French Culture for Not-So-Dummies

photo-1482349988240-aa1f61e7bddf.jpeg Photo by Darren Coleshill on Unsplash

By Rebecca Isjwara

Life in France has been romanticized to entice students and tourists alike. It’s no surprise that the country has that allure—the more you learn about France, the more exciting of a place it becomes. From fine art, good food, to a runway-worthy fashion scene, it’s hard to not want to go there at all. But what happens after you have a study plan to go to France and haven’t a first clue on how to blend in with the crowd? Here are a few tips to get you living like a French whilst showing the utmost respect for their culture.

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1. Speak French

It’s probably no secret that people in France expect you to speak their language, even though you might very obviously appear like a tourist. The warnings from your friends are true, and you should probably take their advice: attempt to pick up the language. If you’re going to live there, this might be the extra push you need to take on the language and master it. If you decide to pick up a few phrases before landing in France, taking note of which phrases to use politely might bring you a long way, too.

2. Dress to… Blend In

Apart from the usual “dress to impress” advice, the French would prefer it if you do not stand out or draw attention to yourself. Upon arrival, you might notice that the native French tend to sport more toned-down colours or subtle clothing in order to blend with the crowd. Not to say that they don’t have great fashion sense—they absolutely do. They just tend to go for a simple yet sophisticated look. A quick search on Pinterest might give you some inspiration on how to dress as the French do.

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3. Live to Eat, not Eat to Live

Or in France’s case: live to dine, not dine to live. The French take their cuisine and culinary culture very seriously (you’ll affirm this once you’ve had a taste of authentic French food), unlike the grab-and-go habits we might be more accustomed to. The French take their time to sift through the multiple courses of their meals and take time in enjoying their food. They also tend to have dinner later than we do, sitting down to eat around 8 PM instead of our usual 6 PM.

4. Kiss and Tell

That’s to say that the French greet each other with kisses on both sides of the cheek, similar to how we cipika-cipiki (kiss on the right and left cheek) in Indonesia. Hopefully you’ll be accustomed to this behaviour already due to our similarities, but this is a quick heads-up if you didn’t know it before. This way of greeting is common between a man and a woman, a woman and another woman, and sometimes even between two men.

5. Stranger Not-So-Danger

But the French do find it weird if you interact with them when you don’t know them at all. If you’re ever lost, the French will find it more appropriate that you visit your local metro information desk to ask for directions rather than have you approach someone random on the street. If you ever need to, though, be sure to have your “excuse me” and “please” phrases ready to address them appropriately, as they might look at you very oddly if you don’t.

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