.

An “air kiss” is an appropriate greeting once you have established a relationship with someone.

Physical Space

The French are comfortable with standing slightly closer to one another than Americans do.

Eye Contact

Intense direct eye contact is common, looking away is a sign of disinterest and/or that you are behaving rude.

Good Topics of Discussion

Politics, issues of controversy, current events, soccer, arts and anything that results in a good debate.

Bad Topics of Discussion

Avoid the common American question of “what do you do?” as it is considered rude and too personal. Also avoid commenting on specific “French” things unless you are an expert on the topic.

Communication Style

Moments of silence in France are rare once a conversation gets rolling. Initially upon meeting the French are politely restrained but once they get to know you they can be loud and highly animated.

The French are a combination of the logical North and the passionate South and as a result they are often able to process and explain their points quite logically, however when an issue arises of which they are passionate about a highly dramatic outburst can occur.

Waiting in Line

In general the French are not fantastic about waiting in line. A friendship with the banker at a bank might allow you to bypass the line altogether.


France is a country of walkers; the majority of errands are done on foot.


Customer service is not as “in your face” as it is in the United States. Generally a salesclerk will ignore you until eye contact is made signaling service is required. A person who is dressed nicely will get more respect and better treatment than a person who is dressed in sweats and a t-shirt.

When shopping at the grocery store be aware that if you touch the fruits or vegetables—you buy them.

Public Transportation

When on the bus or train it is polite to give up your seat for the elderly, handicapped, pregnant women and parents with children.

Casual conversations with strangers on public transportation is not common or overly welcome.


The tip is generally already included in the price at a restaurant. A standard tip for a taxi driver is 10 percent. Bellmen usually receive 1 Euro per bag.

Appropriate Dress

The French are very thoughtful in their style of dress and value taste and quality. What one chooses to wear in the morning is always very well thought out. In general the French dress more formally than Americans do.

Women are very concerned with their skin (facials begin at a young age) and hairstyles. Accessories are a must and unique color combining is common.

Meal Time

Breakfast is typically from 7 to 9 AM.

A traditional French Breakfast is a cup of coffee along with a croissant.

Lunch is typically from 12 to 2 PM

Traditionally lunch is the largest meal of the day and can be quite elaborate. Nowadays a typical lunch is often sandwiches or salads, and meat and vegetable plates. Desert, wine and coffee almost always accompany the meal.

Dinner is typically from 7:30 to 8:30 PM.

Dinner consists of an appetizer, soup, a main course, dessert, coffee and chocolates. Wine is carefully selected and always served.

Table Manners

The French do not switch their knife and fork as people do in the States. The fork remains in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. Almost everything in France is eaten with a knife and fork.

Placing your utensils down on your plate signifies to wait staff that you are finished.

When not in use keep your hands in your lap and pass dishes to the left.

Who Pays?

In general the person who did the inviting is the person that pays.


Arriving “fashionably late” (15-20 minutes) is acceptable.

For more Travel Tips, check out Glamour Getaways at http://www.glamourgetaways.com

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