How to be English in France

« Back to Articles - Date Posted: 22/05/2017 4:58pm by Alison Cummings

Jane Birkin

Being English in France is not always easy.  From tense interactions during football matches  to the language barrier, you’ll find no shortage of potential gaffes for the average English visitor across the Channel.

There have however been some who have pulled off the transition with grace and style, like the lovely Jane Birkin, an English actress who took France by storm. It’s true that not everyone can be La Birkin, but there is definitely an art to getting away with being English in France.  Follow these few simple steps to learn how you to be accepted, and even treasured, as a rosbif.

1.     Know the language

Any Francophile knows that the French are amongst the most language-proud people on Earth. If you can’t manage the lingo you’ll never progress beyond tourist status, and may even find yourself in some seriously frustrating situations. However, you certainly don’t have to be fluent in français to make a good impression! In fact, any effort will earn you some points in the eyes of the natives. If you’re unsure of a noun’s gender or how to say a phrase, don’t let on. Brave your way through tough, uncertain phrases with confidence and you’ll command respect - or at least not get laughed at as much!

2.     Laugh at yourself

Part of being confident is the ability to make light of any embarrassing situations. The French love a good laugh at the expense of the English, so why not indulge them? After more than 40 years in France, Birkin still has the grace to poke fun at herself and the result is that she comes off as endearing and likable. Surely this is proof positive that a good sense of humour can transcend linguistic barriers!

3.     Embrace the French way of life

No doubt about it: getting by in France can mean living life a little bit differently than in the UK. Whether you’re visiting for a week or months on end, you will need to adapt to local customs during your travels. In France, this often means conducting business face-to-face and being outgoing in ways that would not be necessary back home. No matter what you think of French social customs, it’s best to follow them to a T whilst you’re there. Learn the local customs and rules of your destination before you arrive to ensure a smooth stay.

4.     Avoid comparisons to the UK

In general, you’ll find certain habits that have become increasingly rare in Britain are still favoured in France. In French cities, you may encounter far more smokers than back home, whilst in the countryside hunting is still quite popular. Though you may not agree with these practices or others, resist the urge to comment negatively or complain – doing either will be seen as irritating and dull.

5.     Don’t be too self-conscious

If you’re too afraid of making a faux pas you’ll find it difficult to relax and enjoy your trip. Instead of worrying excessively about doing the right thing or following the correct etiquette, simply smile and be gracious to others. You’ll find that is more than in enough to get you far in many difficult social situations.