Written by Alexis Goldberg,
28th February 2018

Make sure you brush up on France’s everyday traditions before purchasing a pad there. The locals are extremely friendly but they might get offended if you don’t kiss them.

The lure of the French way of life with its traditions, customs and quirks is a huge attraction for many expats and holiday home owners. These traditions are typically linked to the language, food and drink and are taken very seriously. Here’s what you need to know.

You quickly become used to either shaking hands with anyone you meet, or planting a kiss on each cheek once you become better acquainted.

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Freedom, equality and fraternity

The three words liberté (freedom), égalité (equality), fraternité (fraternity), often seen inscribed above mairies (town halls), tell a story. The motto has its origins in the French revolution and its legacy remains today, with most French people possessing a strong sense of each principle.

Family and community

Family is much revered in France, with the different generations mixing well. Everyone feels important this way and children grow up feeling they are included. The sense of community is also an important part of everyday life here, particularly in rural communities where close bonds are formed. Local events – fetes, concerts, festivals – occur throughout the year. It seems as though everything is celebrated, from the humble onion or to more formal events like Bastille Day. Such events bring the whole community together.


Family is an important aspect of French life


The French way of life is typically more laid back than in the UK, although their general day-to-day attitude is slightly more formal. You quickly become used to either shaking hands with everyone you meet, or planting a kiss on each cheek once you become better acquainted. No encounter goes without some sort of physical contact, which can take some time when introduced to quite a few people. It’s all rather charming though!

Greeting shopkeepers as well as other customers is another custom we enjoy. A jolly “bonjour” when you go in and a quick “au revoir” or “bye” as you leave – the English word “bye” seems to have crept its way into the French language over the last few years, so if you get tongue-tied that will do nicely.

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Food and drink

Apero hour is usually around 6pm, when you will see locals having a pastis or a beer in a local bar or café. Wine is much more likely to be drunk with a meal and many families offer their children a thimbleful with a meal – the thinking presumably being that it then does not become “forbidden fruit” later on. As for eating, the French are justifiably proud of their gastronomic pedigree.

Make your opinion heard

The French love a heated discussion, whether it be about politics, local issues or just plain old gossip. And they express themselves far more physically than we do, often gesturing with their hands and arms. So brush up on your knowledge of local politics and current affairs and get involved.

Opening hours

One tradition that may be hard for some of us to become accustomed to is the closing of many shops between 12pm and 2 pm. The French still think of lunch as an important meal. Although many larger supermarkets now stay open all day, they are often empty around lunchtime. Old habits die hard!

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