French culture: An awesome guide to traditions, customs & more

Bienvenue, culture enthusiasts and bons vivants! France — France!!! — a country that effortlessly blends tradition with trendiness, offers something for everyone.

Imagine a place where wine isn't just a beverage but a way of life, where every meal is a masterpiece, and where the art of conversation is as vital as breathing. This is the essence of French culture – a celebration of the finer things in life, wrapped in a laissez-faire attitude that whispers, "Savor the moment!"

But hold on to your berets, because it's not just about the Eiffel Tower and escargots — read our latest article on French cuisine for this!

In this article, we’ll uncover the mysteries of French social intricacies, where shaking hands is an art form, and cheek-kissing is a language of its own.

From the charming cobblestone streets of Provence to the lively Grands boulevards of Paris, discover French culture and traditions, customs, and social nuances.

We’ll also make a stop in Québec to learn about the welcoming Canadian French culture.

Because when it comes to understanding France, it's not just about what you see – it's about tasting, smelling, touching, and savoring a culture that knows how to live, love, and linger over a good conversation.

Bon voyage !

Table of contents

French language and cultural identity

French people are proud of their country — maybe except for their President?

Oh, they’ll complain about everything: politics, strikes, the weather… but it’s part of the culture they’re proud of!

Jokes aside, the French idiom “Fier comme un coq” (literally, proud as a rooster — more animals in French here) perfectly illustrates this national pride, as the rooster is the emblem of France!

But why are French people so “rooster-y” when it comes to their language?

The French language stands as an emblem of cultural pride and a cornerstone of national identity for the people of France.

Cultural symbolism

The French language stands as an emblem of cultural pride and a cornerstone of national identity for the people of France.

Beyond being a mere means of communication, French is a vibrant cultural symbol. Efforts to preserve and promote the language are visible across various domains, from schools to advertising.

French is not just a linguistic medium; it's a testament to the rich historical legacy, past power and influence, and intellectual prowess of the nation.

Preservation and promotion

France has ardently undertaken initiatives to safeguard the purity of its linguistic heritage.

From stringent language policies in education to promoting French content in the media, there's a collective determination to ensure the perpetuity of the language.

The Académie Française, established in 1635, stands as a bulwark against linguistic dilution, vigilantly safeguarding the integrity of the French language.

In 1994, the Toubon law — more on this here — triggered a never-ending flow of language jokes, in an attempt to replace English words like “parking” and “sandwich”. Needless to say, it failed.

Nowadays, efforts are still deployed in the hexagon and overseas — mainly in the DOM-TOM, or DROM, and in Québec — to protect the French language.

Global reach

French extends its influence far beyond the borders of France, positioning itself as one of the most widely spoken languages globally.

Serving as an official language in numerous countries and gaining prominence in international organizations such as the United Nations and UNESCO — without forgetting the EU and Eurovision — French is a diplomatic tongue that bridges cultures and fosters understanding.

In a world where communication is key, French is not just as a linguistic entity but as a cultural ambassador, reflecting the historical influence of France and the enduring power of the language.

Traditions and customs in France

With its rich history, France has been influenced by various cultures, resulting in an array of local traditions and customs. Over the centuries, the following cultures have shaped the French identity — something we should not forget:

The Roman influence in France is evident in aspects such as language, architecture, and governance.

Gallo-Roman heritage

The ancient Gauls and the Roman Empire played a foundational role in shaping the culture of what is now France. The Roman influence is evident in aspects such as language, architecture, and governance.

Celtic influence

The Celtic influence, primarily from the Gauls, contributes to the cultural mosaic, particularly in regions like Brittany. Celtic traditions and folklore continue to have a presence in French customs.

Germanic tribes

In the early medieval period, the Franks, a Germanic tribe, established the Frankish Kingdom. Their language and customs merged with the existing Gallo-Roman culture, laying the groundwork for the French language and feudal system.

Viking invasions

Norse Vikings left their mark on the northern regions of France, especially in Normandy. The infusion of Norse elements added a distinct flavor to local traditions and dialects.

Italian Renaissance

During the Renaissance, France was a hub of artistic and intellectual activity, influenced by the Italian Renaissance. This period saw the importation of Italian art, literature, and architectural styles.

