Etiquette & Customs (in short)
The French have a formal attitude to practices and attitudes.
Try to learn as much French you can before you arrive or at least so many simple words you can, like “Hello”: Bonjour (bohn-ZHOOR), “Thank you”: Merci (merr-SEE) or “Goodbye”: Au revoir (oh ruh-VWAHR)
This shows, that you are willing to learn their language.
- Handshake is a common form of greeting
- Friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right cheek
- First names are reserved for family and close friends. Wait until invited before using someone’s first name
Gift Giving Etiquette:
- Flowers should be given in odd numbers but not 13, which is considered unlucky.
- Do not give white lilies or chrysanthemums, as they are used at funerals
- If you give wine, make sure it is of the highest quality you can afford. The French appreciate their wines
- Gifts are usually opened when received
- Arrive on time. Under no circumstance should you arrive more than 10 minutes later than invited, without telephoning to explain why you have been detained. The further south you go in the country, the more flexible time is
- If invited to a large dinner party, especially in Paris, send flowers the morning of the occasion, so that they may be displayed that evening
- Dress well. The French are fashion conscious and their version of casual is not as relaxed as in many western countries
- Do not begin eating until the hostess says ‘bon appetit’
- If you haven’t finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife
- Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible and not in your lap
- Finish everything on your plate
- Do not cut salad with a knife and fork. Fold the lettuce on to your fork
- Leave your wine glass nearly full if you don’t want more
Should you leave a tip in restaurants or bars?
You can leave a tip, but you don’t have to.
As in many European countries, the bill includes a service charge. So make sure to check the bill itself; there is no need to leave any extra tip in addition to this amount. A service charge is not the same as a tip.
People sometimes give 5 or 10% of the bill as a tip or round up to an even number. It depends on how happy you were with the service.
France is generally a peaceful country, but there can always happen thefts of mobile phones, cameras and other valuable things. Be aware of pickpockets around various sights especially around cathedrals and other places where tourists gather.
Most travellers will not experience any issues or problems on their holiday in France. It can happen, but it can also be prevented by some simple precautions as:
- Do not “flash” cash or expensive items
- Visit only the cash machines during the day or early evening
- Do not leave expensive items visible in cars
Terrorism isn’t new to the French anymore, but it is still the highest topic on the security list for the police. They are doing everything they can, with all the technology they have to protect you. Therefore, stopping you on the street is for protection not harassment. Nevertheless, they can never provide you a 100% safeness.
Places you should avoid in Paris:
- Arrondissement* 18th to 20th – Areas are not safe day and night
- Arrondissement* 10th, 11th and 17th – Avoid after dark, part of these areas are not safe
- Bois de Boulogne – Avoid this park after dark, it is not safe
- Chatelet Les Halles – Avoid after dark, it is not safe
- Parc Monceau – Avoid after dark, it is not safe
- Gare du Nord – Use caution, you do need to be careful
*Arrondissement = Borough or District
Places you should avoid in Lyon:
- Venissieux – Avoid after dark, part of this area is not safe
- Saint Priest – Use caution, you do need to be careful
Places you should avoid in Marseille:
- Saint Charles – Use caution, you do need to be careful. Avoid after dark
- Vieux Port – Avoid after dark, it is not safe
Emergency numbers in France (free call)
In case of any emergency call:
- 112 – National emergency number
- 18 – Fire Brigade
- 17 – Police
- 15 – Ambulance
The caller must:
- State the location where assistance is needed
- State their name and telephone number
- State what happened, and if it is still happening
- State how many people need help
- State if there are weapons involved