How To Make Sure That French People Won’t Be Rude To You

Maison vollets bleu France


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that at the end of 2012 I had asked you (the readers) what you would want me to write about on this blog. One of the replies I got was to write more about what tourists should expect when they travel to France

So, today I wanted to address some of the differences that you will encounter if you go to France, and prepare you on what to expect when you travel over there. With that I thought I’d do something beyond just telling you about those differences, but give you Tourist tips about what you should do.

What’s more is that if you follow my tips, you’ll notice right away that the “rude French people syndrome” will disappear before your very eyes, in many cases.

In this post I thought I would discuss cultural differences that may surprise you unless you know what to expect.

Cultures in different countries can make a huge difference.  Sometimes, when you’re not aware of such differences you may feel a bit lost.  So, let’s analyze a handful of those major differences between France and the US.  If you are not living outside of the US I’m sure you’ll be able to compare those to your own culture.

French are more Formal than Americans

French people are not necessarily colder than Americans (I’ve learned that over the years).  But they are more formal than Americans in day to day situations.

French people usually won’t call you by your first name “unless they know you personally”.  For example, your doctor, your boss or your neighbor wouldn’t call you by your first name.

Remember that village where I grew up? My mother lived there for 40 years, yet, never, did I ever hear a neighbor caling her by her first name. Yes, they called me and my brother by our first name because they knew us from infancy, but it’s just not something that is done among adults who are not friends, relatives or family members.

Even though this is changing slowly with time, in the sense that young people are becoming more and more non-formal and using each other’s first names, it’s still not the “national norms”, and that doesn’t include older people.

However, he use of the formal “tu” (you) has really increased over the past decade or so. I can see that on French TV shows that I watch via the internet.

They are using the formal “tu” a lot more than they used to 15-20 years ago.  However, it’s still not the way to address older people that you do not know intimately, people at the office, or at the grocery store, or people you’re staying with if you are a vacationing guest chez l ‘habitant.

This could be a culture shock for some, because it’s a huge difference with the American culture that way. I totally understand. I even caught myself being so familiar with people when I got back home because I kind of forgotten where I was as I was so much used to the “American way”.

That’s why one day, I saw my mother looking at me totally shocked, as I was speaking to someone that I used to never speak that way before (using the formal tu). That’s what happens when you get away from your own culture for too long.

 Tourists Tip:

When you address someone you don’t know in France. On the street, in a store, etc; address them by using the “title” Monsieur or Madame as it shows respect and that you are polite.

For example, do not just say “bonjour”, but “bonjour monsieur” or “bonjour madame” depending if you are speaking to a man or woman.  If it’s a young person it’s OK to say just “bonjour”.

When you want to stop someone on the street to ask for direction, call them up saying “monsieur” or “madame”. You will get a much nicer response.

I can assure you that just by adding that little “title” you’ll get their attention way better and people will be nicer to you.

Saying Hello (Bonjour) when you come in and Good-Bye (Au-Revoir) when you Leave

It is very impolite in France if you come into a room, or a small store, or an office if you don’t say hello “bonjour” when you enter, and good-bye “au-revoir” when you leave.

While not saying hello and good bye in the US is not a big deal, just remember that it’s very rude in France.

When my mother used to come visit me here in the US she certainly noticed that people in the US don’t say hello or bye and she was shocked. She thought that it was so rude.  When I explained to her that Americans don’t necessarily say hello or good-bye she kind of got used to it, but still didn’t like it.

While you don’t’ say hello to someone you don’ t know when you pass them on the street, you DO say hello when you come in and good-bye when you come out in places such as the types I mentioned above.

Tourists Tip:

If you enter a small store, a restaurant, someone’s home, approach a ticket clerk in the subway, a theater, etc… Make sure that you say “bonjour”.  For that alone people will be much more pleasant and receptive to you.  When you leave make sure you say “au revoir”.

French People don’t Eat Snack

If you were to stay with a French family and wait for snack time, you might be disappointed to find out that none is coming.

For the most part, French eat proper meals at the table and do not eat snacks between meals. Gosh, this is so deep into my subconscious programming that 20 years in the US has not changed that in me. I still don’t eat snacks.

A table avec maman

In France, it’s something you grow up with. If you’d ask your mother can I have “whatever” before lunch time she’d tell, no, it’s going to spoil your appetite. We had to have an appetite for lunch time and dinner time.  Period. No discussion.

France is more about eating at the table and if you are a lunch or dinner guest there are few table manners that you may want to know by the way.  I’ve written about hem in a previous post right here.

