Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What should I absolutely not do when visiting your country? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread. Thank you to the team at Quora for making this happen!
1. Don’t make derogatory comments or jokes about the French military history or the supposed French cowardice. Many people you will meet have grandparents who fought or died during WW2 and they won’t take it well if you imply they are cowards. Some other clichés about the French (laziness, always complaining, strikes, socialism, etc.) are less touchy and can be joked on and/or debated (with open-minded people at least), but please leave military history alone.
2. Don’t assume we agree with what the government or some famous French person said or did. This is true for many countries, but really, criticizing the government is like a national sport in France. Whatever and whoever the current government is.
3. Don’t use a car except if you intend to visit the countryside. Public transportation in and between cities is efficient, fast and relatively cheap. By contrast, driving in big cities (especially Paris) is unpleasant, slow and parking is a constant problem.
4. If you are a vegan, don’t expect much awareness about that. Notify people you visit and be careful in which restaurants you go. Very few people are vegan in France compared to some other countries, and although the situation is slowly improving, the awareness and acceptance of it are still quite poor. Some older people especially can consider it a “weird” or even radical behaviour, and you should not assume there will be a vegan option in all restaurants.
5. Avoid speaking about money, earnings and salaries, and if you do, absolutely don’t mention any figures. For example you can tell you quit a job because you were underpaid, but you should not mention how much exactly. There are old taboos about speaking of money in the French culture, many people consider it a “dirty” topic and in many families even relatives will not discuss it. And of course if you are wealthy, don’t brag about it and don’t show off. Some other cultures admire people who are overtly rich, but in France it will mostly get you jealousy and bitterness.
6. In general you should probably avoid initiating a discussion on political views with someone you don’t know well. As strange as it may seem, some people consider it a private question and don’t want to discuss it. This is not the case for everybody, though, but you should probably let them make the first move or at least be careful.
7. Don’t expect most people to understand English or your home language. The French educational system is bad at teaching foreign languages, with an excessive focus on reading and writing compared to conversational skills. Many older people will only know a bit of bad and heavily accented English and/or possibly German or Spanish. The situation is better with younger people, but even they often won’t be very proficient.