Student at a restaurant in Paris

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.

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, it is important to keep in mind that each person is an individual.  The French 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.
  • 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!
  • 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. 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.

The Language

Louvre pyramid and louvre museum

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 hot spots – museums, parks, restaurants, etc.

Here are a few basics to start with:

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

Signs

Signs in the etro

Entrance/Exit Entree/Sortie
Open/Closed Ouvert/Ferme
Prohibited Interdit
Restroom, Men/Women

Toilettes, WC

Hommes/Femme