Cultural Differences: How to Scare the Hell Out of a French Person

Salut !

Today, we’ll cover precisely the kind of topic you come to Comme une Française for.
Deep insight on France and French people that only a local can reveal.
Delivered with kindness and honesty. Never judgmental.

Today’s video is about “How to frighten a French person”: or, what foreign habits you have that will unsettle them.
And might frighten them without your even being aware of it.

Note: Please remember before we start that this video is here is help you be aware of cultural differences,
not to force you to change who you are.


Click to watch « Cultural differences: How to scare the hell out of a French person »:

Click here to read the post « 7 types of French friends »

If you liked this video, don’t miss « Cultural differences: 5 scary things for foreigners »!

Et toi ?

Have you ever heard of those unspoken rules?
Does it explain something about French behaviours around you?

The comment section is the best area to start discussions and ask questions!

A tout de suite dans les commentaires,

Géraldine

PS: I felt very vulnerable while preparing this video as it’s very straightforward and honest. Not something you see on many blogs around. So I was worried about the reaction to its message. What kept me going and telling you this is the true relief I’ve seen in the eyes of expats when I gave all these pieces of advice. You deserve them too.

Join the conversation!

  • Ce conseil est très précieux. Nous les Texans adorons donner des câlins à une personne gentille. Nos câlins sont destinés à être simplement amicaux.

    Nous serions très embarrassés si nous donnions de fausses idées!

    Tu nous as rendus un grand service

  • Salut Géraldine , ça va
    Merci pour les instructions sur la façon de se comporter en france❤️Il n’est pas étonnant que nous sommes considéré comme impolis en Amérique, Nous devons nous rappeler notre bonté humaine

  • Salut Geraldine! Je vais voyager en France le mois prochain. Je suis tres excite! Merci beaucoup pour les video.

  • An interesting lesson, as always. However I have to take issue with you on the hugging question. I was watching the French rugby team the other day and they seem to have a COMPULSION to hug other players. OK, a little roughly sometimes, perhaps rugby players are just naturally more friendly?

  • Geraldine- I have a french friend (whom I dearly love) and I had not seen her for a few weeks and wow I was very surprised when SHE hugged me!!!

  • Bonjour Géraldine,
    Thank you so much for these rules. I was only aware of the importance of saying “bonjour” when entering a shop, etc but was unaware of the need to close. It explains why saying goodbye after a dinner party at the home of a french person can take 15 minutes.These 5 points could possibly be the most valuable lessons I received since living in France.
    Thank you. Thank you. Au revoir .

  • Salut Geraldine. Selon mon expérience, la meilleure façon de commencer une conversation avec un Français est de parler en français. Mon français n’est pas si bon, mais plus j’essaie, plus il est apprécié. M.

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  • I love your videos! I’m still unclear why it is that the French don’t hug. I understand that they don’t. Do you know the history of this?

  • Bonjour Geraldine
    Your videos are very helpful and full of interesting information. I am wondering if when greeting someone with le bisou is there a habit of starting to one particular side so as to avoid an awkward situation? Or do you have to figure that out with each person?
    Merci!

  • my experience of french greetings etc hand shaking bises ok with all that but i have noticed some french do not say au revoir when they leave is this because of less formality? also
    i am a very hugy person very touchy feely but would hardly ever hug someone i do not know very well.I think english society is more similar than you think but most english would find it a little overpowering or even scared to be huged as a greeting /or saying goodye. I have many interesting view points on touching

    • I agree, I only hug family and close friends and I live in the states. I haven’t been to France but les bises would be a bit scary lol and I would be prone to smiling as I’d be nervous and embarrassed by my French

  • I just found your videos and am finding them very useful and enjoyable! I work in global business and have made mistakes 😉 In one case I corresponded with a colleague in Barcelona and always wrote “Caro Pere”. When we met in person some months later he told me that I was effectively saying, “My darling Pere” and that it always put a smile on his face – but maybe I should know this for other communications! So, in my current role communicating with French colleagues I have been using their names without the “Dear” – and today from your video I have learned that this should be softened with “Bonjour” first. And then – the name or only the content??

