tips on life in France
|| Expats : DO adjust to France and the
Table manners, a few tips if you are invited
for dinner : don't come too early, don't eat too much of
the first course, try everything and do not leave food on your plate, speak lightly
(avoiding money and religion...) and enjoy a discussion showing "culture générale",
don't say "Bon appêtit" (it has become a little
ridiculous), don't bore people with your "allergies" (it is very rude not to eat what you are served), etc... (more tips
on wine etiquette,
bread and cheese etiquette).
For more details, read "Don't Eat Your
Soup With a Fork", an anthology of faux-pas !
Read specific DOs and DONTs about cheese,
wine and bread, and read my colum about"the ugly American eater
If you are the host : don't ask your guests to bring food (even good friends!). This is a NO-NO. They expect you to do the work and perform the show.
Restaurant manners :
- Don't order only one dish : if you
are not hungry, don't go to a restaurant!,
- Don't drink soft
drinks or coffee with a good meal,
- Never ask for a doggy bag (it is changing but used to be a no-no : you may get it but it is considered cheap and rude),
- Don't try to order things you find only at home : ask for what
people here eat or drink.
- Don't order something absurd like "an onion soup without cheese" or "a croque-monsieur without ham": at home, would you order a hamburger without a bun? Order what's on the list!
- Do know the difference between a "restaurant" and a "brasserie" : the former serves "real" meals (two courses minimum) at meal time only (12am-2pm, 7:30pm-10pm) : if you want to eat one course only or eat at 4pm, go to a brasserie.
- An important difference between French
and Americans : it is NOT very classy to share the bill on the
principle of "who had what". If you are three and you
share, divide the bill by three and don't go into shocking details
like "did you have coffee ?" etc... See
Shopping etiquette : When addressing a salesperson, it is prudent to begin by "Bonjour" before you ask your question. Some might answer very abruptly if you don't, considering you did not treat them as equals and, as you know, in France equality comes first. If you reply with something like "I am giving you my money", it is even worse and the answer could be something like "I don't want your money, I am not you slave and ... (expletive deleted) ..." In France being treated as an equal is more important than making money.
manners : build relations
instead of procedures, do not try to mix professional life and
private life, do not expect too much from meetings, if you want
to convince people try to look smart (rather than efficient),
don't take it for granted that everybody should speak English,
don't be too informal until you're sure it's OK ... More about
with the French.
Talk to the boss : France is a very hierarchical society : if you
are unhappy in a shop or with a client or a supplier, do not
waste time talking to someone who does not feel responsible....
- Driving manners : you may insult other drivers : it is part of
the game, do not drive too slowly, you may bump (gently!) other
cars while parking, do not remain on the left lane on expressways
and do not take lanes too seriously in town, etc... See more
Men-women relations : do not
consider machism French men treating women with consideration
: it is galanterie....
Don't rebuke them! Read about feminism in France.
Bureaucratic manners : try to make the bureaucrat interested
in your case, as a challenge to his/her ideal of "service
public", let him think that your case is interesting and need somebody special to treat it, BUT : never invoke common sense, play by the rules
(bring all the papers required, etc...), do not threaten, do
not say "I pay taxes therefore... etc...", don't say
"in my country, we don't need that..."
be a prey for pickpockets : Americans are very vulnerable. Read
a few NONOs.
Waste time ! (i.e. learn how to waste time and have fun : walk instead of driving, sit in a café and watch people passing by, etc. Read about the corornavirus and Paris cafés.
DON'T live (only) among expats :
you have the opportunity to live in a foreign country and if
you only meet your compatriots, you may as well be in Dubaï
or Tokyo. Do not transmit stereotypes about the French if you
meet them only at work or in shops. There are nice people in
France too and French life has good
sides (not only food and wine...)!
before making an effort to understand! There is always a reason to explain people's behavior : first
understand, then criticize... For instance, don't be shocked
if somebody does not give you his name when any American would
have done it : it may be a matter of privacy.
DO speak French : forget CNN or BBC and watch French TV ; try to read a French newspaper : you'll improve your
French and understand better the French if you don't look at
them through other people's eyes.
Learn French and read my column about it.
DO understand cultural differences ; for example, if you move to a new house, do not expect your neighbors to visit you : in order to respect your privacy, they expect YOU to visit them and introduce yourself.
DON'T deal only with people who deal ONLY with expats (doctors,
lawyers, dentists, plumbers, cleaning ladies,...) : they probably
charge "expat prices"....
A doctor who speaks English
is not necessarily a better doctor!
DON'T be afraid of French schools for your kids! They give a foreign experience
and bilingualism and can be much better than many "schools-for-expat-kids".
Read about education.
- More to come...
More DOs and DONTs to
better understand France and the French
Some advice to my American
DO learn more about other countries and try to speak foreign
languages. The ignorance of Main Street about the rest of the
world, including France, is abysmal. Americans are too insular : it is dangerous.
