Weird French traditions & customs: Normal in France but strange to tourists

Examples of normal French traditions and French customs in France that are weird to the rest of the world.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
Normal French habits & traditions the world might find strange or weird
Normal French habits & traditions the world might find strange or weird

There are a lot of French traditions and French customs that are perfectly normal to French people but might seem strange or novel to North Americans, Brits and other cultures.

Here are nearly 50 examples of normal French traditions and customs in France that fit the bill.

 The purpose of this exploration is to celebrate the diversity of customs around the world and embrace the beauty of our differences.

It’s absolutely okay to find certain aspects intriguing or different from what you’re accustomed to. So, with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, let’s jump into it. 

Are these weird French traditions to you?

Weird French traditions that tourists find strange but are completely normal in France

Even if you positively love French traditions and culture, there are bound to be things that tourists and newcomers to France might find weird, strange or unusual.

The reality is that every culture has its own distinct traditions, unique beliefs, values, customs, and practices, which can vary greatly from country to country.

What might seem unfamiliar to one person can be completely run-of-the-mill to another.

It’s completely normal to feel confused or surprised when you encounter customs from other countries that are different from what you’re used to in your own culture.

Culture shock

When people stumble upon practices they’ve never encountered, it can be surprising or even unsettling, especially, especially if they don’t understand the meaning or context behind them, which can lead to culture shock.

For example, a tourist from a Western country may find it strange that it’s completely normal to slurp noodles in some Asian countries or that people in Thailand eat sticky rice with their hands. 

On the flip side, some Asian cultures may find it strange how couples in Western countries openly hold hands or kiss in public. In many Asian cultures, public displays of affection are less common and may be seen as inappropriate or immodest.

Additionally, some cultural practices may be seen as strange or even offensive due to cultural differences or misunderstandings. For example, in some cultures, it is customary to haggle over prices when shopping, while in other cultures, this may be seen as rude or disrespectful.

It’s important to approach these differences with an open mind and a willingness to learn and understand the values and beliefs of other cultures.

Some examples of French traditions tourists sometimes find strange about French culture.

You’re really rude if you don’t say hello and goodbye.

Always say bonjour

The French word for hello is bonjour, and the word for goodbye is au revoir.

Use them liberally in France before launching into ANY conversation because this French tradition might as well be written in stone.

You’ll be seen as an extremely rude tourist if you don’t say Bonjour or au revoir.

I’m not exaggerating; you should also say bonjour when walking into a room with people, including the elevator.

Here are some examples of how and when to say hello and goodbye in France:

  • Hello to the salesperson in a small shop the minute you walk in and goodbye as you walk out.
  • Hello to the bus driver when you get on, and goodbye as you get off
  • Hello to the grocery store’s cashier before she begins scanning your items, and goodbye as you grab your bags to leave.
  • Hello to the bank teller before launching into your banking issues, and goodbye as you leave.
  • When you walk up to a stranger on the street to ask for directions, don’t say excuse me; say bonjour first. Then ask your question. Then merci au revoir.
  • At the bakery, walk up to the counter and say bonjour first before putting in your order and merci au revoir as you walk out.

It’s perfectly OK to kiss co-workers the moment you arrive at work.


La bise is the French term for greeting someone with a cheek kiss, and it’s serious business in France with a strict set of unsaid rules.

One of those rules is that it’s perfectly OK to cheek-kiss colleagues at the office if you work closely with them. This is especially true for women.

Rather than walking straight to your desk in the morning with your head down, it’s common to greet your co-workers along the route to your desk with a bonjour and a cheek kiss (la bise.)

The number of cheek kisses you give depends on the area of France you are from

My friends from Provence, where two-cheek kisses prevail, always get confused when they come to see me in Montpellier, where it’s customary to give three kisses.

Here’s everything you need to know about cheek kissing in France.