  • Bonjour Geraldine,
    This is génial! So useful and so true. I lived near La Rochelle in my 20s and hugged and smiled way too much! Now we’re buying a holiday home in France and hoping to make friends with our new neighbours. I can see your posts are going to be a lifesaver! Merci mille fois.

  • Salut! Quand j’avais 14 ans j’ai visité la France, et pour la première semaine j’ai resté avec une famille française à Villeneuve-sur-Lot. En arrivant chez eux (et pour moi sans avertissement) ils m’ont fait la bise! oh là là! je ne savais pas quoi faire et alors j’ai décidé à faire la bise aussi! je ne sais pas s’ils savaient que la bise m’a pris par surprise! MDR Moi, je préfère le « handshake » 🙂

  • I’m confused. So I know a male french friend. I have known him for 5 months. What is he? Not an “ami”, I see. Not a “copin”, I don’t consider him an acquaintance because we have talked about many. many things that I don’t share with acquaintances but with friends (american friends) So here I would call him a friend but in France what is he?

  • Hey! Love your vids! It’s always a great watch un the subway… Anyway a friend of mine told me more about “hugging” in France. The closest translation would be “une accolade”
    C’est comme un câlin non sexuale.

  • In England is catching on quite a lot, usually accompanied with a partial hug. You might, for example, place your hands on the other persons arms or shoulders whilst giving them a little kiss on each cheek. So this begs the question … in France, what are you supposed to do with your hands whilst giving ? Is it ok to touch the other person’s arm or shoulders? I often do, but I’ve noticed that many French clasp their hands behind their backs whilst giving … is this the norm?

    • Great question Rachel. With friends, I usually touch the arm or the shoulder. But this is not a generality.
      The best, as you are doing very well, is to look at what French people are doing around you.

  • Oh no! I feel so embarrassed now 😮 I often go in for a hug with my boyfriend, his friends, his kids and even my neighbours if I haven’t seen them for a while … ooops … never again! Where can I get my daily dose of much-needed hug ??? The French don’t even have a word for it – wow – that is certainly news to me! Thanks for the advice! Not sure I can live without hugs …

  • Hey
    well as for me my years in France were a bit hard to cope with… If I had to tell which culture or educational matters I’m closer to, I’d say that I’m Australian with a mix of British, Japanese and Aussie education… Being in France was funny because I first lived in the South then I couldn’t understand why some French guys would “choose” which other guys to kiss on the cheek then just shake hands with the others… So I would just say hi not making any contact unless guessing from previous experience what was expected from me from a special individual… The funny thing is that I came back to hugging people when I moved to Paris. Living in that city was an experience to take on. Most French southerners would tell you that Parisian are cold and egoistic people… I was in shocked when French in Paris started to hug me… Then I realised that the French I was acquainted with were all in a rather multicultural group of friends. Americans, Aussies, British, Colombian, French, Italians, Germans, Spanish, etc… We were kinda living L’Auberge Espagnole…

  • After a few months of arriving to the south of France, I invited a few neighbors to come for an afternoon snack. The time of the invitation was from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Obviously, snack time should have been around 4 p.m. Several neighbors came and knew that we were American and obviously did not know the French customs.

  • Bonjour!

    Thank you so much for this! I will be leaving for France in November and I am glad I bumped into your video because I am very clueless esp that hugging might scare a French person, also that e-mails or messages starting with the first name could be offbeat. I would keep in mind, saying bonjour and au revoir at the start and end of every conversation that I have. Thank you so much! Merci! 🙂

  • How do I tell my gal her name is Fatimah that l love her deeo from the bottom of my heart. It has to have my name inside the sentence too.
    Thank you

  • Hi Géraldine,
    Love the video, but have noticed that you pronounce the ‘h’ at the start of honest. That is one of the few where the ‘h’ is silent. However, it does not detract from your presentation. Well done, and thanks
    gwen

    • Hi Gwen,

      Yes, I have to confess, you are 100% correct.
      “Honest” is my nemesis. With its good friend “Jewelry”. 😉

  • I found that one of the worst mistakes Americans make is to assume that everyone speaks English. When I was living in France I tried to tell other Americans thatow interest the quickest way to break the ice is to try and speak a few words of French. The so-called aloof Frenchman will melt like butter if you show interest in him/her by speaking whatever little French you know.

