French Language Blog

Etiquette for Gift Giving in France Posted by on Dec 22, 2014 in Culture

Many people bring up the idea of cultural etiquette during this season of gift giving and receiving. For example, you might have heard that, in Japan, you should accept gifts with both hands. Or that it is common for Singaporeans to graciously refuse a gift several times before accepting it. It is important to have a certain level of cultural intelligence to make sure that you won’t mistakenly insult the person with whom you are interacting. But it is also important to realize that cultures norms are often very complex and do not follow monolithic rules.

I’ve often heard that it can be insulting to your French host to bring a bottle of wine with you when invited to a dinner. The idea behind this is that wine plays such an important role in a French dinner that your host has probably already selected the perfect bottle for your table. This is an “old society” rule and, frankly, most French hosts would take this rule with a grain of salt (or, in the French idiomatic expression: ils prendraient cette règle avec des pincettes).

The same goes for the rule that, when offering a bouquet, you must include an odd number of flowers in it; I’ve never seen someone count the number of flowers they have just received. Rather, most of the time, they are impressed with the generous gesture and will thank you by kissing your cheeks.

If you are invited to a French home this holiday season for a formal meal, it is considered good form (especially in Paris) to send them over the day before to be used as decoration for the meal or in the days following the meal, along with a thank you card.

So while it is important to be aware of different cultural forms of etiquette, it’s also important to know that these traditions are oftentimes flexible or depend on varying degrees of formality and friendship. For example, I might send flowers ahead of a formal dinner with business colleagues, but not necessarily to a more casual dinner between intimate friends. If you follow your own common sense and always act with kindness and thoughtfulness, you’ll be fine no matter what culture you find yourself in.

A votre tour: Avez-vous déjà suivi des règles culturelles en France pour donner des cadeaux? Qu’est-ce que vous en avez appris? Les règles culturelles en France sont-elles différentes de celles de chez vous ?

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!