Expats. DO adjust to France and the French!
Table manners. a few tips if you are invited for dinner. don't come too early, don't eat too much of the first course, try everything and avoid leaving food on your plate, speak lightly (and avoid money and religion. ), don't say "Bon appêtit" (it has become a little ridiculous), don't bore people with your "allergies" (it is very rude not to eat what you are served), etc. (more tips on wine etiquette. bread and cheese etiquette ). For more details, read "Don't Eat Your Soup With a Fork ", an anthology of faux-pas. Read specific DOs and DONTs about cheese, wine and bread, and read my colum about "the ugly American eater
If you are the host : don't ask your guests to bring food (even good friends!). This is a NO-NO. They expect you to do the work and perform the show.
- Don't order only one dish. if you are not hungry, don't go to a restaurant!,
- Don't drink soft drinks or coffee with a good meal,
- Never ask for a doggy bag (it's a no-no. you may get but it is considered cheap and rude),
- Don't try to order things you find only at home. ask for what people here eat or drink.
- Don't order something absurd like "an onion soup without cheese" or "a croque-monsieur without ham": at home, would you order a hamburger without meat. Order what's on the list!
- Do know the difference between a "restaurant" and a "brasserie". the former serves "real" meals (two courses minimum) at meal time only (12am-2pm, 7:30pm-10pm). if you want to eat one course only or at 4pm, go to a brasserie.
- An important difference between French and Americans. it is NOT very classy to share the bill on the principle of "who had what". If you are three and you share, divide the bill by three and don't go into shocking details like "did you have coffee ?" etc. See why .
Corporate manners. build relations instead of procedures, do not try to mix professional life and private life, do not expect too much from meetings, if you want to convince people try to look smart (rather than efficient), don't take it for granted that everybody should speak English, don't be too informal until you're sure it's OK. More about working with the French.
Talk to the boss. France is a very hierarchical society. if you are unhappy in a shop or with a client or a supplier, do not waste time talking to someone who does not feel responsible.
Driving manners. you may insult other drivers. it is part of the game, do not drive too slowly, you may bump (gently!) other cars while parking, do not remain on the left lane on expressways and do not take lanes too seriously in town, etc. See more on driving.
Men-women relations : do not consider machism French men treating women with consideration. it is galanterie... Don't rebuke them!
Bureaucratic manners. try to make the bureaucrat interested in your case, as a challenge to his/her ideal of "service public ", let him think that your case is interesting and need somebody special to treat it, BUT. never invoke common sense, play by the rules (bring all the papers required, etc. ), do not threaten, do not say "I pay taxes therefore. etc. ", don't say "in
my country, we don't need that. "
DON'T be a prey for pickpockets. Americans are very vulnerable. Read a few NONOs.
More useful tips
- in Harriet Welty Rochefort's books. French Toast on life in France and French Fried on food in France
- read body-language and see how the French, normally quite stiff, communicate through gesture
- See an excellent DOs & DON'Ts page in corporate life, everyday life, etc. and a very useful site on essential etiquette advice uild relationships instead of procedures. It is not a waste of time!
DON'T live (only) among expats : you have the opportunity to live in a foreign country and if you only meet your compatriots, you may as well be in Dubaï or Tokyo. Do not transmit stereotypes about the French if you meet them only at work or in shops. There are nice people in France too and French life has good sides (not only food and wine. )!
DON'T judge before making an effort to understand. There is always a reason to explain people's behavior. first understand, then criticize. For instance, don't be shocked if somebody does not give you his name when any American would have done it. it may be a matter of privacy.
DO speak French. forget CNN or BBC, watch TV and try to read a French newspaper. you'll improve your French and understand better the French if you don't look at them through other people's eyes. Learn French and read my column about it.
DON'T deal only with people who deal ONLY with expats (doctors, lawyers, dentists, plumbers, cleaning ladies. ). they probably charge "expat prices". A doctor who speaks English is not necessarily a better doctor!
DON'T be afraid of French schools for your kids! They give a foreign experience and bilingualism and can be much better than many "schools-for-expat-kids". Read about education.
More DOs and DONTs to better understand France and the French
Some advice to my American friends :
DO learn more about other countries and try to speak foreign languages. The ignorance of Main Street about the rest of the world, including France, is abysmal. Americans are too insular. it is dangerous. Evaluate your "insularity score "!
DONT lecture other countries about things you consider "US patented " (freedom, democracy, anti-racism. ). those values also exist elsewhere. Read my column about it.
DO consider that, on certain issues, other countries may have a better system (for instance about health ) or may have avoided bad American practices (for instance about food or credit ).
DONT believe that the rest of the world would be happier if everybody was like you in all aspects. other countries want to maintain their specificities and France has some.
USEFUL TIP. " Ca se fait or ça ne se fait pas " (you are or you are not supposed to do that) is a very large concept which can reveal a lot about the French. it illustrates that, often, the French consider the respect of harmony, esthetics or tradition more important than profit or achievement ; a classical example is the case of an American in a good restaurant ordering a glass of milk. for an American, he pays and therefore he can have anything he wants, for a French, this is a shame and the restaurant would rather lose a customer than satisfying such an absurd desire.