When in Paris Don’t Do as the Parisians Don’t Do

France, though, is different. With 83 million tourists arriving each year, it is the number one tourist destination in the world. Tourists far outnumber the 65 million who are locals.

The French, then, understandably worry about the possibility of cultural erosion. If you don’t show a sensitivity to local culture and preferences when you visit, you will often be met with coldness. Luckily, there aren’t too many rules to remember. If you plan a visit to Paris (or anywhere else in France), keep these pointers in mind.

At stores, don’t mind your own business

 In many large cities, the owners of even small stores and restaurants tend to be too preoccupied to bother with small talk with their customers. Paris is different.

Here, if you don’t greet every small business owner with at least a bonjour when you enter and make time for an au revoir when you leave, they will be offended. Parisians still retain their small-town roots when it comes to these little social touches.

Don’t forget to sit the right way at the table 

Whether you’re at a restaurant or at the home of a French family, you need to know what to do with your hands when you sit down to a meal. Hands on the lap are bad form. You’re considered a far more friendly type if you put your hands on the edge of the table. It’s just your hands that go on the table, though — not your elbows.

Don’t be too formal with the bread 

New York tends to be very protective of its long-standing finger food tradition (as Mayor de Blasio recently discovered while attempting to eat a pizza with knife and fork).

While many foreigners visiting New York worry that using their hands for pizza will make them look like animals, it’s just the way New York eats one of its favorite foods. France is unpretentious in a somewhat similar way — if you put your bread roll on your plate, you’re considered prissy. Instead, you’re supposed to simply put it directly on the tablecloth. Here, again, Paris shows its rustic roots in the middle all its sophistication. 

Don’t ask for a doggie bag 

If you hate the idea of wasting food, you would want anything left over at a restaurant meal to go in a doggie bag. Unfortunately, Paris hasn’t yet been introduced to the concept.

At most restaurants, asking to have your leftovers packed will get you looks as if you asked for the leftovers on someone else’s plate.

Don’t miss an opportunity to show your enthusiasm for French

Even if your entire vocabulary in French consists of excusez-moi and merci, you need to trot it out every time you ask for directions, ask for help in a store or anything else.

As you stumble after that, Parisians will gallantly come to your rescue, encouraging you to speak in English. If you start in English, though, many will be offended that you would assume that they would know your language when you don’t know theirs. You’re far more likely to get the help you need when you start with a couple of words in French.

Don’t touch that fruit 

Buying produce at a farmers’ market in the US, you’d feel free to touch and feel whatever fruit or vegetable you fancied. Paris, though, is less touchy-feely. Whatever you want to buy, you need to point it out (without touching) and wait for the seller to package what you want, himself.

Don’t be touchy-feely with anything else, either 

To an American, an air kiss next to the cheek in greeting is considered too intimate in many circumstances. If you need something more than a handshake, a halfhearted hug is always better. In Paris, the faire la bise is considered far less intimate than a hug. If you go around hugging people, they’ll think that you’re hitting on them.


There isn’t much more to keep in mind. Nevertheless, you should still try to stay tuned in to the way people react to things you do. If you detect a touch of annoyance, you can always ask questions. If there is a new rule, people will be happy to let you know. Don’t forget to read our post about how to save money when traveling in France !