La Belle Vie: French etiquette, culture clashes and historical myths

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected] • 24 Feb, 2023 Updated Fri 24 Feb 2023 08:27 CEST
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French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets former French presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy during a ceremony (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP

From French etiquette tips to learning French more efficiently, via a detour into some fascinating French history, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.


La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

France recently introduced a new update to its citizenship process, which albeit does not make it any easier to be eligible, but could end up making life quite a bit easier for those applying. Now, instead of having to print out all of your various attestations, fiches de paie and what-not, you can instead just upload your dossier onto one website. French bureaucracy is slowly but surely becoming a bit more manageable. 

The new citizenship portal has sprung up a lot of talk on social media amongst foreigners living in France - one Twitter user was kind enough to share all of the questions she was asked in her citizenship interview.

Spoiler alert: some are pretty tricky. I was particularly stumped on the "name some French kings" question. I thought we were all about the values of La République these days? Anyways, I should hold my tongue because the "name every French president in order" question also got me, which helped inspire this quiz.


See for yourself how much you know about the French presidents (don't worry we kept it to just the Fifth Republic). You might learn about a scandal or two.

QUIZ: How well do you know France’s presidents? 

Not every juicy story about French history is true, however. In fact some of the best-known 'facts' about France - from Napoleon and the pig to Marie Antoinette instructing people to eat cake - are completely fabricated.

Here are 22 of the biggest myths from French history

Shifting from the past to the present, many of us have been confronted with silent rides in the elevator that felt like they went on just a little too long.

Awkward elevator encounters happen all over the world, including in France. But foreigners might be even more surprised by French elevator etiquette. For example, you would be advised to greet each person that enters the elevator with you.

Here is how you can make your next French elevator ride a bit more bearable:

Five etiquette tips for taking an elevator in France

As a foreigner in France, you might feel like you're the only one feeling ill-at-ease in situations. It can be hard to judge whether an uncomfortable situation is the result of a cultural difference, a simple misunderstanding, or a personality clash.

But there are some things we do that can make the French feel awkward too. The prime example for a lot of English-speakers is our tendency to speak loudly. In the past few years, I'd like to think I've become less ignorant to my own loudness, though there is definitely room for improvement.


These days, I find myself more aware of loud-talking, as I scan the bar every so often to check for annoyed or frustrated expressions when my gaggle of American friends makes a bit too much noise in a French bar or restaurant.

But loudness is just one of the many things we foreigners can do to make the French themselves feel a bit uncomfortable.

13 things that make French people feel awkward

There is one exceedingly common way that foreigners find themselves embarrassed in France. We've all lived it at least once: mixing up les faux amis - or 'false friends'. These are the words that look like they would mean the same thing in French and English, but in reality carry completely different (sometimes explicit or inappropriate) meanings. 

One of the most common mix-ups is the word "excited" in English. In French, excité means 'aroused' - so if you were just trying to tell your French friend how excited you are about your upcoming vacation, you might want to go with a different word. You could instead say j’ai hâte to avoid any potentially embarrassing misunderstandings. 

18 most annoying false friends

And finally, if you are looking for ways you can speak and understand French more confidently, then you might want to check out our interview with French language expert, Camille Chevalier-Karfis.

She gave some really practical and helpful ways language-learners can learn French more efficiently, including how to get over some of the shame and nervousness that comes with taking the leap of faith to speak a new language.

A language expert’s top three tips for learning French



Genevieve Mansfield 2023/02/24 08:27

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