    • I have to say that this is not true. I have been to France several times and speak “intermediate” French. My accent is atrocious and people will often switch to English and refuse to converse with me in French even when I try to insist. They are not always happy to hear you speak in French.

      • An atrocious accent will kill you. I had a physician friend who could not get his car fixed. He was certain he was saying words well emough. I told him to repeat to me what and how he was saying things. his accent was so poor that I did not understand a word. I studied up on automotive terms and we returned to the garage. I explained the problem and the mechanic grabbed my hand with both of his and thanked me repeatedly.

      • Yes I agree Simone, no matter how good you think your accent may be too, they always know you are English and consequently reply in English … difficult when you are trying to practice French conversation … makes you feel so rubbish 🙂

  • Salut Geraldine!

    D’abord, je te dirai que je ne écris pas très bien le français … mais je suis déterminé à l’améliorer. Par conséquent, pardonner mes nombreuses erreurs.

    Deuxièmement, j’aime beaucoup tes brillantes vidéos. Merci pour vos idées particulières. Ils sont inestimable.

    As-tu viens à Los Angeles? J’y ai habité pour beaucoup des années. Les “hugs” , il y a non-stop. Il vous rend insensible.

    Depuis que je visiterai à Paris avec une équipe de tournage, je suis contente que tu m’ as donné ce morceau de conseils!

    Merci encore un fois et a bientôt,

    Melissa

    • Bonjour Richard,
      I’m sure François Hollande took it well. If you look at the images of the “Marche” (the Paris walk), you’ll see lots of people hugging. It’s a way to comfort people in grief.

  • I have to say to everyone who does not hug. You are missing out! There is nothing like a hug from a good friend or from your mother….

    If you are ever in a country where it is okay to hug, consider trying it with someone that you know well.

    • I have to say to everyone who does not do la bise. You arr missing out! There is nothing like a bise from a good friend or from your mother….

      If you ever are in a country where it is okay to do la bise, consider trying it with someone that you know well.

  • So true. I remember my first time at a family party in France. The first person to leave came around and shook everyone’s hand and said good by. Me, I prefer the “Irish exit”!

  • Quel plaisir d’avoir trouvé votre site! je suis prof de français au Nouveau-Mexique et je vais montrer aujourd’hui “How to scare the hell out of a French person” en classe. Mes élèves ont du mal à croire que les français trouvent la bise moins intime qu’un câlin!

  • What do you think of “survolte” (with accent egu on the e) for “excited”?
    I am often (english) excited about things, and have searched for an effective word. Survolte sounds right to me.

    • Bonjour Veronica,
      “Survolté” is a good idea but wouldn’t fit to talk about the thing you’re excited about.
      We say “un public survolté” but not “Je suis survoltée…”.

    • This was a while ago and you’ve probably found an answer by now, but in case not, you can say “Je me passionne pour …” or that you find something “passionnant(e)”; or, if you mean you’re excited by the prospect of doing something, “J’ai hâte de …”. (By the way, to type é, hold down the Alt key and type 0233 on your number pad; è is 0232, ê is 0234; à is 0224, â is 0226 … you can even do œ, which is 0156. C’est passionnant, n’est-ce pas !?)

  • Concernant les “bises”, il faut quand même préciser que selon les régions, on a droit à 2 ou 3 bises, voire 4 dans certains cas … C’est toujours compliqué de faire 2 bises alors que la personne en attend 3 🙂

  • Merci, Geraldine. Your video helped me with some hurt feelings I had. Two years ago, I visited a French friend. We spent the evening laughing, eating good food, drinking great wine, and then sleeping five of us in his studio. The next day, when we said goodbye, I gave him a hug, and he became very wooden. I am glad to know he was not upset with me; Just not accustomed to hugs!

    • Thanks for sharing Jessie.
      You are absolutely right, some French people freeze when they’re hugged. 😀
      It’s not “against you” at all.

  • What a truly enlightening video! It is my dream to retire and travel France. I am constantly finding I must defend French culture when my American (non traveled) friends return with such horrible experiences. I’m so excited to have found your website and look forward to my learning more about the French people and culture! Thank you!

