Practical life in Paris : the Parisians (#3)

See also :

 If you are invited by a Parisian...    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 TOO casually

  • 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, dessert). More about 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 :

  • Language : 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...)

  • Social codes 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 myself allright")

  • The French have a different idea of friendship : when 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 behave...

  • Talk lightly about many different subjects : literature, movies, history, politics, sex, anything except money and the Stock Market! The French conversation is like a ping-pong game : the subjects jump....

  • Relax about 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 domain !

  • 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" !

  • Read Harriet's books French Toast and French Fried to understand better, see more DOs & DON'Ts and read our page about Sunday meals !

  • More to come

USEFUL TIPS.... 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 !

USEFUL TIPS.... 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...

  • The French have a different sense of humor : much more aggressive and sarcastic

  • Etc...

A few useful tips :

  • Speak to people, even if your French is terrible

  • Invite 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)

  • Shop 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!
  • Etc...

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, etc...)

Please write 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 are different)
  • Native-American arts and crafts
  • CDs and computer games
  • More to come


Traditions :

  • 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 (Rouen)
  • 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 a handicap...
  • 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). Read more about Paris cafés.


USEFUL 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, etc...

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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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