Paris: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette

BY Jacqueline De Gorter

Paris: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette
Photo by Daniel Arnold


French people have a bad rep for being rude. I have found French people to be extremely polite and are often displeased by tourists' lack of politeness. When leaving an establishment, always thank the person helping you and wish them a good day. If you bump into someone: excuse yourself. Even if you don’t bump into them, but need to pass through a narrow area: excuse yourself. And always say “please” at the end of your question or demand.

Tourists probably think French people are rude because they don’t use these words, but being polite will make a French person much more willing to converse in English. Don’t know how to say it? Here you go:

“Thank you” - “Merci

“Have a nice day” - “Bonne Journée”, or if it’s the evening “Bonne Soirée

“Excuse me” - “Pardon

“Please” - “S’il vous plaît” (pronounced - see voo play)

French people are also quite modest. If you are going clubbing, it’s fine to show some skin, but if you are taking the metro, consider covering up with a jacket. Also don’t speak too loudly in the metro or in trains. If you take a phone call, keep your voice low.

PDA and holding hands is widely accepted, but when greeting someone, French people don’t usually hug. You give bises, which is where you “kiss” both cheeks (really just brushing both cheeks, the closer and more forceful being reserved for good friends rather than acquaintances). You don’t necessarily do this with everyone, though. If you are introduced to someone or multiple people at a bar in a casual way, you just say “Enchantée” (nice to meet you) and nod your head. Due to Covid, many French people have stopped doing bises and just say hello or touch elbows.

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