Etiquette & Customs in France
. The handshake is a common form of greeting.
. Friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right cheek.
. First names are reserved for family and close friends. Wait until invited before using someone’s first name.
. You are expected to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ (good morning and good evening) with the honorific title Monsieur or Madame when entering a shop and ‘au revoir’ (good-bye) when leaving.
. If you live in an apartment building, it is polite to greet your neighbours with the same appellation.
Gift Giving Etiquette
. Flowers should be given in odd numbers but not 13, which is considered unlucky.
. Some older French retain old-style prohibitions against receiving certain flowers: White lilies or chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals; red carnations as they symbolize bad will; any white flowers as they are used at weddings.
. Prohibitions about flowers are not generally followed by the young. When in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of conservatism.
. If you give wine, make sure it is of the highest quality you can afford. The French appreciate their wines.
. Gifts are usually opened when received.
If you are invited to a French house for dinner:
. Arrive on time. Under no circumstances should you arrive more than 10 minutes later than invited without telephoning to explain you have been detained.
. The further south you go in the country, the more flexible time is.
. If invited to a large dinner party, especially in Paris, send flowers the morning of the occasion so that they may be displayed that evening.
. Dress well. The French are fashion conscious and their version of casual is not as relaxed as in many western countries.
. Table manners are Continental — the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
. If there is a seating plan, you may be directed to a particular seat.
. Do not begin eating until the hostess says ‘bon appetit’.
. If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
. Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible and not in your lap.
. Finish everything on your plate.
. Do not cut salad with a knife and fork. Fold the lettuce on to your fork.
. Peel and slice fruit before eating it.
. Leave your wineglass nearly full if you do not want more.