When you live in another country for any period of time you start to pick up very quickly on things that make you stick out like a sore thumb and will make whoever you are talking to switch to english- not helpful if you are trying to learn a language. So I made a list of “french faux pas”, things not to do in France if you don’t want people to immediately know you are a tourist.
- Smiling at strangers
So I am from the south where it is just customary to smile at people on your morning walk or when you are out and about. Do not do this in France. It is not customary and if you do the general consensus is that you are either a. flirting or b. trying to steal something and most people around you will hold their purses a little bit tighter. I struggled with this a little bit at first because if I accidentally make eye contact with someone, my first instinct is to smile buttt.. you could get yourself in an unwanted situation by doing this so keep your eyes down and remember it’s not rude, just the culture!
However, if you have a direct contact with someone – for example walking in to a store or ordering food- then it is absolutely vital that you say bonjour to that person, even if you don’t speak French. It is considered really rude not to and not saying Bonjour is one of the biggest things that can make French people appear unfriendly or standoffish to you.
- Restaurant manners
Okay so this one requires a little bit of judgement on your part because it depends on the type of restaurant. This tip doesn’t apply to fancy restaurants where you have made a reservation but more to the hole in the wall type of place with surprisingly good food – the best type of restaurant in my opinion. At these types of restaurants do not just stand around and wait to be seated or invited in, you have to ask for something if you want it so you need to ask if there is a table ready or where you can sit. On the flipside, when you are done eating you have to ask for the bill, they won’t just bring it to you because they want to let you leisurely enjoy your meal – which is actually something I really enjoy about french culture but also it can lead to some realllly long meals – like 4 hour long meals so if you want to leave you need to ask.
- Aperol spritz
Ah the aperol spritz, a french classic. The first night I was in Paris I went to a cafe on the champs elysee, ordered my 15 euro aperol spritz and sipped it *continuously* as I people watched. I really thought I had made it. Well… just as I was finishing the drink, the people I had been so content to watch started to become very blurry and I realized as I tried to stand up that I was very very drunk. So be warned… I admit I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol but aperol spritz contain a lot more alcohol than they appear to so do not drink aperol spritz’s cavalierly and don’t drink them without food whatever you do. Also I wouldn’t advise drinking them with brunch or before lunch because you might pass out and miss the rest of the day (guilty).
- Don’t ask for eggs
Now this one might be obvious if you know a little about France but for those of you who don’t, do not go to a restaurant and ask for eggs or an omelette before noon. In france, omelettes are most definitely a lunch food and you will be hard pressed to find anything other than pastries, coffees or fruit before noon. Now I woke up craving something savory on more than one occasion during my first few weeks in France but after about a month I got used to this way of eating and now start my day with just fruit and couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I tell you this to convince you to keep an open mind – there’s no telling what practices you may discover on your travels that you may prefer to your own previous habits & choose to adopt into your own life.
- Don’t walk around with a North Face backpack
One day my french teacher made a joke about how all the american students had north face backpacks (including me) and after that I started to notice the types of bags people were carrying. French people carry either a purse or shoulder bag and if they have a backpack they have a chic one, usually in a leather type of material. So I wouldn’t suggest using a north face backpack, or even that type of backpack, if you want to blend in.