Strikes are seasonal in France and completely normal

Strikes in France tend to be seasonal

Strikes, or “grèves” in French, have a long and storied history in France, dating back to the 19th century. Here are some interesting facts about strikes in France:

  • France is known for having a relatively high rate of strike activity compared to other countries. In 2019, for example, there were 180 strikes involving at least 10,000 workers in France, compared to just 11 in Germany and 0 in the UK.
  • The French prefer to go on strike before and after the “summer holidays”: June and September, according to C’est la grève.  
  • Strikes in France are often characterized by their intensity and duration. In some cases, strikes can last for weeks or even months, causing significant disruption to daily life.
  • One of the most famous strikes in French history was the May 1968 general strike, which brought the country to a standstill for several weeks. The strike was initially sparked by student protests but quickly spread to workers across the country, who demanded higher wages and better working conditions.
  • The French government has a history of negotiating with striking workers and has been known to make significant concessions to end a strike. In 2018, for example, the government agreed to cancel a planned fuel tax increase in response to widespread protests and strikes by the “Yellow Vest” movement.
  • French workers have a legal right to strike, and it is not uncommon for strikes to be called by multiple unions across different sectors of the economy at the same time.

Overall, strikes are a significant part of French culture and have played an important role in shaping the country’s political and economic landscape. While they can be disruptive, strikes are seen by many as a legitimate way for workers to express their grievances and fight for their rights.

Arriving 15 minutes late is considered polite.

15 minutes of politeness in France: it's ok to arrive late when invited to someone's house

In some countries, it’s not polite to arrive late. In France, however, that’s not the case. I would go as far as to say that this is a French tradition that’s considered polite, especially if you arrive a little late when you’re invited to a dinner party in France.

There’s even a name for this practice. It’s called “le quart d’heure de politesse” (The 15 minutes of politeness.)

Arriving a little late allows your host to finish up some last-minute things before the guest arrives. Be careful; always be on time for restaurant reservations and professional meetings.

Switching between Tu and Vous is second nature.

If you recall your high school French, when addressing someone with the prefix “you,” you use the informal “TU” when you know someone or are close to them. You use the more formal “VOUS” if you do not know someone. But the rules are a little more complicated than that. See chart.

Le vouvoiement expliqué aux américains.

French Fashion

Weird French traditions that are normal in France but tourists may find strange

France is known for its fashion, but some French fashion traditions may seem strange, uncomfortable or unusual to visitors. Here are a few examples:

Women sometimes wear a skirt or heels while riding bikes

Awesome French fashion: wearing a skirt or heels while riding a bike in France

The fantasy is true.

Although not every woman rides around on bikes in high heels, it’s completely normal to do so. I often see women biking to and from work wearing business attire or work clothes. In the summertime, women will wear their summer dresses and ride bikes around town where we live in Montpellier. 

French Food traditions

Weird French food traditions tourist might find strange

French cuisine is famous for its delicious flavours, rich history, and intricate cooking techniques that have inspired chefs around the world. However, some French traditions surrounding food might seem strange or even bizarre to tourists visiting the country for the first time, such as eating raw beef dishes such as steak tartare or enjoying really, really stinky French cheeses

These food traditions might make some visitors feel a bit queasy. But for the French, these culinary habits are entirely normal and integral to their food culture.

Dipping a croissant or piece of baguette into your morning cup of coffee is delicious.

Strange French food customs: dunking baguette or croissant into morning cup of coffee

No doubt you’ve seen or even tried dipping biscotti bread into your cup of coffee or a cookie into a glass of milk.

Some French folks like to slather a little butter or jam on a chunk of baguette or a croissant and then dip it into their coffee.

Eat your salad after the main dish, not before

in France, don't use your knife to cut your salad leaves.

In some cultures, you eat the salad course before the meal, but that’s not always the case in France. 

Some people in France eat a salad after the main course. If there is a cheese course, salad is sometimes eaten with it after the meal. 

However, the tradition of eating salad after the main course is not a universal practice in France, and there is no strict rule or expectation that everyone should do so. Like many culinary traditions, the way that salad is served and consumed in France can vary depending on factors such as regional differences, personal preferences, and the occasion or context of the meal.

Eat cheese after the meal but before dessert. 

French cliches and stereotypes: French cheese

Choices, choices. It’s not unusual to finish almost every meal with a small piece of cheese. Just make sure you eat it before the dessert, not after. 