  • Salut – from Nidderdale north yorkshire
    Love the videos – they great ! Such good advice!!
    a BIG thankyou!
    Looking forward to your weekly emails

  • loved this video! it amazes me how greetings are always so different from one country to another.
    here in brazil there are different rules for men and women: women greet always with “la bise” (it can be one, two or three, depending on the region) or “a kiss on the cheek+ a hug” if it’s someone close, while men do “la bise” if it’s a woman and a handshake if it’s a man, or a hug if it’s someone close, but a man never ever ever does “la bise” with another man!
    whenever i see a foreigner here i feel for them, such a complex thing to master and with so many variations.. but i admit the prospect of not hugging anybody in the near future (moving next month to france) is kind of sad 🙁

  • Bonjour! I’m from Turkey. I have been living in France for 4 months now and I inded have noticed the “leave like an Englishman” thing myself. I generally say merci after closing my deal in a shop or simply nod my head but they really make you feel awkward by gestures and body language if you don’t explicitely say au revoir. :-))

  • Géraldine,

    No, I’m just kidding:-) Let’s try again..

    Dear Géraldine,

    I just stumbled upon your site today, and even though I am sooo thrilled that I did (due to your directness and honesty re: cultural “do’s and don’ts”), I am, nevertheless, mortified. I had *absolutely* no idea that I was offending someone by a) not always saying hello and goodbye (especially in stores) b) not knowing that I needed to do so individually c) that hugs were viewed as threatening to personal space (for me, to faire la bise still makes me feel sooo uncomfortable, at least much of the time. And the “rules” for doing so?! Once in Belgium (right to right), twice in France (right to left), and three times in Luxembourg (right-left-right). This is stressful to remember, especially when you’re in a multinational environment where some people faire la bise as they would in their home country, though others adapt to the norm of the country they are presently in It’s almost impossible to remember for the next time, and I often mess up by trying three when it should of been two, for example, and d) the possibility of really insulting/frightening someone by using a first name only greeting in the e-mail.

    Hmm, it seems like I’ve broken *every single one* of the errors you brought up in this video, but thankfully:
    -I now now why one of my former colleagues made a remark enquiring whether my hearing was very bad, as she said I never responded to her saying goodbye so I must have not heard her (I typically smiled and waved at her, ugghhhh). After that day she would walk around the office just to find me and be 100% sure I heard her say goodbye and I wished her goodbye back. It wasn’t just her, either. Come to think of it, there really was a lot of “everybody greeting” going on. I often tried to avoid it, but I’m not sure why (I’m an American in Luxembourg who interacts very regularly with French cross-border commuters working in the city).

    -Why it was “such a big deal/so very, very rude” (I was told by my partner) for me to go lay in the car at 3am while the wedding reception was still going on, even though I had a severe migraine and was acutely ill.

    So, I now will proceed to read/watch *everything* on this site. You may as well save my social life in francophone circles, and that would literally change my life—no joke.

    Keep up the fantastic work. This is a really fantastic site. I can’t wait to explore it all!

    All the best,

    Nora in Lux

    • Super, Nora!

      Please don’t freak out over everything you’ll discover. Everybody makes mistakes. The better is to laugh at them!

  • Hey Geraldine!
    I had a question, when you do “la bise”, which side do you go for first? I always confuse sides and it becomes an awkward situation, lol

    • Bonjour Dina,

      Great question… I have no idea.
      I start with “going left” but am not sure there’s a convention. 🙂

      • In Paris this is always starting “left then right”, and 2 kisses (1 per cheek).
        Things may be different in other areas of France (sometimes they start by the right side, which may be confusing sometimes :))

  • I absolutely love this video – it is so spot on and entertaining but also quite educational. I’m an American who has been in France for over 3 years now and married to a Frenchman and I completely agree with everything. The less-smiling thing is excellent advice for business – I’m going to share this on my blog! 🙂

  • What about hand shaking? Is that routine upon meeting people? In the US I think a handshake can often take the place of a hug, but still convey more warmth than a purely business handshake.