Arab-Islamic influence

The Arab-Islamic world influenced France, especially in the fields of science, mathematics, and philosophy during the medieval period. This influence is reflected in various aspects of French intellectual heritage.

English influence

The Hundred Years' War and subsequent interactions with England left a lasting impact on French language and culture. English words and phrases found their way into the French language, creating linguistic nuances.

African, Caribbean, and Asian influences

France's infamous colonial history has brought about a fusion of cultures from regions such as North and West Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. This influence is evident in cuisine, language, and cultural practices.

Jewish culture

France has a rich Jewish heritage, and the Jewish community has contributed significantly to French culture, particularly in areas such as literature, philosophy, and gastronomy.

Festivals and celebrations

Bastille day air show.

Bastille Day (14th July)

It's basically France's 4th of July with a French twist.

French people remember this historic day during the French Revolution with parties, parades, and fireworks.

Cannes Film Festival

Think red carpets, celebrities, and all the glitz. The internationally famous Cannes Film Festival is like the Oscars, but with a lot more French flair.

Picture great movies, paparazzi and fancy gowns on the oh so glamorous French Riviera.

Tour de France

This isn't just a bike race; it's a three-week spectacle that rolls through stunning French landscapes, including the steepest Alpine roads.

Everyone gathers to watch the cyclists passing, and receive some cool gifts from the “caravane” sponsors!

My dad is a fan, and I don’t think he has missed a single Tour!

Who will be the “Maillot jaune”?

Lyon Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières)

Lyon turns into a fairy tale with this festival. People light up their windows with candles, the city displays some amazing light shows in different neighborhoods, and people flock from all over Europe to see this magical wonderland.

I grew up in this region, and we also light candles on our windows. I still do it wherever I am on December 8!

You can find the history of this beautiful tradition here.

Festival d’Avignon

The Festival d'Avignon, an iconic celebration of performing arts, takes center stage in the historical city of Avignon, nestled in the heart of Provence, France.

Since 1947, against a backdrop of medieval architecture, the festival welcomes a diverse array of theater, dance, and visual arts performances, showcasing avant-garde creations and timeless classics alike. The Cour d'Honneur of the Palais des Papes serves as the festival's emblematic stage, drawing artists and spectators from around the world.

French gastronomy

French food stands as a pivotal aspect of traditional French culture and history, tracing its origins back to medieval times.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, French cuisine underwent further refinement, solidifying its reputation for sophistication and culinary artistry. The post-war era contributed to the global popularization of French gastronomy.

Today, French culinary traditions continue to be a celebration of regional diversity, placing a strong emphasis on the use of high-quality ingredients and meticulous cooking techniques.

Beyond its influence on the local scene, French gastronomy holds a profound impact on international culinary standards, shaping the way the world approaches and appreciates food.

Some iconic French dishes include:

Ratatouille is a vegetable medley stew featuring eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes.

Coq au Vin (Burgundy)

A quintessential dish from Burgundy, Coq au Vin is a savory masterpiece featuring chicken braised in red wine, mushrooms, and onions. It embodies the heartiness and robust flavors of Burgundian cuisine.

Cassoulet (Languedoc or Toulouse)

A hearty comfort dish, Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole made with white beans, sausages, and various meats such as duck or pork. It's the epitome of rustic French fare.

Ratatouille (Provence/Nice)

Made famous by the most adorable rat chef, Ratatouille is a vegetable medley stew featuring eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. Its vibrant colors and flavors embody the sunny spirit of the Mediterranean.

Quiche Lorraine (Lorraine)

Originating from the Lorraine region, Quiche Lorraine is a savory pie filled with a luscious mixture of cream, eggs, bacon, and sometimes cheese. It's a classic French dish enjoyed worldwide.

Tartiflette (Savoie)

A comforting dish from the Savoie region, Tartiflette features layers of potatoes, reblochon cheese, onions, and lardons. It's a hearty, cheesy delight perfect for warming up during alpine winters.

You’ll find maaaany more delicious French dishes — including a whole section on cheese-based goodness — in our special article on French cuisine.

