Since we are obsessed with pretty much all things French, there are many French living habits that we’ve slowly adopted or are trying to adopt. France is one of our favorite countries to travel to and a large part of that is because we absolutely love French living habits. Our three week road trip around France opened our eyes to the French mentality of how to live well. Spoiler alert, life there doesn’t revolve around work, money, or having the nicest things. French living is all about savoring the small moments, being in the moment, choosing quality over quantity, and squeezing every last bit of pleasure possible. It’s about elevating simple everyday routines into something pleasurable. Here are 13 French living habits you can steal for a happier and more enjoyable life.
13 French Living Habits To Steal for a Happier Life
1. Cultivate intellectual wealth
The French don’t judge you by the car you drive, they judge you by the books you read. Being well read and cultured is an extremely important part of French living. Embrace this custom of French living and cultivate your own intellectual wealth. Don’t do it because you’re trying to prove something, but because learning can be a pleasure and an adventure that’s available to us every day. Dive into any interest or curiosity you may have, no matter how fleeting it may seem, and devour material on the subject. Don’t limit yourself to any particular genres, but instead embrace a well rounded selection of knowledge. You may surprised to find what ends up interesting you or what you learn.
Read books on a variety of a subjects, both fiction and non fiction
Listen to an eclectic mix of podcasts (My favorites include: IGNTD, Happier, How I Built This, Magic Lessons, Modern Love, The School of Greatness, The Simple Sophisticate, and Straight and Curly)
Subscribe to a newspaper, periodical, magazine, or journal
Devote yourself to learning something new every day
If your first reaction to new information is, “this doesn’t apply to me”, challenge yourself to think deeper and figure out if it can apply to you in some way or change the way you think in some way
2. Shop at your local farmers market to recreate French living
A typical part of French living is shopping at the farmers market throughout the week for fresh produce, rather than the supermarket. It’s a great way to eat fresh and local food that has been grown using more natural practices. It helps you learn to eat seasonally, rather than be fooled that all produce can be available year around, like the grocery store can have you believing. It’s a lot of fun to get to know your local farmers and community, learn from them, and form relationships. It makes the experience of shopping like more of a pleasurable experience, rather than a chore to get over and done with. Plus, we always try out new foods when we visit, which expands our taste buds and our cooking repertoire.
3. Course out your dinner, our favorite French living habit
Oh how we loved the 3 hour dinners full of multiple courses while we were in France. While 3 hour dinners aren’t always doable, it is pretty easy to course out a dinner. This is probably one of our favorite aspects of French living.
When we eat dinner at home, we typically serve a salad and something else. Instead of serving both things we are eating on the same plate, we serve them on separate plates one by one.
When we eat dinner out, we tend to order a few plates and share. (Sharing isn’t very French, but we just love it!) We always ask the restaurant to course it out and if it’s not that type of restaurant, we ask them to provide some space between the appetizer and the entree. If it seems like too much food, you can always share an appetizer and entree and ask them to split it onto two plates.
Coursing out your food is a an easy switch, but it really elevates the meal and makes it feel so much fancier; like a special event instead of just a daily part of life. It also forces us to slow down while we are eating, which makes dinner more of an event and allows for more conversation. It also helps us feel satisfied with less.
You definitely don’t have to follow the traditional sequence of a French dinner, but if you’re interested, here’s the order:
- Aperitif (pre dinner drink)
- Main course
- Coffee (yes, it’s a separate course)
4. Give reverence to mealtimes
One of our favorite parts of French living is the reverence given to mealtimes. (Yes, I’m realizing the majority of our favorite French living habits have to do with food. Don’t judge us!) Meals are always eaten sitting down, never on the go. Most meals are enjoyed with pleasurable company, but even if dining solo, the meal is still considered special. Pretty plates are used, presentation is taken into account, and phones, TVs, and other electronics have no place at the dinner table.
The way we eat is so different from what I just described. Bassam and I are usually on the go, in a rush, or eating while we are working. Even when do have dinner together, we often do so in front of the TV. Although we love food and can take great care to prepare it, we don’t always take the same care in eating it.