The rule of thumb in French cuisine is Salé avant sucré (savoury before sweet). This means if you order a dessert, you eat it after the cheese plate. The cheese plate will be your last dish if you don’t order a dessert.

  • Entrée (appetizer)
  • Plat (main course)
  • Salad and cheese: (together or as separate courses with cheese coming after the salad)
  • Dessert

You might be interested in reading Understanding the 2-7 Courses of a Formal French Multi-Course Meal.

The stinkier the cheese, the better

strange French traditions: the stinkier the cheese the better in France

While a pungent, strong-flavoured stinky cheese may be off-putting to some, Stinky cheese is generally considered to be wonderful in France and an important part of the country’s culinary tradition.

Some of the most well-known stinky cheeses include Roquefort, Camembert, Munster, Époisse and Maroilles, each of which has a unique flavour profile that can range from creamy and buttery to sharp and tangy.

So, while stinky cheese may smell and taste like dirty socks to you, it’s considered to be a delicious and important part of French culinary heritage.

You might be interested in reading about 17 Famous French stinky kinds of cheese adored in France and feared by others.

French breakfast never involves eggs or savoury food

French people don't eat eggs, pancakes or bacon for breakfast. Think continental instead

Eggs, bacon, and omelets for breakfast? Non, non, non, mon ami.

These are savoury food items eaten for lunch or dinner. Breakfast in France is strictly continental: bread, confiture, Nutella, yogurt, coffee, even cereal, etc.

Eggs are always sunny side up in France.

Strange French traditions: woman eating sunny side up eggs in a brass pan and dipping her baguette in the yolk

When it comes to Fried eggs, there’s no official word like “over medium eggs” or “over easy eggs” in the French language. Many French people aren’t even aware that it’s normal to order eggs cooked on both sides in other countries. 

That’s because fried eggs are almost always served sunny side up and are usually a component of another meal for lunch or dinner. Such as on Crêpe bretonne, or on a croque monsieur. 

You might be interested in reading: Why are fried eggs in France always Sunny Side up?

You can order a pizza with a sunny-side-up egg in France.

French traditions you might find weird: sunny side up egg on a pizza

Forget pepperoni pizza in France. It’s just not a thing. However, ordering a “Pizza jambon oeuf,” Ham and egg pizza, is completely normal. It’s just assumed that the egg will be sunny side up. 

Omelettes are usually for lunch and dinner in France, not breakfast.

Strange French traditions: Omelettes are not for breakfast in France

As I mentioned, a French breakfast traditionally consists of simple and light fare, such as a croissant or a baguette with butter and jam, accompanied by coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

Omelettes are more commonly eaten for lunch or dinner because. 

That being said, modern French breakfasts have become more diverse and international, and it’s not uncommon to find omelettes or other egg dishes for breakfast on the menu at French cafes and restaurants in areas that attract tourists. 

You can buy horse meat at a horse butcher shop: “Boucheries chevalines.”

Horse butcher shop: boucheries chevalines

Eating horse meat is not common in some parts of the world, so it may surprise you that there are French butcher shops that specialize in selling horse meat. They’re called Boucheries chevalines.

Horse meat has a long history and is still part of France’s culinary traditions. It is typically consumed in a variety of dishes, such as sausages and stews, and even raw in dishes like tartare.

Horse meat consumption in France has been controversial at times. In the 1970s, there was a huge scandal when it was discovered that some butchers were selling horse meat labelled as beef. The public was outraged, which led to changes in labelling laws. Also, some animal rights activists have protested against the practice of eating horse meat and the poor conditions in which horses are raised and slaughtered.

Despite these controversies, many French people continue to enjoy horse meat as a part of their diet, and boucheries chevalines can still be found in many parts of the country.

Pièce Montée: the French wedding cake that’s not a cake

fantastic but strange French custom: la pièce montée (the mounted piece): a giant croquembouche
screenshot from 2010French film “Pièce Montée

Foreigners who attend a French wedding, baptism or important festive event might be a little surprised when there’s a huge multi-tiered architectural masterpiece made of small confectionaries instead of a cake for dessert.

This highly anticipated dessert is a giant croquembouche called une pièce montée (mounted piece).

