French customs (part two)


French customs (part two)

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.

Customs when speaking

The French are very protective of their language, and unless you’re prepared to apologise profusely for your lack of knowledge of the language be prepared to be faced with scowls and angry looks. Of course if you can speak the language then you should be ok, even attempting to speak it could pacify some French folk, because at least you are trying.

The most important social custom you should remember is to use vous instead of tu whenever addressing a stranger, someone whose older than you or someone in authority (like a police officer.) The rule may be a bit more relaxed in the South, as they tend to be a bit more laid back in those areas.


When addressing someone you don’t know it is essential to use Monseiur, Madame or Mademoiselle. Remember also that the French stand close to each other when they converse and do not raise their voices. It would be considered extremely rude to yell across a room at someone, or to yell for anything, except in an argument.

Rude gestures

To avoid upsetting and offending our French friends you should be aware that the French have their own naughty hand gestures, some of which seem completely harmless to Brits but can get you into hot water in France if you inadvertently use them.

Avoid holding your hand in front of you in the shape of an L, and bringing your thumb and forefinger together, as this gesture is known as Le Camembert, which effectively tells people in your vicinity to shut up.

Just as offensive is Les Boules, or ‘The Balls’. Basically it’s a vulgar way of saying that you’re unlucky, you’re upset or you can’t take any more. The gesture involves holding an imaginary set of tennis balls, one in each hand in front of your chest and twisting your face into a look of utter frustration.

To be particularly rude and signify that someone is boring you to death, cup your hand over your ear to feign deafness, and scowl at the same time to express your annoyance. However, the most effective way of letting a French person know that you’re upset or annoyed is to hold one of your hands out vertically, move it up and down, and tap the top of your wrist with your other hand. Any French companions will soon get the message and most likely be pretty offended at the same time.

Hopefully on your next trip to Franc you will know now how to avoid causing offence, and at least now, you will know when the French are upset with you. If they make a funny looking arm gesture then you can be sure that you’ve done something wrong.

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