Ten rules to follow to avoid making a festive faux pas in France

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Ten rules to follow to avoid making a festive faux pas in France

With plenty of festive lunches, dinners and parties ahead, here's a list of tips to ensure you have a jolly old time with your French in-laws or friends without making a massive fool of yourself this Christmas.


It's that time of year again, but how to get through the festive season without committing a major faux pas?

Remembering the details of French social etiquette can be hard enough as it is, but all the Christmas dinners and parties really put the pressure on.

To make sure you avoid major festive slip ups, we've gathered a range of tips that should help you navigate the Christmas season successfully.

Whether it's what to bring or indeed what not to bring, or how to act around your French hosts or respecting centuries-old superstitions about polka dot dresses and knives, these tips should keep you in line, for the most part.

The Local bears no legal responsibility if you do make a massive festive faux pas. But we'd love to hear about it.

Don’t pucker up:

Unfortunately, lurking around the mistletoe in the hope of getting a kiss from your crush isn’t going to work in France. The French put the plant up too but to bring good luck and not as an invitation for a snog. Oh and the old line "fancy a Christmas kiss" probably won't work either here. Mainly because they are unlikely to be drunk enough to fall for that old one. You're more likely to get lucky by either talking politics, or using your "cute accent" (their words not ours) to your advantage.

What to bring: 

It's a good idea to bring your own beer to a French Christmas party unless you feel like sharing one can of Kronenbourg with three other people. Bringing along a small gift for the host is also common but avoid bringing wine, they'll have normally sorted that already and the chances are your €5 bottle will never be opened, no matter how good you tell them it is.

Leave the festive outfits at home: 

You might sport a Christmas jumper all through December and think it's the perfect look for every festive event but remember the French take their attire a bit more seriously. If you’re invited to a Christmas dinner you better ditch the reindeer sweater for a classier look. And make sure it doesn't involve a red and white Santa hat either. They don't do them either. If you are at an Anglo Christmas party however, then dress as "redieval" as possible. Just get a taxi home.

Fashionably late: 

Just because it's Christmas it doesn't mean the French will arrive on time. If you’re notoriously late then a French gathering is just for you. There's an unspoken agreement between the host and the guests to arrive around fifteen minutes late to give the host some extra time to prepare everything. We say make that 30 mins or even an hour. Although if you're going on your own, go early to meet people so you are not stuck on your own with only beer, mini tomatoes and smoked salmon blinis for company.

Behave yourself: 

Don’t expect to be having a raucous office Christmas party with your French colleagues. You are more likely to go for a sit down lunch. Indeed there may be no event at all or if there is it's usually quite a formal affair. In the UK it might be common to pass out in the same toilet cubicle as your boss, this is a big no-no in France (or at least the passing out bit is). When you're invited to a Christmas party, better refrain from having one too many and bursting into “Deck the halls with boughs of Holly".

Avoid buying rounds: 

Many an expat has come a cropper by charging to the bar and proudly claiming 'I'll get the first round!' for a group of French colleagues or friends. The good thing is the French will likely think you're incredibly generous, but on the down side, you'll probably have to get your money out again if you want another drink. And don't under any circumstances buy a second round. That would be just stupidity. It's not that the French are tight, it's just they don't drink as much and so don't feel the need to buy rounds.

Family time: 

Back in your home country it might be normal to head out to the pub on December 24th but in France Christmas Eve is meant to be spent with the family and not out on the prowl. The traditional Réveillon dinner starts quite late and can stretch over hours so you probably won't run into many people in your favourite bars.

Raise your glass: 

Once seated at the dinner table, or even standing in a tiny studio flat or at a bar, don't immediately start guzzling your drink. In France you're usually expected to clink glasses with each person at the table while looking them in the eye. And don't cross other people's arms when saying cheers either. That means bad croissants for seven years or something like that. You should also bear in mind that it's not okay to fill your glass to the rim, no matter how delicious the wine is. Just pour yourself a little bit and don't forget the other guests, especially the women.

Beware of superstitions: 

Don't whatever you do get your French friend a knife for Christmas, even a Laguiole one, as it will be taken as a sign that you want to sever the relationship. Wishing someone a happy New Year before midnight on the 31st and seating 13 dinner guests at the table are considered bad luck. However, to be lucky all you have to do is throw on a polka dot dress on New Year's Day.

Secret Santa: 

There’s little need to worry that you may have to get that co-worker a gift whose first and last names you don’t even know. Unlike the Anglos, the French don’t really go in for Secret Santa. So save your centimes.


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