    • Bonjour Jane,

      Thanks for your question. On this topic, I recommend you watch this video on handshake:

  • Bonjour Geraldine,
    my husband and I have experienced the “live like the English”, while in La Rochelle we entered a shop and saw what we were looking for straight away, as the sales lady was serving, we just collected and paid for the item, she almost throw the change at me and we left, thinking how rude!!. When talking to my English friend, Debbie, who has lived in France for six years, she explained that going into a shop is like going into a house you must be respectful and say hello…. Understanding this has made a huge difference to subsequent visits. Also, whilst at Debbie’s annual commune party, we were most impressed with the young children saying hello and kissing us, as we had never met them before, that night we were considering how in our house you may get a grunt out of our teenagers, if your lucky. I love your formal/informal traditions.

    • Bonjour Denise,

      It’s wonderful that you managed to grow out of an initial “bad” situation and understanding the “customs”.
      However, the sales lady shouldn’t have been rude.
      Yes, in a shop, it’s crucial to say “Bonjour” and “Au revoir”. 🙂

      Also yes, we teach children very young to say “Bonjour” and “Merci” to adults.

      Thanks for your kind words!

  • Bonjour, Geraldine!

    Quand tu dit que le sens du mot “calin” est un peu sexuel, ca veut dire “sans vetements” ou tres intime/familier (seulement pour les couples peut-etre habilles)?

    Merci!

    Hannah

  • I was just wondering if, in France, friends hug, like for example if a 12 year old hugs her 12 year old friend. Merci !
    ~Marie

    • Hi Marie, kids just say bonjour/salut verbally at school, it changes during junior high (collège) I would say 🙂
      It comes with awareness of their manhood/womanhood.

  • Bonjour Géraldine
    Après plus de 5 ans en France, et plus de 3 ans de bosser chez des entreprises françaises, faire la bise avec les français ne m’étonne plus. Au contraire, je le trouve plus élégant et aussi plus pratique que de donner des hugs dans tous les sens quand on salue plusieurs amis à la fois. Celà dit, j’ai pourtant du mal a savoir comment saluer mes amis anglo-saxons dont j’ai fait connaissance en France, surtout les anglais : souvent je ne fait ni la bise, ni le hug, mais juste une simple signe de la main. C’est peut-être un peu trop distant.

    J’ai bien appris l’importance de dire “bonjour”, mais j’ai tjrs du mal a savoir comment dire “au revoir” après, par exemple, une petite discussion autour d’un cafe dans la cuisine du bureau. “Bonne journée” dans ce cas là me semble trop formelle, et faute de vocabulaire 9 fois sur 10 je file à l’anglaise. Oups!

    Merci bcp pour les conseils archi-pertinents et très gentiment expliqués !
    Sarah

    • Bonjour Sarah,

      Si c’est au travail “Bonne journée” est absolument parfait !
      Tu peux aussi, utiliser “à plus tard !”.

  • Bonjour Géraldine,

    Tes video tutorials sont vraiment super! Je suis à Lyon en erasmus et ce très important pour moi apprendre de nouvelles expressions et coutumes de la France. Pour moi, il était très difficile de comprendre de mot “truc” que les Français utilisent souvent!
    En attendant de nouveaux épisodes 🙂
    Kasia

  • Bonjour Geraldine,
    I agree completely with the French( I had a French Great-Grandmother). I take a while to slowly get to know someone well
    but then I will be their friend forever, I seems a more sincere way and more natural to me. Thanks for giving this advice.
    Judi

  • Wow! I’m so glad to have found you et bravo c’est tres tres bien fait! This is so funny. As an American living in Bordeaux, I can say that it’s confusing – people here tell me I’m too nice, too polite, I need to be more ‘Francais’ they say…friends (French!) have told me that I need to yell at people to get what I want. When you’re new someplace you don’t want to be rude, do you? Then if I try to be more direct, smile less, just say what I need, well then I’m called the rude American. Can’t win! I’ve definitely scared people with a hug, and I’ve definitely forgotten to say “Bonjouuuuuuuuur” and wow that did not go over well at ALL. It’s a delicate balance! One question – about the email and first name or no first name – is it normal to receive professional emails which have no greeting, and no sign off? I’ve noticed many emails from companies like this, for me I found it rude, very abrupt and effortless – much like not saying “Bonjouuuuur!” – but I gues in email that is the way it goes? Normal or maybe just a local thing? Love your presentation, going to watch more now!

    • Bonjour,

      Yes, it’s a delicate balance, you are right.

