Vacation in Paris Blog

Helpful Hints From A Local

Places To Visit - Posted on Jul 18,2017 by Hampton*Jan

#1: Always say Bonjour right away - If possible address people as Monsieur or Madame. They’ll love you, but won’t show it, if you say “Bonjour Madame or Monsieur.” More than once I have gone up to people to ask for the time or directions. More than once I have asked a grocery store clerk where I can find a certain item. Being the American that I am, I sometimes forget to do it the French way. I say “Excusez-moi,” which you would think would be okay. But it’s not. Because the person usually turns to me and loudly says “Bonjour!” as if to tell me I’ve been rude, and they’re going to teach me a lesson. Rule number one: You must first say “Bonjour” before saying “excusez-moi.”

#2: Talk quietly - Yes, I can also be a loud American. I have been in restaurants where people turn their heads until I realize it’s not me they’re admiring, it’s my loud talking that’s irritating them. I’ve made phone calls in France and the person on the other end asks, “Madame, can you speak quieter please?” Watch out for the looks they’ll give you if you’re on your cell phone in the bus or metro! It’s all about respect for the other person. Now I consciously try to whisper when I talk. Have you ever noticed the hushed background in French airports compared to the noisier talkative airports in the States? It’s similar to their discreet clothes. Notice people in the metro: a crowd of French people will be wearing mostly black or solid dark colors, whereas an American crowd wears colorful ahem, louder, clothes.

#3: Don’t tutois people right away - There are two ways to use the word “you” in French: tu and vous. “Vous,” also used when talking to more than one person, is formal if used towards one person, for people you don’t know, or to show respect. I have even heard an aristocratic married couple use “vous” with each other. On the other hand, “tu” is informal, used for people you know well, or have a more casual relationship with and used with children. Don’t use the familiar “tu” form with someone you’ve just met. Wait until you know the person better, then ask their permission if it’s okay that you "tutois" each other, meaning use the "tu" form with them. It is considered rude to just assume you can tutois someone, even if you think you’re being friendly. Being the friendly American that I am, fifteen years ago I invited our neighbors over for drinks and suggested that we use the informal “tu” with each other. There was a long silence. I suppose they preferred to keep a safe distance. After fifteen years of living next to each other, we still use the formal “vous.” We never had drinks together again. But at least we’re polite.

#4: Don’t blab on about personal things - They’ll just stare back at you, or may even act outraged. And never ask personal questions to someone you don’t know extremely well, like what they do for a living, or how much they earn, or anything about money for that matter. If you do, always precede your question by saying, “sans indiscretion…” which means, “without wishing to be indiscreet."

#5: Cut the cheese right - When cutting a brie or a Camembert type cheese, always cut it in a pie-shaped slice, making the distribution of the rind equal to all people. It has to do with being respectful to the next person. If you take only the fleshy part of the cheese and leave mostly rind, it is selfish. Tip your knife into the center of the cheese and make a clean triangular cut so that everyone shares the rind equally.


#6: To kiss or not to kiss - Though people of all countries have a way to greet each other, the French have their own rules, which are not always easy to understand. They tend do greet someone they know or are meeting with a handshake or a kiss. That’s perfectly normal of course. But it depends how close they are with the person they’re greeting, or if their relationship is casual or formal.  If they know someone well, they will kiss them on each cheek. This goes for two women, or a man and a woman. Men will usually shake hands, but if they’re really close they may kiss each other too. But, if you are invited to a party, you will be expected to go around to each person, even if you don’t know them, kissing them on each cheek or shaking hands. Likewise when you arrive at work, you also have to go around to everyone in the office shaking hands or kissing cheeks. There is also the issue of how many kisses. In some parts of France it’s four times, other parts, three. In Paris, just two. After 30 years, I still get into situations where I’m unsure. My friend kisses the waitress at our local café when we go have our morning coffee. And I watched a woman kiss my doctor on both cheeks the other day before going in for consultation. I don’t kiss the waitress or the doctor, even though I’m friendly with both. I guess it’s just one of those things you have to figure out for yourself. I certainly haven’t!

#7: Some basic food rules when having French guests over for dinner -
- If you’re having French friends over for a bottle of wine or champagne, wait until everyone has arrived before opening and serving the bottle.
- Don’t cut or tear the lettuce. Put whole leaves into the salad bowl.
- Serve the cheese either with or after the salad, and never before the main course.
- Butter is only used on bread at breakfast, never at other meals.
- Never have milk with your coffee after lunch or dinner.
- Don’t mop up the sauce with the piece of baguette in your hand. Instead, stick your fork into the baguette and then wipe up the sauce.

#8: Some tips about French bread - Did you know there is a French bread law that was put into effect in 1993 because the quality of the baguette was in decline? Now, you can be sure that when you buy a “baguette tradition,” you are getting the finest quality ingredients. It is common practice these days to slice the baguette rather than tear it with your hands, even though in the old days, tearing the baguette was considered the most appropriate way to break bread. Make sure you don’t serve baguette or blinis with foie gras, the reason a friend of mine was scolded by her French husband. Buy the thin round sliced bread instead.  And make sure you accompany the foie gras with a sweet Sauterne wine. Never serve butter with the bread.

A little tip: If your baguette is a day or two old, just sprinkle some water on it and put it in the oven for a few minutes and it will soften.

#9: Don’t be afraid of arguing - The French love arguing. As a country with some of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of all time, debating over ideas is important to them. You can’t easily change a country whose history goes back 4000 years. This love of argument also spills over to other sections of life. I see it all the time. Recently I squeezed into a crowded metro and a woman demanded that a man apologize for squishing her, even though we were all squished, pressed body to body. He refused to apologize and for the entire trip they made rude comments to each other, nose to nose. I’ve also seen similar fights when people are lined up at the post office or at the movie theater, people furious that someone is out of line. I’ve never seen anyone get physically violent though. Just one of the routine squabbles they’re so good at. Apart from their love of debates and arguing, they love complaining in general, and even admit it. Le français est râleur -- It’s a fact! It’s part of their history, their roots. We have to love them for it, it’s so… je ne sais quoi!

By Mary Thompson - Some Local Flavor

comments powered by Disqus
  • Vacation In Paris, LLC
  • 10 Wildwood Trail
  • Newton, NJ 07860
  • USA