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
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.
HISTORY AND STEREOTYPES
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.
TITLES AND GREETINGS
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
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
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