      About your question, I assume some people are just really bad at emails.
      And just don’t care about the reader’s feelings. 🙁

  • As usual Geraldine – you are spot on with this! I think I have been guilty of all of these at some time or another. (Maybe even trying to hug someone during an overenthusiastic sales meeting…no, maybe not.) Your tips and various lessons on cultural differences are so well done. Keep it going!

  • Cou Cou
    I enjoyed this piece very much. i am new to your site and feel right at home. I am more French than i thougth, i too do not like the “hug” i much prefer La Bise! Also, i am suspiscious of over zealous high energie people. I begin to think what are you trying to sell me! Merci Beacoup Au Revoir, pardon my french as i am a beginner.

  • Bonjour Geraldine, Great advice and good things to know. I knew some of these going over when we met the parents of our first exchange student…. WOW! Talk about stress! lol They would not hear of us staying in a hotel and started to become offended as I continued to try and pay for things ( like dinner at La Cigale 800e!!). I didn’t want to offend and it appeared we were getting along great. The best I could do was buy coffee at Puy du Fou one day because they had pre purchased the tickets for all of us. Again I will admit I was a bit stressed about conducting myself appropriately for the four days we were with them. On the last day they disappeared for an hour or two, I guessed to let us pack and get ready to leave. The next thing I know they are home with a bottle of Pernod for my father that I just mentioned in passing one of the days. It was very humbling to be treated so kindly and still can bring a tear to my eyes thinking of that time. Anyway, I figured the least I could do was attempt La Bise. VERY difficult and awkward for an american but I had to try. lol The father smiled and exclaimed “You do La Bise! That is great an american doing this!” I felt his appreciation was genuine and I think it was confirmed due to now when we email or talk he refers to me as his brother and once made the statement about his family and mine are one. My french is very poor and basic but I think I pulled it off. Prendre soin, Roger

  • Bonjour Géraldine.
    J´apprécie beaucoup la politesse française, les “bonjours” et “bonne journées”, les “monsieurs” et “madames”.
    Chez nous au Danemark on tutoye tout le monde sauf la reine et sa famille. C´est tres différent de la France.
    Mais les règles de amitié sont pareil. Nous sommes des noix de coco aussi . 🙂

  • Bonjour et Merci, Geraldine
    (Did you notice I did not start with your first name?) I have been in Paris for two weeks now and I am glad to know this. The most helpful points were No Hugging and friendships take a long time…
    As an American, I think I probably seem too brash, so I will remember le petit kiss on the cheeks et aussi, patience with friendships: good advice anyhow on that one.

    At least I do say Bonjour and Au Revoir, phew!
    Au revoir!
    R

    • Hi Robin,

      Yes, I noticed! Well done!
      It’s WONDERFUL you have the opportunity to apply all this advice straight away. 🙂
      Félicitations !

  • french people its so cold !!
    i’m mexican , in my country everybody it’s very friendly and
    we use to be very nice with everybody so.. when i went to france was very dificult to me to explain my behavior but in the end they understand that i was not beeing over confident. i just was being mexican in another country , now my friends undertend that mexican ones are so cute and amorous 🙂

  • Salut Geraline,
    I have a business which takes me to France and have visited the country all my life – I never new about the NO HUGGING rule! Thankyou!

      • Bonjour

        I just watched your video on 5 ways to terrify someone who is French and I have to say yous are exactly like the Scottish. Which would explain alot because of the old alliance between Scotland and France.
        My wife is American and I always tell her to tell people not to hug me. I hate being hugged by strangers.
        Starting a letter with my name is just like when my mother would give me into trouble.
        In Scotland, especially Glasgow, we don’t like to smile in business for the exact same reasons. Still to this day I see my wife in America dealing with people and have to remind her to not be so happy and American in Scotland.
        I feel so much better after watching your video that if I go to France I will fit in.
        As for saying goodbye to everyone I was introduced to, thats a Scottish thing too. We find it rude if someone just leaves. I always think people who just leave have done something wrong snd have to sneak away.
        Thank you for your lessons.

        From your oldest Allies in the world.

        Gilbert McComb

        longue vie à l’Écosse. Vive la France. l’ancienne alliance est toujours forte.

        Ps. We also have in common that in Scotland we use simple French still to this day and both countries don’t like the English.

