My husband and me have been traveling to France quite a few times already but I still cannot call myself an expert on France and its culture. However we have learned a couple of things that you should know before going to this beautiful country. Some of this you may find only “good-to-know” but some may prove a lifesaver during your next trip.
Restaurants serve meals at meal times only, which in France is considered to be between 12 am and 2 pm for lunch, and 7:30 pm-10 pm for dinner. Apart from these hours, most restaurants are closed (with exception to some in touristic spots).
Also, be aware that it is necessary to make a reservation for dinner in advance, as most of the times, and especially in the good restaurants, there is only one sitting. Therefore, the table is yours for the whole night.
Never ask for a “doggy bag”. It's a no-no: you may get it, but it is considered cheap and rude. Among the French, there is a cultural block to take food home in a doggy bag. It has long been seen as an affront to gastronomic etiquette.
Since 2016, restaurants are legally obliged to provide them, if requested. The new regulation applies only to larger dining establishments serving at least 150 meals per day. In smaller places and in the countryside, it is still considered rude to ask for a doggy bag and no one would normally do it.
Coffee to go is not part of the French culture. The French linger over their coffee, sitting outside the cafe, watching people pass by and enjoying the moment. It is all part of the drinking experience! They also don't drink in huge cups, but prefer smaller, more concentrated coffee.
So when you order a normal “café”, it will have one shot of espresso, and when ordering a "grand cafe", it will have two shots but still it will be served in a small cup.
The French eat a light breakfast. Typically they have a croissant or a small sandwich and eat it with a cup of coffee. A lot of bakeries offer a breakfast combo with juice, croissant, and coffee or tea. The French do not eat fruit and yogurt for breakfast and for sure no eggs, sausages, bacon or anything else very heavy.
French people love kisses. They greet each other with kisses on almost all occasions. Even men kiss each other when they meet, if good friends or family. But cheek-to-cheek salutation depends on administrative district. It can vary from 1 to 5 (!!!) kisses.
If you don’t know how many kisses to give in the area you are visiting, two kisses is always safe to go with. For more information visit this fun website where French have voted on how many kisses (and from which cheek to start with!) they give depending on the region.
For the French siesta is a holy time and cannot be missed. It is a great thing and I wish we would have it everywhere in Europe, but sometimes it is also very inconvenient. So remember not to go shopping or to arrange some stuff at government offices between 12-2 pm. You won’t get anything done.
Furthermore, Sunday is a “day-long siesta” and for many stores, Monday is too. No groceries. Just read the store hours in advance and adapt ;)
Many French take the whole August off and flee the city to enjoy summer at a beach or in the countryside. Many tourist are surprised that various museums, restaurants and shops are closed for the whole month.
You should not have this problem when traveling to the south, especially to the French Riviera. As many French spend their summer holidays in this part of the country, the majority of restaurants and shops are open as usual during this time.
Most highways in France, known as autoroutes are tolled. You will notice the entrance to them which is marked with the word "Péage". The procedure is very simple, as in many other countries. You pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter the autoroute (usually the ticket will wait for you already as you approach the booth) and you pay when you leave the highway or when the toll section comes to an end.
The easiest booths to use are those with green arrows or pictograms of coins which stands for cash payment. Otherwise you can also use the credit card booths, but from our own experience not every credit card is accepted. What is worth knowing is that highways in Brittany and Alsace are free (and a few other).
So if you want to save some money during your France road trip, consider visiting these regions. Tolls can be a really big chunk of the travel budget, especially if you drive a lot.
This is one of the best things to experience in France (I have written more about it here). Almost every village, even the smallest one, has its own market. You will be able to see and try a great variety of fresh food supplied by local farmers and experience how important food is for the French.
Therefore book one morning or two for these local outdoor marches - take nothing but a pair of good comfy shoes and an empty stomach :)
Do not to wear shorts or flip flops when you are outside of the beach area. Look at the French – they are fashionable but simple dressers. They wear mainly black, navy blue, white and grey colors and they never go big with accessories or makeup.
Try to respect their culture.
Especially when going to a restaurant, never, never wear clothes that would suggest that you just came from the beach or from the gym.