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How to Act French and Use Good Manners When Visiting France

France and especially Paris are notorious for their not-so-welcoming welcome. Whether it's true or not, I'll let everyone decide for themselves after visiting France, but nevertheless here are some quick tips a tourist should keep in mind to avoid the "impossible..." looks, and cussing (yes they actually do it in your face).

I'm not French myself, so some of my tips are my very own faux pas I made three years ago, some are general handy tips, and some are things that now almost make me cuss at foreigners myself.

Galeries Lafayette (Here you don't have to worry about your high speed packing skills)

Galeries Lafayette (Here you don't have to worry about your high speed packing skills)

Le Shopping

The odds are that your trip also consists of a visit to a local supermarket, or a supermarché as they are known here. Supermarkets are always interesting displays of local life. Especially the smaller ones in the center of town which carry only the most necessary items. It's interesting to see what people need the most when they are on their way home after work or on Sunday mornings before all the stores close around noon.

  • Try to get out of the tourist mode when your items are being rung up. There are no packers here and you are supposed to get your packing done before paying. Because Paris is one of the densest cities in the world, each square foot costs a fortune. If you don't pay attention and try to first pay and then start packing you will be in trouble as there is no room for two customers' items and the cashier will most certainly have a comment prepared for you.

Yes le shopping is a real word, just like le shampooing, le fooding, le parking and just about any other English word with a fancy -ing ending. Le happy ending for instance.

Le Métro

For many just a means to get to points of interest, the subway of Paris or le métro is for me one of the best attractions itself. The stations have interesting thematic designs, and each line has its own spirit because the people on each line are different. All Parisians seem to have their own favorite line and a line they don't like (although most often everybody seems to like the third line, and hate the fifth or the thirteenth line, and of course the first line because of all the tourists).

The metro of Paris was originally meant to serve the 2 million people who live inside Paris. Within 30 years, 13 of the current 16 lines were finished to their maximum extent inside the "city walls"; there was a policy of not extending them to suburbs, in order to keep Parisians separated from the people living around Paris. Everything changed soon, as by the 50s most lines were extended to the suburbs—this process continues to this day. Since that time only one line has been added with the result that the Paris Métro is horribly crowded. The infrastructure planned for 2.7 million potential travelers now carries 4.5 million people daily, for an annual total greater than the population of China, 1.5 billion people a year.

It's not so difficult to understand why Parisians loathe taking the subway and why everybody seems to be so annoyed.

  • Understand that Parisians need their personal space and when they can't have it, they at least want to keep the illusion of it. The best tactic on the metro is to create yourself a cocoon and ignore everything around you.
  • Don't feed the troll - 1 in 2 trips on the metro there will be either people panhandling or playing loud crappy music. It's all forbidden as its forbidden to give them money. Even if they play well, it's not the place to do it. If you want to act French, you can secretly enjoy the music, but not give them money - because they weren't supposed to be there to begin with.
  • Don't stay in front of the doors. Yes, even the locals do it and it's hell of a task to get on the train (or off it), but because you're not a local, everybody would think to themselves (and some loudly!) that "damned tourists must have never taken the metro before!"
  • Parisians are busy people and even if they have nothing to do with all their free time (35 hour workweek, almost nonexistent transit times) they're still just so busy and in a hurry. On the escalators you really should keep to your right (there are even signs for it) so that all those busy people could run by you.

Or even better, be the busy Parisian running up the escalator. At least you'll get a chance to every once in a while cuss at foreigners chatting to each other while blocking the way.


Le Café

"Coffee" or "café" here is not really an umbrella term meaning hot beverages made of ground coffee but rather a local slang for espresso. If you're like me and you like your coffee big and strong, you're in trouble. First of all, give up the hopes of getting coffee as you're used to. Also, "café américain," which works for example in Spain, will give you different results each time. Sometimes they bring you double espresso, sometimes an espresso with more hot water in it.

Here's a quick overview of the top five coffees people order in France.

  • Un café or un espresso for the classic small strong coffee
  • Double espresso for medium sized strong coffee
  • Grand café is technically the same as double espresso but usually a little bigger and slightly longer so it's not too strong but not too watery either.
  • Café allongé - a long coffee. An espresso with extra hot water, in nice restaurants they bring you your espresso in a big cup and a small pot of hot water so you can find the perfect balance yourself.
  • Café gourmand. French don't eat desserts because they're all on a diet, but they do cheat every once in a while with café gourmand, which is an espresso with two to four sweets such as macarons, mini tiramisu, chocolates or some other bitesize mini desserts.

