Written by Beth Nicholson,
4th September 2023

There’s a lot of advice about making the effort to integrate with your local community upon relocating to France. But apart from interacting and mixing with the locals, how can you quickly appear to be more French? Acting like a native and truly blending in. Here we look at 10 tips that will instantly make you appear more French in your attitude and outlook, as well as when engaging in conversation.

How does one be more French?

Greet everyone

The first and easiest way to be more French is the celebrated greeting! If you know someone, then “la bise” is obviously the way to go. More than a habit in France, it’s an inbuilt reflex for those of us who live here. Depending on where you are in France, either two, three or four kisses is traditional. Although confusion will forever reign over which side first. Remember that it is not just male to female, and this ritual is completely normal. However, lips should not physically touch the other person’s cheek. La bise is used for both hello and goodbye. So if out in a large group, be prepared to attempt to leave earlier than you need to, as this process can take some time.

It’s common in France to kiss on both cheeks as a greeting

In addition, greeting everyone you encounter is the norm. When walking into a shop, addressing everyone with a cheery bonjour will serve you well as not being immediately identified as a foreigner. The same is also true upon leaving, addressing a collective au revoir to everyone present. Similarly, telling cashiers to have a good day is polite.

Embrace apéro time

Introducing apéro time into your daily routine is not only a great way to be more French but also offers a joyous way to integrate with your local community. Apéro time is absolutely sacred in France. It occurs an hour or so before dinner and consists of snacks and drinks. The aim is to unwind from a hectic (or otherwise) day and prepare for the meal to come, with company in whatever form.

Snacks can be light or take the more robust form of apéro dinatoire. More like a cocktail buffet. However beware, as often, apéro dinatoire can still purely be the preamble to a large meal to follow. Drinks are often beer, kir, pastis or something of that ilk. Rather than wine, other than possibly sometimes rosé.

Apero dinatoire in France

Celebrate food!

In France, mealtimes are entirely meant to be savoured and never, ever rushed. Eating in France is far from functional. More purely for pleasure, enjoyment and spending time with others. One of the easiest and most pleasurable ways to be more French is to simply never rush a meal. This is regardless of the time of day. Food signifies conviviality and bonheur to the French and is often shared with family, friends or neighbours. It’s a big deal and takes a considerable amount of time. Often spanning several courses, with different wines and of course, never forgetting the obligatory cheese course. It is said that 96 per cent of people in France eat cheese, almost half of those on a daily basis. With each person consuming up to half a kilo on average a week!

It is said that 96 per cent of people in France eat cheese, almost half of those on a daily basis.

Most French people keep a well-stocked pantry alongside reserved freezers, enabling them to entertain at fairly short notice. When invited guests are expected, the French way is to choose dishes that can be prepared as much as possible in advance. Leaving the maximum time available for the hosts to profit from the invited company rather than be slaving away in the kitchen out of sight.

The market is the hub of French village life.

The market is the hub of French village life.

Shop local

There can perhaps be no more of a French pastime than heading to your local market weekly to pick up those adored freshly produced goodies. Regular markets could not be more French. If money is tight, the last place it is scrimped on is food. The French support their local markets and local producers. Perhaps in part because if they don’t, they could lose a large part of their national identity and local community. Everyone makes time (or sends helpers) to attend the local markets. Seasonal produce is hugely important here. As is shooting the breeze and having a chit-chat with vendors, friends and neighbours.

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Show emotions

The French are an expressive and emotional bunch. They don’t hold back on making their feelings known. And a lot can be expressed in just one action – the famous gallic shrug. This can mean anything from a “what can you do” of frustration, to “I completely give up”, to “I’m totally done talking to you”. There is no quicker way to be more French than to master this gesture! No words will even be required if the language barrier is an issue.

Another favourite French pastime, as anyone living in a rural community will attest, is shouting at inanimate objects. More normally DIY or gardening tools. One can think that an entire neighbourhood dispute is brewing when in fact there is simply a fight ensuing between one man and his rotavator.

