Tips About French Culture

Learn to understand the French culture

When I first moved to France, I sure needed tips about French culture.

I didn’t understand the language, I thought I’d never understand the French cultures, and customs didn’t match my own – but above all, I really didn’t want to offend anyone.

Tips about French culture - be polite and try the language

After being told over and over how rude the French were, I ignored all those negative people and came to my own conclusions. After learning a few simple things, I lived in France happily for years and would like to share those tips with you here.

Tips about French Culture #1 :

Speak a few words in French

You will be absolutely amazed at how much this little act of trying to speak French will impress even the most hardened French person!

You can simply start by saying :

Good morning : Bonjour!

Good evening! : Bon soir!

Thank you : Merci beaucoup.

Please … : S’il vous plait …

My name is : Je m’appelle …

One of the best phrases I learnt from a little Berlitz travel book, was, “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas bien Français.” This translates into, “Excuse me, I don’t speak French very well.”

Many people seemed to be impressed that I’d start off by saying this, and I’m sure they became patient after hearing it, and let me stumble along until they could work out what I wanted or needed.

Another alternative which I often used is, “Je suis desolée, mais je ne parle pas bien Français.” This translates into, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French very well.”

The other phrase I used ALL the time is, “Est-ce que vous pouvez parler plus lentement, s’il vous plait?”, meaning, “Can you speak more slowly please?”

Tips about French Culture #2 :

The toilet / loo / bathroom / restroom

Just for good measure, you’ll need this phrase, “Ou se trouve la toilette, s’il vous plait?”, and yes you guessed it – this means, “Where can I find the toilet please?”

Tip for Americans: from my experience of living in the USA, the polite way to ask for the loo is to ask for ‘the bathroom’. My suspicion is that Americans don’t like to use the word ‘toilet’, and many toilets are actually in the bathrooms. When travelling in France, the toilet is generally in a room of its own, so if you ask for ‘the bathroom’, the French person in the street might think you need to take a bath or shower :-)

If you’d like to learn a little bit of French online for free, here is a wonderful website for you to visit.

Tips about French culture - finding a toilet in Paris

The public toilets in Paris are completely free and are locked and automatically washed after every use, for complete hygiene..

Tips about French Culture #3 :

Be polite in stores and at all other times

One thing I learned and came to embrace was saying Hello and Goodbye whenever entering or leaving a shop. At first I thought it was a pain, but I soon came to realise it was very important. [I’ve lived in other countries and continue to do this.]

On walking into a shop, whether you’re the only person or there are others, you should say:

“Bonjour Messieurs ‘Dames!”

[It is actually Mesdames, but gets shortened in this phrase. This means Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen!]

As you leave the store, you need to say goodbye in the same manner:

“Au revoir Messieurs ‘Dames!”

[It is actually Mesdames, but gets shortened in this phrase. This means Goodbye Ladies and Gentlemen!]

PS – If there are no men in the store, address the women only. You’ll get the hang of it :-)

Tips about French Culture #4 :

Heard of the Ugly American syndrome?

I don’t know why this happens, but it surely does – I’ve witnessed it many many times. Some tourists [I’m not sure why they seemed to always be American] would ask for something, and when the French person didn’t understand, they would speak LOUDLY [still in English], assuming incorrectly that SHOUTING would bring instant understanding of whatever they were saying.

Whatever your nationality, if you’re in a foreign country like France, you need to bring your respect with you. Treat the locals kindly and with respect, and you’ll be amazed at how well you’ll be treated.

Once you learn just a little about French customs and culture and use that knowledge day to day, your visit in France will be much improved – and I know this from personal experience.

Tips about French Culture #5 :

Personality Plus

It took me a long time to learn this, so I’ll share it with you now to help you when you’re visiting France. I come from a nation of happy smiling people [Australia] not unlike Canada, the USA and many other countries. We smile at strangers. Heck, I speak to total strangers every day, and start with a smile.

The French are more reserved and many don’t smile just because someone is looking at them. Please bear this in mind, and don’t expect foreign people to be like those in your own country. Learning about other cultures is one of the many reasons you’re travelling and visiting far away places … isn’t it?

Tips about French Culture :


  • always be polite, saying please and thank you A LOT in French
  • try to speak just a few words of French
  • don’t yell to try to make someone understand you
  • show respect on entering and leaving stores
  • don’t be disappointed if someone doesn’t smile back.

If you follow these simple tips, I think you might just be pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a bit harder to locate a truly rude French person – you might just learn a bit more about the French language culture, as well as French customs and history.  Have fun learning about French culture!