French etiquette: What to do and what not!

When it comes to gallantry, good manners and refined etiquette, no city can beat Paris. Different from what most Americans and foreigners think, French aren’t rude. Politeness and formality are the key words to set up a connection with locals. Parisians are just more quiet and reserved and they expect you to be so. Keep a track of formality and reservation in the way you act, dress, greet and eat. Believe me, it will work like magic!

Here’s some tricks and tips to help you interact with locals in Paris without being frowned upon.

1-Greeting etiquette

I’m pretty sure many of you had come across situations where they stopped Parisians in the street and simply asked “Please, where can i find…?” or you entered a shop or a restaurant and you kept asking why they frowned at you. And, afterwards, you all presume that French are rude, which is not true. French are reserved and a bit formal compared to Americans for example. And prior to your questions and inquiries, they do wait for a simple greeting.

For a better interaction, try to speak some basic French words that will work like magic any time you want to ask for something, a  “bonjour” (Good morning), “bonsoir” (Good evening), “s’il vous plait” (please), “merci” (thank you) when talking to a concierge, a sales assistant, a waiter, a stranger in the street will result in a total  different experience with Parisians. They do appreciate you making some effort to fit in their culture and to show your respect to their language. Do not be hesitant or shy because of your accent, trust me they will like it. It’s the thought that counts. It shows a love of French language and a desire to learn it.




2-Dining etiquette

While dining in Paris, keep in mind many tips to avoid dirty looks from waiters or neighbors:

– Don’t you ever call a waiter “garçon” while snapping your fingers. This is considered really rude. “Monsieur” is the proper address for male waiters and “mademoiselle” or “madame” for females.

– Keep in mind that cocktails are drunk only before dinner and not with a meal and coffee (express) after the dessert.

-Make sure to speak softly to your neighbors, to laugh quietly and to turn off your phone ringer while dining. Any interruption of this kind will get you dirty looks.

– Parisian chefs take great pride in their creations, so don’t try to re-arrange the menu to suit your desires. If you don’t like a sauce or any other ingredient in the dish, order something else.

-Dining in Paris is not only for eating, it is rather a moment of sharing, of communication and connection. So do not rush while eating.

– Do dress up! Elegance counts in the capital of fashion.

– In Paris, waiters won’t give you your check until you ask for it. So after finishing your meal you can address the waiter with a simple eye contact or a soft “s’il vous plait“.

-You are not required to pay tips as service is included in the bill. However if you have enjoyed your meal tremendously you can leave some tips.


3-Business etiquette

-Handshakes are the appropriate greeting. Generally, they are brisk and light.

– First impressions do matter. Do dress up formally! (conservative suits of the highest quality) Keep in mind that the “casual Friday” concept is not known in France.

– Address people you meet for the first time with”monsieur” and “madame“.

– Separate your business life from your personal life. Avoid discussing personal matters.

– Make sure to study some of the French gestures which are widely different from your gestures home. The OK sign (a circle with the thumb and the index finger), for instance, means “zero” or nothing according to French gestures. Be careful!

-Feel free to ask as many questions as you want and to interrupt somebody before they finish talking. It is a good sign as it shows your interest.

In a nutshell, formality is the keyword you must follow to have a successful interaction with Parisians. Be Formal, be polite in every aspect of everyday life, and try to do things the French way.