| If you are invited by
|| Meeting the French :
a real challenge !
For dinner :
if the host says 8, do not show up at 8 pm ! (actually, the custom
is : 15 minutes after the announced time!)
except with very close friends (and even...), do not offer to bring one of the courses : you are invited (when you go to see a theater play, you are not expected to go on stage and perform, are you ?)
Do not dress
If you bring
something, do NOT bring wine (except to close friends) : your
host has chosen the wine he considers the most appropriate and
you will jeopardize his choice ! Bring flowers (but not : chrysanthemums
-which are for cemeteries- or carnations-which the French think
bring bad luck) or a box of chocolates. More about wine.
The before dinner
drink ("apéritif") is generally long
: do not drink (and do not eat) too much
Do not eat a
lot of the hors d'oeuvres, even if you're really enjoying
them : it is only the first course ! (remember a French meals
inclues five courses : first course, main course, salad, cheese,
Be ready for
a LONG meal (especially on Xmas or New Year's Eve) and
try to be open-minded if the food looks "unusual.": refusing a dish
is a NO-NO ... (read my column about "the ugly American eater"!)
Many visitors and most
expats report that it is difficult to meet the French. True.
Several reasons :
: speak French or at least
try to (imagine a Frenchman speaking no English in Topeka, Kansas....)
The French do not have the kind
of neighborhood relations the Americans
are used to (they start talking to their neighbor after ten years...)
are different : no church
life, no corporate picnics, etc...
The French are
more formal and, if
they invite you, they want to make it perfect, nothing casual
Compared to Americans, they
are always on their guard: remember the number of wars
and observe that, in French, the equivalent of "I'm doing
OK" is "je me défends" (= I am defending
The French have a different
idea of friendship
you are the friend of someone, it is a serious matter and you
are really committed : you tell him/her what you think!
You may be surprised
to see the children at the table and astonished by how well they
about many different subjects : literature, movies, history, politics, sex, anything except money
Stock Market! The French conversation is like a ping-pong game
: the subjects jump....
table manners : your hosts will be understanding ! But there
are a few differences : hands are ON the table, bread NOT on
the plate, etc... Read an article about it ("Don't Eat Your
Soup With a Fork")
Do NOT expect
to visit the apartment and do not ask for it : this is a private
Do NOT offer
to help (except with close friends, and even...)
At the end of
the party, the hostess will offer orange juice or something like
that : it means "the show is over" !
understand better, see more DOs & DON'Ts and read our page about
- More to come
You do not have to say "bon appétit" : more
and more people consider it very old-fashioned ; when you go
to the bathroom, do NOT say "I am going to the bathroom"
: just say "excuse me" (or say nothing). And keep your
hands ON the table !
With the diminishing number of "concierges", many buildings
in Paris now have an access code or an "interphone"
: do not forget to ask for it before you visit someone...
A few useful tips :
to people, even if your French is terrible
your neighbors or the people
you work with (it is harder for them, as the French do not like
casual invitations and they have to go to a lot of trouble if
they organize a big dinner party for you)
in the same place or go to
the same cafe (Michael
Sadler, an Englishman, is hysterically funny when he reports
how he became friends with his next-door café owner)
Invite your neighbor (or ask
him to invite you) to watch a rugby or football game on TV : the French love sports
(especially when seated)
- Read"Joie de vivre : wining, dining and romancing like the French" by Harriet Welty Rochefort!
An organization :
- Meeting the French : for an interesting experience with
French hosts : being a dinner guest in a French home or meet
the French while they work (yes!) : for groups of ten, it arranges
visits of shops and workshops (bakery, jewelry, chocolate, book-binding,
to share your experiences !
| Gifts to bring or take back...
||Small differences in traditions and behaviors ...
It is always very challenging
to find the appropriate gift for a French friend or the adequate
gift to bring back to your Mom. You can find any American product
in France and almost any French product in the U.S.A., so be
on the look-out for things that are, for instance, very typical
of your State or your Region. Here are a few suggestions...
From the U.S.A. for a French friend :
- Any battery-operated gadget
(but nothing you have to plug : electricity voltage and plugs
- Native-American arts and crafts
- CDs and computer games
- More to come
- In France, the "tooth fairy" is a little mouse
- Easter Bunny does not exist and is is replaced by Easter Bells on their way back from Rome (they do not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday)
- In most of France, the gifts to children are delivered by "Pere Noel" but in the East and North, the job is done by "Saint Nicolas"
- More to come ....
Behavior and etiquette :
- At the table you place the bread on the table at your left (and not on your plate)
- When you eat with a spoon, in the US it is on the side, in France on the tip
- You are not supposed to serve yourself
- More to come ....
USEFUL TIPS.... In France, don't invite people
for "coffee and dessert". The French eat late
- by the time you've finished your meal, they probably haven't
even started theirs! If you do plan to do this, make sure you
ask them what the best time would be. They'll probably say "10
pm". So be prepared! Also, don't make a huge gooey concoction:
French desserts are lighter and not as sweet as American ones
and the French don't eat huge portions!
From France for an American friend
- A set of small cans of different
kinds of "pâtés" from a good shop
like "Comtesse du Barry" or "Hédiard"
, or the same with different kinds of jams ("confitures")
or mustard (there are many varieties)
- High-quality knives (name
: "Laguiole") or folding-knives ("Opinel")
which range from very small to huge (but remember you cannot
take them with you on a plane). An incredible shop in the 1rst Arrondissement has thousands of knives (corner Rue Mehul and Rue des Petits Champs)
- A very small gift can be a few
boxes of "Anis de Flavigny" candies :
the boxes are pretty and old-fashioned or a nice bag of real
Sea Salt (sel de mer).
- Porcelain items from Britanny (Quimper) or Normandy
- Old engravings to frame
- Household goods ("Résonance"), olive
oil ("Olivier & Co"), etc.. on the Allée
des Chais at the Parc de Bercy
- The vast Flea Market
("Marché aux Puces"), Porte de Clignancourt
(North of Paris), is a nice place to buy a gift from a few Euros
for a little artefact to thousands of Euros for beautiful pieces
of furniture. You can always bargain (up to 20/30%) but remember
that (supposedly wealthy) Americans start the negociation with
- For more ideas, read Born
to Shop (see bibliography)
- More to come
Deciphering a Paris bistrot
|The circled object (1) is the symbol of a carot : it means that tobacco is sold in that place (in the old days, people kept a piece of carot in their tobacco bag to prevent it from becoming dry). The circle object (2) is a four leaf clover and it means that lottery tickets, including for the very popular loto, are sold here.
|The circled (3) "brasserie" means that the place has a full kitchen and can serve meals all day long (whereas in restaurants, you can be served only at meal times).
TIPS.... In France, people spend MUCH MORE money on gifts;
typically a French gift would be AT LEAST two or three times
more costly than the equivalent gift in the U.S.A. Keep that
in mind when you receive (and when you make) a gift !
More about life in Paris
: see our favourite links
, some useful commercial
links and read Paris
diary. If, when in Paris, you had to face some practical
problems and want to share your experience, please let us know
: we'll mention it in this page or in irksome France....
|To related pages : more on life in Paris (#1)
and retirement in France (#4), intercultural differences,
of the page
Back to home
For more on intercultural
differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
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