Fashion and art

For many people around the globe, Paris is the capital of style and art.

From the craziest outfits on the runway to divergent art movements, France keeps bringing the cool factor.

French painters like Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, Degas and Duchamp left their mark, and the cinema scene – thanks to the Nouvelle Vague – changed the game.

Musicians like Charles Aznavour, Édith Piaf, and, more recently, Daft Punk or Zaz, have made an international career.

Around the world, people still read books from Victor Hugo, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Simone de Beauvoir, Émile Zola or Marcel Proust.

Each year, Paris Fashion Week showcases mind-blowing designs and makes sure everyone else steps up their fashion game.

By the way, do you know your fashion vocab in French?

France's creative scene isn't just a vibe; it's a whole mood that keeps inspiring the rest of the world. It's where fashionistas excel, and artistic minds push the boundaries.

France’s cultural differences in Paris vs other regions

Locals having a picnic near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Parisian Lifestyle

Do you know the Paris French culture? Me either! Unfortunately for you, I grew up in Province, which is basically everything outside the “Région parisienne”. But I’ll do my best!

Café culture and leisure activities

Paris, the epitome of sophistication, takes its café game to a whole new level.

Cafés here aren't just there for a quick coffee stop; they're like cultural hotspots.

Even if Parisians are usually in a hurry, as in any big city, they like to take their time to sip their “café”.

When possible, they sit outside and chat while people-watching.

L’art de vivre à la française !

And if you want to order your coffee in style next time you’re in France, check out our article on “How to order coffee in French”!

The role of iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is not my favorite monument — don’t boo me, sorry to disappoint!

But it’s the most iconic French landmark, and it does look great lit up at night.

Of course, it’s more than just a bunch of iron and rivets. Sure, it’s the postcard-perfect symbol of France, but it’s also woven into the everyday rhythm of the city.

Friends meet up, lovers rendezvous, and locals just chill under its majestic shadow. Thousands of people have proposed on the Eiffel Tower.

In Paris, monuments aren't just landmarks; they're a source of local pride. Just observe people’s reaction after the Notre-Dame fire!

From the Louvre pyramids to the Sacré-Cœur, each monument has a story to tell, and they're not just in the background; they're the main characters in the Parisian tale.

Regional diversity of France

Contrasts between northern and southern France

As in many countries, there are huge regional differences in France — including accents — especially between the North and the South.

Just watch the hilarious movie “Bienvenue chez les ch’tis” and you’ll see!

Up north, places like Lille and Amiens paint a picture of cooler temperatures, and a vibe that's a bit more reserved. It's like the Flemish influence took the lead, shaping the culture with a touch of restraint, and the landscape with towns and Gothic cathedrals.

That being said, locals have a reputation to be a lot more welcoming and genuine in the North of France.

The North of France is ignored by many visitors, which is exactly why you should go!

Most tourists head to Paris or the French Riviera. Cities like Nice and Marseille and warmed up by the Mediterranean sun, with vibrant markets, a relaxed pace of life, and a touch of that carefree Mediterranean flair. It's not just about the weather; it's a lifestyle down there.

Food wise, the North offers hearty stews and comfort food for those cooler days

Down south, it's all about fresh seafood, olive oil, and the Mediterranean diet.

Basically, one can draw a crème fraîche/huile d’olive line through the middle of France!

Fortunately, I grew up in the South East, right in the middle of it: the best of both cooking worlds!

Unique customs in regions like Provence, Brittany and Alsace

In France, national identity coexists with regional traditions. It would be impossible to cover every French region in one single article, but let’s focus on three big ones with a strong regional identity: Provence, Brittany and Alsace.


In Provence, where lavender fields meet the Mediterranean breeze, customs are deeply rooted. Picture lively festivals celebrating the harvest, traditional Provencal markets with bursts of color, and the iconic Santons, handcrafted nativity figurines. The art (sport?) of pétanque or boules, a local bowling game, turns the squares into arenas of friendly competition.

The local dialect, Provençal, is not only spoken by elderly people. My niece and nephews learn it at school!


Celtic roots shape a unique cultural identity. In this beautiful, rugged region, people still tell tales of seafaring traditions and Breton folklore.