Lunch is so important in France that small shops and offices close for two hours at lunch time.

Sometimes they may make up for this time in the morning or evening, but lunch time is sacred there. I guess that goes along with the fact that lunch is to be taken seriously, and that you don’t spoil your appetite for it.

Tourists Tip:

If you are invited for lunch or dinner in France, make sure you bring an appetite, and bring with it flowers or a small gift as it is common courtesy there.

If  you do so you will look like you’re someone who has  a lot of “savoir vivre”.  Remember, if you are not offered any snack, don’t get offended by thinking that the person is trying to be rude to you.  It’s just that French don’t eat snacks.

People Dress up to go to Restaurants

Let’s put it that way, people don’t go to a restaurant wearing shorts and baseball caps.

While you don’t have to dress formally in order to go to a simple restaurant, people tend to dress well.  Even restaurants at the beach such as on the French Riviera expect their dinner guests to dress up a little.

Grand Table Dehors

Tourists Tip:

Go to a restaurant  properly dressed. If you do, you will be respected and taken care of much better.

Do not ever call the waiter “garçon” even if it’s what you’ve been told or heard in movies.  That’s an old term not used anymore and condescending.

If it’s a man call him “monsieur” and if it’s a woman depending on her age. Younger call her “mademoiselle” and older call her “madame”.

With this in mind you’ll be better respected and paid attention to in France.

I hope you enjoyed this one! Let me know your thoughts down below!

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26 Comments

  • GladysTwitter: coachgladys says:

    Good Morning Sylviane
    I have missed speaking with you.
    Wow you have engaged me in your article so much I hope I get to visit France. As I read your article it reminded me of my parents teaching us that when we speak to an adult we need to address them as “usted” not “tu”. My parents would say it was disrespectful to speak to an adult as if they were my equal. I was a child and then a teenager. The rules applied as long as we did not reach age 21. But even now if I speak in Spanish to an adult, I will address them as “usted”.
    You gave us so many tips from addressing an adult to how to dress to a restuarant. Sylvaine, I personally love culture and I am fascinated with how people in other countries carry themselves and daily living is carried out.
    Thank you so much and oh… the pictures are beautiful. Is that you in the first picture?

    Gladys posted…Don’t ever stop growing
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Gladys,

      No it’s not me on the first picture it’s a very good friend of my mom’s in front to her house. A lovely lady. So she fits this post well (photo taken by me).

      When I speak Spanish I use the same rules as when I speak French. But I have to say that Mexicans, and Columbians are very confused with those rules and make no sense if you ask me. Now, Spaniards are like you. They address strangers and older people with the “usted”, and young people with the “tu” same spelling as the French one, just pronounced differently, right?

      I have to say that I love culture differences it’s just fun, and such a great excuse of a long post.

      Thanks so much for you feedback and so appropriate!

  • Debbie says:

    That was interesting! Very similar to Germany, where I am from. In the video, it mentioned to NOT bring red carnations. Why is that? Am not familiar with that one.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Debbie!

      Yes, all western Europe countries are pretty much on the plane with those cultural dos and donts.

      Red carnations are usually symbols of war, politics, and according to some superstition brings bad luck. That’s why it’s not a flower that we offer as a gift.

      Like chrysanthemums are followers that people mainly used to put on tombs. While some people put them on their patios and terraces, to be sure, not a plant you want to bring as gifts.

      Thank you so much for coming by and welcome here.

  • Jeremy Norton says:

    I was actually amazed by these facts. I never thought French people could be this formal and that there are quite a lot to take note of when visiting France. But I still admire how the French people maintain such good values.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Thank you for coming and welcome here.

      As a matter of fact, what you see as formal is just common things over there. We don’t see it as formal, but as everyday things.

      Calling a stranger by their first name would just be so weird there.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    Thanks for sharing this with us and boy did I learn a lot.

    Honestly, I wish the US had some of the same customs. I was raised to always say yes sir and no mam. Always be respectful of your elders and I am to this day. I’ll even say yes sir to someone younger then me and they will remind me to call them by their first names and not be so formal. I just think it’s a sign of respect in my opinion.

    I just wish we could get back to some of the older values that were instilled in us through childhood that most kids don’t have a clue about today.

    I was wondering the same thing about the red carnation but I see you answered that for Debbie.

    Now the video kind of scared me. How do you open a conversation with a Frenchman if you don’t know much of that language? It would be very hard for me to keep my mouth shut. Interesting though.

