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Etiquette in France

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Hello, I'm new to this website, and am writing to ask for help with etiquette in France.

I have been greatly anticipating my first trip to France, reading a number of books and websites. However, several things are confusing to me when it comes to etiquette.

1) I'm concerned that often I am going to be unintentionally rude. The webpage here at fodors.com titled "Customs and Etiquette in Paris" says that the people of Paris will not "maintain steady eye contact or smile."

It doesn't really say so, but the article seems to imply that to fit in, I should not smile or maintain eye contact.

But looking someone in the eye and smiling has worked as an international expression of friendliness everywhere else I've been in the world. It has been second nature to me for over 50 years, so it will be hard not to do.

So will it be rude if I do smile at people? Will it be rude to look them in the eye while speaking with them? Or am I misunderstanding what is meant by this?

Along the same vein, in the latest book by that famous traveling American seen on PBS, it says that in France, "...strolling down the street with a big grin on your face and saying hello to strangers is a sign of senility, not friendliness" (see pg. 926 of RS's "France 2010"). But all sources of info have said it is rude not to say "Bonjour" to strangers: restaurant wait staff, shop clerks, you should even say "Bonjour" to the entire bus-full of strangers when you board a bus.

This is confusing: I should say hello to some strangers, but shouldn't to others. I know I'm going to mess up!

I'm a reserved middle-aged woman raised to believe strongly in being polite, but now I'm very anxious about doing the wrong thing. A post by jdcairo at the "Customs and Etiquette in Paris" webpage said, "If you are rude to them, then expect that in return." There are so many ways that I'm going to be unknowingly rude, so now I feel like I'm doomed!

2) Also at the "Customs and Etiquette in Paris" webpage here at fodors.com it says "get used to being looked at". Do they mean "looked at" as in someone will simply look at me, then look away, or do they mean stared at? Strangers staring at me will make me uncomfortable. Can anyone suggest a way to get used to this?

3) Further down the same webpage, it says that exuberance and loud voices are considered rude. I agree that being overly loud in all those places mentioned (churches, museums, restaurants, etc) is rude to me too. But are they implying that what Americans consider a normal level of voice, the French consider loud?

I know we can try to speak more softly, but it will be hard not to be enthusiastic about the things we are experiencing - it's France, abounding with marvelous things! My husband, bless him, is a very exuberant person, big in stature and in voice, like the actor John Candy. I'm not sure how to ask him not to be himself.

Thank you in advance for any explanations, ideas or suggestions that you can offer.

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