Les Directions

Every once in a while we all lose our way, especially on the small crooked streets of Paris. It is OK to ask people the way, but it might not always go smoothly. You might be ignored and people might give you wrong directions - so if you're doing it already, ask a few times to be sure. when approaching someone, do it with a big smile (and not the "I'm in trouble" face) and your odds of being helped are better. Even better, avoid asking for directions.

Even if you don't have your city map on you, there are maps all over Paris. You find them on:

  • Advertisements. Often there is a map of the district on one side of an advertisement post, including an alphabetic street index and a list of most places you might be interested in, be it a post office, police station or museums and landmarks.
  • Vélib' stations. Vélib' is an automated bicycle rental system. Even if you don't use it, they're still useful as all the Vélib stations have a map of the city block on them.
  • Public toilets. They're easy to see even from a distance and always have decent maps on them.
  • Metro stations. It takes a minute to run downstairs and find again a map of the block near every exit.

"Thank you but no thank you, I have no idea how maps work and I just want somebody to point me the direction." Well fine, but I warned you. To approach a (fellow) Parisian, do it with a smile and say "excuse me" already from a distance (better in English than in French, you seem less dangerous that way). Let me remind you of an important point - everybody's just soo busy in the City of Light.

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Therefore let me be clear on this, there really is no point asking people in crooked French whether they speak English or not. It is advised in most travel guides, but in reality it's not particularly polite, nor useful. If the answer is NO, there really is no point continuing with the question, if the answer is yes, you could have saved 20 seconds of the busy Parisian's valuable time. Don't worry about coming off as an ignorant foreigner, the point of this city is everybody being ignorant, be part of the flow. Especially when asking people who are working - kiosk salesmen and shop workers. Although they will always help you, they will be answering the same question every 30 minutes if not more often. It will be appreciated if you get straight to the point.

Important update: Parisians take politeness very seriously so be sure to include a greeting somewhere between "excuse me" and the question, especially when talking to people who are working while you talk to them. Otherwise they might make you greet them, refusing to answer before you say the golden words!

Le Fun

Finally, have a good time. Don't worry too much about coming off as a foreigner, you'll do it anyway. French is a language almost impossible to speak without an accent. The French always pay attention to it to determine whether somebody comes from overseas, or from a different part of France. Especially in Paris, where people all come from somewhere. You'll notice that nobody is Parisian. Even if their parents are born here, they still "come from Normandy and my mother is half Moroccan" or "I was born in Marseille but my father comes from near Strasbourg". Where you come from is an important part of your identity in Paris, whether visiting for a few days or living here during your studies. Everybody comes from somewhere, nobody is really Parisian; even real Parisians have their coming-from stories.

Although a Parisian doesn't really like to be disturbed, there are some times when talking to another is natural or even expected. When they announce disturbances on the transport, people might look at each other and remark "not again...." Or at cafes quite often people who are sitting alone might talk to each other. There's a strong culture of small talk here and it's a great idea to try to take part in it. Especially nowadays when the French seem to have accepted the fact that English is the most spoken language on Earth; many even welcome the opportunity to practice it a bit.

I'll never forget how my first friend in Paris once (unknowingly) introduced me to their small-talk culture. When we had taken our seats on a terrace there was this lady next to us, browsing a magazine. It probably started with a remark about people passing or the weather. A few minutes later, my friend and the lady were talking about how Biarritz is the best place in France for vacations, how she used to have a house there but now her cheating husband had tricked her out of her the house, and she showed us a page of a magazine with a photo of her husband, where she had blackened his face with a ball point pen. Trying to talk to strangers is worth the effort, especially in Paris where everybody has a story to tell.

And finally, take a look at this hilarious video by Erica Guaca. It's so funny because it's so true. All the tricks and sounds: it's really what the French do themselves to avoid speaking. Great idea to use their own weapons to give the impression you understand all they say.


Marine b on June 14, 2018:

I am french and many affirmations are so wrong! Gosh!

koerakoonlane (author) from Paris on October 10, 2013:

Hello I have been on a small vacation from the Hubpages, thank you all so much for the comments!

I wanted to reply to some of you buy I can't find a reply button - am I hopelessly late? Does the button disappear. That teaches me a lesson to never keep waiting people who take time to react to my writing.

