Etiquette Across The Channel: French And English Etiquette And Their Differences


Whilst only being a Channel’s distance away, the French and the British hold very different ideas about etiquette. The British are renowned for having an aloof demeanour whereas the French express themselves freely and passionately. Here’s a few insights into the different traditions from both sides of the Channel.

Dinner Conversation

Over here in the UK, it’s an unspoken rule that one should never bring up politics, religion or philosophy at a dinner party. It’s been observed that the British avoid ‘making a fuss’ at any cost so will steer clear of any topics that are likely to cause a debate. Across the channel, however, our French neighbours encourage delving into a bit of politics and philosophy over a meal and a hearty debate is welcomed alongside a hearty meal in France.


Arriving late in the UK is most definitely frowned upon. The British strive to be ‘on the dot’, and even if we’re five minutes late, a ‘sorry we’re late’ is expected from the other parties. The French are less rigid about timings, and often embrace being “fashionably late”, arriving fifteen minutes late to ensure the hosts are relaxed and have enough time to prepare.

Laying the Table

Laying a table is considered to be a very important part of a social event in countries all over the world. The British take pride in their table setting, with very defined rules and regulations on the placement of cutlery at the table. For example, if you were to stay in one of the luxurious Hyde Park Hotels, you would expect to see the table laid in the traditional way.

The French lay their table slightly differently; the prongs of forks face downwards. This symbolises a fear of prongs, dating back to the days of the French revolution. The glasses are also placed in the different positions and the bread is placed directly onto the table.


British people tend to be quite reserved in their mannerisms. Gestures are kept to a minimum in conversation, as a way of maintaining calm politeness. The French are more prone to expressive gestures, in order to show that they are enthusiastic about the conversation and are fully engaging in the topic. For a French and English person in conservation, perhaps they can find a comfortable middle ground, an air of polite enthusiasm maybe?


When greeting someone in England, once we are familiar with that person, we tend to address each other on a first name basis. The French, however, require a more formal greeting, addressing each other by Madame, Monsieur or Mademoiselle. This greeting may seem a little formal, but it’s an indication of respect for one another.