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Culture & Customs

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Paris is a cosmopolitan city and its inhabitants represent a fantastic mix of cultures, religions, backgrounds and wealth.  Though it is impossible to generalize about such a diverse population, you may find that Parisians tend to be more formal than most Americans when it comes to language, dress, common courtesy, and even food. For example:

  • Parisians always say "bonjour" when entering a restaurant, store, or even elevator when they enter, and "au revoir" when they leave.
  • The French have two registers for addressing someone as 'you': "tu" (the use of 'tu' is known as "tutoiement") is the more casual register, and is used for a person you know very well, and "vous" ("vouvoiement") the formal and plural form). To avoid any awkward social situations it's always better to start with "vous" until you are invited to use 'tu'.
  • Eating and mealtimes are extremely important cultural experiences in France.  Parisians like to take the time to sit down and enjoy each meal, and are rarely seen eating on the go in the street or on the metro.

The People

Some stereotypes about the French include that they are typically smokers, fashion icons, slim and slender, drink wine and coffee like water and are the ultimate romantics. While these archetypes can prove to be true, the French are also a emphatic about the importance of genuine feeling and fresh, real attitudes. The mainstream culture delights in the chic and sophisticated, while literature and art often focuses on the romantic, but the French also enjoy their leisure time. They focus on the riches of life - from small delicacies to family life, and take time to indulge in them. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are engaging in a refreshingly rich culture:

  • French people are relatively private. The culture is much more intimate and close knit groups can come across as closed. This may give the impression that the French are rude or play into the idea that they do not like Americans. But do keep in mind that this is a different culture, with a different structure for friendship and different expressions of amity. 
  • For the French, language is more than just a mode of communication; it is a tradition. The French feel a responsibility to keep their language pure, in a way that mongrel English can never be. Saying "Bonjour," "Merci," and "S'il vous plait" goes a long way. In fact, the most important thing is that you try to speak French whenever possible. If somebody snubs your efforts by speaking back to you in English, keep trying. Remember you are in FRANCE!
  • The French are very proud of being French, from food to clothing to language. It is especially important to be complimentary and respectful of French culture - though this is a good rule of thumb no matter where you go.
  • In France, the concept of customer service is much different than it is in the US. Part of the French attitude is a rejection of servility that comes from the time of the French Revolution, where they overthrew their aristocrats. You will find that, contrary to the US, the customer is NOT always right. This can be frustrating, but try to remember that most French have a much different relationship to work than most Americans do. You could say that they work to live, whereas many Americans live to work.

Starting Your Day

Typical weekdays start at about 7 am in Paris or even a little earlier.  Stores tend to open around 9:30 or 10 am and close around 7 or 7:30 pm.  Lunch tends to be eaten around 1 pm, and dinner is often eaten 'en famille' or with friends at around 8 pm.  Note that many businesses (including banks and grocery stores) are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays.

Tipping

Each country has its own particular attitude towards tipping for service. In Paris taxis it is customary (but in no sense obligatory) to give the driver something; usually 10% is enough, or just rounding up to the nearest five. In restaurants, service (15%) is included in the bill, though it is customary to leave a tip if you find the service satisfactory. The standard is to add 5% of the bill amount. The same holds true for cafés if you are pleased with the service.  In prestigious restaurants it is also customary to tip the person who brings your coat from the cloakroom; €2 is usually enough.

Language

Can’t speak any French? No problem. English is widely understood and spoken in Paris, although it is generally more common among younger people. It is especially common to hear English in tourist hotspots – museums, parks, restaurants, etc..

The Basics

Yes Oui
No Non
Please S’il vous plaît
Thank you Merci
You're welcome Je vous en prie
Excuse me Excusez-moi
Sorry Pardon
Good Morning/Afteroon Bonjour

Signs

Entrance/Exit Entrée/Sortie
Open/Closed Ouvert/Ferme
Prohibited Interdit
Restroom, Men/Women Toilettes, WC Hommes/Femme
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