France is a gorgeous country, home to beautiful scenery, delicious food, and some of the most interesting historic sites in the world. Unfortunately, the French have often been pegged as being somewhat unfriendly or even rude by many travelers.
But this is usually because of misunderstandings between the French and their tourists. Many American tourists don’t realize that the French place a high priority on good manners that may have a different meaning for Americans.
The French are also extremely formal, which can also be interpreted as rudeness or snobbery to tourists coming from countries that are more casual. If you’re planning a trip to this beautiful, historical country, here are some essential travel etiquette guidelines and tips.
Unlike Italians and some other nationalities, the French aren’t huggers, so they can feel awkward being hugged. Many don’t even shake hands. However, they do like to be greeted with kisses close to the ears. The key is to not touch the cheeks. This is done by using the lips to make a soft kissing sound without making skin contact.
Never greet someone by asking, “How are you?” This may be a typical way to greet another American, but French people take this greeting as a serious question and feel as though you’re asking them to tell you about what’s going on in their lives.
Socializing Over Drinks and Food
Enjoying a drink together is usually how the French get to know new acquaintances. They sip their drinks and generally only have two drinks. In most situations, wine goes with meals. Just don’t expect your glass to be filled to the brim, but only three-fourths full.
If you’re a guest in someone’s home, always bring something, such as flowers or a bottle of wine. When you eat, don’t place your arms in your lap, but have them above the dining table.
Don’t expect a meal to end soon, as dinner in restaurants or homes can last for hours. Rushing out after you eat is an insult to a host or hostess. Just as French people sip their wine, they eat slowly and savor every bite of their food.
How to Dress
The less skin you expose and the more conservative your clothing is, the stronger and more positive will be the image that you project. If you want negative attention, walk around in shorts and tank tops.
Expect to see Parisians dress considerably more formal than most Americans who sport a more tailored look. Black and neutral colors are the ones that you mostly see French people wearing. A few items for women to pack include some cotton tops, a blazer or coat, and a few skirts. Men should select lightweight pants, but leave their shorts, sweatshirts, and T-shirts at home.
If you’re on a walking tour, of course, you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. Just don’t be seen in tennis shoes. Sturdy walking shoes or black boots with a low heel can be comfy footwear when going on a walking tour.
This is not to say that the fashion police will be standing by waiting for your faux pas, of course. To me, it’s a matter of fitting in like a local while traveling and perhaps not being targeted by pickpocket pros and other bad-intentioned individuals who scout specifically for tourists.
For evenings out, wear black shoes and more sophisticated attire. A good choice for a woman is wearing black, formal slacks and a silk blouse, along with a fitted jacket. For men, a nice pair of trousers, a buttoned shirt, and a jacket is acceptable.
Tips and Warnings
- When conversing with French people, begin by politely asking if they speak English. Too often, tourists just assume that most people there speak and understand English. For example, you can begin a conversation by asking, “Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?”
- When entering French shops, always greet the sales people because failing to do so is considered discourteous. Even if a shopkeeper is talking to someone else or is busy chatting on the phone, you should still nod your head.
- Don’t eat when you walk down the street because this is thought to be bad-mannered.
Once you understand the French way of life, you’ll have a more enjoyable trip.
Another way to experience an exceptional French vacation is to see the country on a road trip. We’ve already compiled a list of spectacular driving roads in France, as well as an itinerary for those interested in exploring the Bourdeaux wine region. Enjoy!
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