The French are widely renowned for having one of the most refined cultures in the world and that kind of thing doesn’t happen without a strict social etiquette. There is an accepted way of being – talking, eating, socializing, thinking – that is somehow bred into the population from the womb. It explains why France is where the term “faux pas” originates from, to describe a deviation from the accepted French way.
Completely merged into everyday usage, faux pas was first coined in the 1670s, meaning “false step” that can be an actual loss of physical balance but more commonly refers a social gaffe.
Think drinking gravy in front of party guests. Apparently a HUGE faux pas, no matter what country you do it in (or so I’m told).
In preparation for my last minute trip to Paris, in addition to restaurant recommendations, I’ve received a lot of advice on what to expect during my trip – the dos and don’ts – to avoid public shunning of the locals who will otherwise be shaking their expertly coiffed heads at the gauche North American who exclaims a little too appreciatively at plant-filled cafes and artery-clogging slabs of fromage (see, I’m bilingual already!).
When I inquire as to why Parisians operate the way they do (or NOT do), the paltry explanation offered is simply “It is just not done” with the same unflinching authority as a Dothraki recites “It is known.” Vague, mysterious, and simple to the point of being abrupt. So français!
Afraid of bumbling all over The City of Light with my overenthusiastic and unsophisticated zeal (the way Khaleesi stormed Meereen) I’ve compiled a list of 7 Surprising Faux Pas To Avoid Committing In Paris. And don’t ask me why this is the way it’s done in Paris because heck if I know.
1/ EXPECTATIONS OF BREAKFAST
If you’re accustomed to a hearty breakfast – like a generous fraction of quiche or creamy scrambled eggs – forget about it in Paris. This was probably the most devastating revelation to me – breakfast is not a thing. French toast is for dessert and egg dishes are reserved for lunch and dinner but the first meal of the day is simple with little variation.
2/ TRY-HARD STYLE
Parisians are known for their effortless style, emphasis on the effortless. As one of the fashion epicentres of the world, they set the trends, they don’t follow them. They ere on the side of classic, timeless pieces, maintaining a healthy distance from head-to-toe trendy because nothing is less stylish than looking like you’re trying too hard. It’s all about attitude and spirit, not what you put on your body.
3/ DON’T FORGET THE MAGIC WORD
Put aside your English to French dictionaries because there’s only one word you need to know. The keystone to politeness in Paris is offering a bright Bonjour or Bonsoir– to shopkeepers, waiters, and even strangers in the elevator – to acknowledge the other person as an equal, worthy of respect. They will consider you extremely rude if you forego this so get ready to practice your French.
4/ RUSHING AROUND
While big cities are generally synonymous with the constant, on-the-go mentality, Parisians love to linger all day on a café terrasse – rain shine, winter or summer. They will order an espresso or a glass of wine and spend hours deep in conversation or people-watching solo. Don’t worry about impatient waiters! This custom is so ingrained in the culture that they don’t even bring the bill until requested.
5/ NOT LOVING FOOD
If you don’t worship at the altar of food, I cannot (see: will not) be friends with you. Neither will most Parisians. This is the one faux pas I have no fear I could ever commit. Eating in the land of cheese, wine, and indulgent, butter-filled pastries, food is not just sustenance, it’s a religion. If you hope to immediately ingratiate yourself to a Francophone, reverently intone “Food is Life.”
6/ HAVING NO CHILL
Parsians are as famous for their timeless style as they are for their too cool for school attitude. Nothing is less sophisticated to the French than showing too much enthusiasm. For example, if you watched a movie that you adored, you must stay chill AF, stating “It was good, but it lacked something,” a way of retaining your composure without actually explaining why it was only “ok”. Hence the French expression je ne sais quoi.
7/ SHALLOW CONVERSATION
Do you hate small talk? If so, then maybe you are more French than you know. Parisians may come off as snooty to foreigners but it’s just that they do NOT tolerate idle chitchat. If you want to engage in conversation in Paris without being dismissed, talk about art, politics, culture – weighty subjects they deem worthy of diving into that will form more significant a bond than what the weather is like.
Which faux pas are you most likely to commit?
Now that you’re prepared for what NOT to do in Paris, here are some ideas for what to do, especially if you’re stranded in the City of Lights like I was.
Keep your stalking game strong and follow me @teriaki if you aren’t already!