Fest Noz, traditional dance parties, keep the Celtic spirit alive, while the pardon festivals honor local saints with processions and feasts.

On the table, cider and galettes bretonnes, crêpes made with buckwheat flour, await.


When in Alsace, a region long disputed, you might wonder if you’re in France or in Germany.

Picture half-timbered houses adorned with flowers and a tradition of welcoming strangers with open arms.

Alsace showcases its customs through lively events like the Carnaval d'Alsace, where masked parades bring streets to life. And, of course, the iconic Christmas markets, smelling like spiced wine and gingerbread.


I had to mention Corsica, a stunning island off the French Southern coast.

Influenced by a unique blend of French and Italian cultures, Corsica's traditional stories tell tales of a proud and resilient people. The island resonates with polyphonic chants, showcasing a musical tradition that reflects its diverse cultural roots.

Corsican festivals, like the lively Calvi Jazz Festival or the more traditional A Filetta singing gatherings, bring locals and visitors together. Wander through the narrow streets of towns like Bonifacio, and you might stumble upon processions that pay homage to local saints, echoing Corsica's deep religious and cultural ties.

The Corsican spirit, as well as the island’s rugged landscape, are definitely one of a kind.

French culture facts

An assortment of French cheeses.

Linguistic elegance

French is often called the "language of love," and it's not just a stereotype. In 1539, King Francis I declared French the official language of the kingdom because he believed it was the most elegant language in the world.

Cheese heaven

With over 1,200 types of cheese, France is a cheese lover's paradise. Served before dessert, cheese is a part of any traditional French meal.

A brie-lliant custom, if you want my opinion — sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help it.

More on this in our article on French cuisine!

The Baguette Honor Code

No cheese without a fresh baguette!

In 2021, UNESCO added the French baguette to its list of cultural treasures. There's even an unwritten rule about carrying baguettes – it's done vertically, never horizontally. Oh, and you’re allowed to eat the tip — le quignon — on your way home if the bread is still warm. The more you know!

La Joconde, a star

The Mona Lisa, residing in the Louvre, receives fan mail. It's estimated that the painting gets about six million visitors a year, and many of them send letters expressing their admiration or curiosity to the famous lady. I’d like to know if anyone received an answer?

French love lasts forever

French cinema has given us iconic love stories, and romance is taken seriously in France. In fact, you can marry a dead person. Posthumous marriage is legal under French law, provided there's enough evidence that the deceased had the intention of marrying while alive.

Comparing US and French cultures

While both being Western countries, the US and French cultures are very distinct.

I lived in the US and visited the country more than 15 times, and I still find big culture gaps!

Below are a few examples of the differences between French culture vs American culture.

While work is important, the French place a greater emphasis on a holistic view of personal identity.

Social etiquette

Greetings and personal space

Alright, if you enter a room in the US, and it's all high-fives, hugs, and "Hey, how's it going?", right? Americans are all about being nice and keeping things chill.

In the “coldest” business scenario, you would get a friendly handshake.

In contrast, the French tend to be more formal in their greetings, especially upon first meetings. A light handshake, along with maintaining direct eye contact, is common.

If you know the person well, “la bise” is de rigueur. More on this in this article on French greetings!

Now, there’s something Americans and French people have in common: Personal space. They both like to have a reasonable distance until they know the person better.

That being said, it’s hard to respect this in a busy French street or shop.

Punctuality and formality

I live in Spain, where being late is more than fashionable, and I just loooove meeting my friends in the US as they are always super punctual!

Indeed, Americans are time warriors, and often consider being on time as a sign of respect for others' time — which I fully agree with!

Meetings and social events generally start at the scheduled time.

The French, while appreciating punctuality in business, may have a more relaxed attitude in social settings. It's not uncommon for social events to start a bit later than scheduled. Have you ever heard of the “quart d’heure savoyard”?

However, in France, formality is emphasized, especially in professional environments, where titles, last names, “Monsieur/Madame” and the very formal “vous” are frequently used to address colleagues and superiors. By the way, don’t miss our guide on French business etiquette!

