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How to Live the French Lifestyle

How to Live the French Lifestyle

french lifestyle

What is a typical French lifestyle? How do the French enjoy life? The French live in the être (to be) instead of living in the faire (to do) or the avoir (to have).

Indeed, in France life doesn’t revolve around work, money, or having the nicest and most expensive things. Instead, the French lifestyle is all about enjoying the best moments in life, whether it’s through social gatherings (with the “apéros”), French cuisine, arts, or philosophy, among other things. It’s all about living in the present moment and finding contentment in most things in life.

As a native, I’ve compiled a list of fifteen tips that *I think* characterize the French lifestyle, and which can be easily incorporated into your daily life. Keep scrolling if you want to know more about the French lifestyle or “l’art de vivre à la Française”.

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1. Be a “Flâneur”

“Flâner” which could be almost translated as “to stroll” or “to lounge”, is a concept so French that the word has no true English equivalent. The flâneur is someone who, rooted in the present, wanders through a city with no destination in mind but with a clear purpose: to observe the world in a philosophical way.

This French term was used by 19th-Century French prose-poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life. At this time, in a society characterized by progress and capitalism, the flâneur becomes a revolutionary who doesn’t want to participate but to contemplate.

In “Le Peintre de la vie moderne” (The Painter of Modern Life) published in 1863, Charles Baudelaire wrote: “For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite”.

Today, Paris remains the ideal city to flâner. With its café terrasses where chairs face outwards and toward the street, Paris is the perfect city to people-watch, to sit down and just observe the world around us.

2. Master The Art Of Discretion

French people are very reserved; they don’t smile too much, never spoke too loudly, and don’t show too much excitement or enthusiasm. They do not want to be seen and heard by the world. And I think the French lifestyle’s mantra could be summarized as “Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés” by French poet, novelist, and fabulist Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian —literally in English: “To live happily, live hidden”.

This means that happiness lies in living humbly and being modest even when experiencing a resounding success. This proverb implies that there is a cost to shining in the world or being successful; think of emotions it can arise in others like jealousy or envy —which are normal human emotions.

It doesn’t mean that you cannot live your life the way you want it to. But not bragging or oversharing too much of your life is more about being respectful to those who do not have the same chance as you.

3. Don’t Talk About Money

In France, the one thing we don’t talk about is money. According to this study published in June 2015 by the Odoxa Institute, French people have a paradoxical view of wealth. Indeed, 78% of them think that being rich is frowned upon in their society —this belief is unanimously shared across all categories of the population, regardless of their level of income— whereas 72% of them believe it’s a good thing to want to be rich.

Also, if 67% say it’s not easy to talk about either the amount of their savings or their financial investments, 52% think it’s difficult to talk about their salary. In fact, in France, it’s more taboo to talk about money than it is to talk about sex, according to Janine Mossuz-Lavau, a sociologist and senior researcher at the Cevipof, and author of the 2007 book L’Argent et nous (Money and us).

Mossuz-Lavau attributes this historical French reluctance to three factors. First, there is the role of Catholicism which “is a religion for the poor” and gives a negative image of personal enrichment. Then, there is the influence of Marxism whose (oversimplified) ideology is that “profit is bad”.

Finally, there is this peasant heritage that characterizes French society. “Most French people come from the peasantry,” says Mossuz-Lavau. Farmers would hide money away, in cash, somewhere in the house, and would not talk about it so that nobody would steal it.

4. Visit Museums

French museums are among the most important in the world — see the 20 must-see museums in Paris absolutely not to miss. Indeed, France is home to three of the ten most visited art museums in the world: the Louvre Museum, the Pompidou Center, and the Musée d’Orsay; and four if we add the château de Versailles, which can also be considered a museum. The Louvre Museum is even the most visited in the world, with about 10 million visitors per year.

In France, museums and culture are perceived as economic attractors and are considered to be able to promote local economic development. And the State invests massively in culture thus contributing to strengthening its influence. Just to give you an idea, in 2018, culture in the French economy is nearly 2.3% of GDP, 80.000 cultural enterprises, and 670.000 jobs, or 2.5% of the labor force (source: Ministère de la Culture).

French people are very much into the arts, and visiting a museum is a very common activity to do during the weekend. Also, as the museums’ funding remains public in France, this provides better access to cultural activities for everyone. France has even created the “Culture Pass” —which gives all 18-year-olds across the country €300 to spend on art, music, theatre, and more— to provide younger people with wider access to France’s culture.

5. Get Into Philosophy

Philosophy has played a significant role in French culture since the early modern period. The philosophes shaped the ideas of the Lumières (Enlightenment), think as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Diderot, which played a major role in inspiring the French Revolution in 1789. They exposed the inefficiency of the monarch and his government and encouraged people to fight against the privileges and finance of the Church.

