Lights. Romance. Action. Nah, it’s not a movie, it’s France! Home to the city of lights ‒ Paris! It’s also home to a lot of quirky and unique French customs which will probably blow your mind. So strap in, commençons tout de suite! ‒ Let’s begin right away!
Looking to do business in France? Check out our free Doing Business in France guide!
1. Kisses, Kisses Everywhere
You’ll have to do a lot of puckering up once you’re in France. It is customary to greet people with kisses on both cheeks – faire la bise. Now don’t go giving wet sloppy kisses to everyone, kisses are meant for close friends and long term colleagues. A handshake can do for business partners and clients, and as a bonus, here’s a helpful article on doing business in France.
You can’t kiss goodbye at a party and still stay back either; it’s considered rude.
2. Something Smells Fishy
Look out, it’s raining fish! In France, this can literally happen. Where? In the Dunkirk festival that runs for two and a half months, from January to March. The highlight of the event holds in front of the town hall where throngs of people are showered with 450 kilos of wrapped, smoked herrings. Stow away the Sunday clothes and don’t forget your umbrella.
3. That’s April Fish Day To You, Madame!
When the world runs wild with pranks on April Fools’ Day, something fishy is on hand in France ‒ literally.
Pinning a paper fish (or a live one, if you can manage it) on unwary friends and relatives on April Fish Day (Poisson d’avril) is most certainly traditional. The papers also float a false story with a hidden fishy reference (an Easter egg of sorts) that readers can have fun finding out.
4. French Kids Are Mini Gastronauts
In France, it’s none of that mashed up puree, burgers, or French fries and ketchup for children, no sirree! Kids are fed the same food as adults, and there are a lot of greens and veggies there too. Article 2 of the Public Health Code 2011 even restricts the amount of ketchup, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, and salt to be served with dishes it was meant to be eaten with. This encourages healthy diets and preserves the traditional French cuisine ‒ which UNESCO declared a ‘World Intangible Heritage’ in 2010.
5. Say Cheese!!!
Camembert, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme de Cantal, Reblochon, and that’s just the beginning. France is the home of cheese, and it’s customary to share a cheesy dessert after a meal. With more than 1200 varieties of cheese, and a billion tons of cheese being produced yearly, the average French eats 26 kg of cheese yearly. It’s quite possible to eat a different cheese every day of the year!
6. A Wine Has Its Own Holiday
France does love its wines. It loves the Beaujolais so much that it has its own holiday‒yep, you heard that right, a holiday. The Beaujolais nouveau has a designated holiday annually, on the third Thursday in November at the end of its production.
It’s a really big deal, with people rushing to buy bottles, and glasses are raised everywhere in a toast. In the town of Beaujeu where it is grown, barrels of the first wine produced are rolled down the streets, drilled through later, and then consumed.
7. Baguette Treat
Normally, the French frown at eating food on the street. Food is meant to be enjoyed and savored at home or in a nice restaurant ‒ food trucks have ruined this, though.
However, there is an exception. Fresh baguettes can be eaten while walking back home, but just the top. Eating below the brim of the paper bag is simply not done. Bread is so important to the French that most meals are usually accompanied with tasting bread.
8. Green And Yellow, Green And Yellow
No, I’m not talking about the Brazilian flag. It’s the Saint Catherine’s Day celebration in France, and the funny yellow and green hats are given to unmarried women over 25 years (Catherinettes) by their wed friends and relatives. Held annually on the 25th of November, the Saint Catherine colors of yellow and green signifies faith and wisdom. The colors were believed to attract husbands. Yes, you’re probably thinking it runs against the quest for gender equality (you’re thinking right), but wait till you get a load of the prayer for a good husband that the Catherinettes say at the statue of Saint Catherine on the corner of rue de Clery.
Before you go into a fit, it might be good to know that Saint Catherine stood up to Emperor Maximus, and was executed when she refused to marry him.
9. The Dark Side Of Bachelor/rette Parties
Don’t be scared, unlike American Bachelor/rette parties, French ones have a morbid theme. The French term for this occasion is le enterrement de vie de garçon/ jeune, literally meaning ‘the funeral of the life of the young man/woman.’ It’s humorous because it’s believed that your single life with its freedom is dead, and your bachelor/rette is like a ‘wake.’
So it’s not unusual to see a groom-to-be or a bride-to-be, carrying a fake costume tombstone alongside other usual bachelor or bachelorette items ‒ wink wink.
10. DIY Groceries
If you’re already used to your groceries being bagged for you after you shop, you’re in for a big shock in France mon ami – my friend.
Here, you bag your own groceries, dear. The reason for this might be so you can be self-reliant, but some people just chalk it up to French pride. Whatever it is, it’s nice if you are finicky about people touching your food, or like your groceries bagged a particular way. It’s also good to know that those cracked eggs you find when you unpack the groceries at home are on you.
What other French traditions do you know?
There you have it, a glimpse of France’s rich culture. Do you know any others?
You never will if you don’t go, so maybe pencil down France when choosing your next holiday destination. And if you're ready for the next step and thinking about moving to or starting a business in France (here are 7 reasons why you should), don't forget we offer French interpreting and French translation services.