You can drink coffee or hot chocolate from a bowl in the morning.

strange French traditions: drink coffee from a bowl

Don’t freak out if you ever get invited to someone’s home, and they pour you a cup of tea, hot chocolate, or coffee in a bowl.

Savour this French tradition.

There’s a whole day dedicated to eating crêpes

crepe day, the French groundhog day

February 2nd in France is called la chandeleur, and it’s customary to eat crêpes on this day.

This also happens to be Groundhog Day.

You can order a beer at the movie theatre and at fast food places like McDonald’s

strange French customs: you can order beer at the movie theatre or fast food restaurants

McDonald’s in France has a different menu than in other countries. While McDonald’s in many countries only serves soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages, it’s legal for fast food restaurants to sell beer.

This goes back to the French culture of enjoying wine or beer with meals, even in fast-food restaurants. 

Drinking beer in a fast food chain such as McDonald’s has become a popular choice for those looking to enjoy a quick meal and a drink.

McDonald’s is much more popular in France than you think.

Unusual Potato chip flavours are plentiful.

Brets Marine chips taste like oysters

Every country has unique potato chip flavours that try to replicate the tastes and recipes of the local cuisine. In France, you’ll find interesting flavours such as camembert, blue cheese, roasted chicken, oysters and more. You can see more unique French potato chip flavours here.

Dinner starts late and finishes late in France.

strange French traditions: Dinner usually does not start before 7:30 pm in France

Dinner is typically eaten later in France than in many other countries, and it’s not uncommon for French people to sit down to eat at 8 or 9 p.m. Most restaurants don’t even start serving dinner until after 7:30 PM, so it’s not unusual to finish your meal after 9 or 10 PM.

There are several reasons why dinner is eaten later in France:

  • Work Schedule: Many French people work until 6 or 7 PM, which means they may not have time to prepare and eat dinner until later in the evening.
  • Tradition: Eating later in the evening is a long-standing tradition in France for French families to gather around the dinner table to share a meal and catch up on the day’s events.
  • Socializing: Eating dinner later in the evening allows people to socialize with friends and family for longer periods. In France, dinner is often seen as a time for conversation, wine, and relaxation.
  • Climate: In the warmer months, the heat of the day often means that people prefer to eat later in the evening when the temperature has cooled down.

So, while eating dinner later in the evening may seem unusual to some visitors, it is a long-standing tradition in France that reflects the country’s culture, lifestyle, and history.

There are up to 5 different meals to eat in a day.

An informal apero at home with friends over a glass of wine light snacks:

French traditions surrounding the number of times you eat in a day may be a little different than what you are accustomed to.

On average, most people in France eat a minimum of 2 to 3 meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, there are two additional meals in the day, which are optional.

Tasting: Le goûter – optional between 4 and 6 PM.

Around 4:30 PM, when children get home from school, they usually take a goûter (a taste), which is like a snack but not really because it’s a scheduled mealtime. This goûter is always sweet and can be anything from Nutella on bread, pain au lait, brioche or a cookie.

People eat much later in France, so the goûter usually holds kids over until mealtime, from 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

French Apero:- optional begins between 6 to 8 PM.

The second optional meal is the French apéro. It’s not a daily event, more of a weekly or monthly event to catch up with friends. The French Apero is always before dinner. The goal is to unwind after a long day and open the appetite with a drink (usually a pre-dinner alcoholic drink) and a small bite of something salty, such as olives or chips. The nibbly bits are never sweet. 

An Entrée is an appetizer in France.

An entree is not the main meal, it's the appetizer

In some English-speaking countries, the entrée is the main course, but it’s the appetizer in France.

The main course in French is called le plat, or plat principal (meaning the main dish). French people are often perplexed as to why the entrée in the English-speaking world is the main dish. 

Why is an Entrée not the main dish in France and French-speaking regions?

In 18th century England,  a typical formal dinner had many more courses. British restaurants adopted the French word for an appetizer, “Entree,” which means “enter” because this was the dish served immediately before the centrepiece of the whole meal, usually a big heavy roast. 

