Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. France is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your French language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, the French daily life shares some similarities with American life, but with a few unique differences.
Much of French society still operates a traditional daytime living schedule. Adults and school aged children are generally up by 7:00 a.m., allowing for the business and school day to begin promptly at 8:30 a.m.
Breakfast in France is similar to breakfast in the United States, though consists of at least one variation that Americans might find odd. The French, as everyone knows, love their coffee, but their morning brew is served in a bowl instead of the standard coffee mug. Their coffee is served with milk and accompanied by bread, butter, jam, and fresh viennoiseries.
The work day begins at 9:00 a.m. and, even though France has evolved as a member of a competitive global marketplace, their society has never given up on their long midday lunch break. Typically, French businesses are literally out to lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day and the work day is extended to 6:00 p.m. Some businesses will compensate for the two-hour lunch break by extending working hours as late as 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.
During the week, evening hours are spent relaxing at home, doing homework, watching television, or reading books. Dinner is typically eaten between 7p.m. and 8 p.m., when all of the family is home together. As is the case in many cultures, the weekends are entirely different for the French. Saturdays and Sundays are spent catching up with friends, going to movies and nightclubs, and playing sports.
While breakfast is more casual on the weekends, dinners and lunches are formal affairs. The extended family gathers together for the evening meal, followed by brandy and liqueurs and coffee. The style of dress among the French is practical with the most important consideration being that one must dress for the occasion. The quality and label of outfits are less important than maintaining an appropriate appearance for the event.
In some cultures, being late is wholly unacceptable, but in France, there’s a more open-minded view on late arrivals. This is especially true in the south of France, where being 15 to 20 minutes late isn’t frowned upon. When you do arrive, you’ll be expected to be bringing a small gift, like a bouquet of flowers, a live plant, or chocolates.
If you bring flowers, take the time to understand the significance of your gift. For instance, never bring an even number of flowers. Typically, bouquets of even numbers are left at graves or given at funerals, so an even number has come to represent death. Similarly, the number 13 is also viewed with superstition. Giving three, five, seven, or nine flowers is perfectly acceptable.
The type of flower matters as well. Carnations are considered bad luck, and chrysanthemums are another symbol of death because they’re often presented at funerals. Red roses can either represent love or socialist politics, depending on the situation in which they’re given. Yellow roses, or any yellow flower, represents the lifestyle of cuckoldry.
When bringing gifts to your host, wines should be avoided unless they’re of exceptional vintage and made in France. Giving gifts of foreign food or drink should be avoided altogether.
Finally, a thank you is expected. While a traditional note or an email may be greatly appreciated, at least express your gratitude through a phone call.