Koralee Phillips from Vancouver British Columbia Canada on April 25, 2013:

I just got back from a trip to Germany and we took a couple of excursions to France so I know what you mean about how to act at the grocery check-out (it is the same in Germany). It can be a stressful situation if you're not prepared before you go through.

I noticed in both countries they get quite annoyed if you don't keep up with the flow lol.

Shannon Sloan from Baton Rouge, LA on April 24, 2013:

This is awesome! My daughter and I plan to visit Paris in the next year or 2, so I will definitely be revisiting this hub before we go!

savvydating on April 23, 2013:

What a fun hub. I enjoyed it so very much - and your film cracked me up!!

When I visited Paris, I experienced mostly rudeness - from the waiters, the gasoline attendants, and from a guy who allowed people into a nightclub. It was shocked by the nightclub guy, because I think he cussed me out. I couldn't figure out why. Probably, I hadn't said, "Excuse me. " before I asked him a question. (lol)

Well, it was all pretty funny in retrospect, and I have come to develop a fascination for the French. I enjoy the the villagers (non-Parisians) as they are really quite nice... and I love the culture of eating well, conversing well, and drinking decent wine. I do not speak french, but I may have to learn because, truth be told, I've enjoyed the few french people I've had the pleasure of knowing (here in the U.S.) (They were not from Paris) :) Voting up and awesome.

WhiteMuse on April 22, 2013:

I just wanted to add that I thought this was good. Having worked in the French office in NYC this appealed to me. It is pretty funny. Hard to post on here.

Levertis Steele on April 22, 2013:

I pulled some of your observations and placed them at the bottom of my post. I perceive that your hub is somewhat sarcastic(?). After reading it, I would not cancel a trip to France, but I would prepare myself to be as independent as possible. I advise anyone preparing to visit any foreign country to take a mini course to learn a few basics of the language. Know where you are going before you set out, get literature written in your own language, preferably both (brochures, maps, etc.), and study them in advance. Know how to take care of your immediate needs before walking into the unknown. For example, know where restaurants, grocery stores, etc. are before leaving your hotel or wherever you are staying, unless you have pre-arranged transportation and guidance. Keep a handbook of commonly used terms, or invest in a pocket translator. There is no need to allow impatient people to spoil a god trip. Besides, all people are not alike in any country.

It may be wise to get paid help when possible because most people respond well to money. Taxis, trains, buses, and other public transportation would be helpful without depending on the regular citizens for help. Communicate with people you know and meet others through them. That could be a way to filter the undesirables from the desirables.

Yesterday, I got lost in a huge hospital. I used body language that left no doubt that I was lost. A few passersby ignored me, but another stopped and asked, “May I help you?” I was soon headed in the right direction. A little creativity can go a long way. This is not to say that I have always escaped a cursing from someone who did not want to be bothered, but I try not to find myself in helpless situations. When I do, I try to come out unscathed.

I imagine that people are people everywhere we go. We encounter the nasty and the kind, so we have to roll with the punches. We do not have to always go far from home to find hellish people. Sometimes they live next door or in our homes! The quality of some experiences in foreign places too often depends on the tourist’s race and the level of decency or ignorance in both the tourist and the one encountered. Personally, I prefer traveling packages that offer paid tour guides/host and arranged transportation in place to assist the tourists with needs. Last, we must remember that tourists can be very nasty, too.


"here are some quick tips a tourist should keep in mind to avoid the "impossible..." looks and cussing (yes they actually do it in your face)."

"If you don't pay attention and try to first pay and then start packing you will be in trouble as there is no room for two customers' items and the cashier will most certainly have a comment prepared for you."

"but because you're not a local, everybody would think to themselves (and some loudly!) that "damned tourists must have never taken the metro before!"

"You might be ignored and people might give you wrong directions."

"Finally, have a good time. Don't worry too much about coming off as a foreigner, you'll do it anyway."

"Although a Parisian doesn't really like to be disturbed, there are some times when talking to each other is natural or even expected."

"All the tricks and sounds it's really what the French do themselves to avoid speaking."

"France and especially Paris are notorious for they not-so-welcoming welcome. "

infochamp on April 21, 2013:

This would be very helpful when I visit Paris soon. Congrats Hub of the day!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 21, 2013:

Congrats on the hub of the day! I wish I have read this before I went to Paris a few years ago. Thanks for sharing this very informative hub. The video was funny.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on April 20, 2013:

Congraulations on your Hub of the Day award for this useful and entertaining hub! Rated you up and tweeted you!

