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A guide to customs and dress in France. What to wear, what to do and why.

Most travellers will feel seriously under dressed in France. Every second woman or man looks like a model and has the clothes to match. In winter they wear sweeping coats and boots and women have tousled locks draping from berets. The impracticalities of this kind of dress for travellers is obvious.

The best thing to do is bring one set of formal clothes to wear out (literally) for more dressy occasions. For the most part, sensible clothing that is not too skimpy or tight will suffice. Keep yourself tidy and your clothes clean and ensure sufficient body cover, particularly when visiting churches and other religious establishments. Some churches will refuse entry to people in shorts or short skirts and with bare shoulders. In the south it is a little more conservative so women should not wear skimpy or see through clothing.

Summers are very hot and visitors from other parts of Europe may be surprised, particularly in the south, however the French rarely wear shorts. If you do wear them make sure they are not too short. The winters are very cold in the north (mild in the south) so dress according to the season.

The French always dress up for dinner at restaurants so try and follow the local custom. If you want to shop for French clothes the best sales are in January and August.

The French have a long and colourful history. Comments are often made about the rudeness or stuffiness of the French. While this may sometimes be true it is often no more so than in other countries which are overrun with tourists. If you are polite and friendly you are likely to meet similarly minded people. Try to use as much French as possible, particularly when addressing people, eg use Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle.

France is generally a relatively safe country to travel in as a female, even if you are alone. However it is always best to dress sensibly, not to be out late alone and not to visit areas where self-respecting French women would be, unless you want to be there!

If you have been invited somewhere for dinner (likely) dress smart casual (no jeans). Try to arrive punctually within 15 minutes of the appointed time or ring to inform your host otherwise. If you want to bring a gift, avoid wine unless you are a specialist. Flowers are recommended but not chrysanthemums which are used in funeral wreaths.

Try to use Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle when addressing people and not first names. When you come into a business, restaurant or hotel always say "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" and "Au Revoir" when you leave.
On the phone answer with "Âllo" but don't do this out on the street.
"Pardon" is the correct way to excuse yourself for any tiny misdemeanours such as bumping into someone on the street.
Friends and acquaintances always greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, otherwise with a handshake. If you are not sure let them make the first move.

Try to use as much French as possible, although most waiters and salespeople will switch to English if they detect even a slight accent.

Try to arrive within 15 minutes of the appointed time and ring if you are going to later.

Most restaurants open at noon for lunch and close in the afternoon before reopening for dinner after 8pm. Some bistros and cafés remain open during the afternoon. Small businesses, banks and post offices close daily noon-3pm. Many establishments shut down on Sundays, and most museums are closed on Mondays.

Always check your bill for the service tax. If it is not included then leave a tip of about 15%. Hairdressers expect good tips, but only leave taxis a few Euros.

If you are opening a bank account or purchasing insurance etc it is quite possible you will be shuffled from desk to desk or from one phone line to another. Be patient, explain yourself clearly and you will get the task done.

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