We recently tried out the French way for one meal a day, dinner. We set the table nicely, plated our food prettily, and sat down to eat together with no distractions present. After just one night, we found that this led to really great conversation that we don’t typically have. After a week, we felt more bonded and connected. I just expected this practice to help us slow down a bit and enjoy our food more, I never realized it could also have such a positive effect on our relationship! We can’t wait to start doing this again when we move back home as we are still evacuated from the California wildfires late last year.
5. Entertain often and keep it simple
The French entertain often. They keep a well stocked home with essentials that can used to entertain guests at any time. Although the French have an exquisite eye for details and quality, their dinner parties are typically simple and fuss free. They believe it’s important for the host to have fun and be able to spend time with their guests, rather than being stuck in the kitchen all night. Steal this French living habit and invite friends over often. Whether it be for cocktails, coffee, or a full blown dinner, keep the menu simple with dishes that can be prepped ahead of time and include small details that will make your guests feel special and well cared for. Details are an amazing way to elevate any experience without making it more expensive or difficult to create.
6. Develop a personal scent
I’ve always loved the idea of having a scent that’s unique to you so that when people smelled it they were instantly reminded of you. The French take this one step further by having a signature scent that’s present throughout their home. They choose a scent they love that brings pleasure to them and have it throughout the house in the form of candles, soap, incense, and room sprays. While you don’t have to go all out like they do, why not figure out a scent that brings you pleasure and incorporate it into your daily life? Whether that be in the form of a personal perfume/cologne, a candle, or whatever modality you choose, smelling it may instantly bring a smile to your face and a feeling of comfort.
7. Spend time people watching at a cafe or reading a book
Ah, cafe life. One of my favorite parts of French living. When I visit Paris there are always only two things on my itinerary: wandering and sitting in lots of cafes. Spending hours lingering over a cup of coffee is such a part of French living that cafes factor in the sitting time in the price of the coffee. You don’t have to feel bad about lingering because you’re being charged for it anyway! (For more tips like this, check out this guide to Paris for first timers) Since most of us don’t have a trip to Paris planned soon, recreate this French living habit at home.
Find a cafe that gives you wonderfully charming, cozy, French vibes. We’re partial to Le Pain Quotidien in terms of a chain you can find in several major cities and we also have a guide to French spots in Los Angeles. Take a friend, a book, or just yourself, and plan to spend a few hours. You’d be surprised how wonderfully luxurious it can feel to linger over a single cup of coffee, glass of wine, or pastry. If you’re nervous about going solo, take a book along, but challenge yourself to spend at least 10 minutes simply enjoying the company of yourself and people watching. The French have no problem spending time alone and we believe that’s an important skill for everyone to master.
8. Master the art of conversation
The French are masters in the art of conversation. It’s such an important part of French living that even children are expected to contribute to the adult conversations at the dinner table. No topics are off limits, such as politics and religion, but instead, the conversation is engaging and objective. It’s a fantastic way to learn more about other ideas without feeling like you “have to be right”. These types of conversations are approached with an air of curiosity rather than a debate that someone needs to win. The French would much rather have a controversial conversation than superficial small talk. This is a big reason why dinner parties last for hours!
We’ve felt our own conversational skills lacking lately as we spend more and more time communicating behind screens, rather than face-to-face. We’ve been making a concentrated effort to bring up topics about things we’ve been reading or hearing when we go out to eat rather than always talking about the same old same old. This is why it’s especially important to cultivate intellectual knowledge because it gives you more to talk about!
As introverts, this is a difficult French living habit for both Bassam and I. Although we see the value in and enjoy intelligent conversations, it can often be difficult for us. It is a conscious effort for us to interact with others rather than retreat into our own heads, but again, we always see the value in it. We’ve found that as introverts, if a conversation is dull or standard, we walk away feeling drained. However, if the conversation is fresh and full of new ideas and information, we walk away feeling inspired and energized. If you can relate, we have a few tips for you to try.
