French Manners

Parisians have a notorious reputation for being arrogant, snobbish and downright rude. The truth, however, is that they are misunderstood. Their arrogance is more often pride and self-respect; the snobbery, poise and perfectionism and the rudeness is, well, quiet reserve. Proper behavior is instilled in Parisians from the moment they begin to utter their first words. Their upbringing is strict and expectations for proper social conduct is resolute. Parisians behave as they have been taught and while that may seem rude to an outsider, it is simply a code of behavior.

In fact, Parisians are, at least superficially, the opposite of rude. They practice meticulous civility that borders on neurotic. Whether in a store, an elevator, or the waiting room of a doctor’s office, a Parisian will immediately say “bonjour, madame” or “bonjour, monsieur” to anyone present. Parisians always say thank you at the end of a transaction and wish you a bonne journee (good day). They use the polite verb form (vous) as a default; the informal form (tu) is utilized exclusively for family, children and the closest of friends.

Parisians may seem impolite to foreigners because small talk and giving unsolicited advice is not a part of their culture. They are efficient and careful and answer politely when asked a question, but rarely take the initiative to make a suggestion. The French are private and assume that you are, too, and endeavor to respect that privacy.

The first rule in adjusting to Paris life is to accept this formality and begin using it immediately. Below are the most basic of phrases to help you begin to break down barriers:

  • Bonjour madame, (monsieur) – Good day, good morning madame (sir)
  • Enchantée – Nice to meet you
  • Comment allez-vous? – How are you?
  • Je vais bien, merci. – I’m fine, thank you.
  • Merci (beaucoup/bien) – Thank you (very much)
  • Je vous en prie – You’re welcome (formal)
  • Au revoir – Goodbye
  • C’était un plaisir – It was a pleasure (meeting you, speaking with you)
  • Bonne journée – Have a nice day (when leaving someone’s company)
  • Bon après-midi – Have a nice afternoon
  • Bonsoir – Good evening
  • Bonne soirée – Enjoy your evening