Call of France

A Trilogy of Adventure

Category: French way of life (page 2 of 2)

Shaking Hands With The French (1)

It is a double paradox that a people like the English or Americans whose perception of politeness requires them to make total strangers believe they are their instant bosom friends should become so coldly distant when it comes to shaking hands, while their more formally polite French neighbours should attach such vital importance to seizing the hands of those they frequently have only the slightest acquaintance with.
Though shaking hands plays an important part in both Anglo-Saxon and French business culture as a means of expressing sincerity and cordiality when meeting, parting, being introduced or concluding deals, squeezing the hands of others is not systematically resorted to in day-to-day Anglo-Saxon life. In the normal course of events it is mainly restricted to those friends and relatives you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing for a considerable length of time, and is more often confined to men (women tend to kiss). And when you’re introduced to strangers at a social gathering in England you can even get away with a simple ‘hello’, accompanied by a friendly nod of the head. As a result, the Englishman can go for days, even weeks, without being called upon to slip his hand into that of another.
The newly-landed Anglo-Saxon expat would do well to note, that France social etiquette requires you to make repeated daily use of the handshake as a tangible sign of your friendly inclinations towards other males, and that staring uncomprehendingly at a Frenchman’s proffered hand can not only be a source of considerable offence, but cause you to run the considerable risk – though some allowances might possibly be made for that legendary English reserve – of being labelled unfriendly or even impolite. So, whenever you meet a French male acquaintance (you don’t need to know him all that well) in the supermarket or the High Street, shaking hands should become a reflex or, if he draws first (as, being French, he almost certainly will), to seize his hand warmly in yours. This is expected, even if you don’t have time for a chat. And if you can spare a moment to converse, it’s important to note that a second poignée de main, though not systematic, can be required when you part.
If your male friend or acquaintance is accompanied by someone you’re not personally acquainted with, you must first shake hands with the former and then, since it would be impolite to exclude him, with the other. This can, of course, depend on circumstances and the numbers involved. Generally speaking, however, it will be appreciated as a sign of warmth and conviviality. The other day, for instance, we played a round of golf with two French friends. Afterwards, the three of us had a drink together on the terrace of our clubhouse. As we were sipping our beers a pal of one of our friends arrived, shook his hand, and then – since it would have been impolite to ignore the other two of us – proceeded to shake ours and that of our other friend. He could, of course, have simply bid us a friendly ‘bonjour’, but the physical contact involved in shaking hands added an extra touch of cordiality – especially appropriate in a socially-oriented golf club context. Nevertheless, Anglophone expats may be relieved to know that if you meet the same male friend or acquaintance for a second time in the same day you’re not expected to shake hands again (though normally this won’t go amiss), and the simple recall, ‘On s’est déjà serré la main’ will suffice.
As far as greetings between male and female are concerned the rules are a little different as the type of greeting will depend very much on your degree of friendship. If you’re being formally introduced for the very first time shaking hands (even between women) would be necessary. Things are more delicate, however, if you’re already acquainted. Once again, depending on how well you know each other, you might offer her your hand or simply greet her with a polite ‘bonjour’. Be aware, however, that, in theory, at least, the rules of polite French etiquette require a man to shake a woman’s hand only if she first offers him hers. If you know her well, the bise, the cheek-kiss (more about this later), will more likely be resorted to.

French Arrogance: Myth or Reality?


The Gallic part of us is inclined to think that the more educated, open-minded and travelled Brit tends towards a positive perception of the French. This is far from being the case with the popular classes (we can’t speak for other Anglo-Saxon nations) whose Francophobic tendencies are often encouraged by a tabloid press which, for nationalistic and commercial reasons (it enjoys a readership of tens of millions), seems to delight in serving up liberal portions of what their readers want to hear. And the subject of French arrogance seems to be a subject they enjoy the most.

     Some years ago during a national truckers’ strike in France, a number of strike-busting English drivers who happened to find themselves on French roads at the time, were held captive by their French equivalents. This unleashed so much fury on the part of one tabloid that it hit on the idea of conducting a ‘Frog-Bashing’ campaign. This consisted in inviting readers to send in all the anti-French jokes they knew, and awarding a prize for the one considered to be the most hilarious. The degree of response defied all imagination, producing so many rib-ticklers that the newspaper didn’t have enough space to publish them all. It goes without saying that a good number of these focused on French arrogance, and for several days we were treated to such side-splitting hilarities as: ‘How do you make money out of a Frog? By buying him at the price he’s worth, and selling him at the price he thinks he’s worth!’

     One of the main explanations for what, to our mind, has no more sense to it than labelling the English a supercilious lot, merely because they don’t shake one another by the hand at least twenty times a day, can be found in the misunderstandings which can arise when people view one another through the deforming lense of their own diverging culture.

