French Etiquette: 5 Tips to Avoid Cultural Mishaps

France is a country renowned for its rich history, culture, and gastronomy. As an expat or traveler in France, it’s not only important to learn the French language, but also essential to understand and adapt to the nuances of French culture to thrive in this beautiful country. French etiquette plays a significant role in social interactions and can sometimes be quite different from other cultures. To avoid cultural mishaps, here are four tips to keep in mind when navigating French etiquette.

→Sign Up Now: Free Trial French Lesson With a Native Teacher!←

French Etiquette and Attitudes Regarding Punctuality

In France, attitudes towards punctuality may differ from American norms, as the concept of time is often viewed in a more relaxed and flexible manner. Unlike the American emphasis on punctuality and strict adherence to schedules, the French approach to time can be more fluid, with a greater emphasis on socializing and building relationships.

In fact, it is not uncommon for social gatherings and business meetings in France to start a few minutes late, and it is generally more acceptable to arrive a few minutes after the agreed-upon time without causing offense.

French etiquette – Tip 1

If you’re invited to a social event or a meeting in France, it’s best to be punctual, but also be prepared to wait if things don’t start exactly on time. Avoid showing impatience or frustration, as it may be seen as impolite. Embrace the French concept of “la vie en rose” and enjoy the moment!

French Manners: How to Behave When Eating Out

In France, table manners and etiquette hold great significance and are deeply ingrained in the culture. One key aspect of French table manners is the emphasis on dining as a social occasion, where conversation and connection take precedence over rushing through a meal. But there’s much more to bear in mind:

Table manners

In contrast to American norms, it is considered impolite to begin eating before everyone at the table is served, as meals are seen as a communal experience to be shared and savored together. Additionally, keeping one’s hands visible on the table is a common practice in France, in contrast to the American custom of keeping hands in the lap.

It is also important to note that in France, the bread is placed on the table, not on the plate, and it is considered impolite to butter an entire piece of bread at once. Instead, it is customary to tear off small pieces and butter them individually. Furthermore, slurping, burping, or loudly chewing food is frowned upon in French culture, as it is considered impolite and can disrupt the dining experience.

Image by Monstera, via Pexels


Tipping in France is not as common as in the United States, as service charges are often included in the bill. However, according to French manners and norms it is still appreciated to leave a small tip for truly exceptional service.

Overall, French manners emphasize the importance of respect for food, fellow diners, and the dining experience as a whole.

French etiquette – Tip 2

Avoid putting your elbows on the table, slurping your soup, or using your fingers to eat unless it’s a dish that is meant to be eaten with your hands, such as bread or certain types of seafood. Familiarize yourself with basic French manners to avoid any potential cultural faux pas and show respect for the local customs.

French Etiquette: Is it OK to Discuss Politics Over Dinner?

In France, politics, politicians, and philosophy are often considered acceptable and normal subjects for conversation, even during a meal.

The French are known for their love of engaging in long and sometimes heated discussions about these topics, and it’s not uncommon for them to express differing opinions and even contradict each other just for fun.

In France, discussing politics is often seen as a sign of intellectual engagement, rather than a personal attack.

French etiquette – Tip 3

Be prepared for lively debates and avoid taking offense if someone disagrees with you during a political or philosophical discussion. Keep an open mind, respect differing opinions, and engage in polite and thoughtful conversations.

French Work Culture

French business rules can also differ from what you may be accustomed to in other countries. Workers in France often address their superiors, especially those higher up in the hierarchy, using their titles, such as “Monsieur” or “Madame” followed by their professional title. There is a certain level of formality and respect expected in the workplace, and it’s important to be mindful of this when interacting with colleagues and superiors.

Socializing with coworkers

Additionally, in French work culture it’s not common for colleagues to go out for drinks after their shift, unless there is an established personal relationship.

Unlike in some other countries, such as the United States, work and leisure are kept separate in France.

French etiquette – Tip 4

When in a professional setting in France, use formal titles and show respect to your colleagues and superiors. Avoid using first names unless you are invited to do so, and be aware of the appropriate level of formality in your workplace.

Respecting personal boundaries and being mindful of the work-life balance culture is an essential part of French work culture.

The Role of the French Language in French Etiquette

The French language plays a significant role in French etiquette as it is seen as a symbol of respect for the country’s culture and traditions. While many French people do speak English and are often willing to communicate in English with tourists or foreigners, making an effort to use the French language, even if it’s just a few basic phrases, can go a long way in showing politeness and appreciation for the local culture.

Learn a few phrases in French

In France, using phrases such as “Bonjour” (hello), “S’il vous plaît” (please), “Merci” (thank you), and “Au revoir” (goodbye) are considered essential social niceties. Addressing someone with “Monsieur” (Mr.), “Madame” (Mrs.), or “Mademoiselle” (Miss) followed by their surname, is also considered polite and respectful, especially in formal settings.

Image by SHVETS Productions, via Pexels

Additionally, using “Excusez-moi” (excuse me) or “Pardon” (pardon me) when trying to get someone’s attention or when apologizing is customary. Making an effort to use French, even if it’s just simple phrases, can demonstrate respect for the local language and culture, and can help foster positive interactions with locals.

French etiquette – Tip 5

When in France, don’t assume that people have to adapt to English in order for you to communicate. Make an effort to learn some basic French phrases and, if you don’t know any French, ask politely if it’s possible to switch to a different language.

As you can see, there are some essential differences between French etiquette and that of other countries. Knowing these etiquette tips can help you avoid any misunderstandings or social faux pas, ensuring that your interactions with the locals are polite and respectful. In doing so, you will be sure to make lasting positive impressions wherever you go in France.

→Sign Up Now: Free Trial French Lesson With a Native Teacher!←

At Language Trainers, we specialize in tailor-made French lessons taught by instructors who are not only qualified and experienced but also native speakers of the language they teach. As a result, they will be able to help you confidently navigate French etiquette and French work culture norms so you can make the most of your time in France, whether you’re traveling for leisure or work. Contact us today to learn more and get started!