- Next time you’re recapping a trip you went on, try sharing a funny story or something you learned about the culture, rather than running through a laundry list of sights you saw
- Start a conversation about an interesting idea you read about, heard on a podcast, or saw on a television show (again why it helps to consume a diverse selection of media). Bonus points if it’s a tiny bit controversial to elicit discussion, but not heated debate
- Look up the top news stories before heading out to a dinner party
- Ask thought provoking or unique questions, rather than tired old basics (for example: what moment in your life changed you the most vs what are you doing this weekend)
9. Embrace quality over quantity
This is probably the biggest tenet of French living habits! When it comes to basically every aspect of French living: food, drink, clothing, skin care, home decor- quality above all else. It’s amazing how much joy and simplicity this practice can bring to your life. The French tend to purchase items that are local, they know are high quality, are long lasting, and that they truly love. When you surround yourself with only the highest quality items that you truly love and bring joy to you, the everyday is elevated and every routine is made special. You will spend less in the long run because you won’t need to buy as much, you’ll be satisfied with less, and your life will be simple and joyful.
Here’s how to steal this French living habit for yourself:
Start by decluttering. Go through every section of your house and donate or toss any item that doesn’t bring you pleasure. Every single item you own, should bring you joy in some way, even the functional and practical items. Create a list of all the items you truly need in each room. Slowly, work your way through curating your items. Only buy the best quality you can afford and only if you truly love it. Overtime, your life will be filled with only items that are of high quality and bring you joy.
On a simpler level, ask yourself before every single purchase, does it truly bring me joy and is it the best quality I can afford? You’ll find you’ll need less and be satisfied with less. (PS. this is a whole other topic, but this is basically why the French can eat anything they want and maintain their slim figures. They eat small quantities of extremely high quality food!)
10. Curate a capsule wardrobe
Similar to the tip above, curate a capsule wardrobe. How often have you looked at your overflowing closet and thought, “I have nothing to wear.” That’s both Bassam and I everyday and it’s because we have so many clothing items that don’t make us look and feel our best. One of our goals this year and is to curate a small collection of high quality clothing items, that all work together, and all make us feel our best. This way, we will always look great, getting ready in the morning will be a pleasure, and we will never feel like we have nothing to wear.
A quality I really admire about French living is that the French don’t care about trends. They wear what flatters them and brings them joy. The only “trend” is to put care into how you dress and always look presentable, but beyond that, it’s really about individual style.
11. Savor everyday routines
How often do you enjoy your morning coffee or tea? How about your daily skin care routine? Your nightly pre bed snack? Or any other seemingly boring routine you do every day? I know for us, we tend to rush through it, feeling as though we don’t have the time to slow down, relax, and sneak a little pleasure out of this routine. But routines don’t just have to just be routine. They can be something that you look forward to every day and something that brings you pleasure.
The French are absolute masters at this! They can take any seemingly boring activity, like applying skin care products, and elevate it into something truly special. It’s really about bringing a little more mindfulness into the activity and choosing items that bring joy to your life.
Try this. Pick a routine that you do every single day. For example, your morning coffee/tea or your skincare routine. Make sure every item associated with that routine brings you pleasure. For example, a beautiful mug to drink out of or skincare ingredients that smell wonderful and feel amazing going on your skin. Slow down and take an extra 5 minutes to truly pay attention to what you are doing and to seek as much enjoyment as possible from it. Feel the warmth of the mug between your hands. Gently massage your skin as you apply the product. I promise you do have an extra 5 minutes to spend on this. The feeling of calm and joy it’ll bring to your day will be well worth it.
12. Create a home that expresses your personality
The French completely agree with the cliche, home is where the heart is. In French living, home is a sanctuary to escape the outside world and have a place to fully unwind and rejuvenate. In order to do so, the French make sure their home is filled with all the necessities of a comfortable life and they put thought and care in how their home is organized and decorated. Their homes are setup in a way that works effortlessly for them. They put lots of thought and attention into the items they select and it really expresses their personalities. This is something that Bassam and I have always gravitated towards in the way we setup our home and reading this book on creating a French home was really inspiring to me.
At the end of the day, all of these French living habits are really just a way to elevate simple everyday routines into something a little more special. You’re most likely doing these things anyway, why not put a little more thought into them so that they bring you more enjoyment in your every day life. Have you incorporated any French living habits into your daily routine? We’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it went!