47 weird french traditions and customs that are normal in France

47 weird french traditions and customs that are normal in France

There are a lot of things in France 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.

Even if you positively love French traditions and customs and think you know everything about French culture, you probably don’t know as much as you think you do. Learning as much as you can about a country before visiting that country or moving to that country can help reduce culture shock.

Here are some examples that 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; otherwise, you’ll be seen as an extremely rude tourist.

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 cashier at the grocery store before she begins to scan 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.

HOW-MANY-KISSES-faire-la-bise

La bise is the French term of 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 way 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 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

The French prefer to go on strike before and after the “summer holidays”: June and September, according to C’est la grève.  

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, but it’s considered polite to arrive a little late when you’re invited to dinner or a friend’s house in France. 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; you should always be on time for a restaurant reservation 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 you’re 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

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 with 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

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 before the meal, but the French tradition is to eat it after the main course.

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 should eat it after the cheese plate. If you don’t order a dessert, the cheese plate would be your last dish.

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

French breakfast never involves eggs or savoury food

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

Eggs, bacon, 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.

You can buy horse meat at a horse butcher shop: boucheries chevalines

Horse butcher shop: boucheries chevalines

Quiche is not breakfast food.

Unlike some cultures, quiche is too savoury for breakfast. This is strictly a lunch and dinner food item.

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNFnZgFHMx4

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

If you ever get invited to someone’s home, and they pour you a cup of tea or coffee in a bowl, don’t freak out. 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 or fast food places like McDonald’s

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

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 their own 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.

Most restaurants don’t start serving dinner until after 7:30 pm. As a result, it’s not unusual to finish your meal after 9 or 10 pm. 

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:

On average, most people eat a minimum of 2 to 3 meals a day in France; 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.

In the English-speaking world, an Entrée is the main course, but in French, the entreé is the appetizer. The main course is called le plat, or plat principal in French. French people are often very perplexed as to why the entrée is the main dish. 

In 18th century England,  a typical formal dinner had many more courses. British restaurants adopted the French word for appetizer “Entree,” which means “enter” because this was the dish that was served immediately preceding 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

This one always blows my mind. My daughter loves to order the 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.

French Commerce

Pink Toilette paper

funny French products: Pink toilet paper

Pink toilet paper seems to amaze some people.

The state determines the annual sales in stores.

Rock bottom sales are strictly regulated in France. By law, stores cannot have them except twice a year at a specific time and duration.

  • 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.

Both sales last five weeks each. During those two sales, merchants can sell their products at a loss. Any other time of the year is not allowed, and merchants can get fined if they sell things at a loss.

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

3 dogs at Pull & Bear department store in Montpellier
3 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 do stay open on Sunday will usually close by lunch. In some towns, certain businesses close on Monday.

There are exceptions, but these rules are generally true.

Health

It only cost about 25 euros to visit a dr in France.

If you’re a tourist visiting France and get sick, you’re in luck. It will only cost you~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 back, 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.

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

Doctors don’t always keep vaccines and shots in stock in their offices. Often, they’ll write you a prescription so you can pick it up yourself at the pharmacy. You then have to bring it back to the doctor.

Work

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

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.

There are up to 6 different French holidays and celebrations in the month of May.

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

May might be the most beautiful month to come to France, but it’s also the most frustrating because there are so many holidays during the month.

Children & Education

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

School work preschool France: white board

Kids in France have long school days that usually begin around 7:30 am to 8:30 am and end between 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm.

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.

There are a lot of school holidays in France.

jour-ferie- bank holiday possibly closed

France has 11 official bank holidays each year. If you work, you’ll get the day off or be paid a higher wage for working that day.

French Children have four vacations that last about 15 days plus a long summer vacation. It always seems like there’s another vacation right around the corner.

Here are the school breaks in France for French students:

  1. All Saints holiday (Vacances de la Toussaint): mid Octobre to around Novembre 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 (Vacances de Printemps): Usually in April
  5. 2 months Summer holiday (Les grandes Vacances): July to September.

Smoking at some schools in France is tolerated.

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

Some middle schools and high schools tolerate students smoking in front of the school entrance. It really is kind of shocking to see.

Children are required to take two foreign languages in middle school.

Children in France begin learning a Foreign language as early as elementary school. It’s very rudimentary;  colours, numbers, and the language children learn might change from year to year.

By middle school, children are expected to learn English and a second foreign language, which can be a regional French language such as Occitan or Alsacian. Other language options for students might include Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, etc. It depends on the school and which languages they offer.

Milk is never served as a drink in French schools in France

In French culture, Children don’t drink milk. So at school, French children are served water. Around high school, the cafeteria options open up a bit, and things like juice and pop might be available depending on the school.

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

boy and girl on Yacht smoking and drinking

Some parents like to let their children try a little wine at the dinner table. Not much, just a thimble or a taste, and it’s perfectly legal because there is no minimum drinking age in France.

It’s not legal to let your children drink until they are intoxicated.

Parents have a legal obligation to be present if their child drinks alcohol and is less than 16 years old.

Fun fact: French schools used to serve alcohol to children in 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 purchase alcohol is 21. In France, it’s 18, and people rarely get carded.

Other Misc Stuff

April fools 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 fools 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.

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

 

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