Local customs

Practical tips

Public holidays

In France, most schools, government offices, banks and businesses are closed on public holidays.

There are currently 11 public holidays in France (civil and religious) legally defined by the Code du travail:

  • 1 January (New Year's Day)
  • Easter Monday (Christian festival)
  • 1 May (Labour Day)
  • 8 May (Armistice Day 1945)
  • Ascension Thursday (Christian festival)
  • Pentecost Monday (Christian festival)
  • 14 July (Bastille Day, France's national festival)
  • 15 August (Feast of the Assumption - Christian festival)
  • 1 November (All Saints' Day - Christian festival)
  • 11 November (Armistice Day 1918)
  • 25 December (Christmas Day - Christian festival)

Key-expression : « faire le pont »

When a public holiday falls before or after a weekend or a period of annual leave, many businesses and employees "make the bridge," which means that they take an extra day's holiday between the public holiday and the weekend to prolong the holiday as long as possible! The month of May is the most jam-packed with "bridges" in France.

School holidays

For primary and secondary schools, the holidays are staggered according zone:

  • Zone A : Caen, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Rennes, Toulouse.
  • Zone B : Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Besançon, Dijon, Lille, Limoges, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Poitiers, Reims, Rouen, Strasbourg.
  • Zone C : Bordeaux, Créteil, Paris, Versailles.

Summer time and winter time

Time: in France there is a summer time (GMT +2) and a winter time (GMT +1).

The change of hour in France was instated after the petrol shock of 1974, to help save energy. Since 1998 the dates for changing the clocks have been harmonised throughout the EU.  In all member states, the summer change happens on the last Sunday in March and the winter change on the last Sunday in October.

Key-expression : "passer à l'heure d'été/d'hiver"

  • The change to winter time in 2015 will take place on Sunday 25 October at 3am.
  • The change to summer time in 2016 will take place on Sunday 29 March at 3am.

Business hours

As a general rule, shops are open between 10am and 7pm (8pm for some of the major chains), Monday to Saturday, except in small towns where most shops close between midday and 2pm.

In Paris and other large cities, the big stores (eg Galeries Lafayette and le Printemps) also have late-night shopping once a week, where, like the museums, they close at around 9 or 9.30pm.

In France shops are closed on Sundays, with some exceptions – big shopping centres, the Christmas period, tourist areas, etc.

Find out the specific opening hours of a shop in Paris or elsewhere in France (in French).


The French also have their superstitions, founded or unfounded beliefs that form such an important part of the culture of any country. It might be useful to know at least some of them.

It brings good luck to...

  • Find a four-leafed clover
  • Touch wood while making a wish
  • Hang a horseshoe over the door
  • Tread on a dog do with your left foot
  • Touch the red pompom of a sailor's beret

It brings bad luck to...

  • Walk under a ladder
  • Be the thirteenth person at a table (the number 13 in general is considered unlucky)
  • Cross paths with a black cat at night
  • Open an umbrella in the house
  • Break a mirror (=7 years of bad luck)

Tu or vous ?

Unlike in English, which always uses "you" to address another person, the French language distinguishes between "tu" (the informal form of "you") and "vous" (the formal "you"), depending on context, the age of the person you are addressing and your degree of familiarity with them.

In general, "tu" is used between parents and children, family members, colleagues of the same age and friends; "vous" is used for people you are meeting for the first time, older people and people of higher status (eg at work, for professors, etc.).

Remember, it is always better to start with "vous" before moving on to "tu" if appropriate!

Key expression: « on peut se dire tu ? »


France, like many countries, practices recycling. In most buildings there are three types of rubbish bin, with different coloured lids:

  • Green lids: for non-recyclable household waste;
  • Yellow lids: for recyclable household waste such as:
    • Steel and aluminium wrappings (beer cans, tins, aerosols etc.),
    • Paper and cardboard wrappings (cereal/cake boxes, milk/soup cartons, etc.),
    • Newspapers and magazines,
    • Plastic bottles (water/dishwashing liquid/shower gel/shampoo bottles, etc.);
  • White lids: for glass, jars, pots and other containers

    In case of doubt, put it in the green-lidded bin.

Guide to recycling. (in French)


In France the Loi Evin of 1991 forbids smoking in public places except in designated smoking areas, both inside and outside (restaurants, cafés, shops, unversities) as well as in collective transport (planes, trains, the metro).

In practice, people smoke outside in certain public places (the terraces of restaurants and cafés). At universities and higher education establishments, the head of the institution decides whether or not to authorise smoking outside.

At Sciences Po, smoking is only authorised outside the premises. You'll find smokers clustered by the main exit of 27 rue Saint Guillaume.