Planning a trip to France? Use these simple tricks and your manners will surely impress even the Parisians!
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As we planned our trip to Paris and a few surrounding cities, I was dismayed to hear so many people saying that we wouldn't have a nice trip because the Parisians were "just so rude." I found this particularly difficult as first, I strongly dislike the idea that an entire people are any certain way, and second, I wanted to find a way around it.
I read as much as I could in advance, and on our trip, I was constantly and consistently impressed and awed by the kindness of the French. I did not have a single negative experience and am anxiously awaiting our next French adventure!
One disclaimer, I do speak French. I took French all the way through College, and am almost fluent. That said, I had never actually been to France, and there's a big difference between learning in the classroom and speaking in person, when jet-lagged! Having an enjoyable time in France is not dependent on your language skills!
Bonjour is the magic word
This was, to me, the most helpful thing I learned during my time in France. The French are extremely formal. And, there's a reason that the opening song in Beauty and the Beast is Belle saying "Bonjour" to her entire town. The French greet their co-workers, individually, each morning - and if someone comes in late, he runs around greeting everyone. I originally learned of this in a lovely memoir, Finding Fontainebleau, which I read in preparation for the trip, and experienced it first thing upon arrival, during the change of border patrol agents, when they all greeted and shook hands before changing guard (while we waited patiently).
What that translates into for a tourist is greeting shop keepers, bar tenders, hostesses, front desk workers - each and every one of them, every single time. (But not random people on the street - they think that's strange). Honestly, I found it slightly exhausting. You walk into a shop? "Bonjour, Madame." Ironically, to Americans, who are notorious for talking to strangers, this actually feels odd, as we generally wait for attendants or staff to greet guests, but this is not the case in France. Failing to greet someone automatically gets the interaction off on the wrong foot, so don't forget!
If the marvelous accent of your "Bonjour" tricks the Frenchman into thinking you speak French and they start speaking in French, just respond, in French if you can: "Desolee, je ne parle pas francais. Parlez-vous anglais?" (Apologies for the lack of accent marks - that's a bit beyond the blog's capabilities, it seems). If you've expended all of your French at the Bonjour, just say in English, "I'm sorry, I don't speak French."
Take your time over meals
Keep in mind:
This one is fairly straight-forward. Treat your time in France as though you're at a wedding - don't shout, don't yell across rooms, and speak abnormally quietly, even when you're just chatting amongst yourselves.
Remember : you aren't at home
Take your cue from others and you'll have a better trip! If you as the French are doing, you'll feel more comfortable and maybe even learn a few things!
Enjoy their food, drink their coffee, and don't forget to say "bonjour!" You'll be happy you did!
For more tips and tricks on a trip to Paris, we found Rick Steves' most recent Paris book to be a lifesaver.
Have a wonderful trip! xx
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