French people are very nice. They even have a city named Nice! The truth is, you’ll find incredibly kind and generous people in France. So, why do they have a bad reputation for being rude and arrogant? It’s because they expect their visitors to behave well.
If you’re learning to speak French, you’re on the right path to showing respect in France. There’s no greater sign of appreciation than learning a foreign language. But there are other social rules every French person expects a tourist or visitor to follow. These rules are called etiquette. Learn the most important rules of etiquette in France, so you know how to behave well. And then you’ll surely experience how nice French people are.
1. Always Start With a Greeting
First impressions matter. Whether you’re walking into a shop, or asking a local for directions, always lead with a greeting. It’s the first thing French people expect to hear from anyone they meet. And to do it right, you need to say it in French.
How to say “hello” in French:
- Bonjour! – For “Good morning!” and “Good afternoon!”
- Bonsoir! – For “Good evening!”
- Salut – “Hello!” (informal)
If you want to raise your greeting formality by a level, add “monsieur” or “madame” to your greeting. Adding this gendered title shows respect.
For example, you can say “Bonjour, monsieur!”to a male waiter. Or a “Bonsoir, madame!” to a female shop assistant.
2. Say Please and Thank You
This is as basic as etiquette gets. Mothers teach this to their toddlers. When you’re in France, say please and thank you often and in French. It’s polite and respectful.
- Merci (beaucoup)! – Thank you (very much)!
- S’il vous plait! – Please!
3. Apologize Nicely
Whether you accidentally bump into someone or ask for assistance, you should always apologize. Always be on your toes to be polite in France. French etiquette is stricter than in the United States. If you address a stranger with an “Excuse me!” in French, you’ll find that French people are very nice.
How to apologize in French:
- Excusez-moi – “Excuse me!” (for seeking attention)
- Excusez-moi de vous déranger – “I’m sorry to bother you!” (for interrupting someone)
- Pardon – “Sorry!” (public apology)
- Je suis désolé(e) – “I’m sorry!” (formal apology)
- C’est ma faute. – “It’s my fault.”
If you’re seeking additional help, you can also add:
- J’ai un petit problème. – “I have a small problem.”
- Est-ce que vous pourriez m’aider? – “Could you help me?”
There are many other way to apologise as well, but these apologies are used in everyday situations on the street. You’ll quickly learn to determine which apology to use for which situation. If you’re trying to get through a crowded metro, you say “Pardon!”. If you’d like help from a shop assistant, but she’s on her phone, you say “Excusez-moi de vous déranger!”. And if you bumped into someone and spilled their coffee on them, you would say “Je suis désolé(e)! C’est ma faute!”.
4. Address Titles Appropriately
When you’re addressing someone, make sure you use proper titles. That’s the most polite way to talk in France to strangers. You use “monsieur” for men, “madame” for married women, and “mademoiselle” for unmarried women.
If you have the pleasure of meeting an ambassador or the president of a prestigious club, you should always address titles appropriately. In addition to Monsieur or Madame, you should also add their title when you greet them. For example: “Monsieur l’Ambassadeur” or “Madame la Présidente”.
5. Wish People Well
Wishing stranger a good day is common everywhere. In France, it shows good manners to wish someone well. You can easily do that with:
- Bonne journée! – “Have a nice day!”
- Bonne soirée! – “Have a good evening!”
- Bonne nuit! – “Good night!”
6. Leave with a Goodbye
When you’re leaving, make sure you say a proper goodbye. There are various ways you can say goodbye, with different levels of formality. In French, when you say goodbye, you include when you’re planning to see them again.
- Au revoir! – “Goodbye!” (general)
- Salut – “Goodbye!” (informal)
- À demain – “Until tomorrow”
- À bientot – “See you soon!”
- Adieu – “Goodbye!” (final)
Speak French to Be Nice to People
Behaving according to basic French etiquette is very important in France. Always aim to be as polite as possible. Then you’ll realize that French people aren’t as rude and arrogant as they’re rumored to be. In fact, French people are very nice. You’ll get better customer service, and a chance to make friends in France if you’re nice to people.
French people appreciate you speaking French to them more than anything. They love their language, so hearing a foreigner speak it makes them much kinder. If you want to learn more about French than just greetings, OptiLingo can help show you how to interact with French people.
By showing you high-frequency phrases, you’ll know exactly how French locals speak every day. Our mobile language learning app makes you speak, so you’ll have the confidence you need when you come face-to-face with a French person. Practice your pronunciation, and develop your fluency fast with OptiLingo!