France Explained For Members

Money, sex or religion: Which subjects are really taboo in France?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Money, sex or religion: Which subjects are really taboo in France?
A man walks by a graffiti reading "eat the rich" in Paris, in 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

If you want to avoid making your French friends, neighbours or colleagues uncomfortable there are some topics best avoided - we look at which topics, and why, are considered taboo in France.


Unless you know someone well, it might be wise to avoid certain topics. A recent study by IFOP and Compte Pro, "What we really talk about at the coffee machine", is diving into the areas French people would rather avoid. 

The survey specifically looked at French workers, asking them which conversation subjects they prefer to steer clear of, as well as those they are comfortable discussing with their colleagues.

Here's a look at the most awkward subjects, and why French people consider them off the table;


This was the number one 'no-go' subject for French workers when chatting with their colleagues. Overall, 68 percent of respondents said that "pay" is a topic they avoid, particularly in the work place. For those in managerial roles, it was even more pronounced, with 75 percent saying that they avoid talking about money.

But the trend of avoiding the subject of money is not specific to French work culture - finances have been taboo for a long time in France. As of 2022, 8 in 10 French people felt that "being rich is frowned upon". 

READ MORE: Is it true that the French don't like to talk about money?

French sociologist, Janine Mossuz-Lavau, author of the book "L'Argent et nous" (money and us) analysed French culture's attitude toward money in an interview with Le Figaro

She gave three reasons discussing money is still taboo in France. The first is the country's historic connection to Catholicism, telling the French daily that it is "a religion for the poor, which must look after the poor", and it gives a negative image of personal enrichment.

Her second reason was "the influence of Marxism," which "left [the French] with the idea that profit is not good". And finally, she referenced the legacy of 'peasant culture'. Historically, the poor peasantry in France would hide cash in their homes, so "you would not talk about it to avoid arousing envy" from your neighbours, Mossuz-Lavau said.


There are some signs that the finances are becoming less of a taboo, particularly among younger generations. 

A 2023 report on French views toward money found that 83 percent of people associate it with pleasure or well-being, representing an increase of eight percentage points since 1998. 

Another 68 percent associated it with 'fulfilment', up nine points in the last 25 years. Still, the majority (62 percent) agreed with the statement "money does not bring happiness" and only 38 percent said it contributes to their well-being.


The second taboo topic for French workers was sex and relationships - more specifically those between colleagues. Over half - 52 percent - found the subject to be embarrassing. This was more pronounced for men (56 percent) than for women (49 percent) however.

This taboo might come as a bit of a surprise for foreigners who have grown to associate France with sexual freedom, openness, and romance.

READ MORE: Where does the 'romantic, sexy French' stereotype come from?

But according to a 2020 study by Thornton & Ross, the French are a bit more bashful than you might expect: 39 percent of French people avoid talking about 'intimate topics', in contrast to just 20 percent of people in Spain.

Among Europeans, the French were not the worst - Brits were the least likely to talk about sex, with 52 percent saying they were reluctant to discuss it.

In France, it is also less common to see big scandals related to affairs or consensual sexual promiscuity of politicians and celebrities in tabloids. For many years, French media operated under the implicit rule that sex and dating were part of one's 'vie privée' (private life) - thus irrelevant and not worth reporting on - although this is changing.

ANALYSIS: Are French sex scandals now fair game in the internet age?


Part of the idea that the French are very sexually open might have to do with moral ideas. France has been ranked the country with the highest percentage of people - 94 percent - who believe sex before marriage is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue.

On top of that, France was the first country to decriminalise homosexuality in 1791 - although some same-sex acts were re-criminalised under the Vichy regime during World War II, which described homosexuality as a 'social scourge'.

An IFOP survey found that, as of 2019, 85 percent of French people consider homosexuality to "be a way of expressing one's sexuality, like any other". In comparison, just 24 percent held this view in 1975. 

In terms of openly discussing sex, Mossuz-Lavau published another book: "Love and Sexual Behaviour in France" in 2018. 

The sociologist looked at how attitudes shifted in France over the course of 17 years, interviewing dozens of people from different age groups, backgrounds, and sexual orientations - and comparing the information against a survey she worked on in 2000.

She told France 24: "There’s also a big shift in how people talk about sex. French people are much more open to discussing it - 17 years ago, I had to ask specific questions. But now people bring things up freely." 


Mossuz-Lavau attributed some of this to the #MeToo movement, which increased conversation around sexual behaviour, especially abuse. In France, the movement took its own form, and was sometimes referred to by the French hashtag "#BalanceTonPorc". 


The third most 'taboo' subject for French workers was 'religion and secularism'. A little under half - 46 percent - said they avoid these topics with co-workers.

For those who have some familiarity with French history, this taboo might not be shocking, as religion has been a heated topic for hundreds of years.

An important aspect to the French Revolution was the debate over the role of the Catholic Church. At the time, the Church had enormous power, directly involved in much of civic life as well as controlling large swathes of land and property.

In 1905, the country implemented the policy of laïcité - state secularism, which is still in effect today. The over-arching principle is that people are free to practice religion as they please in private, but religion plays no part in the functioning of the state.

EXPLAINED What does laïcité really mean in France?

Among other things, it means that crosses, hijabs, kippahs and other religious clothing or symbols are banned from public institutions such as schools and for public officials on duty (teachers, police officers, firefighters). There are also no displays of religion in public institutions, so schools do not have prayer meetings, religious assemblies or religious events such as Nativity Plays at Christmas.


These rules do not apply to private life, and most of the time, they don't apply to private companies either. However, some workplaces opt to put in place 'neutrality clauses'. These allow the "expression of employees' beliefs" to be restricted as part of internal company regulations.

According to France's ministry of labour, adding this clause is only justified if an individual or collective religious practice undermines respect for individual rights and freedoms - proselytising in the office for example - or based on the "needs of the company's business".

Technically, French workers have the right to pray during the work day, as long as it is during break time. Outside of that, employers can restrict religious practice during work hours.

READ MORE: Lunch, coffee or cigarette: What work breaks are you entitled to in France?


And finally, the last taboo according to French workers was 'immigration' - 45 percent of respondents said they avoid it. 

A recent poll by Odoxa found that 74 percent of French people believe there are 'too many immigrants in France'. Other studies have found slightly lower numbers - one at the end of 2022 by IPSOS-SOPRA found that 66 percent of people agreed with that statement.

The vast majority of French people (87 percent) do believe that there must be a change to the current system, but exactly how to go about that differs greatly based on political persuasion.


While the subject is certainly polarising - having made up a large part of the political platforms of far-right and right-wing candidates in France during the 2022 presidential election - studies show that the importance of immigration is dropping lower on the 'priority list' for French voters.

Polling found that cost of living was the most important topic, followed by health, safety, and environment. Immigration came in fifth place on the list of priorities.

Still, immigration is currently high up the news agenda as the government's new immigration bill makes its way through the French parliament. 

READ MORE: OPINION: There is no chance of a sensible debate on the French government's immigration bill


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.

See Also