Custom of French Culture in France

Knowing the Custom of French culture can be useful when you visit France. Knowing what’s going on around you makes your trip all the more interesting even if you never actually need to execute any of these French customs. However, when you need to enact these customs you will be welcomed more warmly because French people will feel more comfortable around you.

Learn more about all the different aspects of French Culture. The culture of France is so rich, food, wine, the arts… Makes your trip so much more exciting when you visit it this way.

Custom of French Culture

1- If you are speaking in French or writing in French…
(I suggest you learn some basic French phrases and try them out even if you’re bad at it, they will respect you more and treat you better)

Address everyone you don’t know well with the formal “vous”. Do not use the informal “tu” until and unless they do.
(This is changing in modern French culture and the younger generation may be more loose with this.)
The custom of French culture in the upper classes is for husband and wife to address each other with “vous”. One of the recent French presidents, I can’t remember who, addressed his wife and she to him with “vous”.

For that favorite “tu” in your life learn some famous French love phrases to further woo with.

2- Kiss on both cheeks
Touch cheek to cheek and kiss the air for people you don’t know well.
Actually kiss both cheeks for family and those close to you.
In certain regions like Brittany it is customary to kiss three times on the cheek. French traditions vary from region to region.

3- The handshake is the custom of French culture in business situations.

4- Send new year cards (not Christmas cards) to arrive shortly after January 1st.

Check out more Christmas in France traditions here..

5- Celebrate your saint’s day or agnowledge your friend’s with a card.
For example, my husband’s mother always sends him a card on St. Gildas day.


The Custom of French Culture

Eating out and eating in

1- Many French families eat their holiday main meal at Noon.

I personally don’t care for a big meal at midday but with my French in-laws that’s what we do. But who can turn down a French meal? Not me.

2- If you are invited to a French home for dinner.

Do not bring anything unless asked. It is considered rude. For example if you bring a food item it means you don’t think you will be fed well; if you bring wine it implies that the host doesn’t know good wine and you know better; if you bring flowers the hostess has to drop everything and search around for a vase. If you want, you can send flowers the day before. The etiquette in table manners is very similar to good etiquette in the states. So consult your “Emily Post” and you will be fine. They do however slurp their soup but if you don’t it is not considered rude.

In Paris culture you arrive exactly on time for dinner, as you travel south French traditions vary and the time gets more relaxed.

3- When you enter a restaurant nod or even say bonjour to every table of diners you pass on the way to your seat.
The same goes for passing on a hiking trail. You say “monsieur dame” and they say the same to you.

4- Dinner in Paris restaurants and other big cities doesn’t start until 7pm. At 7 you will find tourists, especially the Americans. At 8 the French start arriving and by 9 the place is hopping.
(We went to a Michelin Gourmand rated restaurant in Paris and the place was basically empty except for a few Americans scattered about. The hostess seated us at a table on the isle next to the kitchen door. Gildas asked if we could sit somewhere else. Greeted with a huff and an exchange or two she took us to a better table. If I were with a non-French person I would have assumed I was seated next to the door because I was an English speaking tourist but perhaps all the French get treated this way. We were questioning her authority and that is not done. Here we are again asserting our custom that the customer is always right. We then had a fabulous meal and with very good service.)

It helps to know what you’re ordering Check out our France food menu guide..

The culture in France allows dogs in restaurants. Don’t be surprised to find a cherished pooch eyeing your chops! That’s what we saw at above restaurant. The restaurant patron forgot about him and he wandered to the table eating lamb chops. All of us Americans thought it was the funniest sight in the world. No one else seemed to find it unusual or amusing.

Custom of French Culture
5- At an outdoor café especially in Paris.

The waiter is a professional and he is right, not you. (We were having breakfast in Paris the waiter brought us a basket of croissants. Gildas asked for butter. The waiter said this is a butter croissant monsieur you don’t need butter. Gildas said he’d like butter just the same. He never got his butter.)

Have your own little home in France by renting a gîte or cottage. That way you can stay awhile and explore the French customs and French traditions of the area. Maybe even get to know some French people.

Here’s a guide to get you started: Self Catering France rules and tips.

Custom of French Culture

6- Upon entering a shop
Great the shopkeepers with “bonjour Madame” if they are female and Monsieur for a man, and on leaving say “au revoir”. If you don’t they very likely will glare at you.

The same French social customs of cordial greeting goes for any person you are dealing with in a clerk capacity. E.g. You are renting a car, you are buying stamps at the post office, etc.

(Years ago my mother got the glare from a postal clerk when she bought stamps. She though it was because she messed up her French by asking to sell stamps not buy. However reviewing it in a new light it was because she did not say bonjour first. If she’d started with bonjour, her flubs would have been received in a more tolerant light)

Does not seem to apply at supermarkets.

In the culture of France, in theory everyone is equal. The folks who are clerks take this very seriously. They are very touchy about it and if you don’t great them it is as if you are telling them you are better. The custom of French culture in France especially the big cities is traditionally not customer focused. The customer is not right, they are. The French public in general just seems to adapt and get on with their lives despite often-poor service.

Paris has amazing food shops and you’ll want to try my best shopping in Paris Parisian’s guide.

Custom of French Culture
Small Shops

Upon entering a small shop do not assume you can touch and handle merchandise. Scope out the place to see what other customers are doing. It is traditional in small shops that the shopkeeper picks the items for you.

(We were in Montmartre and I wanted a banana. We stopped at a fruit cart. My French was very bad at the time so my husband did the talking and told the fruit man that I would like a banana. The fruit vendor picked a banana. It was too green and I said so. It was translated and the vendor a bit miffed picked another one. It was too soft and had black spots. I wanted a different one. Gildas translated the same. The vendor was very very miffed now. My husband told him to just let me pick my own banana. The vendor threw up his hands and huffed. I picked my banana and was very happy. The vendor in the meantime was very unhappy. …Ah well.)

Custom of French Culture
On a phone call give your full name before you state your business.

Custom of French Culture Helpful articles:
Easter in France Customs

Bastille Day Traditions and Customs

Driving in France guide

Learn French Culture 3D and visit the French wine regions.

Where to stay while visiting Paris:

An overview of Paris boutique hotels

An overview of Paris budget hotels

Return from Custom of French Culture to French Culture Adventures
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