Myths about the French abound, and they are frequently negative. To the contrary, our experience interacting with the French -- on both a personal and business level -- has been consistently positive. To increase the likelihood of a positive experience, however, it is vitally important to learn a bit about French culture before you leave home.
The first myth that we often encounter from folks considering a trip to France is that the French are arrogant and rude. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Now, Parisians may not always receive travelers in a warm and fuzzy manner, but neither do New Yorkers or the natives of any large city consistently bombarded by tourists for that matter. For most Parisians, daily life is fast-paced, and tourists, quite understandably, are often perceived as obstacles to getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
Outside of Paris however, the pace of daily life is much slower; and our experience has shown time and time again, the French people are generally warm, friendly, helpful, soulful and quite endearing.
Nonetheless, the French do have a certain way of doing things, a code of etiquette governing their personal interactions, that Americans often perceive as rigid and stuffy. From that perspective, it's important to recognize and learn to appreciate where they're coming from before you go. Based on our travel experiences, we believe the foundation of the French collective consciousness is civility and politeness. That is to say, the French believe there are certain rules of etiquette, which must be followed without question by all well-mannered people. Disregarding these rules makes you a boor.
Fortunately, the most elementary of these rules are not difficult to learn and once mastered, become fun to follow. In fact, you'll probably find yourself following these rules of etiquette at home.
The most elementary of these rules governs the manner in which people greet one another. When greeting someone, always do so by saying, "bonjour monsieur" or "bonjour madame." Remember, it's not sufficient to say merely "bonjour" or "bonsoir" (good evening.) You need to include "monsieur" for men and "madame" for women. Similarly, you will always say "au revoir monsieur or madame" and "merci monsieur or madame" when departing someone's company or thanking someone for their service. To do so communicates to the French that you are a civil, well-mannered person; failure to do so, makes you impolite and boorish. Such greetings are especially important in hotels, restaurants, and shops. Always greet shopkeepers when entering a place of business, and say goodbye and thank you when departing.