The French are essentially a nation of individualists – even Charles de Gaulle once famously complained about the difficulties of governing a country that had 246 different kinds of cheese. However despite their notorious propensity to follow their own way, the French are difficult not to admire, envy and love. So if you find yourself in this wonderful, varied and fashionable country, here are a few tips on making friends among the French.
Learn a bit of their language
The French are highly possessive about their culture, art and language. In fact it is one of rare countries of the world which still has a national institution – L’Académie Française – to formally regulate the French language. Great emphasis is put on speaking and writing French correctly in schools here with particular importance accorded to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Indeed the emphasis on French language extends beyond the academic circles to everyday life as well. According to the Loi Toubon, 40 percent of the music played on the radio as well as a films transmitted by TV stations must be in French. Also all signs, advertisements and product descriptions have to be in French. So you may need to pick up the language, not only for socializing in France but for the more practical purpose of going through daily life in this country.
Respect their culture
Like their language, the French people are extremely proud of their culture as well. Indeed at times they are even accused of being cultural snobs but all this is really a manifestation of their sincere attempts to keep French arts and language alive, especially in the face of increasing globalization and American influence on popular culture. So in your conversations with the French, let them talk about their favorite subjects which will most likely be French art, architecture, literature and cuisine. Indeed the French have the reputation of being rather aggressive about the artistic and cultural accomplishments of their country. So if you are going on a date with a French partner or simply hanging out with a friend, be prepared for lengthy conversations about French culture and French life. If you wish to highlight your own culture and country, use a little wit and finesse to make your point since the French are more appreciative of the urbane and sophisticated approach.
The French are some of the most politically aware people in the western world. Politics is an important topic of discussion in France and people here tend to hold definite views on various policies and happenings not only in their country but in the larger international context. Both French men and women love an animated conversation and can carry on heated discussion for quite some time. For all these reasons sometimes, people may come off as argumentative and political sometimes, but it is only their way of getting to know you; and if you can give evidence of your own intellectual and political awareness, you are sure to make a good impression on her, though you may not be able to get him to agree with you.
When discussing arts, politics and culture with the French, ask intelligent questions and avoid remarks that stand on stereotypes and hearsay. See your French pal as an individual and try not to translate his/her personal choices into gross assumptions about gender and cultural stereotypes. Recognize that culture influences personal style, manner of speech, sense of humor, hygiene and many other aspects of social living but after all each individual is different, so avoid inane questions like, "Is that a French thing?" when you notice him eating oysters or wearing her scarf in a particular way.
For all their love of discussion though, the French appreciate good behavior – they frown on inappropriate dress, excessive informality and riotous actions. In the northern part of the country, people even give the impression of greater formality in daily social interaction while towards the south of the country, people have a reputation for greater warmth and spontaneity. Overall though families like to keep to themselves; so even if you are getting to know your French pals, don’t expect an invitation to a Sunday brunch any time soon since mostly only intimate friends are invited to family gatherings.
Appreciate fine food and drink
One of the best parts about getting to know people in France is that you can look forward to socialize at places where the food and wine are worth talking about. However be prepared to swear off burgers and fried chicken for the time being since your French friend may have strong feelings on fast food outlets especially American ones like MacDonald and Burger King. Though these can now be seen in many places in the country, French men and women often go out of their way to point out how terrible American burger or coffee tastes. Rather your friend may take you to the lovely cafes and bistros that line the pavements of major French cities, especially Paris. And if he has the resources, he may take you to an elegant dining establishment and perhaps even explain the finer points about the reds of Bordeaux or the sparkling spirits from Champagne.
Grooming is important
It is not for nothing that Paris is reputed as the nerve center of international couture. You only have to take one look at the women dressed in elegant and attractive clothes walking down the Champs Elysees to understand why the French are considered to be trendsetters in fashion and style. But the real secret behind their classy looks is that they always know what works for them individually. French women dress beautifully but they are never fashion victims. Like their female counterparts, French men too have an inherent sense of style and even when not looking dapper themselves, they are quite comfortable discussing style, silhouettes as well as cuts and colors. Thus when going out with a friend or date here, smarten yourself up. There is no need to look stuffy in a suit when you are merely going out for cocktails, but make an effort with your dress and makeup or personal grooming. Elegance is the key word here so go for a style that is classy and timeless.
Don’t fall victim to stereotypes
When meeting new people in France, don’t be misled by popular notions about lax French morality. Mainstream media depictions of Parisian nightlife with its nightclubs and varied sexuality may suggest that sexual relations are very free and easy but you may end up making an inappropriate comment or overture when out with a friend or date. In actual fact, the French have a more conservative attitude towards sex than other nationalities though extra-marital and pre-marital sexual relationships are usually ignored and sometimes even tolerated.