I live in France; it’s the country where I was born and where I’ve been living my whole life. Everything seemed normal to me… Until I left it to travel the world a little.
It is only after I got SO surprised by other countries’ cultures that I realized that some things about France could be really surprising for foreigners!
Here are the 10 things you should know before going to France.
Un: Don’t even think of eating anything savory for breakfast.
French people only eat sweet food for breakfast, so you can forget eggs and bacon. If you do not wish to eat croissants, pastries, or bread with butter and jam, then you better bring your own breakfast! We do not have pancakes either. I know, so disappointing.
Deux: Who needs a car?
Depending on where you’re planning to go, you might not need to rent a car. There are TONS of public transports in France. Buses are the most popular thing, there are a lot of them and they will get you everywhere. If you go to Paris, there is the subway in addition to the buses. Getting around in train is also super easy, but it can be expensive.
Trois: Do not expect a huge cup when you order a coffee.
I know that one is a deal breaker for coffee lovers, but I have to tell you: European coffee is (a lot) smaller and (a lot) more concentrate than the “dirty sock juice” (as French people call it) that you can find in the U.S. If this coffee is too concentrate for you, you can order “un allongé”, which is a coffee with a little more water in it. But even an allongé will still be more concentrate than American coffee.
Quatre: Kiss, do not hug !
French people do not hug, unless they are very close to that person. Like I only hug my best friends. French people do “la bise”, which is nothing more than cheek kisses when then meet someone. And the number of “cheek kisses” may vary depending on where you go in France! Two kisses is the most common; but in other parts of France, it can be three or even four sometimes. Kissing cheeks is a cordial thing, so don’t do that to someone you don’t know if you don’t meet them in a friendly context.
Cinq: Shops opening hours.
Almost every shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays, which is pretty frustrating when you’re used to go shopping without really worrying about what day it is. Be organized and buy your food during the week if you need to !
Six: Should you leave tips?
Not really actually. Tipping is not required in French restaurants, but it is still appreciated! The waiters make a normal hourly wage, therefore tips are a bonus to them; they don’t depend on it to make a living. People usually tip when the meal was very good and / or when the waiter was very nice. I usually do it because I have been a waitress myself and I know how hard this job can be sometimes, so this is like a compassionate act for me.
Sept: France is small, but each regions is different!
France is a small country. It’s a little smaller than Texas actually, and is divided in 22 different regions. Each of them has its own landscapes and specificities, and you will feel like you’re in a different country whether you go in one region or another!
Huit: Smokers, smokers everywhere.
It is not just a stereotype that french people smoke a lot; whenever you will go to a bar or a restaurant and sit outside, you will be surrounded by smokers. Whenever you will wait at a bus stop, you will be surrounded by smokers. Whenever you will pass near to a school gate, you will be surrounded by smokers. And I’m not even exaggerating. The good part of this is, if you are a smoker, you will always find someone willing to lend you a lighter if you ever forget yours.
Neuf: Always say hello and goodbye.
If you don’t want to be seen as the most impolite person, then you better get used to say hello whenever you go somewhere! It doesn’t matter if it is a restaurant, a museum, a clothing store, a book store or a grocery store. If you don’t say hello, than you and goodbye to the cashier or the shop assistant, you will be seen as very rude.
Dix: Interacting with strangers for no reason is a no-no.
One of the things that surprised me the most when I went to the U.S., was the warmth of the people around me. It was totally okay for my friend to suddenly stop a woman in the street to tell her that she loved her dress, or to talk to strangers when we went in bars or restaurants, and it felt totally normal for the guy sitting next to me in the plane to talk to me like I was an old friend. This is something that you will not see in France. People do not talk to strangers, and if you ever start talking to someone in the street or somewhere else for no reason, it will be very awkward. It’s like invading their personal space.
Have you ever been to France? Did you notice these things?