This can be off-putting to the French, who take great care to make things look nice, and pride in doing so. Perhaps it's not so surprising that when people from other places, not knowing any better, break these rules, they sometimes meet with a somewhat frosty reception, or even the occasional disdainful look or sharp remark. In thinking about this lately, and about the way many of my well-meaning but sometimes rather clueless fellow Americans go about their daily interactions when visiting France, it occurred to me that while Americans hear all the time about how rude the French are, I think very few of them have even the faintest notion that perhaps they are the ones being rude—according to French rules of behavior.
The thing is, most Americans and many other foreigners in France probably have no idea that they are breaking important rules of polite behavior when they don't comb their hair or get properly dressed before going to the boulangerie or dropping the kids off at school. Not starting out every verbal interaction any one at all!
At the market always ask before you squeeze. These are just three examples of rules of behavior that are extremely important to follow in France, but that do not necessarily apply in other places. Unfortunately, it is lack of this kind of cultural knowledge that often causes foreigners in France to break these and other rules, leading to rather unpleasant experiences with the locals that tend to reinforce the false stereotype of the rude, cold, arrogant Frenchman or woman.
But it's not fair to interpret this as proof that those offended by these social blunders or affronts to their sense of propriety are rude or unfriendly. But it doesn't have to be this way. By learning just a little bit about what is considered proper social behavior in France, and trying to remember to follow the basic rules of polite interaction, the experience of travelers in France can be vastly improved.
And it will give them the chance to see that most French men and women are not only not rude and unfriendly, they can be - and very often are - downright sweet and charming. A professional writer, editor, writing coach and teacher, she is the creator of Paris: A Literary Adventure, a study abroad program of the City University of New York, and of her own Writing from the Heart workshops. She divides her time between Essoyes in the Champagne region, and various parts of the United States.
Greenwich hears from an American journalist in Paris on her new book
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Since we have students from around the world learning French with us, our brochures and general information is available in many languages! I was quickly reprimanded. Ce la meme. The effort to try to speak French is definitely noted. In Tokyo, I once hugged an older Japanese man who was a close long time friend of my husband — in front of his family! I still cringe at this faux pas — not sure how you say that in Japanese…. In Brittany I was most interested in a situation that unfolded in front of me. An elderly family friend arrived to visit the French family with whom I was staying.
He greeted two young children about 6 and 8 years old and then commented to their aunt that he found them rude as they only kissed on one cheek. She shrugged and said that they were not so well bought up. Wonderful article! Always look forward to your mails! Oh and I love the language a lot!
Taking baby steps, of course! Keep up the great work! I thought I had mastered it but either one or the other seems possible.
One feels such a fool if you dance to the left and your friend turns the other way! Added complication is always how many. Snooty Paris just one, more generally two and then here in the Gard three.
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Excellent blog, merci Benjamin! Merci pour tout,. What a great article. Whilst it is easy to say I know all this but it is also good to get a refresher. Thank you very muck. Bonjour, Benjamin Could you please tell me which verb to use for a child to cuddle a soft toy or teddy bear? I made a faux pas when I greeted the woman in charge of the tickets to one of the national monuments. It is bonjour or au revoir. Goodness gracious.
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I was so embarassed because there were others around me and I held up the line for her lesson. I only used salut because I heard them greet me that way in a few Parisian cafes and stores. In my younger days, when I was a student in Paris , there were two things I was told I could do when greeting an elder;y lady : 1. When shaking hands with an elderly lady, to kiss the top of the hand near the base of the middle and ring finger. I live near Perpignan with my wife.
Some anglophone acquaintances of ours are unsure when to begin doing the bise. Unless the new people are close friends of close friends the first greeting is more formal bonjour and handshake. One would not faire la bise with a new female acquaintance until you are friends and it would take much longer with man to man. If you are not sure it is safer to let them take the lead and offer just a handshake. Children of close friends here will always offer a bise — it is best to let them decide.
I never thought our greetings were so complicated!