When in France...

Old Jan 21st, 2005, 07:09 AM
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When in France...

NEWS AND INFORMATION FOR EXPATS IN FRANCE - 21 JANUARY 2005




French etiquette
The French have some very formal rules about manners and etiquette. Avoid embarrassment with this guide to the essentials.



Meeting people

The French shake hands almost whenever they meet, and always when meeting someone for the first time or for business. Arriving at work in the morning, it is quite common to greet colleagues with a handshake, and to shake hands again when leaving.


Greeting anyone familiar is also usually begun with a crisp handshake
Greeting anyone familiar — like a favourite restaurant waiter or a next-door neighbour — is also usually begun with a crisp handshake.

When colleagues know each other well, and in situations between friends, women will often greet each other, and male colleagues or friends, with a kiss on the cheek. Beware - don't take the first step if you are uncertain, but be ready to embrace!

The choice of vous and tu to say "you" in French is confusing, and sometimes very subtle. But a simple rule is that the more intimate tu is only employed amongst family and friends. It is common for work colleagues to say tu, but wait until someone else does it first.

Socialising


An aperitif is usually sipped and stops at two
A common way of getting to know someone is to have a drink together. But the French are not into bar binges, and an aperitif is usually sipped and stops at two.
Wine accompanies dinner and never replaces it, and a glass is filled to three-quarters, never to the brim.

Dinner guests are expected to bring a gift, however modest, and this is usually a bottle of wine, flowers, or a pre-agreed desert or cheese dish. The French keep their arms above the table, not in their lap.

Essential formalities

While people in France can sometimes appear to behave impolitely, the use of polite form in language is sacrosanct. When addressing a stranger, always add Monsieur or Madame, as in Excusez-moi, madame if asking directions.


When writing any formal letter it is usual to end with a declaration of respect
A typical gesture of politeness, which becomes the opposite if you don't apply it, is to let another person pass through a door first, and a man always gives way to a woman. If someone gives way to you, it is common to thank them or say pardon. Asking pardon is often a devalued term, and can be used in restrained anger, as when you move someone out of your way.

The French may be proud of being republicans, but they still love titles! All sorts of people, and especially politicians, expect their position to be recognised. When addressing the local mayor, it is usual to say Monsieur (or Madame) le maire. A policeman is Monsieur l'agent.

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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 07:18 AM
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> Arriving at work in the morning, it is quite common to greet colleagues with a handshake, and to shake hands again when leaving.

This part seems an exaggeration to me.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 07:41 AM
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Way back when, while working in Paris - I was forever amazed by the amount of time spent (wasted?) each morning shaking hands with everyone in the office, not to mention the air kisses !
I was convinced we could have increased productivity by at least 10% by just limiting the daily greeting to a simple "Comment ça va?" at the water cooler...

-Kevin
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 07:42 AM
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An exaggeration in what sense? The fact is, it is true.

I live in the country in France and I've gotten to know my pharmacist, who is married to a Scotsman and whose name is Mme Smith. She is French. When I go to the pharmacy, as I did today, she always shakes hands with me as a greeting. Very nice.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 07:44 AM
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You're not kidding! When someone would come in late for our youth meeting, everything would pause while that person went around to 'faire la bise' (air kiss) with every single person in the room!
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 08:22 AM
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That’s nothing

Here in Puebla (Mexico) everybody air kisses everybody, it's very uncomfortable. Even people you have just met.
I feel uncomfortable because air kissing (I think) is for people I have familiarity with, not with everybody from the CEO to the shoe shiner.

I prefer a firm Handshake, it feels more respectful.

and don't get me started on the sloppy wet air kisser... arghhh
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 08:50 AM
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<< When addressing a stranger, always add Monsieur or Madame, as in Excusez-moi, madame if asking directions. >>

The question I've had is how to tell who to call Madame, and who to call mademoiselle.

It never seems to fail that the people working in shops are young women/girls, and I don't want to offend anybody. When in doubt, would it be better to err on the side of calling a young girl Madame, or vice versa?

