So why does culture matter if all you want to do is speak French?

November 10, 2023

Here at busuu, we see languages as more of a social and cultural practice than just a set of grammar rules and long lists of vocab. This is why we combine social features and cultural tips with language learning. Discovering a new way of life is one of the most enjoyable parts of learning a new language.

Let’s have a look at some cultural quirks that might be useful to know when you’re on holiday in France!

Tu or vous?

“Alright mate! How’s it goin’?” I doubt this is how you would address a teacher on your first encounter. Well, using “tu” would be exactly the same mistake in French.

You might already know the difference between the informal and formal versions of “you” in another language, but even when languages share the same concept they can have different rules about how to apply it in various contexts.

In French, the easiest way is to remember the list of people you should address with tu (the informal “you”), and then just use vous (the formal version) with everyone else. Here’s a summary:

Use tu when speaking to:

  • Anyone under 30ish (unless they work in a shop!)
  • A colleague (unless there’s a marked hierarchy)
  • A member of your family or a friend

Ever heard of the famous French “bise” ?

You might think that kissing someone you’ve never met before on the cheeks is awkward… Well, in France it isn’t! Here are a couple of tips to help you master the art of the famous French “bise”:

  • Your lips don’t actually need to touch the other person’s face but you MUST make a kissing noise.
  • Now you’ve got the technique, maybe you’re wondering how many kisses to give. Well that depends on where you are in the country! Most people will give two, but if you really don’t want to get it wrong, have a look at this useful website which will tell you exactly how many bise(s) you need to give in each region!
  • And yes, maybe it seems like too much, but you absolutely DO have to kiss all 10 friends when you arrive at a dinner party. But that’s not all… you have to kiss everyone when you leave too!

Also, if you really want to be like the French, don’t be on time to a dinner party. Arriving 15 minutes late is very common and is actually seen as a good thing because it gives your host extra time to finish preparing their (obviously) delicious meal!

What’s food got to do with it?

I bet one of the first things you want to do when you get to France is rush to a boulangerie. You probably already know the classics but have you ever wondered why the baker looked at you weirdly when you tried to order a pain au chocolat in the South West of France? Well, this is because in this part of the country, a pain au chocolat is called a chocolatine. Here’s a map to help you get this right:

We all know that France is famous for its wine. People are crazy about it and usually drink it with their meal. But before that, they have what’s called an apéro (short form for apéritif). This consists of drinks and small snacks like crisps, peanuts and olives. And this is not just about wine! L’apéro is the perfect time to try some of the regional specialities. So, why not order one yourself next time and impress the locals? This map will help you out:

Is there anything else?

Well, as you can see, language and culture go hand in hand. Not only is it important to learn the language people speak, it’s also important to learn about the culture that surrounds it. In this blog I’ve only focused on a few cultural tips for you to use in France, but check out our language courses for lots more! Oh and good luck perfecting your French bise!

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