        Au revour

        • Glad to be like you, Gilbert. 🙂
          I love Scotland so much, this is where I’ll spend my summer holidays this year.

  • I am the same as Ruth, a little confused as to when to ‘faire la bise’. We have known our French neighbours for some years but have never followed this tradition. We have always just shaken hands when arriving and leaving. Should we take the initiative or would that be totally wrong? Thank you for your usual excellent snippets of advice.

  • Coucou Geraldine!

    Merci beaucoup pour vos conseils – vraiment utile pour moi. Pour moi, c’est la bise – est ce que vous pouvez nous expliquer comment ça marche? Do I need to “faire la bise” with everybody I meet? As a British person, I really struggle with this so please help!

  • Le point 1, oh mais le point 1 !!
    Rien de tel qu’une gros hug à la première rencontre pour me glacer le sang !!
    Même par des gens que j’ai adoré par le suite, j’en frissonne encore Oo

  • Spot on and I’m guilty of all of them. I still haven’t forgotten the face of one man at church when I accidentally hugged him (when he went to give the bise and had his arms held out- what was I, an American on my 3rd day in France to think?). Ti be fair he’s married to an American and we were in an English church- but he just looked so horrified!

  • I had to laugh after watching this. When I returned to Paris last year, I stopped in to talk to one of the hotel clerks that I had conversed with the year before. He said “Of course I remember you. You were so…so…” and then he proceeded to throw his hands in the air and gesture excitedly. Now I realize that in my enthusiasm to converse in French, I was still communicating in my American way, which is very bubbly and outgoing. I’m sure I did scare the hell out of him! I’ll remember your advice for this year’s trip. Thanks so much!

  • Hello Geraldine,

    Your comments about smiling too much as a sales person resonates with me. I was a sales clerk at L’Occitane in a tourist city in British Columbia, Canada. A group of French tourists entered and I greeted them as I was trained to do – with a large smile. I was even more enthusiastic when I found out they were visiting from France. They ended up being standoffish and left without looking around the store. In Canada, it is polite to smile and store encourage you to smile as much as possible without coming off as a crazy person.
    Great video and thank you for fighting past your vulnerability!

  • This is just so useful and perfectly pitched – sensitive to your audience yet unapologetic. Well done Geraldine.

  • Bonjour Geraldine, I hadn’t heard any of these things, but after you explained why it is the way it is, it makes a lot of sense! Thank you for sharing this insightful wisdom, and I appreciate how vulnerable it must have made you feel. Merci.

  • Bonjour Geraldine, I really enjoy your beautifully presented videos on French culture and language. I just recently returned from a trip to Paris. I was wondering what to say in response to “Pardon Madame?” I ask this because a couple of times, when I was in the toilet, I had this said to me when someone tried to come in… In the US we would just say “no problem.” I wasn’t sure what to say so I said nothing but I felt like a response was needed. I personality like the more formal French culture than the familiar culture the US has with strangers. Merci. Jackie

    • Bonjour Jackie,

      For this precise “toilet” topic, you can say “Pas de problème” or say nothing. 🙂

  • Sorry Geraldine, previous message went by mistake before finishing it. I am Indian. A marathi community. We never hug or kiss the guests unless they are v

  • I learned about the ‘hugging’ from a French friend, who I specifically asked about the cultural repercussions. Now I just kiss (three times here in Languedoc). I laughed out loud at the filer a l’anglaise unfortunately because of our history, we are a target for quite some criticism and this one is a perfect example! I always follow the bonjour and au revoir route. I am really enjoying my weekly ‘medicament’ from your blog!

    • Bonjour Jackie,

      You too laughed at the “filer à l’anglaise”!
      A friend told me it was “take French leave” in English and this really reminded me how French and British history are linked.

  • I really enjoyed your advice. I am a more reserved American, and less likely to hug anyone unless it is family or a very dear friend I have not seen in a long time. I may fit in just fine, lol. I had read about what to say when entering and leaving a shop, which I will remember when I visit Paris in May this year.

  • Ooops! Forgot to add that my discomfort says a lot about how firmly entrenched cultural practices can be and consequently, hard to shift.

  • I’m from a French background and even though I’ve lived for a very long time in a country where hugs are common place (South Africa), I still feel very uncomfortable hugging to greet someone – even a friend. I’ll never initiate it.

