French customs (part one)
The French may be our closest European neighbours being located just 4 miles across the English Channel, but their customs are often very different to British ones, and many a Brit has caused offence through ignorance of them. We take at a look at some of the most common French customs.
The French tendency to get up close and personal at seemingly every opportunity is a trait common throughout Europe except in Britain and Germany. Brits tend to either nod their head, wave, or grunt a hello in greeting; handshakes are normally reserved for first or business meetings, not so in France. Handshakes are dished out every time you greet someone.
French friends often greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and then on the right cheek, this sort of greeting in the UK is commonly carried out by teenage girls or embarrassing aunties.
In France names first names are reserved for family members and close friends and you should wait until invited before using someone’s first name. You are expected to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ (good morning and good evening) with the honorific title Monsieur or Madame when entering a shop and ‘au revoir’ (good-bye) when leaving.
This overly polite and formal way of addressing each other is a pretty alien concept to many Brits who most commonly avoid contact with strangers at all costs or are more likely to say something abusive or casual to their friends and family.
Programmes such as ‘Come Dine With Me’ have a done a lot to popularise the dinner party in the UK but in France Dinner parties have always been an important way of life and are surprisingly formal.
If you are invited to a French house for dinner you must always make sure that you arrive on time and under no circumstances should you arrive more than 10 minutes late without calling ahead to explain why. In the South of France the people are normally a bit more lax when it comes to timekeeping, a bit like the UK on that front. If you are invited to a large Dinner party, especially in Paris, you should send flowers in the morning as a gift and so that they will be put on display in the evening.
You should always dress well when attending a dinner party in France. The French are very fashion conscious and their version of casual dress is not what Brits would consider ‘casual’. Jeans and a T-shirt just won’t cut it.
When dining you should not begin eating until your host says ‘bon appetit’, and never ever put your elbows on the table as it’s considered exceptionally rude. Also, you should always keep your hands visible, and not in your lap. To not cause offence you should endeavour to eat everything on your plate, and to avoid being constantly supplied with wine (not a bad thing you may say) you should leave your glass nearly full.