In spite of its reputation as a place where people can be cold and unwelcoming, France is actually a wonderful place to live. The food, the wine, and the French countryside are all fantastic, and the French people are great if you get to know them and show a little patience and initiative yourself. They’re not as instantly friendly and gregarious as certain other cultures can be towards expats, but with time, you can certainly form friendships and maintain a level of warmth with casual acquaintances.In many ways, the French are also quite particular about manners, which flies in the face of their reputation for rudeness.
Things often do work rather differently in France, and for an outsider, it can be a bit tricky to get used to behaviors and practices that are often culturally ingrained. Here are five things we recommend you avoid doing while you’re living in France, some for your own convenience, and some for the sake of politeness.
Driving—except in the countryside.
Most French cities have excellent public transport. Paris of course has the Metro as well as other options, and other cities too have an assortment of buses, trains, trams, metros, and so on. Using a private vehicle can be expensive and inconvenient in France – parking is especially difficult in the cities, and traffic can often be bad. As a result, you could spend a long time getting where you want to go, and then searching for a place to park. If you must, you can take a cab, but most people advise against even this – cabs are difficult to find, and will also get stuck in traffic. Instead, use public transport or walk – French cities are great for walking. Even for travel between cities, there are plenty of cheap and convenient options. The only time it’s worth using your own car is if you’re travelling to the countryside.
Speaking in English.
Most people today are aware that it’s pretty important to learn French if you want to live in France, but it’s still worth mentioning. Particularly in rural France, you may find that many people speak only a smattering of basic English, especially among the older generations. It’s easier to find younger French people who speak a bit of English, but the easiest thing to do is to just learn French yourself.
Turning up at a restaurant without a reservation.
In the cities, and especially in Paris, it’s often impossible to just turn up at a restaurant and find a table available. Always call up and ask for a reservation. If they don’t take reservations, no harm done; if they do take reservations, you’ll be making your life a lot easier, as well as the lives of the restaurant staff. While we’re on the topic of the restaurants, it’s also worth mentioning that since the ban on smoking indoors, French restaurant patios have been practically taken over by smokers. Even if you’re a smoker yourself, it can sometimes be a bit too much, so consider this when making a reservation.
Dressing in sneakers and shorts.
The French are quite particular about dressing. You don’t need to dress your absolute best each time you step out of your house in France, and you don’t necessarily have to eschew everything casual in your wardrobe. However, you do need to make sure that your casual wear is smart, and you’d do well to avoid sneakers and shorts unless you are going to the gym or playing sports.
Talking about money or politics with strangers or casual acquaintances.
Money and politics are seen as extremely personal, private things in France; you don’t discuss them with just anyone. So for example, don’t complain about how little you earn or boast about how much you earn, and don’t offer an opinion on a political matter unless the other person initiates such a conversation.
Those are our five tips on what to avoid doing when you move to France. What would you add? Let us know in the comments.