French Etiquette Tips: When you visit France it is handy to know some of the sometimes quite formal seeming rules about manners and etiquette practiced by the French. Not only will it be appreciated by your French hosts and those you interact with but it may increase your chances of getting a good service for instance in hotels and restaurants.
Greetings are most important! Always say “bonjour” (hello) to begin any interaction and wait for the individual to respond. Although “bonjour is satisfactory”, a good practice is to say “bonjour Madame” or “bonjour Monsieur”, depending on the situation. In many shops in rural areas if you don’t say “bonjour” to the shop staff on entering it is considered very bad form.
It doesn’t matter if your French is not fluent – your efforts will be appreciated.
After 18.00 greetings should become Bonsoir (good evening) rather than Bonjour.
Thanking people – it goes without saying that this is appreciated. “Merci” (thank you),” merci beaucoup” (thank you very much) and the less formal “merci bien” (thanks a lot) will work in your favour.
On departure always say “au revoir” (goodbye), adding Madame or Monsieur is considered polite and respectful. If you’re not being formal “salut” is often used.
Common terms used for departure are:
Bonne journée (have a nice day)
Bonne après-midi (have a nice afternoon)
Bonne fin de l’après-midi (enjoy the rest of the afternoon)
Bon weekend (have a nice weekend)
Bonne semaine (have a nice week)
“Merci et vous aussi” is the usual reply (Thank and you too).
If you talk to someone for the first time you should use the formal form of vous (you) rather than the familiar form of tu or toi. In France it isn’t considered unfriendly to not use first names particularly if you are not well known; address someone by their first name if you are invited to do so, if not address them with Madame or Monsieur and if known, their last name. Not sure about the tu or vous thing – take a look at this excellent and very funny diagram by William Alexander.
If you need to ask a stranger for directions always begin with Excusez-moi (excuse me) and again add Madame or Monsieur and continue with “bonjour”.
Do you kiss or shake hands in France when you meet?
It is customary for the French to shake hands whenever meeting someone for the first time. The handshake is a firm grip with one motion, rather than the pumping handshake of the US or UK.
With familiar acquaintances the French greet with a kiss on the cheek and the number of kisses varies with region and situation. The safest bet is to follow the lead of the French person during the greeting.
Don’t hug – French people just don’t hug!
Lunch is an important meal for the French. You will find that in many towns and even big cities banks, post offices and businesses close from 12.00 to 14.00 for lunch.
Most restaurants in France will open at 19.00 for dinner though you may find cafés and brasseries more liberal with their opening times. Don’t expect meals to be rushed to your table or short course breaks – it’s a much more leisurely affair in France.
Tipping in France?
Many people ask if they should tip in France. Tipping is not normally expected as all restaurants include a service charge on the bill (15% service charge (service compris) is required to be added to the bill by law). However, if you receive exceptional service, a modest amount is acceptable. More on tipping in France here.