Surviving in France

A few Do’s and Don’ts of French Life


* Do say hello when you enter a shop and goodbye when you leave. The French are very polite and expect certain social graces all the time. A simple ‘bonjour madame/monsieur’ and ‘au revoir madame/monsieur’ is sufficient.

* Don’t touch, test or prod products on shop shelves without first asking permission. Many small shops and boutiques do not tolerate this practice and view it as being rude.

* Don’t talk in supermarkets at the top of your voice or yell across the aisles at the wife, children or people you recognize.


* Don’t kiss a person who you have just met for the first time. This is only done after you know someone for a while. Often they will make the first move.

* Don’t call them by their first name after first introductions. Again first names are only used after you know someone fairly well. If not use monsieur/madame.

* Do shake hands with anyone you are introduced to or meet regularly.

The Don’ts:

* Don’t talk in English in a public place and assume that no-one understands you. Many French may not speak but do understand English, of all ages.

* Don’t expect to be treated as if you are French.

* Don’t expect people to talk English to you.

* Don’t expect an apology if they make a mistake.

* Don’t expect French bureaucracy to change for you.

* Don’t keep saying ‘well in England we…’

* Don’t ignore children of families that you know well. Most children expect to be kissed just the once.

* Don’t expect a return phone call from any official or government office.

* Don’t expect that because you are not French you will be treated as far as the law is concerned. For instance identity cards, passports, drivers license, insurance, safety equipment etc must all be in the car and produced on demand.

* Don’t be shocked to see men urinating in public places. This can be anywhere from the side of the road to the doorway of a shop – anytime of the day!

The Do’s:

* Do say if you do not understand what someone is saying to you.

* Say thank you all the time!

* Do expect to be told that any mistake is your fault (and certainly not theirs).

* Do expect to hear the phrase “well that’s the French way” time and time again when you try to change things or question anything.

* Do ask the neighbours to look after your animals when you are away.

* Do offer to help out in village functions.

* Do take up some French lessons with a native.

* Do be prepared to queue a long time at banks, post offices, government offices.

These are only a few of the more obvious dos and don’ts.

I hope that this list does not give a negative picture of the French people but like every country, especially a nationalist one like France, it is better to be pre-warned. France is a beautiful country, the French have their own way of doing things like everyone else and with only a bit of consideration and respect for their culture you too can enjoy this wonderful country and the French people.

Averill owns 2 successful business – a holiday business in rural Normandy, offering gite, cottage and chambres d’hôtes accommodation to suit all needs and tastes; and, a health and beauty boutique in Bagnoles de l’Orne.