“Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion”

Alliance Française San Francisco (2017)

In 2018, I met author Mark Greenside at a local independent bookstore where he gave an entertaining talk and read funny excerpts from his latest book, (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living. He signed my book, too!

On Saturday, August 28, 2021, I got a chance to hear him speak again during a lively online event called, “Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion.”

The Bethesda, Maryland-based Federation of Alliances Françaises USA invited American authors, Mark Greenside, Janet Hulstrand, Adrian Leeds, and Harriet Welty Rochefort, to share their insights, perspectives, and experiences gathered over the course of many years of living, traveling, and/or working in France.

The panelists took turns answering the following four questions. Here are some of their replies:

  1. What’s the most important lesson in dealing with the French? “If you don’t ask the right question, you will not get the right answer.” (Adrian Leeds)
  2. What is the most embarrassing faux-pas you’ve made in France? “Taking the wine bottle and serving myself.” (Harriet Welty Rochefort)
  3. What do you like/admire the most about the French? “How parents nurture the love of art, history, and language in their children.” (Janet Hulstrand)
  4. What is the single most important tip for travelers to France? “Politesse. Everyone gets a bonjour / au revoir / s’il vous plaît / merci!” (Mark Greenside)

Speaking of manners and mistakes, a faux-pas I made in France while trying to be polite was when I greeted someone « Bonjour » twice on the same day! I’ve since learned that people could take offense to this thinking you’d forgotten that you’d already greeted them. Désolée!

Watch the recording of the entire hour-long panel discussion below (Federation of Alliances Françaises USA’s YouTube channel):

Have you lived, traveled, or worked in France? Now, I’m curious to know your answers to the questions above! If you’d like to share, please do so in the comment box below! Merci!


  1. Ah, I can totally relate! I spent four years living and working in France to learn all about the subtleties of French culture. As you mentioned, it’s wild to me that saying “bonjour” twice to the same person in the same day comes off as rude; there’s apparently a saying, “re-bonjour,” that you can say if that were to happen, which I find really funny! I didn’t know about serving the wine yourself was a faux pas, but given my experiences, I guess it makes sense!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonjour, Rebecca! Maybe it’s just me, but rebonjour sounds made-up and informal! Nevertheless, I’m going to practice saying it, lest I commit a “re-faux pas” (Does that work? I’m just making up words now!!) 😂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting observation that I didn’t think about – thank you! 😀I agree that different generations and social circles will have varying experiences, so it’s important to hear diverse perspectives.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, for instance, I do not know anyone who waits for wine to be poured unless its an expensive restaurant with a dedicated sommelier.
        Extolling the niceties to everyone, at all times, may well be de rigeur in the country but definitely not in large towns and cities. 😉
        As you say, it is horses for courses but then we would lose the joy of stereotyping ;-p

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha! I suppose there are people who derive joy from stereotyping! We’re only human, it happens. It’s easier to generalize (I’m kidding)!!🤣 I do see how the wine bottle story, for example, could inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes (for better or worse). People could get the wrong impression or develop unrealistic expectations!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ha, yes, my choice of words was poor – yes, the lazy ease of the comfortable stereotype! 😉 Wine is in a category all of its own haha!
            Mind you, just because its a stereotype, doesn’t mean it is not true ;-p

            Liked by 1 person

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