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Customs and Etiquette in Paris: 15 Things Every Visitor Should Know

Saw this article in the fodors newsletter and thought that it was worth sharing.........

Note a lot of these tips apply to other places not just in Paris!


Customs and Etiquette in Paris: 15 Things Every Visitor Should Know

The French like to look at people—that's half the point of cafés and fashion, so get used to being looked at; it's as natural here as breathing. They'll look at your shoes or your watch, check out what you're wearing or reading.

What they will not do is maintain steady eye contact or smile. If a stranger of the opposite sex smiles at you, it's best to do as the French do and return only a blank look before turning away. If you smile back, you might find yourself in a Pepé Le Pew–type situation.

Visitors' exuberance—and accompanying loud voices—may cause discreet Parisians to raise their eyebrows or give a deep chesty sigh. They're not being rude, but they're telling you that they think you are. Be aware of your surroundings and lower your voice accordingly, especially in churches, museums, restaurants, theaters, cinemas, and the métro.

When entering and leaving a shop, greet and say good-bye to the staff. A simple bonjour, monsieur/madame and au revoir, merci are considered a virtual necessity for politeness.

Other basic pleasantries in French include bonne journée (have a nice day); bonne soirée (have a nice evening); enchanté (nice to meet you); s'il vous plaît (please); and je vous en prie (you're welcome).

When asking for directions or other help, be sure to preface your request with a polite phrase such as excusez-moi de vous déranger, madame/monsieur (excuse me for bothering you, ma'am/sir).

When meeting someone for the first time, whether in a social or a professional setting, it's appropriate to shake hands. Other than that, the French like to kiss. For the Parisians, it's two bisous, which are more like air kisses with your cheeks touching lightly—don't actually smack your lips onto the person's face!

Out on the Town
When visiting a French home, don't expect to be invited into the kitchen or to take a house tour. The French have a very definite sense of personal space, and you'll be escorted to what are considered the guest areas. If you're invited to dinner, be sure to bring a gift, such as wine, champagne, flowers, or chocolates.

Table manners are often considered a litmus test of your character or upbringing. When dining out, note that the French fill wineglasses only until they are half full—it's considered bad manners to fill it to the brim. They never serve themselves before serving the rest of the table. During a meal, keep both hands above the table, and keep your elbows off the table.

Bread is broken, never cut, and is placed next to the plate, never on the plate. When slicing a cheese, don't cut off the point (or "nose").

Coffee or tea is ordered after dessert, instead of with dessert. (In fact, coffee and tea usually aren't ordered with any courses during meals, except breakfast.)

Checks are often split evenly between couples or individuals, even if someone ordered only a salad and others had a full meal.

Eating on the street is generally frowned on—though with the onslaught of Starbucks you can sometimes see people drinking coffee on the go.

One of the best ways to avoid being a "tourist" is to learn a little of the local language.

The French may appear prickly at first to English-speaking visitors, but it usually helps if you make an effort to speak a little French. A simple, friendly bonjour (hello) will do, as will asking if the person you're greeting speaks English (parlez-vous anglais?). Be patient, and speak English slowly—but not loudly.

A phrase book and language-tape set can help get you started.


Je vous souhaite une bonne journée,

L x


  1. What excellent advice.Thank you for sharing. I have squirreled this advice away in my files for the next time I visit France. Merci.

  2. Thanks Leeann - have tried to make a mental note of the ones I did not know... and reinforce in my brain the ones I did...great post! x

  3. Very useful tips indeed...and things that a tourist you would never think about..but could make your experience either a good or bad one..thanks for sharing x

  4. Thank you, Leeann! I love these tips!!!

    xo's Kristin

  5. I may say that these suggestions are meaningful for each foreign country you visit... ;)

  6. Perhaps, because I had a French Grandfather, I understand this. Perhaps, because it is how we were brought up, I understand this. But then perhaps Australians are more like the French. My friends follow most of these rules too. The only one that differs is the personal space bit as I am quite happy to show you through my home (as long as I have cleaned it!!!)

