French Shopping Etiquette 101

Hi Frugalistas!

Find your way around the beautiful shops in Paris for a great experience

Shopping in Paris, and the whole of France for that matter is quite different to shopping at home.  If you also use this etiquette everywhere in Europe you will not go far wrong regardless of where the shopping bug bites.  Shopping here has an etiquette all of its own:

In department stores it is OK to touch or pick up the stock.  Sales staff will often greet you and want to assist you before you get to that point though.
In small shops and boutiques, you need to greet the salesperson on entering and say good-bye on leaving.  If you are able to do this (a simple bonjour madame/monsieur is entirely sufficient) you will find you will get much better service should you want to look in more detail or buy.  You should also seek permission before touching or picking up the stock, particularly in more upmarket areas.
Unless you are in a self service green grocers or supermarket, do not pick up the produce or serve yourself.  The shopkeeper will be delighted to serve you and find the perfect produce for you.
Pharmacies are usually not self service, and much of what is on sale is behind the counter – particularly the medicines, so you will need to ask for what you want – un rhum (un room) is a cold, mal a l’estomac (mal u lesto-mac) an upset stomach, mal au coeur (mal oh koo-er) nausea and if you say diarrhoea you will be understood.
It is fine to browse in shops – je regarde seulement (zher regard sulle-mon) is I’m browsing, and window shopping is the rather quaint and evocative phrase lecher la vitrine (leshay la vit-reen) – literally licking the window!
If you do buy something in one of the high end designer shops – even if it is the cheapest thing in the store, expect much theatre.  Your humble purchase will be whisked away after you have paid for it, and you will be left standing forlornly for what seems like an eternity before your salesperson will reappear and produce your chosen item, wrapped, ribboned and bagged with much deference.  Only you and the salesperson will know your “trophy” is actually only a tiny bottle of cologne or a keycase!
While some French salespeople are delightful, helpful and charming, don’t expect universally good customer service – they often feel they are honouring you with their presence, rather than being here to “serve” and act accordingly.  Have low expectations, and be overjoyed when you are well looked after!


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  1. Frugalfirstclasstravel guides – a short guide to Paris | frugalfirstclasstravel - 13/11/2013

    […] French shopping etiquette […]

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