DOs & DON'Ts
 Useful tips on life in France    Expats : DO adjust to France and the French!
  • 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 why.
  • 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.

  • Corporate 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 working 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 on driving.
  • 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..."

  • DON'T 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...)!

  • DON'T judge 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 friends :

  • 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 score"!

  • 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 & DON'Ts...

USEFUL TIP....." 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. Here goes:

 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.


 Dear Frustrated,

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!

Miss Manners

 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.


 Dear 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.

Miss Manners

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 of questions

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.


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Harriet Welty 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
  • "French Toast - Heureuse comme une Américaine en France", Ramsay, Paris 2005

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

Together or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak about Intercultural Difference: click here for information.

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