How to French? #1 – To be rude or not to be rude

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Well, if you clicked on this article, you are probably interested in the French culture either because you’ll soon be visiting the land of smelly cheese and voluptuous wine or simply because you’re interested in French culture. Anyhow ! This article is for you, although even if you’re probably already aware of that I must warned you that cultural differences vary a lot from one place to another. France has a similar culture to many other European and Mediterranean countries and therefore, when I wrote this article I had to choose a referential to which I would compare the French culture.

Since I’ve been to the USA and since its culture is the most known around the globe, I selected to compare French culture to an American perspective because even if you’re not from the Land of the Free you should be able to get the essential of what makes France such a weird country (I can tell I am myself as French as can be, see how weird I already am 😅). If I feel obligated to precise that, it’s because some of the cultural differences won’t likely apply for you and some other major cultural differences you might experience in France won’t be mentioned here since you presumably would have the same in the New World.

Without further ado, let’s tackle the stereotype : French are rude !! Well, let’s be Frank (see what I did there) where there’s smoke, there’s fire and us, French people, can sometimes sound a bit arrogant, rude and self-centered. I won’t deny that we sound like that but are French people that petty and close-minded, I don’t think so.

French Humpty-Dumpty

After all, France is where the Enlightenment takes its roots with authors and intellectuals advocating for tolerance, knowledge and travelling the world to enrich yourself (if you’ve never read it, I unreservedly recommend Candide by Voltaire). France took part on the first alliance between two different countries (the “Auld Alliance” instituted in 1295 with Scotland), the Hexagon is also one of the six founders of modern Europe with the signing of the European Coal and Steel Treaty in 1951 that latter led to the European Union.

And finally what in the world is more uniting than sports where France’s contribution cannot be undermined as the modern Olympics, Football World Cup, and Football Champion’s league (the biggest club competition in Football) were all created by French dudes with undoubtedly French names (Pierre de Coubertin, Jules Rimet and Jacques Ferran, try to be more French than that). I think I proved my point: France cannot be so narrow-minded and self-centered.

But then, where does that reputation comes from? Well, I think it is the combination of many factors, and knowing them and adjusting yourself accordingly might lead to much friendlier relationships with French people. So, let’s just get into it!


Forming a first impression on someone is only a matter of seconds. If you’re ill-equipped to the specificities of French greetings, most likely the conversation you’ll have will be most unpleasant for the both of you. So first and foremost, when you meet a French person, you have to orally greet him, otherwise you’ll be considered as the rude one by your French interlocutor; a simple nod, a silent handshake or a “excuse me/sorry” is not a conversation starter here, in France everything starts with a “Bonjour!” or an “Hello” or “Hi“.

Say Hello or you’ll be in trouble !

I cannot stress how important it is if you do not want to receive an immediate look of disapproval and disdain and then you’ll both think the other one is rude. And I swear I kid you not when I say that a very famous French rapper (Vald, a humoristic/ironic type of rapper, some kind of a French Lil Dicky) came to prominence in 2015 with a song called ‘Bonjour’ about the importance to say Hello and the kind of problem you might encounter if you fail to do so. There’s even an expression in French to signify how important it is to greet someone before pursuing a conversation : “Hey bonjour ! C’est pour les chiens ?” that literally translates to “Is hello for the dogs ?” meaning if you do not properly greet someone, you do not treat him as a human being. So yeah, it’s important !

Hugs and Kisses

This is one of the most famous cultural differences The French “bise” is one of the weirdest oddities of our culture and seems to some non-French as a borderline sexual aggression. Though you might be spared of that intimate act thanks to Covid, you should prepare in case some frog-eater jump you and force a light kiss on your cheeks.

First rule of a “bise” is to let go, just let that weirdo grab your shoulder or simply move his/her head around you. Second rule is to mirror what he/she does, she moves his/her head to the left, be reactive and move yours to the right, if she goes for a second round on the other cheek, stay alert and get ready because he/she might even want to make more kisses (the “bise” is very different from one region to another and even from one person to another, it is such a debate that there is a website about the number of kisses you’re supposed to do depending of the region you’re in : If you follow these simple rules, you might leave the encounter unharmed.

