French Social Customs:
the Ultimate Guide.

(Read this Before You Go to Paris).

Everything You'll Need to Know about French Social Customs.

A trip to Paris will be much more pleasant and successful for you if you learn a little about French social customs first.

After just a few minutes of reading, you will be able to:

  • Avoid socially awkward situations;
  • Blend into the crowd instead of sticking out like a sore tourist thumb, attracting pickpockets and other not-so-well wishers;
  • Have the locals respond more positively to you in every interaction and be more willing to help;
  • Gain insight into the world from a Parisian’s perspective;
  • Build a much better rapport with the people you encounter;
  • Seamlessly transition into the Paris way-of-life;
  • Create a better learning experience for yourself.
A caroussel near Sacre Coeur in Paris, France.

These are just some of the many benefits to doing a little research on French social customs before you go to Paris.

Actually, I’ve already done the research for you....

....and the trial and error.... (yes, I have had my share of “socially awkward situations”, thank you!)....

So now you just have to read the following tidbits of helpful info, and then keep them in mind as you travel through Paris.


When I was a teenager and learned that I would be spending my last year in high school as an exchange student in Paris, I was actually quite disappointed, would you believe!

Eiffel Tower, blue sky and branches in Paris, France.

I had really hoped to go to somewhere like Africa or South America; somewhere with really severely different culture, customs and traditions from my typical North American home in the Canadian prairies.

I saw France as being just another typical western-world country with the same traditions and customs as I knew in Canada.

And I felt I had seen SO many pictures of Paris in my life that there couldn’t possibly be any surprises left. Sure, everyone speaks French in Paris but so did I, so no big deal there either.....nothing exotic or new to anticipate in Paris, France.....

....or so I thought!

My First Experiences (Embarrassments) with French Social Customs:

I expected my life in Paris would be relatively the same as ever, but with new people to meet.

Where was the big adventure in that!? Not at all the hard-core adventure I had wanted to sign up for.

SO to make it feel more exciting, I decided not to learn anything, and I mean anything AT ALL about Paris or France before I left. I was 18 and naive. (But I never would have let anyone call me that then!)

I was, as they say, ready to take on the world, apparently.....but hadn’t bothered to actually GET ready!

BOY WAS I WRONG!

Rue Vieuville street sign in Paris, France.

Life in Paris was nothing like life in the Canadian prairies.

Nothing was the same. Nothing felt the same. Not even close.

I had entered an entirely different world in Paris with very different culture and social customs, and I wasn't prepared for it.

The Paris city atmosphere was a whole other world from North American city atmosphere and the French social customs threw me into an entirely different lifestyle.

For months, I was crippled with culture shock!

What I mean is, is it took months for me to really get comfortable with my social environment and to be able to fully take advantage of the everyday social circumstances. (And a lot of homesickness went along with that too!)

For example, during a tour of her house, a young woman I had just met was showing me the location of her ‘WC’ (bathroom), and I pointed at the bidet and asked what it was.

Instantly, a look of embarrassed horror flashed across her face and she ....very awkwardly and uncomfortably.....stammered that it was for washing your feet.... “or whatever else you like”.

I think I actually went the whole rest of the year thinking bidets were little footbaths.....and I definitely always wondered why that question had made her feel so uncomfortable (until, of course, I finally found out what bidets were REALLY for...).

SO... had I done a little research into French life and social customs before I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, ...and eventually in that poor girl’s bathroom..., I may have learned ahead of time that:

#1) French bathrooms commonly contain bidets and they are for, uh, rinsing your privates

AND

#2) French people are generally much more discreet and private about bathroom matters than North Americans are (see my discussion on excusing oneself when dining).


So NOW I know that this was not the best and most seamless way to segue into a new friendship with my hostess. But YOU can learn from MY mistakes, research, and experience, and be a much more graceful visitor to Paris.

Had I actually anticipated a different world with a different set of social customs, I definitely would have been more prepared, and made a smoother transition into my new Paris life in general.

Had I actually looked into what the differences were and what French social customs I needed to understand and anticipate, I would have much more comfortably and quickly embraced my entirely new life in Paris.

I thought that having an open mind and being open to new experiences would be enough.

....but it wasn’t.

Not enough to be able to fully appreciate my circumstances.

So now I say: don’t do what I did......please study up before you go!

Take better advantage of the opportunities you encounter in Paris by taking a few minutes right now to read the following pages about French social customs:

A boulangerie in Paris, France.

Let's start with a little tutorial on how to understand the general French etiquette of everyday Parisian life, then we'll move on to a little crash course on French table manners. I've also included important tips about the French language that pertain to their social customs too.

(More topics are on their way! Check back or sign up to the RSS feed on the top left corner.)