Subhas from New Delhi, India on April 20, 2013:

Even if one is not going to France, this article is very interesting for every1. You have mapped history through this document.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on April 20, 2013:

I've been to Paris a couple of times and had the most wonderful experiences with the people there. I've been to the southern coast twice and been blindsided by rude cab drivers and waiters. Is this typical?

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on April 20, 2013:

I experienced some of what you have shared, but I think because I was with Parisians, I may have been treated differently. When I was on my own, I tried not to converse much! Fluent French is so fast in comparison to conversational French. My French was horrid and I'm sure they felt sorry for me, or shook their heads. I share a few stories in some of my Paris related hubs. The one thing I learned on the flight over was to always acknowledge a store keeper when entering a store, and to say, enchante, when first introduced to someone. The cultural differences are apparent, but often misunderstood. The French people I met were warm and friendly and polite. I enjoyed reading this, and loved the video!

Tirralan Watkins from Los Angeles, CA on April 20, 2013:

I love France. I've been twice and the people have always been very friendly. I love taking the subways and interacting with the people, even though I can't speak a lick of French. LOL. I often hear people saying French people can be rude to Americans but thankfully I did not have that experience! Nice hub. Wonderful memories are racing back for me.

Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on April 20, 2013:

My experience in Paris is like the one experienced by LongTimeMother, except I'm American. I never experienced a rude Parisian, in fact the natives were more willing to help a stranger than what I've experienced at home. Knowing and using the language (at any level) really makes for a more enjoyable visit. Most Parisians thought I was British because I didn't have a Southern type accent that many associated with being American. What was funny was listening to them mimic a Southern accent.

Matt Kaminski on April 20, 2013:

I think there should be more articles like this to give insight into other and all cultures. Not only is this informative but it also grabs the attention of the reader. Looking forward to reading more of your Hubs.

Mae Williams from USA on April 20, 2013:

LOL The video was so funny. Parisians treat asians differently. They think or assume we are all wealthy even if we can't speak french. My brother walked into a Louis Vuitton with his wife 10 years ago store and out came the red carpet. My brother who is very casual was so taken aback.... He giggled after they left because they did not spend a dime and were treated like kings and queens. It is a perception just as we have perceptions...I liked your perceptions. Thanks for sharing.

Courtlney Davis on April 20, 2013:

Thanks for sharing this information. I plan to visit France, hopefully sometime in the near future, and will keep your tips in mind when I do so. I'm wishful that "Parisians" are friendlier than depicted here. I'll remember to keep a big smile on my face when in Paris, since in my opinion smiling is a universal form of language. I also enjoyed watching the video. Merci beaucoup!


LongTimeMother from Australia on April 20, 2013:

I loved Paris. I've never met one rude person there. My secret weapon?

"Bonjour, je suis australien. Je parle de francais, un peu."

As soon as they know I'm an aussie, they all smile and speak english. Or they tell me what I need to know with lots of hand gestures, just in case I don't know the difference between gauche et droit.

I've seen a heck of a lot of French people trying to bounce like kangaroos. lol.

Noel M from Kottayam on April 20, 2013:

Cool Hub Dude. I'll keep this in mind when i visit France.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on April 20, 2013:

I always thought Parisians were more laid back than us in the US. Oh well, I picked up a few good tips on how to act French. Oui!

"Felicitation pour le HOTD award", oui?

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on April 20, 2013:

Hilarious HOTD! I love your candid tips, and the video is a riot. Now that I know the real trick is to always be in a hurry (while you're being rude, ignoring people and swearing), I need an exercise program before I go. We Texans are the opposite of 'in-a-hurry.' Hmmmm. This will take heavy training.

Voted up and shared, and Pinned. Congrats, again!

LA Elsen from Chicago, IL on April 20, 2013:

So funny. When my husband was 19 and in the Navy he went to Paris on a weekend trip. They were typical rowdy American's and got into trouble because of their behavior. He said he layer learned to "blend" in. Nice job.

RTalloni on April 20, 2013:

An insightful look at having a successful visit to Paris--congrats on your Hub of the Day award!

Kalpana Iyer from India on April 20, 2013:

Thanks for these tips! I don't know if I will be traveling to France anytime soon (though I want to) but I am sure to keep these tips in mind when I do plan on visiting. Oh, and congrats on being the 'Hub of the day'. Well deserved!

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