13 things foreigners do that make French people feel awkward

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13 things foreigners do that make French people feel awkward
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As a foreigner in France, you might feel like you're the only one feeling ill at ease in situations. But there are some things we do that can make the French feel awkward too.


1. Getting bisfuddled

"La bise", the French cheek kissing greeting is always a potential minefield for foreigners, and plain awkward for the French person on the other end of the fumbled attempts.

You can end up going the wrong way first, bashing heads, straying too close to the danger zone of the mouth or forget it's supposed to be more of an "air kiss while pressing cheeks" and plant one right on their chops. 

Although once they realise that you're foreign, most French people will find this amusing rather than fully awkward.


2. Hugging as a greeting/goodbye

A hug is certainly harder to bungle than "la bise", but it's not widely used in French culture, especially not with acquaintances or colleagues.

If you try to bear-hug a French person, don't be offended if they don't give anything back, they may have just frozen up with awkwardness.

Going in for a hug could even be misinterpreted as a little too friendly, and get you some (potentially unwanted) propositions.

Remember - kissing (on the cheek) = polite and friendly, hugging = overly intimate. Look, we didn't make the rules.

3. Talking loudly

Visitors to France - especially from certain Anglo countries - have a bad reputation for making everyone around them to listen in to their conversation, whether they like it or not.

In France, people tend to use quieter tones in public for private conversations.

So chatting away in a booming voice when sat in a tightly packed bistro terrace will likely make the French people in the vicinity feel a little uneasy, even to the point where they'll give you a polite/abrupt telling off.

4. Getting too personal, too soon

Asking personal questions and oversharing your own personal stories in the wrong setting can make your French company feel awkward at best, and at worst think you're being rude by crossing boundaries of intimacy. 

French people have what's known as a "coconut" culture. According to psychologist Kurt Lewin this means that they don't share their personal lives so freely with those not in their inner circle. This is the opposite of "peach" cultures like the US, who open up to all, but retain a reserved inner "nut". 

So asking a French acquaintance how they met their partner, for example, might seem innocuous, but would be an awkward question for some French people.

READ ALSO: OPINION: The French are not unfriendly, you just made a social faux pas

5. Tipping

Tipping isn't nearly as much of a phenomenon in France as it is in Anglophone countries, especially the US.

If you're out with French people for a meal and you lavishly tip, do they then have to tip too? You can see how it can make French people feel a little maladroite

In France serving staff are generally better paid and don't depend on tips for a living.

Tips that are left tend to be a rounding-up of the bill or a couple of extra euros, rather than a full 20 percent of your bill. A tip in French is un pourboire - literally 'for a drink'.

READ ALSO: ‘We tip less in France than in the US’ – readers reveal who they tip, and how much

6. Smiling at strangers 

Unlike some countries, beaming at anyone who walks past you isn't standard practise.


The French don't tend to smile at people they don't know, or smile continuously in interactions, and might feel awkward about reciprocating the gesture.  

You might be thinking you're being extra friendly to make them feel at ease, while they might be thinking "is this person OK/ are they in pain?"

7. Small talk

Small talk doesn't translate so easily into French, at least in bigger cities, when French people often feel uncomfortable engaging in light conversation with strangers and acquaintances.

While the French are famously good conversationalists, and love a debate, idle chit chat is a whole different matter and many French people can feel at a loss engaging in talk about the weather etc.

Greetings in French are important, but just because someone has greeted you that doesn't mean you leap into smalltalk - normally just stick to bonjour and then bonne journée.

You might find the elevator ride conversation a little lacking, but don't worry about filling the silence, it's natural. 

8. Eating at your desk

In France, lunch is often seen as the main meal of the day, and something not to be taken to lightly. 

Whipping out a sandwich or a little tub of salad in the office and scoffing away while never taking your eyes off the screen could be a cause of concern, pity or social awkwardness for your French colleagues who prefer al fresco to al desko. 

9. Saying sorry all the time

This one mainly applies to Brits, where the word "sorry" is dotted throughout day to day interactions with abandon. 

In France, one "pardon" will do, if that. French people might not know quite how to react when you apologise for everything from accidentally brushing hands to coughing too loudly on public transport.

10. Using "tu" inappropriately 

It's so easy to mix up the formal and informal versions of "you", especially when you first arrive in France and are unsure of the boundaries still. 

Using vous when it should be tu isn't too grave of a sin, it might make someone think you're overly polite or formal, but won't do too much damage.


Making the mistake the other way round, however, and addressing a superior at work, or a stranger with an over familiar tu can definitely create some awkward situations in France.

This is another instance where being foreign works to your advantage however, as French people do realise that other languages don't have this distinction - so if you're worried you have gone too soon with a 'tu', just ham up your accent to emphasise that you're foreign rather than rude.

10b. And all the other language faux pas you can make

It's not just mixing up tu and vous than can leave you and your French acquaintances feeling a little awkward because the French language is full of pitfalls.

You might fall in to the trap set by all those pesky false friends. For example you could tell someone you barely know that you are "excité", which means "aroused" more than "excited" or use the verb s'introduire to introduce someone, when actually it means "to penetrate".

In fact there's a whole load of embarrassing mistakes you could make to leave everyone red faced, many of which are linked to the dangers of mispronouncing certain French words like quand or cou.

Only experience can get you through this one.

11. Trying to pet their dogs (at least in Paris)

Back home, you might be used to seeing a cute dog and going straight in for a stroke, without fear of the human on the other end of the leash.

But in France, or at least in Paris where dogs are sometimes as much for show as companionship, stopping to pet someone else's pup is less common and owners can sometimes feel a little confused, awkward or even offended if you don't ask first. 

12. Flout dining etiquette 

Going for a meal either at a restaurant or at someone's house is a relatively formal affair in France, at least when it comes to the rules of eating.

There's a whole host of ways foreigners break with dining norms and can make the French diners at your party shift in their seats, from asking for more to putting your bread in the wrong place.

READ MORE: Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

13. Letting the kids run wild

And lastly... French parents tend to have a stricter approach to taking their kids out in public and in restaurants children are generally expected to sit down and stay quiet.


You might not get see too much tolerance for tearaway children when out and about in France, and letting them make too much noise is sure to set plenty of French people on edge.  

By Rose Trigg


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