As Anglo dining habits changed, meals gradually became less elaborate, with fewer and simpler courses. However, in the United States, the entrée course, which used to be one of the appetizer courses, continued to be known as the “entree.” It was probably kept because anything French was, and still is, considered haute couture and prestigious.                  

Popcorn is served cold at movie theatres in France: Salty or sweet

i miss hot buttery popcorn in movie theatres

This one always blows my mind. My daughter loves to order sweet popcorn at movie theatres which is basically cold popcorn with sugar thrown on it. Want some regular butter popcorn? That’s served cold or room temperature too.

Eating raw sea urchins is popular in some parts of France. Strange French customs: eating raw sea urchins in France

You’ve probably heard about or tried raw sea urchins in a Japanese restaurant. Eating raw sea urchins can be an acquired taste, as the texture and flavour can be somewhat salty and intense.

You might be surprised to learn that eating raw sea urchins, or “oursins” in France, is a centuries-old exotic food tradition, especially in coastal regions such as Provence, Marseille and even Brittany. The sea urchins are often served fresh from the sea, cracked open and eaten raw with a spoon. The roe is sometimes mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar to enhance its flavour.

The sea urchin’s bright orange or yellow roe, known as “corail” in French, is considered a delicacy.

Strange French Commerce and Shopping Culture in France

Strange French traditions: shopping and commerce
Strange French traditions: shopping and commerce

There are a few strange French traditions around the kind of things you can buy in France that might seem unusual or even humorous to tourists. Here are some examples.

Pink Toilette paper

funny French products: Pink toilet paper

France has Pink toilet paper, or “papier toilette rose.” Although this isn’t a French tradition that’s unique to France, it seems to amaze some people.

The exact reason for the popularity of pink toilet paper in France is not entirely clear, but some suggest that it may be due to a combination of factors, including cultural traditions and marketing strategies.

In the past, coloured toilet paper was a popular trend in many countries, including the United States, but concerns over the dyes and chemicals used to colour the paper led to a decline in popularity. In France, however, pink toilet paper has remained a popular choice for consumers.

The state determines the annual sales in stores.

weird French customs: Sales are strictly regulated in France

Rock bottom sales are strictly regulated in France by the state.

By law, stores in France cannot offer deep discount sales except twice a year at a specific time. The purpose of these sales periods is to encourage consumer spending and help retailers clear out their excess inventory.

During these sales periods, retailers can legally sell their unsold inventory at a discount and even at a loss. This is not allowed at any other time of the year, and merchants can get fined if they sell things at a loss.

These regulations are set to prevent retailers from constantly marking down their prices and engaging in a price war, which can harm smaller businesses.

The two official government-approved annual sales periods last five weeks each and are known as “Les soldes.” 

  • Winter sales begin the second Wednesday in January or the first Wednesday if the second Wednesday falls after January 12th.
  • Summer sales start on the last Wednesday in June or the second to last Wednesday of June if the last Wednesday falls after June 28th.

Not all retailers have to participate in the sales periods. Small businesses are exempt and can choose to hold their sales outside the official periods if they wish.

Then there are “Les ventes privées,” which translates to “private sales” in English, a type of discount shopping event that takes place outside the official sales periods set by the French government. These events are usually organized by individual retailers or third-party companies that partner with multiple brands to offer product discounts.

Unlike the official sales periods, the government does not regulate les ventes privées, which means that retailers have more freedom to set their own prices and discounts. These sales are typically invitation-only, with retailers sending out email invitations to their best customers or members of their loyalty programs.

It’s OK to bring your dog into the department store

3 dogs at Pull & Bear department store in Montpellier
Three dogs at Pull & Bear department store in Montpellier, France

In some countries, dogs are not permitted in public places, but in France, you can bring your dog into some unexpected places such as on a tram, train, grocery store, department store and even in some restaurants.

Store hours are much shorter and non-existent on some days

Stores, including pharmacies, are usually closed on Sunday, and grocery stores that stay open on Sunday usually close by lunch. In some towns, certain businesses close on Monday.

There are exceptions, but these rules are generally true.


It only costs about 25 euros to visit a doctor in France.

If you’re a tourist visiting France and get sick, you’re in luck. It will only cost you around 25 Euros to see a generalist. As French residents who are part of the French medical scheme, we get refunded about 75 percent of that, which is sent directly to our French bank account.

