French Culture: Facts, Customs & Traditions

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
French culture has given the world high fashion and amazing food, among other things. In this lesson, we'll look at some facts, customs, and traditions of French culture.

Vive la France!

There is an incredibly funny line in the movie Better Off Dead (1985). In honor of a visiting French student, an American mother attempts to make things international by hosting a French night. She says: ''In honor of our special guest, I've created Dinner Mon Dieu, including Frahnch fries, Frahnch dressing and Frahnch bread. And to drink, (holding up a bottle of Perrier) Peru!''

American perception and possible stereotyping of France as a nation of cultural snobbery and sophisticated food is probably not true. France is home to many McDonald's restaurants and large shopping centers that would rival American malls. France has given much culturally to the world, from art and cuisine to fashion. When we talk about French culture, we also mean the French way of life.

Facets of French Culture

Language

There are some very noticeable aspects of French cultural customs and traditions that many foreigners find different from their own. The French are extremely proud of their language. French grammar, writing, and spelling are notoriously complicated. Written French is very different from spoken French. The French revel in correction. While the attitude toward non-French speakers speaking French has relaxed, do not take offense if a French person corrects the way you speak.

What to Wear

While Paris and France represent some of the highest couture (fashion) imaginable, the French are very rigid in some dress and less formal in others. Professional clothing may involve colors Americans would only dream of wearing at work, while many French people would not be caught dead shopping in jeans or a T-shirt. Clothes in France are an extension of one's personality and should reflect your age and gender. On the other hand, most French would not wear tuxedos or overly-complicated clothing that Americans prefer for weddings and formal occasions.

On the way to the supermarket
Fashion

The French Way of Doing Things

Americans tend to believe that almost anything can be made or done easier. In French culture, there is an acceptance of the ways things are, even when they are overly complex and illogical. In America, the customer is king. In France, the customer can be ignored for asking or demanding too many things. For example, you decide to have fish for dinner at a Parisian restaurant. The fish comes with rice, but you want potatoes. If you want potatoes with your dinner, you should order a meal from the menu that includes potatoes and not ask to substitute.

Conversely, French culture prides itself on people who overcome this system and ignore authority in the process. In a culture that has so many social rules and cultural laws, sometimes the French believe the best defense is to ignore them. This system is known as Système D. It may seem strange in a culture that views shopping in the correct clothing as important, but French culture respects people who get around the system. As odd as it sounds, ordering two dishes, one with fish and one with potatoes, would be a way to beat the system.

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