Parisian etiquette: What is considered rude in Paris? 

Essays, Slow Paris

As someone who has been living in Paris for more than 3 years now, let me tell you: Paris is full of rude people. Like any other big city. The list of transgressors include French locals, expats and tourists alike.

There is a ruling notion abroad that French people are the epitome of etiquette and manners. And while that is true with la politesse being enmeshed in the essential fabric of French life, Paris is a different case in itself. What is true about Paris does not always apply to the rest of France. And vice-versa.

Yes, Paris is full of rude people. There are people everywhere who walk without minding other people’s space, stepping on toes or blowing vape smoke near the nostrils of strangers without so much as an half-apologetic shrug.

On the other hand, Paris also has a strong live-and-let-live energy. The individualistic culture in Paris means no one’s going to be up on your face about what to do or what not to do. Like in any other great cities of the world, you can be who you want to be. Reinvent a new version of you or find yourself.

Yet, there are certain hard limits when it comes to Paris etiquettes. If you are visiting Paris, or are a new resident in the French capital, it’s good to know about some of these. a) To respect the city and its people and b) to make your time in the city easier.

Couple in Paris watching the sunset at Île de la Cité
Couple watching the sunset at Île de la Cité. Photo by Pronoti

Mind your Paris manners

So, here are some tips about how to mind your Paris manners. I tried really hard to not let the things that annoy me personally get in the way of describing what could be annoying/ offensive at a societal level. All these tips have been relegated to things in the public sphere. Parisian or French faux pas in inter-personal relationships or more intimate settings would require a separate article. Or ten.

I hope, along with the things not to do in Paris, these Parisian etiquette fundamentals would give you a jumping off point from which to navigate the city.

Respect other’s personal space and privacy

The French have a vehement love for privacy, and this bleeds onto the public domain domain. So, as a rule of thumb, don’t do anything that seems to be intrusive to someone else’s space, physical, figurative or metaphysical. Just stop. This includes trying to force small talk with strangers around you, smiling at someone for no reason etc. Snubbing a stranger, no matter how friendly, is definitely not breaking any kind of Parisian etiquette.

The amount of petty crimes, and scams running rampant in Paris also contributes to people avoiding surprise interactions with strangers, especially in public spaces such as metro, bus stops or streets. I have been approached by many a friendly people in the streets of Paris, only for it to end with them asking me for money. One time, such an interaction ended with me being unable to find my favourite pair of sunglasses in my pocket. Since then, I myself am now extremely wary of anyone who stops me in the street to start a conversation.

Of course, this does not mean don’t try to make connections. It just means that on any given day, more Parisians are likely to find your attempts at conversation suspicious or intrusive. But depending on the context and the person you are talking to, you might just end up with a cool interaction.

Having said all this, I have met my fair share of (usually older) Parisians who would give you the judgemental once-over. Or stare at you in the metro. If that happens, feel free to practice your own brand of nonchalance. Stay cool and don’t let it bother you.

A woman in blue dress walking at Jardin du Palais Royal
Nothing like spending a slow day around Jardin du Palais Royal. Photo by Pronoti

Never forget to say this word

If you have gone through my post on books to read before coming to Paris, you already know how crucial this point is. If you haven’t read the post yet, I suggest going through it asap. Especially if you would like to thrive, and not just survive, in Paris.

If you are not beginning your social interactions in France with a bonjour, you are already putting yourself at a major disadvantage, and starting on a very negative front. 

The other day, I found myself complaining about someone’s rudeness to a French friend.

My exact words were, “Et elle ne dit jamais bonjour.” Or, “And she never even says bonjour.”

As my friend nodded in full comprehension of my exact feelings, I realised how deeply even I have been indoctrinated into minding these French/Parisian etiquettes. Bonjour is definitely considered absolutely essential or the bare minimum when it comes to public (or private) interactions.

Follow the queue 

This one should go without saying. But do not worry, there’s is no way you can ever accidentally disregard this Parisian etiquette. The person you might have unknowingly snubbed in the queue would certainly not take it lying down.

Whether it be in line at the boulangerie (French bakery) to pick up bread and pastry, or at the metro station to buy tickets. Always respect the queue. If you are not sure whether there is a queue or not for something, it’s easy enough to verify. You see, the French word for queue is la queue.

So, when it doubt, just ask.

Paris biker at Jardin du Palais Royal Paris
Man biking at Jardin du Palais. Photo by Pronoti

For extra Paris karma, hold the door for the person behind you

Even in a city as busy as Paris, where people don’t even the time to check in on someone crying on the streets, 99% of the time, the person in front of you would always hold the door for you. When someone doesn’t, I just assume it is someone who doesn’t live in France. 

This is one Parisian etiquette I love. And now that I split my time between Paris and Toulouse, I can vouch that it is the same even here. People usually always hold the door for the person behind them. It happens at the metro, at department stores, even at the movies.

I don’t know what it is, but every time some of does it, I feel hopeful for humanity. Cities notoriously get us to be wrapped up in ourselves, and blind to others. Within this context, holding a door open for a stranger feels like a tiny token of care. A seemingly insignificant action of a person looking behind and in a sense, ‘seeing’ another person. And taking a couple of seconds from their life to so something for someone else.

Its a few seconds of positive human interaction that reminds me of the tenderness that can still be found even in a busy, gritty and sometimes hard city like Paris.

Parisian metro etiquettes

The above two Parisian etiquettes definitely also apply to how to behave in the metro in Paris. Apart from those, some other things which might be considered rude in Paris metro would be:

  • Not waiting for the people going out to get out of the metro before hopping in.
  • No pushing or shoving, no matter how crowded the metro is.
  • Talking loudly or playing music aloud.
  • And please don’t block the metro doors.
Two women in pink sitting on a bench at Jardin des Tuileries
Taking a breather at Jardin des Tuileries. Photo by Pronoti

Don’t do this while sharing a drink with the French

Drinking culture is huge and thriving in Paris and everywhere else in France. There are cafés and bars every few meters, and there’s hardly restaurants where you will not find alcohol. No wonder that there are a number of etiquettes and manners that have evolved around drinking. These are not specifically Parisian etiquettes but can be generalised to France.

If you are interested in French food culture, read this post on how to eat like the French.

With regard to how not to be rude while sharing a drink with the French, here are a few drinking etiquettes you should not break.

  • If you have been invited by someone for drinks, do not start drinking before the hosts. Wait till everyone at the table has been served, then follow the host’s lead.
  • As a rule of thumb, even if you have not been invited by anyone and are just casually drinking with friends, do not start drinking before everyone has been served.
  • The standard etiquette to cheers before drinking, is to chink your glass with each member of the group, while saying ‘Santé,’ (or health in French). Clink your glass while making eye contact with the other person. Popular superstition goes that not looking at the other person in the eye while cheering might bring seven years of bad sex.

Hope these basic Parisian etiquettes are of help to you. If there’s a Paris or French etiquette that you consider absolutely fundamental to know, do let me know in the comments.

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