Study Abroad Etiquette: France

According to the latest Open Doors Report, France is among the most popular European destinations for American students. In this blog, we’ll help your students prepare for their trip to the land of Voltaire, Curie, and Renoir (to name a few). Share the following tips with your students to help them embrace the local culture and avoid common etiquette mistakes in France.

Greetings and Gestures
Manners and respect are very important in France. Most people will only speak French as they are very proud of their language and consider it respectful for foreigners to speak in French. Before you study abroad, try to learn some of the language. Even learning just a few phrases will help you navigate the country. You should always greet someone with “Bonjour” (before 6pm) or “Bonsoir” (after 6pm). Also, many people kiss and hug when greeting each other (faire la bise”), and couples express their love publicly.

The French are private people, so it’s best to avoid questions that would be considered personal, as this type of conversation is reserved for close friends. It’s important to use the proper pronouns and titles when addressing someone, such as “Madame” or “Monsieur” as this shows respect. You should not use someone’s first name unless you are invited to do so. It’s important to know academic titles and address your professors or advisors with these titles as well. Showing some knowledge of French culture and/or history is also appreciated.

Generally, French people are reserved and quieter than Americans. If you are loud and animated, you will stick out. When speaking, do not speak too loudly as this is considered rude. If you need to stop someone to ask for directions, you should apologize for interrupting them. And of course, always say “please” (“s’il vous plait”) and “thank you” (“merci”).

Appointments must be made for social events. Dropping in on someone is not acceptable in France. Most have a casual attitude when it comes to time, so you should not be upset if someone arrives late to an appointment. However, it’s still important to arrive on time to work and classes.

France is a fashion forward country, but the French are reserved and perhaps more formal than Americans may be accustomed to. When in doubt, stick to neutral colors that look polished. Casual clothes like yoga pants and t-shirts are typically not worn anywhere but the beach or gym. Ensure your clothes fit well and are in good condition.

There are many etiquette rules that should be observed while eating in France. Respect and etiquette for both the host and the food are extremely important at the table. The French hold their knife in the right hand and their fork in the left. Hands should be kept on the table the entire time, but elbows should be kept off. Female guests of honor are seated to the right of the host and males will be seated to the left. Do not start eating until your host has said ‘bon appetit.’ Also, a toast will be proposed before you drink your wine. Guests should try some of everything and eat everything on their plates as it is considered rude to leave food on the plate. It is also considered rude to ask for substitutions in a dish. Bread should not be cut, but broken with your hands. Bread should be left to the side of your plate on the table, and cheese should not be eaten with your hands. When you’re not actively using them, your fork and knife should be placed in continental style during the meal and side by side in the position of a clock at 5:25 to signal you are finished with the meal.

While eating in a restaurant, more than one course should be ordered. You must ask the waiter when you are ready for the bill; it will not be brought over to you until asked. Gratuity is built into the bill at formal restaurants, but in cafes, it’s customary to round up to the next whole bill. Soft drinks and coffee should not be consumed with a formal meal. Do not ask for a “to go container,” as this is considered rude.

Before students travel abroad, encourage them to brush up on their etiquette in any destination so they can comfortably adjust to the local culture.  Need help? Contact us today to learn more about pre-travel education and holistic travel risk management.