See what can happen if you do not follow the simple rule to survive the bise !

Now you are acquainted with some French people and want to manifest some kind of affection for him/her with a hug. Well, remember how we just establish how non-French people feel a “bise” can be perceived almost like a sexual aggression, it might surprise you but French folks feel almost exactly the same about hugs.

I remember the first time I have been hugged in the US by a girl I barely knew; she put her arms around me, and her head leaned on my chest and I was standing, clueless, with my arms flapping on my sides, my head way above hers, not knowing what I should do with my arms and if I should kneel a bit or lower my head. It was a horrible experience ! So, here’s my advice : if you can’t refrain from a hug or if you’re taken aback by a “bise”, just let it happen but otherwise don’t attempt such complicated interaction in France or it might be really awkward.

The language barrier

French folks are rather bad in English so many people will try to avoid speaking in English or will sound exasperated (which they are but not about you speaking English and more about themselves not being able to communicate). Accentuation, pronunciation, exposure to English… there are many reasons why Frenchmen struggle with Shakespeare’s language (if you’re interested in the matter, I recommend this very good article). But I think the main reason is an inhibition to speak English, French people much like Japanese for example are afraid to make mistake and tend to not speak when they’re not certain they won’t make mistakes or mispronounce a word.

That wariness to speak other languages contrasts with the way they speak their own language and tend to reinforce that inhibition. Indeed French are very talkative people, we take long lunchbreak, go to cafes and invite people over a lot so we can chat with others. That inability to speak with other frustrates French people and leads them to shut themselves.

Classic example of a french woman shutting herself up after successively failing to pronounce ‘Squirrel’ and ‘Massachusetts’

Then you might want to try out your French and you’re right, it’s a good thing to practice a foreign language and if it can help to communicate with locals it’s great, isn’t it ? Well, you might be surprised to hear the local answer to you in your mother tongue or to correct every single mistake you make. And here is the catch, when you experience that awful display of rudeness you should know that he/she is trying to be nice and it’s simply a cultural mishap.

From a french perspective, they’re only trying to facilitate the conversation and/or to help you improve your French. It is actually very appreciated by them that you’re trying to speak “la langue de Molière” but like I said French folks fear mistakes so if they hear you making mistakes, they’ll try to help you. I know this might be counterintuitive but if you experience that you should just ignore the building rage burning inside you and thanks him/her, it’s after all a simple genuine act on their part.   


One thing is for sure, French people are not afraid to swear ! There is no “B word”, “F word”, “C word” or any letter word in France, peeps don’t shy away from those words, and that very might be the understatement of the year. French people swear a lot. But a word is just a word, it’s a construct, it is merely us inferring a sense into a random arrangement of letters that leads to a certain sound.

Well, at this point, you might be tempted to respond that you’re not a child anymore and you know what a word is (however, if you are a child, well, very odd that you found this article and my apologies for the picture below), but my point is that a swear is a word like any other in France and most of the time it won’t constitute an insult.

French is such a romantic language

People in France wish “merde” (shit) from one another for good luck and instead of saying “you’re funny”, they might say “t’es con” (you’re dumb/stupid). So even if you hear a word that you know is a swear word, take a deep breath, think of the way he/she said it, contextualize it and maybe you’ll have the positive outcome to discover you were not the victim of a rude Frenchman but rather the victim of a cultural misunderstanding. Although like I said Frenchmen do swear a lot so if you really were insulted, do not fear to answer sharply with a good A, B, C or any letter word you feel appropriate, you’ll feel liberated and there might not be a single more French thing than that if you want to blend in.

Well, there you have it ! French people aren’t that rude when you understand the very peculiar way they function. You just have to remember that we are a little bit different, some would say it is what makes our charm.

That concludes that first iteration of a series of articles created as a guide for non-french wishing to optimize their stay in France. If you like it, don’t hesitate to share it and if you’re eager to read more on the subject, there are more to come to satiate your appetite for the French culture. A bientôt sur Luminews !!!

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