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FRANCE: Local Customs

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How do you say hello?
Always say “Bonjour Madame”, “Bonjour Monsieur”, or if you know the people well, “Bonjour” plus their first name. Never say “Bonjour Monsieur Dupont” or “Bonjour Madame Dupont”, which just isn’t done (that’s what shopkeepers say). Give your hand to shake. If people know you well, they’ll kiss you once on the right, once on the left, but wait for them to initiate.

The tutoiement and the vouvoiement:

The French language has two ways of saying you: “tu” (known as “tutoiement” for people you know very well in the singular, children and animals) and “vous” (“vouvoiement”, the formal and plural form), which can be quite tricky to handle. A good rule is always to start with “vous”. When the other person uses the “tu” form, you can do the same.

Many people still use ‘vous’ at the office, although saying ‘tu’ has begun, but you always say ‘vous’ to people outside the company, as ‘tu’ would be too familiar for a customer or supplier. In families, some parents still expect to use ‘vous’ between children/parents …You say ‘vous’ to elderly people out of respect.

On the other hand, if you stick to "vous", people might thing you are too formal. Even the French don’t always know which line to follow! Saying ‘vous’ is a matter of courtesy, but also a means of acquiring some distance: we often say "vous" to household staff.

The French are convinced that their children are well brought up. You be the judge ! You should note that as meals are taken at table, it would be considered very rude for a child to ask to be fed or to go and get food directly from the fridge. They go to bed early, so warn your children if they’re sleeping over. They don’t wake up their parents on weekend mornings.

Parisians get up at about 7 a.m. or a little earlier if they have to commute between the suburbs and the city. They normally have breakfast together and children are taken to school by car if necessary. In Paris, schools are very close, so children go on their own. They often have lunch in a cafeteria. Children get home at around 5 p.m. and do their homework. They often have their mother waiting for them or, if she works, to a babysitter. Dinner is often eaten as a family at around 8 p.m.

Many children go to school on Saturday mornings whilst their parents go to the supermarket, as a Saturday is often a shopping day. Saturday evening is for dinners out or shows, but this can also take place on Friday night. Sunday is spent at church in the morning or at a sports event, followed by a large lunch, a trip out or going to see friends.

Meals often consist of a starter, a main course of meat or fish with vegetables and staples, cheese or yoghurt and fruit to finish. They drink water at table and a little wine. From time to time, they may get a salad with a pizza, but this is unusual.
There is almost always fresh bread, the famous baguette which must be eaten on the day it was purchased.
The French therefore eat their meals together, either in the kitchen or in the dining room. This is a friendly moment, so they don’t watch TV during the meal.

Parisians like to leave the city for the weekend, which means there are often traffic jams leaving Paris, whilst some areas are quite empty on weekends. The French take a lot of holidays. Some managers have five weeks holiday leave plus overtime compensation when they exceed the 35-hour working week (known as RTT) which means that they can take up to seven weeks of holiday leave. They therefore go on holiday or stay at home to do some gardening or DIY. Each additional holiday period (and there are many) means fewer traffic jams but business problems. Holidays to be taken into account, for example, when scheduling a meeting. The same problem applies when you want to throw a dinner party during school holidays, which is practically impossible. This would be an ideal moment to host your friends from abroad.

They often go on holiday. When both parents work, they often hire home help and send the children to their grandparents in the holiday home or in summer camp, which can be quite expensive. As there are always holidays, this can be quite a problem especially as families are spread over all France and school holidays vary from one region to the next, making it difficult for cousins to spend holidays together. Use your international cellular phone rentals to see if your friends are in town for the holidays in France.

It should be noted that in contrast to many countries, a car is not a very important thing. They have one, but it is not an external trapping of wealth. They purchase the model they need, that’s it. You will note in your office parking lot that high level executives often have ordinary cars. There are few dernier cri German models on Paris streets, firstly because they get stolen, even in private parking lots and secondly because the French don’t like to show off. Jaguars and Rolls Royces are very rare.

The French will tell you that they pay high taxes, but that once paid, they manage to own their homes and then like investing in a second, holiday home They spend a lot of money for their home, interior decoration, general improvements and they just love to work on their home and garden.

French women spend money on clothes and spend a lot of time looking for discount stores . It is very chic to go all over Paris to find the best brand accessory at the cheapest price. An international mobile phone rental is always handy when shopping in France. The French spend some money on culture, books, records and shows and above all in food. They quite freely buy fairly expensive cheese or produces from specialist stores. They rarely go to a restaurant as a family, preferring to go with friends or intimately.

Smoking at table?
No. Dishes should come in without too much time in between. If the lady of the house smokes, then no problem. If she says yes when asked by another guest, try to follow suit… It’s always harder to say no!

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