Pharmacies sell homeopathic items.

you can buy homeopathic remedies in a French pharmacy

In some countries, it’s frowned upon or rare to see homeopathic remedies in the pharmacy, but not in France.

Homeopathic medicine and remedies are popular in France, and it’s not uncommon to find a dedicated section of homeopathic remedies in French pharmacies. One reason for this popularity is the country’s long-standing tradition of natural medicine and holistic health practices, where homeopathy is often seen as a complementary or alternative approach to traditional medicine.

Another reason for the popularity of homeopathy in France is the country’s unique healthcare system. The French government reimburses a significant portion of the cost of health care, prescription drugs and homeopathic treatments, making them more affordable and accessible to a broader range of people. Additionally, many French doctors and healthcare practitioners are trained in homeopathy and may recommend it to their patients.

You have to pick up  your vaccine at the pharmacy and bring it to your doctor (sometimes)

Weird French cultural norms: You have to pick up  your vaccine at the pharmacy and bring it to your doctor (sometimes)

In France, doctors don’t usually keep vaccines and shots in stock in their offices.

Vaccines are generally distributed through pharmacies, which serve as the primary point of contact for patients seeking immunizations. When a patient needs a vaccine, they must first obtain a prescription from their doctor, which they can then take to the pharmacy to pick up the vaccine.

Once you’ve picked up your vaccine, you make another appointment with your doctor and bring it to their office or another healthcare professional for administration. 

While this process may seem cumbersome or confusing to those unfamiliar with the French healthcare system, it’s pretty normal for French people. 

Working in France

French work customs foreigners might find strange in a good way

From the two-hour lunch breaks to the strict laws governing work hours and vacation time, French work traditions can be both fascinating and perplexing to outsiders unfamiliar with French customs.  

Whether you’re a foreign visitor or a new French resident, understanding these wonderfully weird French traditions can help shed light on the unique values and attitudes that shape the country’s labour culture.

All salaried employees get at least two weeks of paid vacation per year in France.

Happy person holding French flag while vacationing in Paris standing in front of the Eiffel tower

In France, the legal minimum amount of vacation time for salaried employees is two weeks per year or ten working days. This is a guaranteed right for all employees under French law. Employees accrue 2.5 vacation days per year for every 30 calendar days worked in France. Usually, these vacation days do not roll over, and you cannot cash them out. You use them or lose them.

In addition to the legal minimum, many employers in France offer additional vacation time as part of their benefits package, particularly for employees with more seniority or higher positions. Some companies may also offer extra time off for specific reasons, such as parental leave or illness.

The French approach to vacation time reflects the country’s emphasis on work-life balance and the importance of leisure time. French workers typically enjoy a 35-hour workweek and paid time off for sick leave and parental leave.

Vacation time in France is typically taken during the summer months, particularly in August, when many businesses and offices shut down completely for several weeks. This can make it difficult for tourists or visitors to access certain services or businesses during this time.

May might be the worst month to visit France because of all the holidays & celebrations.

The tradition of giving the LIly flower Muguet in France on May Day

May is not necessarily the worst month to visit France. It’s a beautiful time to explore the country. 

However, May can be a challenging month to visit France due to the number of public holidays and celebrations that may cause some businesses and attractions to close or operate on a limited schedule which can impact your travel plans. 

In addition to May 1st, which is Labor Day and a public holiday in France, there are other holidays and observances in May, such as Victory in Europe Day, on May 8th, school vacations during May, particularly during the latter half of the month, which can further impact business hours and availability.

In total, there are up to 6 holidays and celebrations that can disrupt business hours for restaurants and tourist attractions. 

If you plan to visit France in May, it is a good idea to research the specific holidays and vacation periods in the regions you plan to visit and to check the hours of operation for the businesses and attractions you are interested in. By planning ahead and being flexible with your itinerary, you can still enjoy a wonderful trip to France, even during a potentially challenging month.

Read this post. I wrote about all the holidays and celebrations in May that can impact your travel plans. 

