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Living in France

Life in France may be full of joie de vivre, but it is best to come prepared. The French are very proud of their culture, so get informed before starting your new life to avoid any faux-pas! Our expat guide to France will equip you with essential info on the locals, the language, and healthcare, and more.
Café au lait and a pain au chocolat for breakfast bring joie de vivre!

French people, whether living in France or abroad, usually don´t hide their pride in their nation´s achievements, particularly in arts and culture. When staying in France, you may soon realize that the people possess an inherent pride in their own culture, and for good reason!

Get Off to a Good Start: Begin Small

If you need a good conversation opener when talking to French colleagues or acquaintances, try French films, food, or wine. Just as every cliché contains a grain of truth, part of life in France is enjoying a good meal and a general fondness of the sophisticated French cuisine. The French take great pride in this and their nation’s culture in general.

As the only official national language, French is another source of pride, and foreigners are expected to make an effort to learn it. If your life in France finds you outside of the large expat regions, a good command of French is indispensable. Having said this, some expats living in France might experience that poor attempts at speaking French will occasionally be met with some degree of indignation and feigned incomprehension.

There Are Various Languages to Speak

Most residents of France speak or understand some English, Spanish, or German. In an international business environment, English language skills are probably sufficient to get by, although this depends on the workplace and you should check in advance what level of language skills your employers are expecting. Regardless, if you want to make the most of your expat experience, you should try to acquire at least a basic command of French.

While French is the only official language, expats living in France’s border regions will find that different dialects and languages are spoken by the local population in the provinces. Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Flemish, Catalan, Corsican, and Occitan are important to many people, as local traditions are a big part of life in France.

Social Customs and Business Etiquette

People are expected to show polite behavior in public. Loud sneezing, combing your hair, and similar “private” displays are frowned upon. Casual conversations among business contacts living in France are more likely to be about general topics than about private ones, unless you know someone well.

By the way, it is considered impolite to keep your hands in your pockets while talking to someone in France. Similarly, hands should not be kept below the table during a formal dinner with casual acquaintances or business contacts.

Business and private life are traditionally kept separate in France. Business entertainment is done in restaurants rather than at the home of a business associate, and more often at lunch than at dinner time.

When invited for dinner in a private home of someone living in France, don´t bring wine, as choosing the right wine is considered the responsibility of the host. A small present, however, will be appreciated.

An Important Issue: Proper Greetings

The appropriate formal greeting among people living in France is a light handshake, with women offering their hand first. Among men, the person superior in rank usually takes the initiative. Seniors should be addressed first, and you often stand when greeting someone.

Implied kisses on the cheek, though considered very French, are mostly used among friends and younger people. Expats from an Anglo-Saxon background should note that the common form of addressing business contacts is with their correct title and surname rather than their first name.


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