They believed that the dissemination of knowledge would encourage reform in every aspect of life. The fundamental element of French philosophy is intellectual freedom: the freedom to use one’s own reason.

Nowadays, philosophy is a mandatory course for all French lycée students. Here are some books that I recommend if you want to start philosophy:

6. Master The Art of Conversation

Once I lived in London, I realized what I was missing the most in Paris was not the Eiffel Tower or the party spirit but rather the endless conversations, on the terrasses, with friends just to “refaire le monde”.

In France, we often oppose the “bavardage” (small talk) to the “grande conversation” (conversation). Whether it be at a dinner party or at a café, French people love to debate ideas —even if sometimes it can lead to great controversy— rather than have polite conversations about unimportant or uncontroversial matters —which, let’s be honest, are boring. No issue is too minor for discussion. In France, a debate can cover all types of subjects from societal, political, or religious topics.

The essential element of the art of conversation is the argumentation and rhetorical tools used to convince an interlocutor. This approach is learned at school. French children learn to argue a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis when preparing essays. This teaches them to argue their point, argue against their own argument, then develop a summary.

But knowing how to argue and confront the ideas of one’s interlocutors is not enough. One still has to be able to convince with ease by using oratory techniques based on charisma, voice, and posture, named “art of eloquence”.

These techniques are learned at university and in the “grandes écoles” (business schools). Each year many universities held “Concours d’éloquence”, among the most prestigious are the Concours international d’éloquence of La Sorbonne and “Le Prix Mirabeau”: a public speaking competition that brings together students from the ten Institutes of Political Studies in France.

7. Say “Non” More Often

“Non, ce n’est pas possible”, “cela risque d’être compliqué”, “c’est hors de question”, “je ne sais pas”, the French have a variety of ways to say no. And sometimes, in France, you might feel like living in a society where the default answer to almost every question is “non”. Why is that?

From the French Revolution in 1789 which overthrew the monarchy to the May 1968 events and to more recently 2018’s Yellow vests movement which protested against wealth disparities and the increases in fuel taxes, the French are definitely a people of protest. And a protest always starts with a “no”.

But this doesn’t mean the French are fundamentally negative. In France, a “non” can be a debatable “no”, an invitation to debate, engage, and better understand one another. Sometimes it can be a more assertive “no”. Other times, a “non” can imply just a fear of being wrong.

The French are definitely more comfortable saying “no” than in other countries. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all! Learning how to say no can be an efficient skill to help you earn respect, prioritize your needs, and determine appropriate boundaries. Whereas trying to please everyone (and anyone) by saying yes to too many things can definitely lead you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and resentful.

8. Learn The Art of Râler

Have you ever heard about the fact that French people love to complain? Well, we are not complainers, we are just râleurs.

In French there are several words for “to complain”: there is “se plaindre”, used to state one’s dissatisfaction; there’s “se lamenter”, usually we say in French “se lamenter sur son sort” which means complaining about one’s life. There is also “rouspéter”, used to state one’s displeasure; and there’s “râler”: complaining about external issues one’s cannot control and for which there is no goal of resolution.

In France, we’re much more comfortable with confrontation or with criticism than in other countries in the world. And râler is more like a cultural, conversational tic. It can be a way to open a conversation: one’s can complain about the weather, the government, or just the fact one’s lost their keys or phone.

It’s a way to invite other people’s opinions, but above all, it’s a means to connect, build intimacy, and bond with others. Because let’s face it, life is complicated and is definitely not picture-perfect. And in France, someone being too optimistic about things can be perceived as being naïve and insincere. On the contrary, sharing good and bad things in life is seen as a sign of authenticity.

9. Be Authentic

One can blame French people for being rude or mean but can never blame them for being authentic and honest. Authenticity is a quality dear to the French.

And this goes back to the French Revolution in 1789. According to Brice Couturier at France Culture, the French revolutionaries fought back against the Ancien Régime and their hypocrisy, their culture of the court and of salons, based on the art of appearances and pleasing. In Age of sincerity, Faisal Devji says “the French Revolution brought the politics of sincerity to a new milestone.”

Today, authenticity is now the first quality required of French politicians —and of everyone. And what can be perceived as rude or mean, is just the clumsy way French people try to express their emotions as truthfully as possible to avoid appearing inauthentic.

