Living in France For Members

The 22 things that are likely to get you a scolding in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
The 22 things that are likely to get you a scolding in France
A breach of public etiquette could result in a scolding in France. Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

No-one survives living in France for long without receiving a telling off from some random member of the public for a breach of French etiquette, says Bree McDonald. But equally some surprising things seem to be socially acceptable.


From the wild to the wonderful, the trivial to the downright ridiculous, I have been told off for many things in this country. Some of these “tut-tuts” or “tellings off” could happen anywhere. Some only in France.

Granted, some tellings off are justified - nobody enjoys noisy kids in restaurants.  Others however, are straight out of the unwritten French social protocol to which I am still not entirely privy. 

A 'telling off' comes in many forms; it can be anything from a humiliatingly public dressing down to a directly pelted eye-roll, a huff and a puff or a tut or a scoff. All of them make you feel like a scolded child, incredulous and often genuinely confused.

READ ALSO Why I love the French habits of scolding or complaining


I have been told off for the the following social no-nos: 

  • Not saying bonjour to the bank teller. “Excuse me (in French), where is the ATM?” The lady just kept saying “Bonjour,” “Bonjour,” “Bonjour,” until I finally cracked the game and said, “Bonjour, where is the ATM?” “Just to the left, Madame.” Geez Louise thanks for that painful exchange. I’ve since learned that the “Bonjour” is quite simply the one and only gateway to conversation with absolutely everyone and anyone. Smiles, pardons and excusez-mois do not serve this function. I guess I’m a slow learner 

  • being late to school - this happened a lot until I made friends with the gardienne. I still get a “look” but it’s more of a friendly exasperation  

  • having a screaming child on the bus 

  • having a tired child in a restaurant (he was slumping on the table after an entire day of car travel) 

  • having young children in a restaurant in the first place 

  • not having a bonnet (beanie hat) on my child on a cool day

  • having the wrong swimming trunks on my son at the pool (not short enough)

  • not wearing a swimming cap in the pool

  • sitting/standing on the grass at the park

  • not paying my coffee bill right away (the second I'd finished it)

  • sitting at a manger (eating) table instead of the boire (drinking) table at the café when all I wanted was a coffee

  • talking on the Metro

  • my then three-year-old child sleeping in the pram a little awkwardly (her head had fallen to the side)

  • Taking up the whole trottoir (footpath) with my pram, scooter and 2 kids on a very skinny street

  • My kids running full pelt down the longest corridor they’d ever seen (justified, but hard to make them stop from 50m away without screaming at them. Would you prefer running or screaming sir?) 

  • Ordering off the menu, or for your meat well-done 

  • Speaking English


  • Leaving an empty mug on the table at Pret a Manger, “Would you leave a mess like that in your own house?” (why yes, yes I would thanks for asking)

  • Not buttoning all the buttons on a dress I tried on at Uniqlo

  • Trying on too many things at Zara

  • Trying to return something I changed my mind about

  • Being late to my yoga class - this one was justified but I got a proper yelling at. Luckily two people who were later than me also got roasted. The teacher spent the rest of the class mocking my yoga style, saying “have you ever done yoga before because it doesn’t look like it”. Needless to say I switched to the body pump class next door and haven’t look back (she’s lucky to get five people on a Saturday morning and the body pump is rammed - go figure) 

Interestingly, there are a lot of things that I am surprisingly free to do in France . These things may or may not be frowned up elsewhere. The following may be done without fear of roast nor reprimand.

If one desires, one is free to practice: 

  • Drinking in public parks 

  • Smoking dope in public parks 

  • Urinating in public (kids and men only, to be fair)

  • Smoking in outdoor restaurants, terraces, around children, around food 

  • attempting to cross an intersection after the light has turned red

  • Observing a new cash register open at the supermarket - and running there faster than everyone without making eye contact with anyone

  • Using one’s car horn freely and aggressively

  • Not using indicators to switch lanes - ever

  • Only picking up your dog’s poo if someone happens to be watching

  • Bumping or denting someone else’s car while parking

  • Riding a bike or electric scooter without a helmet whilst weaving between a truck, van, a scooter and pram

  • Sticking up for yourself when getting yelled at in any of the aforementioned “no-no” situations

  • Correcting the grammar of complete strangers

  • Eating Nutella and calling it breakfast

(Blogger, mum and Australian in Paris Bree McDonald)

English language teacher Bree McDonald has been blogging about the lighter side of French life since she moved here three years ago. Read more of her observations here


Comments (9)

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Robert Davidson 2024/05/18 12:08
Car bumping in Paris is called "parking by ear but a bit deaf"!
Alex 2024/05/17 21:32
I don’t think I would like you as a neighbour Bree. The dog poo thing, casually bumping into others cars, running for the cash register ( you would get criticism where I live for queue jumping), all a bit too antisocial in rural Occitanie.
Mary Jane 2024/05/17 16:19
Dog owners should ALWAYS pick up after the dog! I've seen signs in the métro regarding things I find offensive: loud talking (with a human or phone), resting feet on the seat, shoving a huge backpack into someone's face. Apparently, the RATP and I agree on this! This is not unique to France, for it happened all the time in NYC (where I lived 35 years).
nikki 2024/05/17 13:52
I’m sorry but some of these may be your experiences but are not true in general. Falling into the ridiculous stereotypes. And you should always pick up the dog poo.
Anonymous 2019/03/23 12:24
I think Provence, especially Le Var is far more laid back...apart from generally being polite "Bonjour" "Merci" "SVP" etc. I have never been tutted at etc.
Anonymous 2019/03/21 18:35
I moved here from Belgium where, if you are looking for something in the supermarket, you merely ask 'où se trouve le machin-truc, s.v.p.’, so here I got the ‘Bonjour, Madame’ treatment, and quite right too. On the other hand, if you are in a Belgian shop, when proferring money you must say ‘s’il vous plaît’, not just ‘voilà’.
Anonymous 2019/03/21 18:21
After bumping or denting someone else's car while parking, I think you forgot to add: then contesting it to insurance company and insisting on only 50 per cent their fault. (Happened to me twice so far!)
Anonymous 2019/03/21 18:20
Dear Bree, <br />With all sincerest kindest, please pick up after your dog, even when nobody is looking. Your neighbors thank you in advance! <br />Thank you kindly,<br />Nicole
Anonymous 2019/03/21 18:18
Ahh, yes; the joys of French exceptionalism in your second list.

See Also