France is one of the top tourist destinations in the World, a place where we often choose to spend more than a few weeks at a time and one which we visit over and over again. We fall in love with the French culture, landscapes, food, wine, language, elegance and even become secretly fond of their foibles. For these very reasons it is good to know at least 7 essentials to live like a local in France, as it will make your stay all the more enjoyable.
Lifestyle and culture are the key elements of life in France. The French are patriotic people with a true desire to live a balanced life. They value having time with their families, preparing and eating good food, are proud of their language and cherish their culture. So passionate are the French that if they believe that someone is disregarding what they hold dear, they will show disregard in return – which, quite frankly, is fair enough. However, if someone shows respect for their beliefs then you will be welcomed and let into the hearts of the people – which can make the difference between having a good time and having an amazing time here.
So, we hope you enjoy our inside info and get the chance to experience life in France like a local!
Cuisine – shop, prepare, savour and share!
France is internationally acclaimed for having fine cuisine, great local produce and sublime wines, which is no wonder because the French have a great passion for all three. The creation of a meal is something which can take up most of the day depending on the occasion as they enjoy every aspect – market shopping for fresh produce, selecting just the right wines, preparing the meal and finally, gathering around the table with family and friends to spend at least a couple of hours sipping wine, savouring the meal and enjoying each other’s company. A sacred time with the people they love.
Treasure Your Leisure…
The recent result of an international survey (The Independent 2nd Feb 2014) shows that the French truly love their leisure time. They sleep an average of 8.5hrs a night, take two hours for lunch, invariably do not start work until 9am, are home by 7pm and don’t work on the weekends. More often than not mothers also have ‘flexi-time’ to spend with their children on Wednesdays. The French simply believe that work is as important as everything else and try to ensure that their time is equally balance between work and play. Furthermore, France has 11 public holidays, 30 days of paid holiday and allowances for other holidays according to religious beliefs – so to be a local of leisure do as they do, enjoy your extended lunch hours!
Shop the Parisian Way…
The French tend to buy fresh food and usually shop two or three times a week, sometimes every day – eating quality fresh food is the key. They tend to shop where they have built trust and usually know the owner of the boutique, the butcher, the bakery etc… You will often see shop owners greeting their customers by their names.
The ‘quality’ element extends to all other shopping experiences, the French generally opt for authentic, traditional and timeless purchases rather than passing fads, whether buying food, clothes, cars or furniture.
Bartering is not something locals do and if you try you may see the seller simply walk away from you. If it says €5 that is what it will be.
Locals love to walk, cycle and use public transport. They like the fresh air, being a part of the local buzz, chatting to their friends on their way to work and stretching their legs. They will often pop into their local shops on the way to their destination just to say hello or grab an espresso. They weave their leisure through a work day.
Most people have a car but only use it for longer journeys or when they have a lot to carry. Which we would argue is a good thing, because as soon as these relaxed, coffee-drinking, chatty pedestrians are behind a wheel they transforms into a horn-honking, hand-waving nightmare. That said, their bark is worse than their bite and we all need to let off steam sometimes!
Out and About …
In social environments, traditional French culture expects a certain grace and dignity. They are not flamboyant or gregarious in public. They tend to keep a low profile, relaxed and polite mannerisms and rarely participate in raucous behaviour. Of course they have a great time but they tend to let go more when only in the company of close friends and family, or when France is playing in an international sports event which brings out their exuberant side. So if you would like to feel more local, try to avoid outrageous drinking. The French are social drinkers and the majority will not exceed their limit in public places. You will soon be singled out as ‘non-French’ if you get excessively drunk.
If you’re out with a group of French people, it’s important to know that ‘paying for a round of drinks’ is rare here. Each person pays for their own drink even though just one bill for your table’s full order will be given.
For a Brit this took quite a long time (and a few expensive rounds of drinks) to adjust to. It isn’t because the French are less generous, but simply because they drink less!
The Personal Side
The French are very respectful of each other’s space. For instance, if they see you having coffee with a friend they will come to the table and say hello and then leave you to your time. They never assume that the invitation is extended to them. If you offer for them to join you then they probably will. So if you see your French friends sitting together, say hello but don’t pull up a chair unless invited. It is different in a bar environment when everyone is standing and openly socializing and is acceptable for you to join them.
The French tend to ask a tremendous amount of questions about you, to get to know you, which can come across as intrusive. They can also be very direct. If you are uncomfortable, and want to avoid offending them or appearing like you have something to hide try and ask them about their lives, which usually works as they’re quite open once they get to know you. They’re passionate and expressive people so try not to take offence. Diverting the conversation is the best way.
Say Hello!!! and Some ‘No-No’s’
When you walk into any shop, restaurant or the like, say ‘Bonjour’ to the people who work there when you enter and ‘Au Revoir’ when you leave. Please’s (s’il vous plait), thank you’s (merci’s) and have a good day (bonne journée) are also expected once you have been served. In your hotel, apartment building etc… always greet your neighbours. If you’re introduced to a group of French people in a social situation you kiss each person on each cheek and say your name – and when you leave you should say goodbye to everyone you were introduced to. Pleasantries here are essential!
Walking around while eating and drinking is frowned upon, as is blatantly chewing gum and is not something that local dos, so you will automatically be considered a foreigner if you do it.
So there it is in a nutshell, the way to blend into the French life and not stand out as an outsider. These tips will help you on your travels through France and we hope that you feel right at home!