10. Learn French Cuisine

French cooking is considered by many to be the most prestigious and respectable cuisine in the world. The French Gastronomic meal is even classified as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

If the inspiration for French cuisine can be traced back to medieval times, this notion became important during the reign of Louis XIV. The first French cookbook titled Le Cuisinier Francois was written by Francois Pierre La Varenne in 1651. Meals became theatrical, orchestrated by a “maître d’hotel”, and the service à la française reached its peak in the 18th century.

Then, the French Revolution in 1789 further helped to spread the study of cooking and table service in restaurants began. In the 1800s, French cooking became a sophisticated art called “Haute Cuisine” that emphasizes moderation and quality.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Georges Auguste Escoffier, known as the King of Chefs and Chef of Kings, adapted haute cuisine to be more modern with his publication of Le Guide Culinaire in 1903. Many French chefs became known overseas among which Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard —who built the foundation of Nouvelle Cuisine, the Troisgros brothers, Alain Chapel, George Blanc, Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, and Joël Robuchon.

To help you learn French cuisine, see the following articles about the best French pastry cookbooks of all time, and the best French cookbooks by actual French chefs. You can find all the best French recipes here.

11. Enjoy A French Apéritif

In France, the traditional apéritif is a cultural ritual and a brilliant French custom that you can adopt everywhere. The French apéritif is a pre-dinner drink, a moment of sharing —with family or friends—, and preparing your palate for the meal to follow.

The apéritif, also called an “apéro” for short in France, is not just about the food and drink (though those are certainly important) but it’s about taking a moment to reset and appreciate life. It isn’t traditional to have this with every meal but more when sharing with friends and family —either at home or at a restaurant.

And if you want to know more about this typical French custom, I’ve written a guide to hosting the perfect French apéritif. From the optimum time for apéro to préparing the table, to the types of drinks and foods to serve, you’ll learn everything you need to know to create the perfect French apéritif at home.

12. Take Long Lunch Breaks

Lunch time breaks in France are a sacred thing. A survey found that half of the French spend over 45 minutes eating lunch each day, and it’s over 30 minutes for three-quarters of them. This is by far the biggest percentage for the extended break of all 14 countries surveyed.

In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, Jean-Pierre Corbeau, food sociologist, call lunch a “very important ritual”, “a French cultural exception that amazes foreigners: between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., the whole country sits down to eat.” It’s something we learn from a young age: we don’t snack all day and having a proper lunch means eating seated, at fixed hours, and with friends or colleagues.

Thibaut de Saint Pol, a sociologist at the Ecole normale supéreure de Cachan, says that the French don’t consider lunch as “a moment to refuel” but instead one of the most enjoyable moments of the day that they will not miss for anything in the world.

13. Spend Your Sundays à la Française

Sunday in France is sacred. The French Sunday is a dedicated day for doing absolutely nothing except spending time with family. The French are known for their long Sunday lunches “déjeuners dominicaux” that stretch into the afternoons. It’s the perfect day to take the time to sleep, eat, to visit family and relatives. Sunday in France is a time for everyone to just “être” (to be).

Did you know that working on Sunday is even forbidden by the law? Indeed, the French labor code sets out the principle of a Sunday rest according to which the weekly rest must be given on Sunday. That is why on Sunday in France, most stores are closed even if the Macron Law now allows large shops in specially-designated tourist zones in Paris to open on Sundays.

14. Adopt The “Laissez Faire” Approach To Wellness

For the French, self-care (“prendre soin de soi”) is all about slowing down the pace of life to enjoy the small things that you know deep down will make you happy. The French do not spend fortunes on drastic health treatments, intense workout classes, or the latest healthy cookbook bestseller.

Instead, the way the French care for themselves is more about doing something for themselves every day. It’s something naturally embedded in their daily routine like traditions and rituals passed from generation to generation. Here are a few tips to take better care of yourself:

  • Do not strive for perfection.
  • Accept your flaws —which make you charming and unconventionally beautiful— rather than trying to fix them.
  • Appreciate the small things in life: do not fuss too much about how you look or what people might think of you and do not try too hard to be healthy.
  • Do not be afraid to spend time alone, to get to know yourself better.
  • Dream, plan the future, and contemplate life.

15. Choose To Live in The Être

In a BBC article about Why the French don’t show excitement, the French teacher of the author told her this theory on the key distinction between the Americans and the French:

“You Americans”, he said, “live in the faire [to do]. The avoir [to have]. In France, we live in the être [to be].”

Stop prioritizing, scheduling things, checking tasks off a perpetual to-do list, or planning for the days and weeks to come. Instead, be content to just be. The French lifestyle lies in the être, meaning living in the present moment to find contentment in most things in life. So, sit back, relax and say “on est bien là” —we are good here.

Et voilà! I hope this guide helped you to have a better understanding of the French lifestyle. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.

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