As a rule of thumb, “vous” is always used among adults when they don’t know each other, and unless otherwise invited to use “tu”.

Americans are usually a lot more informal — which doesn’t mean they’re not professional or respectful — with the use of first names even in professional settings.

Work-life balance

Vacation and work-life balance in France

France, and most of Europe actually, is known for its commitment to work-life balance. This is actually a major draw for Americans who consider moving to the old continent!

French people have enjoyed vacation time since the 30s, and it is customary for employees to take substantial time off during the summer months.

Many people prefer to keep their work and private life separate, with less company events and social gathering than in the US.

The annual five-week paid vacation is a legal right, contributing to a healthier work-life balance.

They also follow the “35 heures”, and the “right to disconnect” law. More on this here.

Finally, French people tend to take their time, both in a leisure and professional setting, while Americans are often in a hurry, even at a restaurant.

Work and identity

In the United States, there is often a strong connection between one's professional achievements and personal identity. Your job can be a big part of who you are. Climbing that career ladder, hitting milestones – it's all part of the American dream. Career-oriented goals and accomplishments are frequently highlighted.

In France, the relationship between work and identity is more nuanced. While work is important, the French place a greater emphasis on a holistic view of personal identity. Leisure, family, and intellectual pursuits are often valued equally, contributing to a more balanced sense of self. Professional achievements are not always the primary measure of one's worth.

French culture in Canada

To me, Canada offers the best of both worlds: American hospitality with a European flair! This is especially true in Québec, where cities and lifestyle are really a mix between France and the US.

Historical background

French colonial influence in Canada dates back to the 16th century when French explorers, such as Jacques Cartier, arrived in the region. The first permanent French settlement, Quebec City, was established in 1608. The French played a significant role in shaping the early development of Canada, particularly in regions like Quebec, Acadia, and the Great Lakes.

The impact of French colonialism on Canadian culture is profound. The French language, legal system, and Catholic religion have left lasting imprints on the Canadian identity. The Quebec Act of 1774 recognized the rights of French Canadians to practice their religion and maintain their civil law, contributing to the preservation of French heritage in Canada.

Contemporary French-Canadian culture

Bilingualism and cultural coexistence

Canada is officially bilingual, with English and French recognized as equal languages. You’ll see this in official institutions, for example National Parks. This duality is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The province of Quebec is particularly known for its Canadian French culture, and efforts to maintain and promote the French language are ongoing. Every time I speak French in Montréal, people seem genuinely happy to answer in the same language — even if the accent and expressions are quite different, as you can see in our article on French vs Canadian French!

French culture in Canada and bilingualism extend beyond Quebec, with many Canadians being fluent in both English and French.

Unique traditions and celebrations

French-Canadian culture is rich in unique traditions and celebrations that reflect a blend of European and North American influences.

One prominent cultural event is the Quebec Winter Carnival, a lively celebration featuring parades, outdoor activities, and Bonhomme, the iconic snowman mascot.

Another significant tradition is "La Fête Nationale" or Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, celebrated in Quebec on June 24th. This holiday honors the patron saint of French Canadians and showcases cultural pride through events like parades, concerts, and fireworks.

The "Juste pour rire" (Just for Laughs) Festival, founded in 1983 in Montreal, is a globally acclaimed comedy festival that started as a French-language event and now includes English performances. With its international influence and recognition, this festival contributes to the city's reputation as a major hub for comedy, cultural exchange, and a celebration of humor.

French-Canadians also celebrate "la joie de vivre" (joy of living) through culinary traditions. Quebecois cuisine, known for its hearty and flavorful dishes, includes iconic treats like poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), tourtière (meat pie), and “tire sur la neige” (maple syrup candied on snow).

It’s time for an adieu to our rendez-vous with all things hexagonal.

So let’s raise a toast with a glass of Bordeaux to the je ne sais quoi that defines the essence of culture in French-speaking regions. A nation that effortlessly blends a rustic cheese and charcuterie platter with the elegance of a haute-couture outfit.

And if you love la France and la langue française, make sure to check our French blog.

À la prochaine, and may your hearts forever be attuned to the rhythm of "La Vie en Rose"!

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