Living in France – Social Hints and Tips for Expats

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Whether you fancy a change of pace or it has always been a deep-set dream of yours to live in France, moving to a foreign country is not a decision you want to make lightly. Before you consider moving abroad you need to think about all the things you might leave behind, as living overseas is a huge lifestyle choice, particularly if you are attached to a lot of social groups or friends or have a large, close family in the UK.

Living in France

Living in France – Expat Life

Chances are, you will have done some background research into other countries and you have settled on the romantic land of France. Although not very far in terms of travel, and even accessible by train, France is a world away when it comes to the language and what is deemed socially acceptable and unacceptable.

Although there are a number of preparations that need to be made if you are planning to live overseas permanently; if you are planning on living abroad in France for a short time or even studying abroad, there are a few things to keep in mind on a day-to-day basis.

Learn the Language

This may seem like a obvious point, but it is often overlooked. You think that you will be able to pick up the language quickly if you are completely immersed in it, but it is important to remember that as adults our cognitive abilities are good, but not nearly as receptive as when we were young children.

It is important to take a few courses in French and gain at least a basic understanding of the language as this will give you a simple foundation upon which you can build a better, more practical knowledge of French. Yes, people do tend to pick up another language far more quickly when living in another country, however for that period of time when you don’t understand a thing anyone else is saying, it can become an extreme hindrance to you and to everyone around you.

Furthermore, when you make no effort to learn the language prior to moving to another country, it makes you look like an ‘ignorant foreigner’. The French are a proud nation, and they find it insufferable when other people, in particular those who speak English, come to live in France without attempting to learn the language.

Even if you happen to start up a conversation in broken school grade French, the effort that you have made to try to learn their language will hold some value, and most French will often default to English after your initial attempt. Even broken French expresses a wish to learn, whereas simply assuming everyone will speak English sends out all the wrong messages, particularly if you are also trying to make new friends when living overseas.


When it comes to making friends in France, there are a number of social policies that you need to follow and though it may seem like you are treading on eggshells for a while, once you have made a genuine French friend, they are a friend for life. The French tend to avoid casual relationships as they see them as shallow, so you might have to jump through a few hoops, but in the end, it will be worth it.

Greeting someone for the first time normally calls for a handshake, however once you have become acquainted with people, you may be upgraded to la bise. This is a strange little French tradition not unlike the kiss on the cheek when greeting a lady, but in this case instead of the kiss, the action is only mimicked. You will tilt your cheek and bring it close to the other person’s cheek, simulating a kiss. You can make the kissing sound if you wish, but it is not essential. The process is then repeated on the other cheek. Depending on where you are, you may need to kiss multiple times, but do not take it too seriously. If you are unsure, as to whether or not you are at the level of la bise it is best to let the lady or the other person lead. If you happen to accidentally bump heads, simply laugh it off.

When addressing another person it is best to stick to the formal term ‘vous’ unless otherwise stated. ‘tu’ can be very personal and is normally reserved for close friends and family members. However it is also important to remember that if the other person has suggested using ‘tu’ it may seem arrogant to continue using ‘vous’ as it may appear that you do not consider the other person good enough of a friend or acquaintance yet.

France - Social Hints and Tips for Expats

France – Social Hints and Tips for Expats

In the workplace, it is not uncommon for workers to greet each other with a handshake and a hello in the morning. Make sure to greet everyone you work with, otherwise, you may come across as unsocial. It is also important to take regular lunch breaks and work breaks as well as taking any holiday entitled to you, as although working hard is important, you might appear a little strange if you seem overenthusiastic or overzealous about your work.

Social Etiquette

For eating out in France, it is important to be open-minded when faced with the menu. The idea of living overseas away from all the home comforts may seem daunting, and you will want to grab a McDonalds every now and then even if it is just for something familiar to eat. However, it is important that, when you are dining on French cuisine, you do not request any changes to be made to the dish or any additions, as it is considered rude to alter the dish from its original contents. Obviously if you have an allergy or intolerance, do not try to kill yourself; these are excusable reasons to make exceptional requests!

If you are invited round to a French friend’s home, it is important to consider their privacy. Guests should not venture beyond the living room or dining room without permission, and should you need to use the bathroom, it is better to ask where it is first instead of trying to search for it yourself. Whereas in the UK guests may help a host out in the kitchen by collecting cutlery or pouring drinks, it is considered offensive in France to try to help out in the kitchen. Closed doors in a French house are certainly not meant to be opened.

French etiquette for Expartiates

French etiquette for Expartiates

Adhering to both the social and legal norms is important when living in a foreign country because the sooner you get used to the ‘style of society’ you will start building good relationships and you will enjoy your time more thoroughly. In addition, although you will never be widely accepted as a member of the French ‘family’, making an effort to conform to the social expectations as well as learning the language will definitely help you to become a more accepted member of French society.

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Mike James

Mike James has lived in many places across France and is a Francophile with a particular interest in French gastronomy and culture. During his travels, he often writes about topics concerning French holidaymakers on behalf of South France Holiday Villas Ltd.

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