French Values, Beliefs, and Social Norms

 

Allison Howells

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Faire la bise The kissing in France is the most commonly portrayed French custom in movies and pop culture. The greeting is appropriate in social settings. It often varies with relationship, but can be learned through social cues that indicate when it is appropriate. The greeting is an air kiss, meaning the kiss is made with the smacking noise and there shouldn’t actually be contact. Two kisses, one on each cheek, is standard; but, there may be as many as six times. The natives will guide which cheek to kiss first—subtle body cues that can be naturally picked up on once the habit is learned. During holidays, it is customary to “bise” out of celebration. The kissing will take place when you greet and also when you leave. Women and men may kiss, and women may kiss women. However, men do not kiss men unless they’re relatives or close friends.

Vous & Tu

The French language has formal and informal/familiar forms to address a person. If you are meeting a stranger, “vous” is the polite and proper way to address this person. “Tu/Toi” may be used for close friends, children, and close relatives. “Vous” must be used for elders, figures of authority, store employees, or work superiors. Although the French are becoming less formal, it is always advised to use “vous” to be safe!

Other Greetings

As with formal and familiar forms, “bonjour” and “salut” follow a similar pattern. When addressing a stranger or any greeting in a formal setting, “bonjour” followed by “madame/monsieur” is the correct and polite way to address a person. Salut is only used with close friends, in an informal setting. To ask directions or for help, the way you address a person is key to a successful interaction. The proper way to direct someone is to begin with “excusez-moi madame/monsieur” followed by the question using the “vous” form of the verbs when addressing the stranger. Never start a conversation in English.

Noise

It is common for noise restrictions and policies to be implemented in smaller towns and villages. The French keep conversations in public places at minimal noise level. It is always astonishing for Frenchmen to hear Americans speaking loudly on a train or a bus. They do not understand why Americans are speaking loudly for everyone to hear. When speaking with my family’s French exchange student, she couldn’t believe it was permitted to eat snacks during the movie at the cinema. In France, snacks should be opened and eaten before the film begins, or else it is rude to eat loudly when the movie is playing.

Conversation

French do not smile or make eye contact with strangers on the metro or street. There is a large distinction between private and public life. Privacy is also maintained at home. Doors should be kept close. In a small shop, it is polite to greet the shopkeeper. The proprietor will help the customer with his or her purchases. Freedom is rare is smaller stores, unlike grocery stores or other larger department shopping centres.

Certain topics are best avoided with the French. When meeting someone new, it can be seen as impolite to ask for his job title or salary. Money is considered a “faux pas”. If the conversation gets heated, raising your voice is seen as vulgar. The French typically stand closer in a conversation and can be seen as intimidating.

Work Culture

During July and August, many local Parisians leave the city for vacation and paid holiday. The deserted city is left to tourists. The French are commonly recognised for their vacation days: workers in France have at least 5 weeks of paid vacation a year. Even more, some employees are given more days if they work more hours in the week. French vacationing is not overshadowed with the stress of work responsibilities. French value leisure and vacation over profit. Since health care and education are nearly free, money isn’t top priority for French families. Leaving behind businesses and shops during the hottest months of the year is ideal and guilt-free.

Attitudes Towards Alcohol:

French teenagers are regarded as least likely to binge drink. A casual glass of wine for dinner is very common for French adults. European drinking laws, in general, are less strict. The France drinking age is 18, but it is not entirely frowned upon for underaged teenagers to be given wine from their parents.