Planning a trip to France this year? A little French will go a long way, of course, but don’t forget to brush up on the culture before you leave. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of our favorite Frenchies to put together a handy list of unforgivable faux pas. Make sure to pay close attention: all but the most dedicated of francophiles may be blissfully unaware of some of these.
1. (Only) drinking beer
We won’t dispute that the French have produced some excellent beer over the years, but that alone won’t save you from the stares and whispers that accompany your avoidance of wine. Here’s an insider tip: Buy a cheap bottle of rosé, €3-4 will suffice, and you can always ask a local if you’re not sure which one to go for. Take it to a nice sunny spot and drink. Since you’re highly unlikely to find yourself alone in doing so, you might find it’s the perfect time to practice your Français.
2. Being in the way
This applies especially to Paris. Yes it’s full of tourists, but it’s also full of locals, working, commuting or otherwise going about their business. If you can’t avoid traveling at rush hour, just walk – it’s a great way to see the city. If you do get caught on the métro at peak time, always stand to the right on the escalators. Those who forget tend to be reminded very abruptly.
3. Eating at tea time
In France, tea time is for drinking. Not tea, of course, but pastis – an anise-flavored apéritif. It’s typically served diluted in a small glass, and, despite its cloudy yellow appearance, it’s very drinkable. Just be warned – it’s potent stuff.
4. Being a fussy eater
Provided you didn’t drink too much pastis, you’re going to want to sample some of that famous French cooking. Watch what you say though: French food is some of the best in the world and any criticism will be rebutted with an enthusiastic defense. Vegetarian? Good luck explaining that one. Dietary restrictions aside, it’s best just to accept what you’re offered and try something new. Yes, they really do eat frogs and snails (and both can be delicious). An open mind will serve you well beyond the dinner table too; just wander into most any fromagerie or boulangerie and take your pick. Most cheese and bread products are fantastic and there’s enough variety to try something new every day.
5. Greeting everyone with a handshake
If you’re going to France, learn to faire la bise. Yes, kissing a stranger on the cheek may seem alien to many of us, but it’s a whole lot less awkward than the inevitable calamity that results from two people attempting two different greetings.