     Personally, during the 45 years or so we’ve been living in France we’ve always operated on the principle that if you’re pleasantly polite with others in the vast majority of cases they’ll be pleasantly polite back. For us, at least, this has always worked with the different nationalities we’ve crossed the path of, including the French. Perhaps we’ve been lucky but, apart, perhaps, from the odd Parisian waiter (never address them as ‘garçon’), we’ve yet to come across the French arrogance and rudeness some Anglophones seem to find so rampant. The only exception was some years ago when we were having a drink in a café with a Scottish friend. We were sitting at the bar and our conversation was in English. Suddenly, an elderly man standing nearby announced loudly to one and all, ‘Ca sent la merde ici!’ (There’s a smell of shit round here !) and proceeded to storm out. In his favour, we think he’d had too many, and had perhaps mistaken English for German (perhaps he’d suffered during the German occupation of World War 2). So great was the indignation of the café owner (and several people standing around) that he offered us a drink on the house!  


This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘A potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.


Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :



Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Thoughts on the French Dunk


The English and French Breakfast

It has always been an enigma to the French part of our Frenglish self that you English, so universally condemned for the uninspired nature of your cooking, could have managed to impose on our planet such a varied, copious and delicious meal as the cooked breakfast; and our English half is no less mystified that the French, who have elevated cooking to no less than a creative art, could have come up with nothing more imaginative than a miserable slice of bread and a bowl of watery coffee by which to start the day. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the Gallics do not appreciate the qualities of a full English breakfast. But there exists perhaps no other country in the world where so many people unreservedly admit there’s nothing like a substantial meal to get the day off to a flying start, and where so few actually find it possible to believe that anyone can have either the time or the stomach to  take it – even at the weekend.

A Soggy Mass

What our Englishman finds far more regrettable than the insipid, insufficient nature of the French breakfast is the manner in which it is frequently ingested: for a widespread Gallic practice (as rampant as queue-jumping, street demonstrations, strikes and le Système D) consists in plunging bread or croissant into a breakfast bowl of coffee (or hot chocolate) until the former has imbibed as much of the latter as the laws of physics will allow. The soggily unappetizing mass thereby produced is then popped into mouth, munched with relish before finally being allowed to slide down throat.

 An Ancient Ritual?

Does the practice (hereinafter referred to as ‘the French dunk’) draw its origins from some ancient Gallic ritual which required food to be dipped into a recipient containing the still warm blood of a vanquished foe? Is it now considered to be a pre-masticatory phase essential to a digestive system not yet in full working order at this early time of day? Or does it simply provide a means of adding a modicum of taste to a meal more suited to a prison punishment diet? Whatever the case may be, the habit is endemic enough to constitute an infallible sign of French presence in the breakfast room of any foreign holiday hotel.

A Breach of Table Etiquette

Beyond the doubtful gustatory merits of the French dunk and the nauseous spectacle it presents, what shocks the Englishman in us even more is that this use of bread to perform a function more commonly associated with that of a sponge represents a gross breach of table etiquette: for an elementary rule of good table manners states that solids and liquids may only  be united after being despatched separately down throat.

Other Meals

Our Englishman might have been prepared to grant some attenuating circumstances, had the French dunk been restricted to breakfast alone, which, considering the early hour this usually takes place, would have enabled it to go unnoticed by those non-dunkers still under the influence of their recent dormant state. Regrettably, the same technique is unashamedly presented to fully-awakened public gaze during meals consumed at other times of the day, particularly (though not limited to) ther final stages when most solid matter has been transferred from plate to stomach, and little else remains but the sauce. In this respect, moreover, such is the assiduity with which bread is used to wipe the plate clean that subsequent washing is rendered entirely superfluous.

The Pronged Derivative

The rules of French table etiquette, though making no mention of breakfast dunking, do, in fact, condemn the main-meal habit of using bread digitally to mop up sauce. It would, however, appear to be tolerated when bread is impaled on fork. But even our Frenchman has rarely witnessed this pronged derivative in action, and personal experience would lead us to believe that, like most rules in France, it tends to be ignored. It might also be thought that in this land of rampant individualism, daily strikes and general protestation the nation would have counted an equal number of anti-dunkers. In reality, this is not at all the case. For on this point, at least, the country is resolutely united. Indeed, so much a part of the national heritage is the custom that not only has the verb ‘saucer’ been derived to describe it, but it is systematically inculcated in progeny barely weened from their mothers’ milk.

Attenuating Circumstances?

Though our Englishman remains stubbornly hostile to the French dunk, the Froggie in us recommends that a far more tolerant stand should be taken. For who can say whether even the most well-mannered of English diners would not succumb to the temptation to dunk, were he presented with that rich variety of deliciously-fresh, good-quality, easily-prepared, natural and inexpensive sauces which the French have elaborated to accompany food?  And would it not be something akin to profanation that they should suffer the same cruel fate as their crude, often bottled English and American counterparts whose un-dunked remains are so frequently laid to rest down the kitchen-sink plughole?


This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book Barry’s Frenglish Folies, ‘a potpourri of serious, humorous and seriously humorous reflections on the French and English viewed through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

You can download the free Kindle, Ebook or PDF edition of Barry’s Frenglish Folies by following the link below :

Newer posts

© 2018 Call of France

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