Children & Education In France

école maternelle: preschool and kindergarten in France

The French education system is famous for its strictness and high academic standards; however, there are some quirky customs and traditions in French schools that might seem odd to foreigners. From using fountain pens and inkwells to facing tough exams and sticking to a rigorous curriculum, French schools have a unique culture of their own.

French Children have long school days: Up to 8 hours a day.

School work preschool France: white board

Students in France typically have longer school days, which can last up to 8 hours per day, depending on their age and grade level.

In French primary school, children generally attend classes from 7:30 AM or 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and 5:00 PM, with a break for lunch and recess.

A maximum of 5 hours and 30 minutes per day are dedicated to instruction, and the rest is for lunch and a couple of school breaks.

Wednesdays are the exception. Some schools only have a half-day on Wednesday, ending before lunch.

Middle and high school students usually start their day around 8 AM and finish around 5 PM or 6 PM but sometimes later. Some schools offer extracurricular activities or study sessions that extend into the evening.

While these long school days may seem daunting to students and parents, they’re designed to provide a comprehensive education that includes a range of subjects, including math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages. I

Another reason for the long school day is that French schools generally have a shorter academic year with more school holidays than many other countries, with the school year beginning in early September and ending in early July. This shorter academic year means that French schools need to pack in a lot of instruction and curriculum in a shorter period.

While long school days can be challenging for students, there are regular school holidays throughout the year and breaks throughout the day, including recess and a midday break for lunch that allows students to socialize and relax. 

Children in France have several long school vacations throughout the year.

jour-ferie- bank holiday possibly closed

France is known for its numerous public holidays, which are an important part of French culture and tradition. 

Children in France have four school vacations that last about 15 days, plus a long summer vacation. 

Here are the school breaks in France for French students:

  1. All Saints holiday (Vacances de la Toussaint): mid-October to around November 3rd.
  2. Christmas holiday (Vacances de Noël ): Part of December through the first Monday after January 1st.
  3. Winter holiday (Vacances d’hiver): February and March.
  4. Spring Break, aka Easter vacation (Vacances de Printemps): Usually in April
  5. Two months Summer holiday (Les grandes Vacances): July to September.

The summer vacation is the longest school vacation lasting for around two months, starting in early July and ending in early September. 

These holidays are an important part of the French school system, and many families plan their vacations and other activities around them.

Many French regions also have their own local holidays, which may be specific to a particular town or area. These local holidays are not recognized throughout the entire country, but businesses and schools in the region may observe them.

Smoking at some schools in France is tolerated.

strange French customs: smoking tolerated at some middle and high schools in France

It’s illegal for minors to smoke in France, and schools must provide a smoke-free environment for their students.

However, some teachers may feel that addressing smoking by students is outside their role or responsibilities or struggle to enforce the smoking laws and regulations, especially if smoking is a problem in the community or students leave school to smoke. 

Children in France are required to learn English with optional foreign languages in middle school.

Children are required to take English with optional foreign languages in middle school.

Many countries have some foreign language requirements as part of their education system. In general, countries, where English is the native language may have less of a foreign language requirement since English is often considered the dominant global language. However, even in these countries, many schools may still require students to learn a second language.

French students are required to learn English as a foreign language in school with the option to learn additional languages.

Students in France usually start learning English in elementary school—very rudimentary things such as colours and numbers. The goal of teaching English is to prepare French students to communicate effectively with people from other countries and to participate in a globalized world.

If a student chooses to learn a second foreign language, they may have the opportunity to start in middle or high school.

The more common foreign languages offered in French schools are Spanish, Italian, and German. However, some schools offer less commonly taught languages such as Russian, Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese.

There are also regional languages of France, such as Occitan or Alsacian. 

Milk is never served as a drink in schools in France

French student drinking water at lunch because milk is not an option

There are many countries around the world where children are encouraged to drink milk at school, either through government programs or school policies.

In France, however, it’s not common for schools to serve milk to students as part of their cafeteria lunch meals. 

Students in France are offered water to drink.

There has been some debate in France about the nutritional value of milk and whether it is necessary or beneficial for children to drink in large quantities. Some experts argue that milk is not essential for a healthy diet and that other sources of calcium and other nutrients can be used instead.