Evaluate your "insularity
DONT lecture other countries about things you consider "US
patented " (freedom, democracy, anti-racism,... ) : those values
also exist elsewhere. Read my column about it.
DO consider that, on certain issues, other countries may have
a better system (for instance about health)
or may have avoided bad American practices (for instance about
food or credit).
DONT believe that the rest of the world would be happier if
everybody was like you in all aspects : other countries want
to maintain their specificities and France has some...
- More DOs
Ca se fait or ça ne se fait pas " (you
are or you are not supposed to do that) is a very large concept
which can reveal a lot about the French : it illustrates that,
often, the French consider the respect of harmony, esthetics
or tradition more important than profit or achievement ; a classical
example is the case of an American in a good restaurant ordering
a glass of milk : for an American, he pays and therefore he can
have anything he wants, for a French, this is a shame and the
restaurant would rather lose a customer than satisfying such
an absurd desire....
Americans and telephoning in France ...
Many French people are mystified by their American visiting friends for a very unexpected reason : guess what ! On a trip to France, they generally bring their American telephone and give their local correspondents their (American) phone number. It is very expensive and very inconvenient, for them as well as for their local friends who have to call the US to reach them. Why don't they use a more logical method which would make their life (and that of their friends) easier ? In a French phone shop, they can buy a cheap phone ($20/25) and a chip ("carte SIM") with a 10-Euro credit they can refill anytime which gives them a local phone number OR they (probably) can do what French visitors can do in the US : buy for a few $ a special chip that transfers the cost of their calls to their French service provider (at domestic price). Check with your US phone company : it could make your life easier and cheaper (and your French friends' too!)!
| Miss Manners
A few years ago Harriet
Welty Rochefort, author of several books about the French, wrote
a "Miss Manners" column for a club she belongs
to (the AAWE or
Association of American Wives of Europeans which, despite its
rather 1950s name is a remarkable association of women who do
very useful work in the fields of citizenship and bilingualism
for Americans abroad). She received letters such as the following
which may give an idea of the fun kinds of cultural differences
you can run across when you're an American living in France.
On "tu" and "vous"
Dear Miss Manners,
I know you've written about
"tu" and "vous" in your column but I have
a specific problem. Do you use "tu" to your babysitter
when she's not that much younger than you are? She calls me "vous"
and it makes me feel funny. On the other hand, I wonder if I
lose whatever authority I have if I tell her to use "tu"
to me. And I think it's positively feudal if I call her "tu"
and she calls me "vous". So far I've skirted the issue
by avoiding the personal pronoun but this can't go on much longer.
My, how complicated! Some
people don't have this kind of problem because they are spontaneous
"tu" or "vous" users. The rest of us wander
about in a grey area much as you are in right now. In your particular
case, you really have to play it by ear. Do what seems to come
naturally and, incidentally, it is not all that feudal if she
calls you "vous" and you call her "tu" -
after all, even if you're not that far apart in age, you're still
older - and you're the boss. Bon courage!
Harriet has had the privilege
of speaking to Elder Hostel and other American groups in Paris and has been able
to appreciate their very pertinent questions about the French.
They ask everything from "why is food such an icon in France?"
(see our pages on recipes
or our tips on food !)
to "how is the social security and retirement system set
up?" She was delighted to see their interest in comparing
the two cultures and tried to answer their questions as best
she could. We'd like to open up this page to YOUR questions about
the French. The best ones will be published in our selection
On the "baise-main"
Dear Miss Manners,
Boy, was my gorgeous 24-year-old
daughter floored when she was given a baise-main by a dashing
Frenchman about twice her age. I was told, however, that the
baise-main is not to be given to a single woman - which she is.
What are the rules? And why do some of my compatriots feel that
hand-kissing is creepy? I like it. It is so deliciously decadent.
It's true that there are certain
rules governing the baise-main. First of all, it is never to
be done in a public place (a sidewalk, for example). Second of
all, it is reserved to married women. The man is to gently touch
his lips to a slightly raised hand (not slobber all over them)
and he can execute a slight bow as well. As for being creepy,
I leave that to the judgement of our readers. In Miss Manners'
opinion, when done discreetly and in the right circumstances,
it is quite charming indeed.
Feel free to share your personal
anecdotes and stories about the French with us. Many of the people
in the Elder Hostel groups have told her that they were "afraid"
to come to France because of the arrogant reputation the French
have....and were pleasantly surprised to find that people were
exceedingly, even amazingly helpful. We'd love to hear your personal
stories and hope they're as positive! Click here
for examples of what Americans living in France like the most.
To related pages : French attitudes, irksome France, etc...
of the page
Back to home
Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
Toast - Heureuse comme une Américaine en France",
Ramsay, Paris 2005
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak
about Intercultural Difference: click
here for information.
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