    Thanks for sharing this Sylviane and I appreciate the tips. Very useful.

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      Yes, the sir and mam sure exist here too, but for some reasons it’s been disappearing and actually not necessarily use much in the US, as opposed to France and even French Canada where it’s still the norms.

      For example, if you’d call any customer service place in France they wouldn’t asked “what’s your name?” and the you’d say, I’m Adrienne. But they would say… “And you’re madame?” and you would say “I’m madame Simth”. That’s how it’s done there.

      When I call for my mother’s admin stuff I never say I’m “Mathile Nuccio’s” daughter. I say I’m “madame Nuccio’s” daughter.

      I have to say that open conversation thing on the video is the thing that even I didn’t get. So don’t worry too much about it.

      Thank you for your feedback, Adrienne and I’m pleased that you like the way we address people in France.

  • Allie says:

    Sylviane,

    What an insightful post. Some day I will go to France and I will be sure to brush up on what is proper and respectful there.

    I loved reading this post because it really brings perspective to why different cultures think certain things are rude.

    Thanks,
    ~Allie

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Allie and nice seeing you here.

      Yes, this culture thing is always an interesting one. And that’s nothing, compaired to other cultures like Asia or Africa, for example.

      Thanks for coming.

  • Donna MerrillTwitter: donna_tribe says:

    Well Sylviane,

    You took me down memory lane! I grew up with grandparents from Italy. I was taught so many things that you mentioned above. There was no such things as snacks at all. Well, due to the elaborate meals, who wanted them lol!

    Then the greetings and the respectful nature of the language. Wow…it was the same thing that we learned as children.

    When you mentioned the restaurants I leaped for joy. I still get dressed to go out to a restaurant. Even though in this country it is acceptable to go with jeans on, I just cannot do that.

    Oh and getting invited for lunch or dinner? I still bring something over. It is always Italian pastries (If I am in a location with authentic pastry makers) or wine or flowers. I was brought up to never go over anyone’s home without something. My daughter follows the same tradition. Her friends think she is crazy sometimes lol. But I believe I taught her well. It comes down to manners.

    All this made me feel so good. As an Italian-American, I still carry on these traditions. So, when I get to France someday, I have the confidence that I can fit right in!

    I am so glad you wrote this. Maybe it can rub off to people that manners are always in style no matter where you live. Plus, drop the American attitude….”When in Rome Do as the Romans” and that old saying applies to the American culture.

    Donna
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Donna,

      Ah I am sure that being raised in the Italian culture you could fit right in the French one as well. Someone above told me that lots of what I was mentioning fits Germany as well. This is because whole Europe is pretty similar that way. Even The UK, they may speak English, but there are Europeans not Americans in their manners.

      I’m like you. I’ve never been to a restaurant not dressed properly, I’m too used to this. Can’t get it out of me like the snack thing.

      I agree. When in “Rome, do as the Romains”. So true. I used to basically live with Koreans back in 2004 until 2006, and I was following all their culture stuff. I think it fun!

      Thanks for coming and for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  • Sue PriceTwitter: suejprice says:

    Hi Sylviane

    I too like Adrienne was brought up with many of these manners. My mother also called people Mrs Smith or whatever unless she knew them well. Also if we did not greet people or say good bye we were in trouble.

    In Australia like the US the younger generation is changing things. Although our kids would always take a gift when visiting someone for dinner or lunch. We put napkins on our lap too.

    I like Donna still get dressed to go to dinner. In cities in Australia most people do unless it is a casual cafe. I live in a beach side tourist town so it is much more casual. The restaurants still have standards and will not let some people in under dressed.

    I have always leaned the basic greetings in the language of the country I am traveling in. I think it is pretty arrogant how English speaking people often expect everyone else to understand them,

    Great advice Sylviane and I also did not know about the red carnations. 🙂

    Sue
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sue,

      I’m not surprised that you were raised with those basic manner rules, because your parents are definitely from a generation where manners mattered.

      The young generation changes things everywhere, but in the US it changed a long time ago already. I wonder if there will be any manners left at all 100 years from now 🙂

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience, Sue.

  • Annie AndréTwitter: annieandrehacks says:

    Sylviane,
    Where do I start? I absolutely love how formal people are but even though it’s formal to say “bonjour madam”, bonjour monseiur” it’s not uncomfortable or stuffy. It just feels polite and usually people say it back and it connects you to that person albeit momentarily.

