How to pass for a local in France

Keen to blend in while travelling in France? These five tips will help you make the most of a famously beautiful way of life.

Story: Clare Barry. Photos: Getty Images.
July 2018


Bag an afternoon baguette

Baguette is the bread of life in France, an accompaniment to every meal. Bakers turn out several batches a day and a true local drops in for fresh afternoon baguette for dinner. (National regulations ban the use of preservatives in bread so they’re best eaten within hours.) You can order half a baguette at any boulangerie – with the ‘demi-baguette’ a social shorthand for the single life or solo-occupant households. You can also ask for a crusty, well-cooked baguette (bien cuite) or one that’s soft and under-cooked (pas trop cuite).

Bonjour, bonjour

In quieter streets and neighbourhoods locals greet fellow pedestrians with a cheery “bonjour”. Respond in kind, or initiate one yourself. It’s a small, friendly courtesy, and a lovely one.

Extreme cheese

So ingrained is cheese in the French consciousness that what we call a pie chart is a camembert chart in France. A selection of delicious cheeses can turn up at any meal, or make a meal on its own. Try the local offerings, eat it with baguette, and think before you cut – a full round should be segmented, so don’t cut across the curve, and when helping yourself from a slab of fromage, cut it to leave a point for the next person to angle in on.

Out to lunch

At lunchtime order ‘le menu’ at a café, brasserie or restaurant and you’ll be served an entrée of soup or salad, a hearty main, dessert and café, and sometimes a glass or small carafe of wine, for as little as 14 to 17 euros. Thank the tickets resto (restaurant tickets) given to many French workers as part of their salary, a meal subsidy system that keeps small eateries pumping in the traditional two-hour lunchbreak. The same meal would cost significantly more at night, so lunch like a king then top up with baguette and cheese for dinner.

Cheek to cheek

The art of ‘la bise’, the greeting or farewell kiss, can be tricky for the uninitiated. Family and close friends will make do with a single kiss or a hug, while acquaintances offer a kiss to each cheek, or three kisses, depending on the tradition in that area. In Paris it can be up to four (two on each cheek). It can be awkward not knowing how many pecks are expected, so try to watch others or ask ahead.

Related Items