The French are a delightful, friendly people who love to engage, make little jokes and walk down and back up very long hills just for bouquets of flowers. Indeed, I wish I knew the language and culture better than I yet do, but for now here are a few tips on loving the French:
French people say hello all the time but only once a day to each person. Be attentive! Say, “Bonjour!” when you first meet anyone, when you enter a shop and even when you pass an elderly couple (or anyone) in the street. Always say hello to waiters or shopkeepers before anything else. The second time you see someone, it’s nice to say, “Ça va?” And if you see someone in the evening, you can say, “Bonsoir,” even if you’ve already said, “Bonjour.”
Get used to French time
Rural French shopkeepers tend to open from around 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., close for lunch, then open again from around 3 – 7 p.m. Sundays they might close entirely or just open for a morning window.
If you find this annoying, ask the shopkeeper who runs the place morning to night, seven days a week, and maybe you will suggest he or she should close more often.
Use and buy graciously
I haven’t asked, but I don’t think the American motto of the customer always being right carries over to France. If you want to try on a shirt, ask first. If you stay the night at a hostel, fold the linens you used and wash and dry all your dishes.
You can tell a French person from a distance by the smile wrinkles. Crows feet sprout from even many of the young. While Americans might stretch their cheeks outward when they smile and get those vertical cheek lines, the French tend to smile upward, squinting their eyes into mirthful little half-moons. The lips, puckered a bit to make the tricky nasal sounds, might curve up or down or twist both ways. I’m suspecting a capricious sense of humor, but I haven’t figured that out yet.
What I have noticed is that they love to talk about others. I have just to sit in a restaurant, and already several pairs of eyes are usually studying me and sometimes quietly muttering possible nationalities. When I order my food, conversations about gluten intolerance ripple outward. Once, after just surviving a stressful string of telephone reservations, the other guests at my hostel began repeating my script – “Je m’appelle Lainie. Je suis une pèlerine.” – hyper slow and giggling.
When I made sounds of indignation (I am so articulate), they laughed even louder and told me I spoke really good French. It was not true, but it was, somehow, sweet.
I love the French.