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Nice in Nice: Know your way around French customs

One of the top priorities when traveling abroad – right after sightseeing and eating – is to not come across as an ignorant tourist who couldn’t care less about local customs. In order to help you focus on the scenery and the food, we put together a collection of tips and tricks to do as the locals do in no time.

We’ll start our series with France – if you are about to embark on an journey to fashionable Paris or sunny Nice, this list is for you:

Meet and greet

The French are polite and they expect the same from others, so always greet everyone within earshot with a friendly “Bonjour!”.

Shake it, baby!

If you meet someone for the first time, always shake hands – a quick and light handshake and eye-contact will be perfect to make a positive first impression.

Kiss

Let’s up the greeting ante with some kissing! First of all, we are not talking about French Kissing; we’re talking about a light kiss on the cheek among friends – le bisou. The tricky part of le bisou is the number: It’s between two to three kisses in the South and usually two in the North of France. But it could also be four or just one and who knows what happens if you meet someone from the South in the North. Therefore: Carefully observe the person you’re greeting: if they lean in, go for it, but let them lead.

No ice for you

Just as in a lot of other European countries, soft drinks or water don’t usually come with ice and if you want to blend in, don’t ask for any.

Learn French (duh!)

You don’t have to be able to discuss politics in French, but you should know some of the basics, such as bonjour (good morning), bonsoir (good evening), au revoir (good bye), merci (thank you), excusez-moi madame/monsieur (excuse me madam/sir), bonne journée (have a nice day), bonne soirée (have a nice evening), enchanté (nice to meet you), s’il vous plaît (please), and je vous en prie (you’re welcome).

Sit back and enjoy your meal

The French love to eat, and a big part of the food culture is to sit down and savor every bite: walking while wolfing down your lunch is frowned upon, so don’t do it!

Ready, set, bon appetit!

If you are eating a meal with a group, do not lift your fork until you hear someone say, “bon appetit!” – the official signal to start eating.

European cutlery skills

The fork always remains in the left hand, the knife in the right. Impress your fellow table mates by spearing (not scooping) your food. When the meal is finished, place the knife and fork parallel to each other on the right side of the plate (at the 4 o’clock position). If you cross your fork over your knife on your plate, you will signal that you are not done yet and you won’t have memoize the French words for “Please don’t take my plate, I’m still eating!”.

Image by Olga Khomitsevich, Flickr / Creative Commons

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