The phrase faux pas literally translates to a false step, but the French expression has been widely adopted by the English language to be known as something one shouldn’t do. In France, knowing what faux pas to avoid can make or break being accepted into a family, a group of friends, or a company. Should you find yourself in France or amongst the French, or looking to polish your etiquette à la française, here are my top ten you should try to avoid…
1. Don’t smile at strangers on the street — Smiling at random people is considered odd and interpreted to be a deliberate invitation to engage in conversation. Thus doing so can often send the wrong message, inviting unwanted interaction and awkward situations.
2. Don’t wear too much makeup — In France, wearing too much makeup can be interpreted as vulgar and in bad taste. Sophisticated French women have told me those who wear too much makeup can be regarded as low class. Here, it’s better to focus on one part of the face you really want to highlight versus all of them at once, and go easy on your foundation with something light like Miracle Cushion.
3. Don’t discuss money — Discussing money is generally seen as very rude in France. But if you must, apologize prior to bringing it up.
4. Don’t talk about politics in public — In France we leave debates to the pros. Instead people keep their political opinions between them and their newspaper. This topic should be avoided most of all at the dinner table.
5. Don’t ask for a doggie bag at a restaurant — In the event you find yourself with leftovers, don’t ask for a doggy bag. While some French waiters may oblige, it's locally considered a tacky and strange thing that the French themselves would never do.
6. Don’t touch the produce at the market — At fruit and vegetable stands in France, it is a no no to poke and prod produce. In fact, it is often customary to not serve yourself at all. Vendors take great pride in their selection and will be happy to serve you.
7. Don’t cut your lettuce with a knife — This is considered bad table manners in France. If your lettuce is too big for one bite, you simply fold it instead.
8. Don’t turn up to a dinner party empty handed — French hosts are very polite, and will often tell you there’s no need to bring anything. But it’s always polite to grab an extra baguette or even some flowers to arrive with.
9. Don’t be overdressed — Arriving to an event overdressed implies that you are trying too hard to be liked. In France, it’s better to be under dressed than overdressed.
10. Don’t hug people you don’t know well — To the French, hugging is considered an extremely intimate act. Instead we employ the double kiss on the cheek.