How to get along with the French

French rudeAs a frequent traveller to France, I’m often asked by friends and work colleagues how I get on with the French.

Do I find them difficult, intimidating, rude and every other stereotype we can all imagine?

My answer is always a resounding “NO!” So, here’s how I travel independently and survive and thrive among the French…

1. No matter how embarrassed you are and how terrible your accent is, you must attempt some French.

If you can say bonjour (bon-zhor), s’il vous plait (sill voo play) and merci (mare-si), and do it with a smile you will be richly rewarded with smiles, English, good service, and a very pleasant experience. Manage a bit more, and you will be practically adopted and awarded the Legion of Honour.

For some reason, French people seem very fond of Australians (Os-trar-lee in French) so make the most of it – assuming that’s where you come from of course.

Make no effort, and your trip can be a complete waste of time and money, apart from reinforcing the Paris stereotype in your mind.

2. Under no circumstances are you to attract a waiter’s attention by clicking your fingers and/or calling ‘garçon‘.

How to get along with the FrenchYou will be ignored and receive terrible service. You will also reinforce the stereotype some French have of English speakers as loud oafs with bad manners.

I once bought a single pair of sunglasses, and after a talk with the very handsome young French salesman, I was practically carried out of the shop on his shoulders to the sound of a marching band.

He also went around the shop telling everyone how well Madame spoke French and generally making a terrible fuss (my French is definitely not that good!)

3. Don’t expect your waiter or salesperson to become your new best friend.

It just doesn’t work like that in France. If you experience it in your travels, treat it as a gift. The better your French, the better your chance of receiving kindness.

How to get along with the French

Experiences like that cost nothing (I had already bought the pair of glasses anyway), yet can remain lasting memories and really add to the enjoyment of your trip.

4. Look like you belong there.

That means dressing the part, and not looking like tourist. Leave the white gym shoes, shorts, fanny packs/bumbags, backpacks, and all the other tourist accoutrements, at home.

French people dress conservatively and well. Sensible flat shoes, plain, well cut trousers and sweaters/jumpers and a jacket will see you blend in and look like you belong there. For women, this is the time to break out all the scarves, and feel free to wear as much black as you like.

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting along with the French? Share in the comments box below, or join the conversation on Twitter with @maviefrancaise and @jokarnaghan1!

This post originally appeared on Jo’s blog, FrugalFirstClassTravel.

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Jo Karnaghan

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  1. Elise Mellor Jun 2, 2014 at 4:10 PM - Reply

    I would have thought #2 went without saying- and not just for the French! Having spent years working in bars and restaurants, I can let you in on a little secret: if you click, whistle or call out ‘bartender!’ or ‘waiter!’ you will be duly ignored.

  2. Michelle Mason Nov 2, 2022 at 11:32 PM - Reply

    When I went to Paris for the first time, I had many friends “warn” me that the French were rude. My experience with the French was anything but rude—they were wonderful! I found that the little bit of high school French I remembered, went a long way.

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