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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in France

Submitted: October 2013

France is known in most parts of the world for its cuisine. French nationals have a reputation for their appreciation of good food and wine. It is customary for them to take their time when eating to really enjoy the combination of flavours and textures on their plate. Eating is usually a very social occasion and can stretch out for some hours on a weekend afternoon or evening.

Family life is very important in France and extended families support each other through good and bad times, providing emotional and/or financial support, guidance and advice. It is usually within the family setting or when surrounded by close friends, that French individuals show their true selves. French people tend to be polite and a little reserved in more formal or unfamiliar settings, or when surrounded by people they do not regard as friends.

Handshakes are common when greeting each other, friends often kiss each other on the cheeks. When addressing a French individual it is common to use their surname, only calling them by their first names when invited to do so. When visiting the home of a French person, gifts such as flowers, chocolates or wine are commonly bestowed upon the hosts. The gift giver should ensure that the bunch of flowers consists of an odd number of blooms, but not 13, as this is considered unlucky. Wines presented as gifts should be of good quality. Gift are usually opened as soon as they are received.

A dinner guest should be punctual, or phone ahead if they fear they will be late. French individuals are generally considered very fashion conscious and guests should ensure they are smartly dressed for the occasion. Table manners are important and it is considered impolite to rest one’s elbows on the table during the meal, although both hands should be visible at all times.

Many people find it difficult to adjust to the attitude of French shopkeepers and general service personnel that the customer is not king. Encountering problems when wanting to place an order in a restaurant can be a challenge that can test a visitor’s temper to the limit. Here, it has to be said that speaking at least a little bit of French will go a long way to solving some of the customer service issues that present themselves so frequently in the country. In addition, anyone encountering these problems should not take it personally, as this is just the way things are done in many establishments in the country.

The French sense of humour is most evident when the joke is on someone else; ie the main aim of a joke is to point out somebody else’s weak point or naivety. Most humour is quite literal and does not have the double meaning that can so often be found in the jokes of other nationalities. French nationals in general have little or no respect for politicians or officials on the whole and these individuals are therefore often the subject of the direct French humour that is loved so much in the country.

Cultural traits for any country only give a general outline in terms of what to expect when in the country. The best way to learn about the values and customs of a nation and to understand what underscores their identity is to be immersed in the day to day life of one’s newly adopted home.

 

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