6 ways you may have insulted a French person without realizing (according to a French person)

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One of the tropes that I see most frequently online about my fellow Frenchmen is that we are easily offended by foreigners, or even often rude to them. While it may often be exaggerated, it is true that some things that can seem trivial in another country can be perceived as a slight in France. If you’re an expat in France, here are six ways you’ve probably insulted a French person without realizing.

You don’t make an effort to speak our language

While French people are not necessarily obsessed about their language, there is a certain pride in it. Greeting a French person without a word of French may be perceived as rude or culturally insensitive: think “those damn tourists just don’t care about our culture!”. From my experience, this slight really depends on the generation: young people will probably not care. But try and use some bonjour and merci here and there anyway!

You’ve tried to hug us when we aren’t that close

If you live in France, you know about la bise, that sweet spot between the handshake and the hug. In a private context, this is the most used way to greet people that you know beforehand. If you come to France and try to hug a person to say hello, it can be perceived as an invasion as this person’s personal space.

You’ve used a tired old joke on us

As funny as the “cheese-eating surrendering monkey” trope may someday have been, French people, old or young, can be offended by gratuitous jokes on their national pride, even if they don’t come from a genuine hostility. Not everyone will be offended, but some may be! Repetitive jokes about World War Two, frogs and people not bathing can, surprisingly, get old!

You heavily rely on our stereotypes 

This is somewhat the same thing as before: you may seriously believe that the French are lazier, dirtier or sluttier than the rest of the world. However, don’t state those assumptions when having a conversation with a French person, this could quite literally be perceived as an insult.

You don’t taste our food

Here, we’re getting into quasi-declaration-of-war territory. If you come to France to only eat in your own national fast-food chain, you’re going to make some people roll their eyes at you judgmentally. This lack of culinary curiosity may be perceived as disdain towards French food (and god know it is important to us French).  Conversely, trying to have the cliché “French cuisine experience” can also be perceived as culturally insensitive. You can never win. In doubt, letting a French person invite you to dinner is safer.

You have little interest in discovering our culture and geography

Here applies the same logic as the food: if you have been living in Paris for six months and you haven’t been further away from it than Roissy, you may be perceived as completely lacking curiosity on the vast range of experiences, landscapes and cultures that France has to offer. This could in turned be perceived as culturally insensitive.

Keep in mind that most of those things only apply to some French people: some won’t care for one thing but will mind another. As a young urban French man, I know that I won’t feel offended by the same things as a grandmother living in the country.


Disclaimer: Any views or opinions stated in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publication.

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