I think as I get a little older, everybody looks really young to me!
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:12 AM
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Futher to Ken's observation: We frequently dine at restaurants in the country. It's common for folks who are entering or leaving to recognize the other diners (whether they know them or not) with a brief "Messieurs, mesdames." Very nice, we think.

My longtime work environment is part Angolophone and part French. Yes, the French all shake hands with each other every day. The Americans, even those who've been in France for decades, don't with each other or the French. But in keeping with republican principles, everyone is the familiar "tu" rather than formal "vous." As for productivity, when the French get down it, they can outwork the Americans!
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:18 AM
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Dave, that's one of the things I love about France, people will greet you as they pass you on a path and when dining they will say goodbye to you on their leaving.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:25 AM
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I think the kissing thing is something I just can't oblige. I've friends in New York, some of whom are Europeans, and some of whom are Europhiles, and some of whom, well, just like to kiss. I'm always terribly uncomfortable, and I always apologize that I can't oblige. It's a running joke among my friends and me -- I'm the guy who can't do social kisses.

When I try I always seem to bang my head into something I shouldn't be banging it into -- and do you do this on the right or left or both, etc.? I just can't do it.

I need to take lessons.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:31 AM
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111op, you need to read my trip report, "French Kissing in Avignon." It has complete directions about how to do social kissing. quot;> I will admit to the same trepidation about it as you!

I like the French custom of greeting the sales people when you enter and saying "thank you and goodbye" when you exit shops. I wish we did that here, too. It makes the whole shopping experience so much nicer.
 
Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:34 AM
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<< When I go to the pharmacy, as I did today, she always shakes hands with me as a greeting.>> A lot of people go to the pharmacy BECAUSE they are sick, so I guess she must wash up before touching the pills?
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:43 AM
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"The question I've had is how to tell who to call Madame, and who to call mademoiselle."

I am waiting for the answer to this too. What is the earliest age one would be called "madame?" Of course, one needs to be cautious - the long-haired blonde with her back to me in the shop who I addressed as "madame" turned and was very obviously male!! Fortunately, we both laughed over my mistake.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:45 AM
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Thanks dln. I remember the title but I forgot to read it. I just pulled it up and fast-forwarded to the "kiss" bit. Very funny.

Now, which cheek first though?

There's something about the French that's just very interesting. Your story about the kissing reminds me of a story that Gopnik wrote about in "Paris to the Moon," in which he asked what "le choix du roi" really means. As Gopnik recounts, when he asked a cab driver, the driver stopped completely to deliver a "lecture" on the origin of the phrase.

It's fascinating, I think, that these random people all have definite opinions and stories they're eager to tell you -- they seem to know everything!

Greeting people when you go in and out -- I'm slowly learning this also.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 09:58 AM
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I liked the greetings in France when shopping. 'Beats a clerk here saying, "Have a wonderful ... fabulous ... fantastic day" and never making eye contact.
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 12:09 PM
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This is slightly off topic, but about kissing ~

My Swiss friends LOVE to kiss. They kiss 3 times, R cheek first. And their Swiss friends LOVE to kiss too. Every time when I go over for a party, it literally takes 15 minutes just to say goodbye because it takes so long to kiss everyone THREE times!
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 12:10 PM
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I think three is the friendly number. If I ever attempt this, I think that once is enough for me. Maybe it's a NY thing too -- do people in France ever just do one kiss?
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 12:17 PM
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In the US, someone will ask a shopkeeper/salesclerk to do something, they might say," Oh, Miss? Can I see this..."Whether they are young, old or married.
In France, it seems that all women get the courtesy of Madame which might be more to their liking than Mademoiselle/Miss..
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 02:52 PM
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In Provence, my French friends give me four but so do my friends in Normandy(and I was told before I visited there for the first time that the people of Nornmandy were sullen and never laugh)
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Old Jan 21st, 2005, 03:59 PM
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Kevin wrote "I was convinced we could have increased productivity by at least 10% by just limiting the daily greeting to a simple "Comment ça va?" at the water cooler..."

In my experience, the usual daily greeting dialogue in France was as follows (preceded by air kissing or hand shaking as appropriate):

"Ca va?"
"Ca va. Ca va?"
"Ca va"

Repeat as per number of colleagues to be greeted.

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