As a result, students receive yogurt or cheese as part of their school meals, which are considered healthy and nutritious.

Around high school, and sometimes in middle school, the cafeteria options open up a bit, and things like juice and pop might be available depending on the school.

The legal age to buy alcohol in France is 18, not 21

In some countries like the united states and parts of Canada, the legal age to consume and purchase alcohol is 21.

Before 2009, it was legal for 16 to 18-year-olds to drink “fermented” beverages like cider, wine, and beer. But the laws changed, and now it’s 18 for all alcoholic beverages.

There’s no minimum age for children to drink alcohol in France.

boy and girl on Yacht smoking and drinking

The legal drinking age for beer, wine, and spirits in France is 18; however, it’s perfectly legal for children to consume alcohol in France as long as an adult accompanies them.

This means that parents can give their children a small amount of alcohol with a meal or in a social setting, but they’re not allowed to purchase alcohol for their children to drink with their friends or allow their children to become intoxicated.

Enforcement of these laws can vary, and it is not uncommon to see underage children consuming alcohol in public settings like parks or beaches in France.

So, while it’s not illegal for underage people to drink alcohol in certain situations, like when they’re with their parents or in a social setting, it’s definitely not encouraged or accepted as a standard practice.

Fun fact: French schools used to serve alcohol to children in school.

Other Misc Stuff

April fool’s day is all about the Fish prank🃏

photo of man with a poisson d'avril on his back in Paris 1972
April 1st 1972 in Paris. Rue des Archives/Credit ©Rue des Archives/AGIP

A fun French tradition is to stick a paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting victims as a prank on April fool’s day called Poisson d’avril (April fish day.)

Soccer is called Football in France.

Thanksgiving football thanksgiving postcard

In France, football from North America is called le football Americain, and soccer is called le foot or le football.

You cant disinherit your children.

strange French law: It's illegal do disinherit your children in France

Even if you want to exclude your child from your will because they are the devil incarnate, you can’t. You can read about more strange French laws here.

You can swim nude at this public pool in Paris.

Swimming in the nude: Roger Le Gall swimming pool in Paris

The Roger Le Gall Swimming Pool in Paris might seem like your run-of-the-mill pool, but what sets this pool apart is that you can skinny-dip here three nights a week.

Topless women at the beaches are completely normal; even grandmothers go topless.

Nudity culture shock: nude beach in Marseille France

It’s no big deal to see topless women at the beach, including grandmothers and mothers with their children.

France is home to the largest clothing-optional beach resort.

Cap d’Agde, is situated in the south West of France, very close to Montpellier.

It’s sometimes referred to as “Naked City.”

Although not encouraged, public sex is tolerated as long as it’s done in the farthest parts of the beach.

And during the summer months, you can walk into some stores in the buff.

There are over 70 regional dialects and accents spoken throughout France.

regional languages in France that predate French

You can read more about the French regional dialects and accents here.

Men are required to wear tight hugging swimsuits at public pools in France: No board shorts allowed

French law: type of mens suits approved for public swimming pools in France

There is no official law or requirement in France that requires men to wear tight bathing suits or speedos in public pools. However, there is a cultural preference for more form-fitting swimwear in France and many parts of Europe. 

Having said that, public pools usually require that men wear form-fitting speedo like swim trunks or jammers. If you show up in board shorts, they’ll deny you access. Luckily, some public swimming pools have vending machines that sell them. 

One reason for this preference is that it is seen as more hygienic, as tighter swimwear helps prevent the loose fabric from trapping dirt and bacteria in the water. tighter swimwear is considered more practical for swimming.

Another factor is simply tradition and cultural norms. In many European countries, swimwear is seen as a functional garment rather than a fashion statement, and tight-fitting swimwear has been the norm for many years.

Want to read more interesting facts about France?

If you’re interested in learning more about France, here are some interesting articles.

Should I Move To France? 99 Useful Things Nobody Tells You About Living In France

50 Crazy Interesting Facts About France That Will Blow Your Mind

Origins Of French Stereotypes and Cliches Explained: Beyond Baguettes

10 Real examples of culture shock: dog poop, boobs, food & beyond

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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