Xenophobe's® Guides: How to act French
The French distinguish between rules and formalities: The former are to be ignored, while the latter strictly dictate French etiquette and behaviour.
Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.
The French are a formal people, rigid in their thinking and much of their behaviour. From Napoleon's time onwards they have always loved codes, the stricter the better: of etiquette, fashion, ethics, diplomacy, art, literature and law.
They believe intensely in what they call la règle: everything that matters should be done in the right way and in the right place and at the right time. What they don't like, and ignore at their discretion, are petty regulations – about parking, smoking, driving, hygiene, and where you may or may not urinate.
To the French, there is a world of difference between rules and formalities. The former are to be ignored, the latter strictly observed. This is exemplified by the elaborate way they sign off their letters. At their most formal, one can still come across ‘Nous vous prions d'agréer, Monsieur, l'assurance de nos sentiments respectueux' (We beg you to believe in the assurance of our respectful sentiments), and (at their most informal) ‘N'oublie pas de nous donner de tes nouvelles de temps en temps, s'il te plaît' (Don't forget to give us news of yourself from time to time, please).
At heart, the French are traditionalists. Although they dearly love revolutions, pulling everything down and starting from scratch (offering endless scope for debate and discussion), they disapprove of shifts in behaviour. Everything must be done comme il faut (properly), an expression that applies equally to getting married and getting a massage, addressing an envelope and addressing a teacher, filling in a form and stuffing a duck.
For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the French.
Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the French by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.