    I was surprised at the extent of how much people say hello and goodbye here in France too. Even on the bus, almost 80 percent of the people say good day, good evening or have a good weekend.
    Catherine always greets her friends with a kiss now and she is only five. I wish more people in the US and Canada would do the same.

    We were invited to a friends house last week (we had Cassoulet) and brought wine and flowers and our guests were surprised. They thought because we were not French that we would not bring anything. I told them that it is customary to bring something to diner even in the US and Canada. I have found that the French perception of Americans is slightly skewed just like the Americans view of the French. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that all we see of the other is on T.V. For instance, someone asked my sons how many times he at mcDonalds. They were surprised to know that we have not eaten at mcdonalds in over 10 years. But i digress.

    Have a great week.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Annie,

      Sorry for seeing your comment so late, but another crazy week.

      I love what you’re saying about the fact that saying “bonjour monsieur” or “bonjour madame” is NOT stuffy, on the contrary, it helps us make the connection with the other person and it’s just so polite.

      Thank you for adding this every important fact here 🙂

  • DeeAnn Rice says:

    Sylviane,

    Love you travel tips for France. So many Americans think that the whole world thinks, lives and behaves the same way we do in the US.

    I lived all over the world and am always trying to explain that people in other countries people think and behave differently than we do.

    If you want to fit in somewhere else my motto has always been “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. My father lived by this and I never saw him be a stranger in any land. Where ever we were at the time he would immerse himself in the culture immediately.

    I love reading your posts on France. I hope to go back there some day.

    Dee Ann

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi DeeAnn,

      I totally agree “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, to me that even applies in any country within a specific community of people. Been there and done that! I’m sure your father could make friends easily that way.

      Thank you for sharing you feedback here 🙂

  • Des says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I am so grateful that I read this tips about visiting France. Oh yeah people who live in France and visits US will surely be shocked about the American culture. I was surprised to read about getting dressed well when visiting a restaurant. lol, I better tell my dad about not wearing shorts and baseball caps because he do love to wear them.

    Thanks very much to this inputs Sylviane…
    I really appreciate this.

    .Des

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Des and welcome here.

      I know how some American people would be surprised that they have to dress up a bit to go to a restaurant, but’s that common ground in France.

      Thank you for your feedback 🙂

  • Stacy says:

    Hi Sylviane,
    It’s always interesting to hear about the cultural norms of other countries. It would be nice to apply some of that over here.

    I think that people are too casual here in the US. I think it’s crazy that people don’t think twice about wearing jeans to a wedding. I would love it if people dressed up to go out to eat here. I remember when I was a kid, my parents had me dress up to go to the movie theater. I don’t know if that was just them or if that’s what people did then.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Stacy

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Stacy and nice seeing you here.

      I see that you like the same things I do. Dressing up once in a while is so cool 🙂 I really don’t understand why some people don’t like to dress up.

      When I was little I remember that I would dress up every Sunday, and definitely when I was going into town. I enjoyed this a lot 🙂

      Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Lisa Magoulas says:

    Hi Sylviane,
    What a wonderful post. I was originally going to skip it because I don’t see any trips to France coming my way. But I thought, it’d still be good to know because I could always share this with some of my friends. I’m so glad I read it. I had no idea of the formalities. I am especially glad to learn about garçon. That was a surprise to me. I have a little wine rack/man that has a beret and his name in the catalog was garçon, so that’s what we call him to this day. I think I’m going to have to tell my husband we need to start calling him Monsieur. 😉 Ya know, growing up, my mother always said she was French. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I found out she was from Canada. Big difference. lol Maybe that’s another blog post for you; the differences between Parisian French and Canadian French. I’m really glad I read this. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Warmest Regards,
    Lisa

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Ah, you made me laugh when you talked about your mother saying she was French and then discover she was from Canada. Well, she wasn’t totally wrong. Canadians are from France, from the Normandie/Bretagne part few centuries ago. However, their accents, even some terms and way of speech is very different, but as far as culture, you’d be surprise it’s very similar.

      They also use Monsieur and Madame, and do not talk formally to strangers. They also eat more potatoes than rice like French.

      Oh, yes, do not call a waiter garcon, that’s way out dated and people don’t like this anymore. It’s actually not flattering at all either.

      I’m glad you found this post too 🙂

  • Disha says:

    hmm this is quite interesting to know French People Won’t Be Rude. Well thanks Sylviane for teaching something new for French People. I learn how to Hello (Bonjour) as well as how to say Good-Bye (Au-Revoir)

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