France: Public Behaviour
Acceptable public conduct
If you can't speak French, preface what you are saying whenever possible with: "Excusez-moi, s'il vous plait, de vous deranger, mais je ne parle pas francais" ("Please excuse me for bothering you, but I do not speak French"). If you say these words, you are more likely to receive assistance.
Expect to be greeted by a handshake; kissing on the cheeks (across genders) is also common amongst colleagues at work. It is not usually extended to outsiders and you should not attempt it until your female colleagues have made the initial move.
Despite the formality of French business culture, people tend to stand close when speaking to each other. Moreover, touching a shoulder, patting an arm is also commonplace and usually within the bounds of French business etiquette amongst men. With women colleagues, you should use more discretion.
Maintaining eye contact is important, but try not to focus too intently on the other person.
Chewing gum in public is considered vulgar.
Keep your hands out of your pockets when speaking in public.
Snapping fingers at a waiter is considered offensive.
Smiling is treated only with indifference here. It will not be perceived as a greeting or as an indication of approval.
Make a writing gesture in the air to ask for the check.
The U.S. "O.K." sign (forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger) actually means "zero" or "useless" in France. The French "O.K." symbol is the North American "thumbs up;" use this symbol to express approval.