How to fit in in France: 8 dos & don’ts
Ah, France – the home of crispy baguettes, delicious pastries and exquisite wine. France is all about enjoying the finer things in life, so it’s no surprise that many of the cultural do’s and don’ts are related to food. To blend in seamlessly and ensure you’re a hit at Parisian soirées, read on as we go over a few rules and customs.
1. SERVICE SAVOIR-FAIRE
Don’t refill your own glass. Instead, wait to be served. If it’s been 30 minutes and you’re still staring longingly at the wine bottle on the table, ask your neighbor if they’d like a top-up. If they say yes, it’s a win-win: you can graciously serve your neighbor first, and then pour some for yourself. Top tip: When you’re pouring, remember to make sure you don’t fill the glass to the top – for ze French, restraint is key.
Do round up to the next number when tipping. While the service charge is included, customers won’t normally ask for their exact change back. And if the service was really good (a very real possibility, despite common misconceptions), you can always tip more.
2. BREAKING BREAD
Do buy two baguettes, not one. Baguette is a staple French food item. Breakfast? Baguette with salted butter and jam. Lunch? A salad with baguette. Dinner? A warm cream soup. With baguette. So if you are going to the bakery to buy freshly baked baguette, you might as well buy two.
Don’t cut baguette with a knife. Don’t even think about neatly slicing baguette. Put it on the table on a nice cloth or in its original paper wrapping and let everyone tear a chunk from it as they please.
3. ROCKING THE ETIQUETTE
Do keep both hands on the table. While it’s customary in some countries to keep a hand on the lap, the French will tut-tut at this behavior. Your hands should always be visible, but your elbows should be hidden – never rest them on the table.
Don’t make slurping noises. No matter how much you’re enjoying your bouillabaisse or soupe à l’oignon, it’s considered bad manners to lap up your soup with enthusiastic noises.
4. KNIFE WIELDING
Don’t cut your salad. Instead of sawing away at your mixed greens, fold the salad pieces into little bundles with your utensils. Voilà!
Do cut the cheese with a specific knife. Each kind of cheese has its own knife – hard cheeses will generally require a tear-shaped knife, while soft cheeses will have a soft, blunt edge. And to make matters more complicated, each cheese has to be cut a certain way – but we’ll save that for a future blog post.
5. BEING EFFORTLESSLY CHIC
Do leave the sports gear at home. Basketball shorts and jerseys are to be worn only on the court – not on the street. Pajamas are off-limits as well; there’s no popping down to the store in your velvet pajamas hoping no one will notice. They will.
Don’t go all out either. We know, we know, it’s a fine line. The goal here is to make an effort, but without trying too hard; think messy hair and lipstick or sleek tennis shoes with a chic dress.
6. THE ART OF THE ‘BISE’
Don’t be awkward Bise-ing can feel a bit strange if you are used to polite handshakes or awkward pats on the back. Dive in and air kiss your acquaintance on both cheeks while gently pouting and making a kissing sound. To make things more interesting, the number of kisses vary by region.
Do greet everyone individually. When you meet up with a group of friends, make sure to greet everyone individually or extend a collective hello. No selective bise-ing! Same ritual when you leave, no sneaking out, your friends will spot it and hold it against you.
7. KEEPING IT COOL
Do use ‘vous’ for people you don’t know. When in doubt, always opt for the polite ‘vous’ form. It’ll save you from unpleasant stares and snappy responses. It is not rare to hear two people seamlessly switch from ‘vous’ to ‘tu’ mid-conversation once they feel more acquainted with each other.
Don’t show too much emotion. In France, is is key to remain discreet and blasé even if you feel like squealing with excitement. Practice your poker face and subtle shoulder shrug. Share your joys or frustrations, but don’t put your audience ill at ease by being too out there.
Don’t drink before everyone has been served. Just like eating, drinking has its own rituals at a French table. Make sure everyone has had their glasses filled and you’ve all cheered before taking your first sip. Sharing a meal is a social happening, don’t fly solo!
Do sip slowly. The French don’t eat to soothe their hunger nor do they drink to quench their thirst: they nibble on their meals and take small sips. Don’t gulp down your wine; it’s all about enjoying the meal and making conversation!
This article was written by Florence & Livia.