French Culture

Since the 17th century, France has been at the center of many areas of European culture. French culture has been shaped and influenced by its geography, foreign influences and internal forces. Over the centuries French culture has had its ups and downs depending on the political and economic situations.

France is a country located in Western Europe and it borders Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic with minority groups of Protestants, Jews and Muslims.

The official language of France is French and it is the first language of nearly 90 percent of the population. In the eastern provinces of France of Alsace-Lorraine and Moselle, a dialect of German is spoken. Along the various borders, the language of the neighboring country is spoken.

One of the greatest passions of the French people is food. They take a lot of time in food preparation and presentation. French cuisine requires careful preparation and a lot of attention is given to detail and to the ingredients used. French cuisine relies heavily on fresh ingredients, especially vegetables, and locally grown products are used. The cuisine is therefore heavily influenced by what is locally grown. Wine, especially locally produced wine, is served at most meals.

The French have various rules of behavior between people in social circles. The French consider themselves to be private people and do not mingle socially with strangers. Friendship to the French comes with a lot of responsibilities mainly that one must always be available to help a friend. Having a friend means having frequent bodily contact such as kissing, etc.

French culture has a long list of customs and etiquette. Following is a list of some of them:

In dining, one should always arrive on time. If one will be more than ten minutes late, a phone call must be made to the host explaining the tardiness. When invited to a large dinner party, it is appropriate to send flowers early in the day so the host can display them.

Regarding table manners, the fork is always held in the left hand while the knife is held in the right hand. One should never begin to eat before the host has signaled such by saying bon appetit, and everything on the plate should be finished. Elbows are never to be placed on the table and hands should always be visible.

In meeting and gift giving, the customary form of greeting is a handshake. The first name is used only if the other person is family or a close friend. Lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right, is acceptable when meeting with friends. Only an odd number of flowers should be sent, but never 13, which is an unlucky number. Wine given as a gift must be of high quality, as the French are very fussy about wines.

For business meetings, it is necessary to make an appointment at least two weeks in advance, and it should be made in writing or by telephone. No business meetings are to be scheduled during the months of July and August, as this is customarily the vacation period. Expected delays are to be notified in advance. No exaggerate claims should be made as the French do not like exaggerations.

Dress should be a bit understated but stylish. Men should wear conservative suits which are dark in color, especially at an initial meeting. Women should wear a business suit or a well-designed dress in soft colors. Any accessories that are worn should be of good quality.

In business negotiations, one should never sit before being told where to sit. The French are very keen on and firm believers in eye contact, which should be maintained. High-pressure tactics when negotiating should not be employed; they can turn out to be counterproductive. Decisions should not be expected on the spot; they are made at the top. Overfriendliness is frowned on; the French do not bring their personal lives to their place of business. If an agreement is reached, it should be formalized in a precisely worded formal contract.

French Culture: Selected full-text books and articles

French Cultural Studies: An Introduction By Jill Forbes; Michael Kelly Oxford University Press, 1995
French Culture and the Algerian War: Mobilizing Icons By Dine, Philip Journal of European Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1-2, March-June 1998
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