  7. Brilliant advice Leeann. I promise I do always try and speak my so-basic-french, but I am always so nervous! It always helps so much to know what is the done thing. xx

  8. I saw many people doing exactly all the things they were not meant to be doing ,in Paris or elsewhere..Should post the list on airports ;))
    Thanks for sharing .
    P.S.Love all of you Parisian out there ,the way you raise your eyebrows on us foreigners is just "sublime"!

  9. So very true...I practice all of the above...had no idea that it was part of the cultural heritage. i will always remember how taken back I was the first time i gave a dinner party while living in Boston. The guests actually asked to see the rest of the house not just the living and dining room!!!! I was appalled and thought them without manners (these were the Haute of the Boston Society!!) and said that i was sorry but I would rather not. Twenty years later, i make sure the house is ready as any new invited guest will almost always ask ...could i see the house??? and this is no grand house...I guess one would call it curiosity or nosiness???

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! I am practicing my French for my {someday} visit to that wonderful city. Nice to know a few pointers.

  11. Loved this! I hope to actually put it to use someday in the not too distant future! So interesting.

  12. All true as far as I know....xv

  13. Fun post to read and learn a few interesting cultural differences! I may have been in danger to get into a "Pepe Le Pew" type situation over there, as I'm so used to smiling back if someone smiles at me! ~Lili

  14. Wonderful list, I will definitely save this list! Have a beautiful day!

  15. Thanks for a lovely post. I love their idea of not wanting to show everything off in their house. Some things need to be private.

  16. Thanks for posting this :) I will have to give up eating on the go and being too exuberant while visiting. I am glad you did this post because my previous post was on some of the Rules in France according to a book written by Patricia Wells and I was questioning if it is still in existence. Maybe you can look it over and let me know :) I am working hard on learning French...I think it shows that you are open to other cultures and don't expect everyone else to cater to you.

  17. Yes, indeed. It can be soooo complicated for us, particularly when we come to stay.

    Thank goodness the French can be forgiving because we are after all forever and always les etrangers.

  18. oh dear, I will have to curb my habit of smiling at others. And thanks for the tip about not putting bread on your plate - that was one I didn't know

  19. What a wonderful post! I will add it to my that If I should ever go to Paris I will keep this note in my pocket! Thank you for taking the time to post today! ~lulu

  20. This is a great list - wish I had it when I first moved here. After one too many accidental "Pepe le Pew" situations, I have learned to not go around smiling at everyone...well at least I'm trying. As Tish said, thankfully the French are very forgiving.
    Bonne journée,

  21. Merci beaucoup Leeann, good to read the list of customs and etiquette, in Paris.
    As you say most of these apply anywhere, to have manners and be respectful of others.


  22. How interesting. I adore good manners and etiquette. They are obviously not disappearing in France..Rachaelxx

  23. Dear Leeann,
    I always try to follow those rules when I'm in France. My only faux pas would probably be that I would fill my wine glass a little bit too full but, as a tourist, I probably wouldn't be pouring it, so that's O.K. I will probably be in France at least once this year so I will take these bits of information with me. XXXX

  24. Great list; thank you for posting. I practice all of these rules, thank goodness, as I'm going to Paris this summer! :)

  25. Such great advice... now someone needs to embellish the list to cover Bloggers in Paris and the whole of France... as in when and what not to photograph, politely asking "permission", and discretely getting the images your readers are dying to see. ~jermaine~ aka French-Kissed

  26. Love this and so true! I lived in France (small village near Bordeaux) for a short time in the 90's. Just found your fabulous blog.

  27. This was a great read Leeann....happy week-end!


  28. Leeann,

    As I mentioned already, I thoroughly enjoyed this post.
    With that said, I've included you on my weekly Cups of Tea, as I do think my readers will enjoy the information you've shared. It will be on Sunday, March 28th - PDT. Feel free to stop on by!

  29. thanks very much for this! I have only just stumbled upon your blog (via Marley & Lockyer) and i love it! I'm starting French evening classes next month so hopefully will be understanding a lot more soon! x

  30. Good tips about gifts, which most Europeans do anyway. The only one exception is wine; don't bring it to a dinner.


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