The French are very proud of their country, culture and language. If you speak little or no French, you should try to mumble a few words anyway even with terrible pronunciation. Locals will really value your effort, even if you just keep on slipping a few French words once in awhile.
Even though English is largely spoken (or at least understood), its status is still that of a rival language threatening the prestige and purity of French. Remember: in France, speaking French is the rule; foreign languages are the exception.
Everyone is to be greeted (even the shopkeeper, someone in the street or the cashier at the post office) before starting a discussion: nothing is ruder than asking questions without a formal Bonjour!
As a general rule, debates, discussions, and friendly arguments are something that the French enjoy, but there are certain topics that should be treated more delicately or indirectly than others:
- French people have a wide variety of opinions about many subjects. Unless you really follow French news closely, you should probably steer clear of discussing internal French politics, especially sensitive issues such as immigration – you may come across as judgmental and uninformed. Also, it is considered to be quite rude to ask a person point-blank about which candidate he/she voted for in the last election.
- Religion. The French seldom advertise their religious feelings, however, and expect you to avoid doing so as well. Doing so might make people feel uneasy. It is also generally considered impolite to inquire about religious or other personal issues.
- Money. It is considered rude to ask about salary, revenues, wealth… If you are interested in your acquaintance’s job, you should rather evoke his responsibilities, colleagues or enterprise culture.
- City/Rural differences. While it is true that roughly 1/6th of the country’s population lives in the Paris region, don’t make the mistake of reducing France to Paris or assuming that all French people act like Parisians.
Fortunately, the following subjects are sure welcomed: family, French culture and history, art, food and drinks, holidays, travel. A safe bet is thus asking about the last holiday in France; like in many large countries, 60% of French people choose France as their holiday destination.