  • Salut Geraldine
    Lots of really useful information on your weekly videos. When kissing is there a convention,is it left cheek or right cheek first.

      • It does differ by region…in my
        experience, when “la bise” starts on the left cheek (most common), expect 2 kisses.
        If someone starts on the right cheek, expect three kisses.
        If someone starts in the middle, you’re about to see a hug. 😉

  • Great advice plus love the video…I have not heard these rules put so clearly although I have sensed them from the times I’ve spent in France as I have a lot of French friends. Merci Tracy

  • Salut Geraldine I enjoy your insightful videos. Unfortunately, Americans perceive these conventions as hostility directed to Americans. We do smile too much and act very familiar even to strangers. I try to explain that this is how they act towards each other, too. Luckily, our first tour guide gave us a similar introduction concerning these issues. She also showed us several hand gestures that the French use and their meaning. Have you, or will you, do a video on gestures? Merci et au revoir!

    • Bonjour Carla,

      As you said, it’s important to make a difference between “perception” and “intention”.
      This is how the French culture is and it is essential to be aware of it during a stay.
      And being aware and adapting is not changing who we are. You got it perfectly right.

      This is a great idea for a video, thanks!

  • Bonjour Geraldine,

    Maintenant j’ai compris la formalité de pas dire que Geraldine sans rien plus. Excéllente vidéo comme toujours. Ca fait 14 ans ici en France et ca prends du temps de faire des amis mais une fois que c’est bon c’est pour toujours je crois! Merci et à bientôt . Fiona.

  • Merci beaucopu, Geraldine! I was very surprised to learn about the NO HUGGING rule. I will remember this in my future travels through France. I have noticed that wherever you go in France, when you leave (especially in shops) they always say ‘Au revoir. Bonne journée! And I do this all the time now.

  • Thank you so much for this video, Géraldine! As much as I speak the language pretty well after living in Quebec for some time, it’s these little cultural things that make the difference between feeling really welcome and at home and feeling like an outsider. Thank you!!

  • This is a very useful video! I find it so exhausting to get through the French “friendship levels”, Germans aren’t that outgoing either, but we don’t have conventions.
    And how funny you wouldn’t start an e-mail only with the name, in French-speaking Switzerland they do, I guess it’s the German influence.
    I’m looking forward to next week’s video 🙂

  • Great comments. I have been in France for 3 years and have noticed a lot of handshaking among men, when arriving and leaving a business situation or a party. Even the man who delivers the oil shakes my hand when arriving and leaving. I also sill have difficulty holding back on the hug.

  • Great advice! There are so many unwritten rules in France that I did not know – these videos are helping me so much! I was wondering if you could make a video about the perfect response when saying you’re welcome to someone – for example if you hold the door for your neighbour can you just say ‘c ‘est bon’ ?

    • I’ve always tended to say “je vous en prie” or less formally, “de rien” to mean “you’re welcome”. Is this acceptable? I’d hate to offend…

      • Bonjour Gill,

        Yes, this is excellent.

        Je vous en prie >> very polite
        Je t’en prie >> elegant (with someone you “tutoie”)
        De rien >> friendly (fine in 99% of the situations)

  • My French friends who have lived in America love the hug. Over time I have taught one or two other French women the deep satisfaction of hugging. But I feel often I don’t want to scare the French, in many ways, especially by being direct. After many years here I’ve learned to scare people less and it still happens. So I’ve learned to forgive myself and have understanding for the French.

    Question: I don’t find the video “7 types of French friends.” Can you tell me how to find it on the site?

  • Dear Geraldine
    I adore your video tutorials. Your accent is so lovely. Yes it’s sad that the French don’t do hugs. I am Australian and nowadays my sons (19 and 21) always hug female and male friends when they meet up. It’s lovely and so endearing.
    But you French are frostier initially that is well known.
    I cannot imagine how exhausting weddings must be with all those bisous at least twice per person though! Thankfully we don’t have to do that either!

  • You hit the nail on the head with this one! As an American living in France for 4 years, I routinely have ‘hug’ withdraw . . . and so many times I just want to quietly leave party and not go through all the formalities of leaving, so exhausting . . .

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