Each country has its own traditions, culture, and personality, and France is just the same. Known as lazy, arrogant and romantic all at the same time, French people have lots of habits that will surprise foreigners. Whilst we definitely don’t agree with the overall assessment made of the French, there are certainly aspects of the stereotypes that prove to be true. We’ve compiled our favourite quirks and the ones we still just don’t get: here are our top 10 things to watch out for whilst in France!
Find out what the 10 things the French do that foreigners don’t understand are:

faire la bise

10 Things The French Do That Foreigners Don’t Understand

‘faire La Bise’

Faire la bise’ translated literally means ‘to give a kiss’. Generally, this refers to the way in which French people say hello and goodbye to each other by kissing each other on each cheek. As a rule of thumb, if you are greeting someone that you don’t know, you should shake their hand, but with acquaintances and friends your own age, you should ‘faire la bise’.

Different regions of France ‘faire la bise’ in different ways, so be careful not to get caught out if you travel to other parts of the country! Usually in the south you must kiss three times instead of the classic two times (one on each side) in the north. Moreover, in some places in France you only do one kiss, and other places you have to do as many as four kisses! There is no reasoning behind the number of kisses in each region. These regional cultures originated from traditions that vary from village to village. They have been established for a long time and do not change.

French people tend to feel quite uncomfortable if you hug them, even if it’s people that you know well. Whilst you are in France, it’s better just to ‘faire la bise’ and avoid all awkwardness and discomfort. And if you don’t know how many times to do it, just copy others and hope for the best!

The French Are Polite! (sometimes Too Polite!)

On the whole, French people are very polite. For example, if you are in a lift with a French person, or if you pass them in a corridor in your apartment block, they will always say hello. Similarly, French people will wish you ‘bon appétit’ if you are eating outside on a terrace. This politeness is definitely not what is displayed in the stereotype, especially the stereotype of Parisians. It is also not always the case in other countries.

It’s also very common to address people you don’t know using ‘monsieur,’ and ‘madame,’ something that, when directly translated to English, sounds very archaic! Equally, the French use the formal ‘vous’ for the majority of people they either don’t know, or those who are older than them or somehow superior to you, and with most people at the place of work.

10 Things The French Do That Foreigners Don’t Understand

The French Eat Four Meals A Day

In France, like in other countries, the main meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, there is also a fourth meal known as ‘L’heure du goûter’ (Literally ‘Tasting time’) or ‘Le quatre-heures’ (‘4 O Clock’)’. This meal tends to consist of a sweet treat such as a cake or tart, and is usually eaten in the late afternoon.

le quatre heures - le gouter
A typical French goûter, or quatre-heures.

Hot Chocolate From A Bowl

Whilst you may expect hot chocolate to be served in a mug like in other countries, if you order hot chocolate in a café in France, don’t be surprised if they serve you it in a bowl! This is simply a tradition in France, and it has many benefits, including the fact that the drink will cool down faster as it has a larger surface area, and also it’s more convenient for dipping!

Shops That Shut For The Whole Summer

In the big cities such as in Paris, the inhabitants tend to leave and spend the whole summer on holiday. This means that the city is very empty in the summer months, apart from tourists, and because a lot of the locals aren’t there, some shops can shut for weeks, or even months. 

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You Can’t Greet Someone By Saying “bonjour” All The Time

Usually, ‘bonjour’ is reserved for the first time you meet someone during the day. Even still, if you walk into a shop in the evening and you say bonjour to the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper will normally reply by saying ‘bonsoir’. 

Knowing when to switch from ‘bonjour’ to ‘bonsoir’ is something that even French people find themselves having to negotiate! We’d probably stop saying ‘bonjour,’ at about 6pm but as long as you’re not still saying it at 10 you should be fine. This is another one of those cultural things where you should just go with the flow and copy whatever the French person in that situation is doing.

bonjour - 10 Things The French Do That Foreigners Don’t Understand

Breakfast Is Generally Sweet!

In many European countries, breakfast tends to be a savoury dish. However French breakfast tends to be quite sugary, with foods such as croissants and pain au chocolats on the menu. This works perfectly for some of the slightly more hectic schedules of working Parisians, who can pick up something quickly in a boulangerie before heading into work. Despite this preference for the sweet, there is a growing ‘brunch’ culture here in France, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find breakfast favourites like smashed avocado!

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