10 Ways to Look and Act Like a Local in France

France — By on January 31, 2011 at 6:00 am

By Sarah Brown
LG Correspondent

France is the single most visited country in the entire world. It tops the United States in the number of tourists it attracts each year by more than 20 million. Paris, the capital and most visited city in the world, is home to some of the greatest museums, cathedrals, and architectural structures we have ever known. The cuisine is not to be rivaled, and as anyone who has ever been to France will tell you, they have the best wine and cheese anywhere around the globe.

Throughout history, many people have fallen in love with this amazing country, and it’s not hard to see why. The French have a certain contagious  joie de vivre. It permeates every facet of their lives, and is seemingly ingrained in their DNA. Many foreigners have even moved to France to see what it is like to live like a français, and with my top tips on how to live like a local in France, you’ll fit right in, in no time!

1. Allez, allez, to the grocery store every day

Do not go to the grocery store once a week and do one big shop. Here in the U.S., we tend to buy in bulk. This is never done in France. To act like a true French person, you must go to the store almost every day. Pick up the essentials you need for that day’s lunch and dinner, and go back the next day for the same purpose. Also, bring your own bags to the grocery store—French stores do not offer free plastic bags. If you get caught without your own grocery bags, you will either have to carry everything home in your arms, or have to buy your own bags, at one euro per bag.

2. Sit back and relax

Make time for your meals. Eating on the go is a big no-no and will solicit looks of disgust from many of the French. Try not to eat in a hurry. Sit down, enjoy, and savor every bite of your meal. Remember, French cuisine is a key element to the high quality of life in France!

3. No soda in the street

Do not walk in the street drinking soda from a can. As one woman scolded a friend of mine, On ne fait pas ça en France. We don’t do this in France. The French always look refined and elegant, and slurping soda from an aluminum can does not exactly equate with total refinement.

4. When to buy your baguettes

The best time to get a baguette is either very early in the morning, around 6 a.m., when the bakery has just opened, or around 4 to 5 p.m. in the afternoon. The afternoon baguette tip may come as a surprise, but this is when most boulangers bake for the dinnertime rush.

5. Easy does it

When drinking, try not to overdose on the alcohol. The French are social drinkers; they have one or two glasses of wine with dinner, but tend not to go overboard. You will stick out like a sore thumb if you slog back more than a few at dinner.

6. Discard your sweatpants

Many Americans seem to have a hard time with the lack of casual clothes sported around France. But wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts in public is simply not done. Not even for travel. The French always look impeccable, whether they’re running out to the butcher, or off to an evening gala.

7. Handy with a hello

When you walk into a room, or pass by someone to whom you have been introduced, always say bonjour. Entering a public space without giving a greeting is considered rude.

8. S’il vous plaît?

When someone is your age or older, always use the vous form of verbs when you don’t know them. Only when you have established a relationship with someone are you allowed to use the tu form of the verb. If the person is younger, it is okay to use the tu form right off the bat, it is not considered impolite.

9. PDA

Not something that you have to worry about. The French, and especially younger generations, are very much into public displays of affection. And, as it turns out, if you happen to stare at them, their “displays” become even more pronounced. So for all you public prudes, don’t worry about kissing your special someone in front of others. The incredibly sexual French population won’t have a problem.

10. Tacit train travel

Getting around France is easiest and fastest if you use the rail systems. The French love their trains, and often use the time to get work done, listen to music, or sleep. Just make sure you don’t talk too loudly on your cellphone within the train cars. Other passengers will start to give you nasty looks. Also, you must remember to validate your ticket in the little yellow box on the platform before every ride. If you play the clueless card, the conductor may let you go the first time, but afterward you will start to incur hefty fines.

    22 Comments

  • Love the idea of going to the store everyday and encouraging people bringing their own bags.

  • Briana Palma says:

    Great tips, Sarah! I always try to adjust to the local culture when traveling, so if I ever make it back to France I’ll keep these in mind.

  • Really like your tips. It would be wonderful to spend an extended time there and live like a local! I can say that I do pretty well on 9 out of 10 on your list. I admit that my husband and I probably rushed through our meals a bit the two times we’ve been in Paris, being that we were trying to get in as much sightseeing and walking around as possible. Next time, we’ll be in a better position to sit back and relax (I hope).

  • Lindsey says:

    I can definitely attest to the sweatpants comment – I learned the hard way (though they were workout clothes, not sweatpants). A grungry old pair of jeans is more acceptable to them than sweats or PJs!

  • Perfect Sarah ! I agree with all and apart from having more to drink than a local (number 5), I think I fit in after 10 years.

  • Veronica says:

    Great tips, that mostly apply everywhere. But #6 might be a city tip. In our village, people go to the grocery shop in their PJs and slippers to grab a baguette in the morning. And tatty old T-shirts/sweatshirts are certainly not frowned on — they are completely normal! When I look around me in our local supermarket, I often wonder where people got the idea the French are stylish 🙂

  • Schmanders says:

    Thanks for these great comments (and thanks Sarah fora great piece)! I think some of these tips could apply in any European city, but I love having a guide for France especially!

  • Peter says:

    Good tips, I learn this from a close friend, if you wear a Yankees tee-shirt and sloppy tennis shoes, you will quickly stand out as a tourist. While the French are increasingly wearing clothes like jeans and sneakers (particularly the young French), their casual dress is still dressier than American casual dress.

  • JD says:

    I like most of your tips… except for “3. No soda in the street”

    If drinking out of a can (the nerve!) offends the French, that would only encourage me to do it more…

    Someone saying “We don’t do this in France” is exactly the kind of snooty pretentious behaviour that has earned them such a terrible reputation.

    I am sure the responses will be “If you don’t like it, don’t go there”… and I will heed that advice as I have no intentions of ever going back.

  • highway to the dangerzone says:

    as an american living in france i do what i want. Its humerous to me when i get dirty looks for peeing in public or wearing a fake horse head to the grocery store. Some of you sound so pretentious, not evryone in france is fazzle rich, there is a large underclass who dont care about your snooty manners and daily baguette runs.

  • maverick says:

    going supersonic at treetop level over gay pariee in my F14 like a BAUCE

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