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A guide to French etiquette and manners

Updated: Sep 8, 2022


Etiquette and manners are treated with a high degree of formality in French culture. Using this guide to French etiquette & French manners can help you avoid embarrassing situations.

The French are responsible for giving us the term "etiquette." As the preeminent form of social interaction in French society, it should come as no surprise that etiquette and good manners play an important part in French conversation. If you do not acquire French manners or if you do not grasp the social etiquette in France, this may easily lead to some difficult social situations or give a message of contempt to the other person. It is in your best interest to acquire some knowledge of French etiquette before you find yourself the focus of attention.

Even in more relaxed social settings, having a solid grasp of proper French manners and etiquette is essential for maintaining a positive demeanor. When compared to what they are accustomed to, they might give off the impression of being excessively stiff to certain visitors from other countries. However, it is a gesture of civility in France; hence, it is an essential aspect of French etiquette to follow welcomes, even if they seem to be unduly formal. That is not to suggest that French people don't have a good time with their families and close friends. On the other hand, hardly everyone in France is just a close friend or a member of the same family. Conversations on the street tend to be very formal, although this is truer in Paris than it is in rural communities.

This tutorial outlines some fundamental French etiquette principles.

Advice on proper protocol when exchanging a welcome in French

The French often extend a handshake when meeting another person, particularly when doing business or when meeting each other for the first time. It is customary to greet one's coworkers with a handshake when one arrives at work in the morning, and it is also normal practice to shake hands again after one leaves work. Read further about French business etiquette.

A firm handshake is a customary method of greeting well-known individuals, such as the waiter at one's preferred restaurant or the person who lives next door.

On the other hand, when coworkers know each other very well or when they are in the company of friends, it is common to practice for women to greet each other and male coworkers or friends with a peck on the cheek. Caution: if you are unsure of what to do, don't take the initial step; yet, you should be prepared to accept whatever comes your way.

When speaking French, it might be difficult to determine whether to use the formal vous or the casual tu to refer to the other person. The more private tu, on the other hand, is reserved only for close friends and family members. It is normal for coworkers to say tu to one another, but you should hold your tongue until someone else says it first.

When meeting someone for the first time, you should address them with either Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle; normally, you should use the latter for those who are under the age of 18, and address the majority of adult women as Madame unless in certain contexts, such as restaurants. It is also considered courteous to not presume that everyone knows English; rather, it is appropriate to inquire directly: "Hello, do you speak English?" (Hello, are you able to communicate in English?)

When you enter a shop, you should say "bonjour" (or "bonsoir" after 6 o'clock), and when you leave, you should say "au revoir" or "merci," in addition to sir or madam if you choose.

When it is appropriate, you should always make sure to say 'please' (s'il vous plait), 'thank you' (merci), and 'you're welcome' (je vous en prie or, more informally, 'it's nothing', i'll n'y a pas de quoi).

It is common for people from other countries to accuse the French of being impolite or condescending, although this is typically a misunderstanding. It is disrespectful or insulting to act in a manner that is contrary to French etiquette. For instance, in Paris, it is considered courteous to others to dress properly when going down the street, however eating while walking or grooming in public is considered an insult to the individual.

When it comes to those with whom one is familiar, French etiquette is by nature more relaxed. This is also the case with younger generations and students, for instance, who go directly to using their first names.

When greeting each other, friends and relatives traditionally kiss (sometimes spelled la bise or bisous). This may vary from the standard two kisses, which are customary in Paris, to as many as four kisses in other areas of France. It's normally not a kiss at all, but rather a little peck on the cheek accompanied with a kissing noise, or occasionally with no touch or noise at all, and it always begins on the left side of the face (or right cheek). Hugging is far less popular in France, and most French people find it unpleasant. In fact, there is no term in French that translates to "hug."

The topic of whether or not to kiss is one that often arises with visitors from other countries in France. Claudine Longet, an actress from France who appeared in "McHale's Navy," is shown above with Tim Conway.

Social etiquette France

Having a drink with a new person is a typical practice that might help you get to know them better. The French, on the other hand, do not engage in bar binges as a method of socializing; rather, visitors drink one or two aperitifs and then call it an evening. Wine is traditionally served with meals and never in place of it. A wine glass should never be filled to the top; it should be filled to no more than three-quarters capacity.

A popular guideline in French etiquette is that dinner guests who are invited to a house are obliged to bring a present, even if it is a little token of appreciation. This token of appreciation is often a bottle of wine, flowers, or a pre-agreed dessert or cheese dish. If you just met someone, you should customarily address them as Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle and use their last name, if you are familiar with it, unless you are specifically encouraged to use their first name. In most elements of French etiquette, punctuality is of the utmost importance; nevertheless, arriving early is never acceptable.

At the dining table, the French are expected to maintain their arms just above the table rather than crossing their legs or resting them on their laps. It is also not considered proper French etiquette to shout across a room; instead, you should go up to the person you want to speak with before starting to speak.

French customs and etiquette

The use of polite form in a language is considered to be an essential component of French manners and etiquette, although certain French individuals may give the impression of behaving in an unfriendly way at times. Always add Monsieur or Madame when addressing a stranger, as in "Excuse me, madame," whether you are inquiring about directions or requesting assistance in a shop.

One of the most common examples of French manners and politeness is to let another person go through a door first, and it is customary for a male to give way to a woman in these situations. If you don't practice these manners, you will be seen as rude. It is polite to express gratitude or ask for forgiveness when someone makes room for you to pass. It is common practice to undervalue the expression "begging forgiveness," yet the phrase may be effective when used in controlled rages, such as when you move someone out of your way.

Even though the French is proud to be republicans, it is still considered polite to address people by their titles. Etiquette is very important in France. There are many different types of individuals, but politicians, in particular, demand to be recognized for their position. When speaking to the mayor of a town or city in France, it is customary to call him or her Monsieur (or Madame) le maire. This is done out of respect and by traditional French etiquette. A policeman is Monsieur l'agent. You should be familiar with and make use of your academic titles and degrees whenever feasible. They are very essential (such as a doctor).

When sending a formal letter in France, even to the phone company, it is customary to finish the letter with a declaration of respect, which is a lengthier version of the phrase "Yours truly," before signing your name. This is another frequent practice in French culture. A typical statement which may be used in numerous contexts is: Veuillez accepter, madame (or monsieur), mes salutations distinguées.


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