As the French love to express negative emotions, they also openly express positive ones. With seemingly much less stigma against men showing genuine emotion of either sort than perhaps in the UK.

A couple enjoying a walk along the river in Paris

Appreciate the simple things

Life in France is so very different to life elsewhere in so many ways, but the most obvious perhaps is their obvious contentment with the simple things in life. If you have good food and good company, you deem yourself lucky. Maybe like everywhere, everyone would appreciate more but it doesn’t seem to be a constant subject of conversation. Walking around your garden observing new life that has sprung up overnight, making a coffee on the terrasse of the local bar last hours whilst you catch up with friends old and new. Making the most of time and meals with family. The French appreciation and gratitude for the simple things in life is genuinely to be admired. With France ranking above average on the happiness index for 2023, which is based on three main well-being indicators.

Live within your means

A truly positive thing about living in France is that the “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude really doesn’t seem to exist to the extent it may in other countries. Credit can be hard to come by, is not given willy-nilly and people tend to live more within their means. Whether they have more or less. The French are hugely savvy about money-saving – growing their own produce and often doing their own decorating and gardening work at home. Bouncing cheques is a real faux pas in France and has serious consequences. Many businesses including restaurants and small shops in more rural areas often only operate with cash.

Particularly in the country, you do not see fleets of hugely expensive cars purchased through finance. More often, vehicles held together with duct tape. To help customers who may be financially challenged, businesses such as oil operators offer payment schemes over several months incurring no interest. In some areas, businesses even often accept backdated cheques to help their well-known customers out when required.

Arles on a summer’s day

Master French habits

One of the most practical ways to be more French is to master French habits and traditions. Learn shutter etiquette, order your oil and wood for winter well before it arrives and plant your trees and shrubs on St Catherines day, when wood will take root. Not only will all these things be advantageous to your life and comfort, but these are all frequent talking points. Learning the correct way to use shutters is invaluable in keeping you warmer inside during winter and cooler inside during summer. Although if you want to be authentically French you could always shut your shutters in October if even as late as that, not to be seen until the summer. Like a bear in hibernation.

Learn what it means to see the herons passing over earlier or later in winter, or how to predict how good the mushroom harvest will be for that year based on the weather proceeding it. French conversation especially in rural areas focuses a lot around weather and nature, and this will allow you to genuinely participate.

Take your time

There can be no quicker path to becoming more French than to master the art of patience. Nothing in this country happens quickly, and the less you expect it to, the lower your blood pressure will remain. The French are resigned to the fact that everything that needs to happen, will in the end. With your specific need for it to happen sooner rather than later bearing no correlation on when the outcome comes to pass. Administrative tasks can take an age to complete, as well as seemingly a whole forest of trees worth of paperwork to collate. But in the end, it will happen and the French way is that everything can wait.

Getting frustrated with the system and the lack of perceived urgency of others will get you nowhere. In fact, the more frustrated you allow yourself to visibly be, perhaps quite the opposite. While the patience needed to navigate a new life in France may seem beyond most of us on arrival, I can assure you that you give in to it pretty quickly. Although it may well forever remain a source of underlying personal frustration.

france pension protest poster

Protests ensued in 2023 when the president raised the age of retirement to 64

Complain often

Finally, the most liberating way to be more French. Complain bitterly and loudly about absolutely everything you feel a need to. The French are actually very proud of their prowess of complaining. Whether about situations, people or perhaps most surprisingly, the weather. And they don’t, unlike other countries, simply complain to each other. They are known to do something about it. Striking, of course is a national past time, and those that don’t strike complain about those that do.

Complaining in France is more than just about getting it off one’s chest. It’s actually considered a way of interacting with others at an honest level with authenticity. As well as a way to share experiences with others. Let’s not forget that it was also the basis of one of the most important events in French History – The Revolution!

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