Of the French stereotypes that float around, the most ridiculous—in my opinion—is the belief that French people are rude. That isn’t the case at all. People just don’t realize that cultural differences sometimes spread into the realm of politeness. As someone who grew up on the border of the US and Mexico, I’ve seen all the ways something that seems harmless or commonplace in one country can be considered extremely rude in another. France is no different; with a country’s culture comes its own brand of politeness, and to get along peacefully it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little etiquette. On the other hand, not everyone in France is going to be nice, that’s just a fact of life. And for those times when you feel the situation merits it, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to be rude either.


Starting Off on the Right Foot

One part of French etiquette that really appeals to my Mexican sensibilities is the formality of greetings. When approaching someone on the street or entering a store, it is customary to greet the person you encounter. It may seem strange to address someone you hardly know, or don’t know at all, but by doing this you are showing that person a level of respect that will be appreciated and returned.polite 2

  •       To greet a woman say, “Bonjour, Madame”
  •      Bonjour, Monsieur “ is the proper greeting for a man

Likewise, when leaving a store or conversation, it is important to exchange the appropriate valediction.

  •   Au revoir, Madame
  • Au revoir, Monsieur

Make your mother proud by remembering to say please, thank you and excuse me.

How to say “Please”

  •    S’il vous plaît (plural or formal) 
  •    S’il te plaît (singular and familiar)

How to say various forms of “Thank you”

  •  Thank you: Merci
  •   Thank you very much:  Merci beaucoup
  •  A thousand times thanks: Mille fois merci

Different expressions of “Excuse me”

  •  Excuse me:  Excusez-moi
  •  Please excuse me: Veuillez m’excuser
  •   I’m sorry to disturb/bother you:  Excusez-moi de vous déranger
  •   Pardon me, I beg your pardon:  Pardon

Even when entering and exiting an elevator, a place where other cultures consider the polite thing to do is ignore the other passengers and stare blankly at the door, exchanging pleasantries is the norm in France. Even going as far as offering a hopeful “bonne journée” (good day) to those exiting before you.

Starting off on the WRONG Foot

Yes, being polite will increase your chances of a pleasant experience in many situations, but just as one shouldn’t stereotype a group of people as always being rude, one shouldn’t assume that everyone will always adhere to the accepted social etiquette. Sometimes people are just rude. In those instances, you’d do well to remember a few words and phrases.

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  •   To say impolite: impoli/-e (the “e” is added if it’s feminine)

For example: “la question est impolite” (the question is impolite)

  •  An impolite/rude person is : mal élevé/-e

For example: “Ces personnes sont très mal élevées” or “Ces gens sont très mal élevés” (these people are very rude)

  •  Coarse or rude (usually to refer to manners or words): grossier/-ière
  •  A rude or dirty word: un gros mot

Sometimes a certain person will just rub you the wrong way, and for those times, it may be necessary to say some rude phrases yourself.

  •   To express the equivalent of “shut up” say: “Ferme la bouche.”

For an extra rude way of saying this try: “Ta Gueule.”

  •    If you feel like someone merits the term stupid: “Vous êtes stupide.”

Or, to put it more forcefully: “Tu es completement débile.” (You’re a complete moron)

  •  When a simple “Au revoir” is too polite, bid farewell to the person causing you extreme distress by saying: “Brûle en enfer!” (Burn in h*ll)

What are your thoughts on the French social etiquette rules for exchanging pleasantries? How different is it from your culture’s views on politeness?