I am going to France soon for the first time, so I have been reading about customs there. One thing that was frequently mentioned was that it is considered extremely impolite to not greet the shopkeeper when you walk into a shop. Is this true? Is there anything else I should know?
I couldn't tell you whether it's extremely impolite, but either way, why not greet a shopkeeper? It's polite to do so no matter where you are in the world.
I want to add that it's actually a trick to have a conversation with a native. If you just go from one shop to another, you could have a 12-hour/day immersion :-) Don't waste people's time when they're busy but many would love to have someone walking through the door.
-Always greet the shopkeeper with "Bonjour/Bonsoir Monsieur/Madame" depending on who it is and the time of day. -Rest your hands on the table when not eating. -It's very North American to switch your fork between hands while eating. In France, it's not exactly impolite to do that, but it is kind of weird. -French people might try to do la bise (cheek kissing) to you, but often if they know you are an American, they won't do it because they know that we don't do it. (What I've noticed anyway) -Don't smile at people on the subway, trains, etc. It's sorta creepy even though Americans use it to break tension -Don't talk loudly on any mode of public transit (I know this from experience lol) -If you want to look French, read a book instead of looking at your smartphone on public transit. -Don't cut cheese the wrong way (http://www.cheesematters.com.au/how-to-cut-cheese/) -It's custom to not eat between meals, but it's not that important of a rule and many young people do now. I just know this because my professor saw me in the hallway with a bag of chips and thought it was strange. -Don't mix up la carte and le menu. La carte is the whole menu, anything you can order. "Le menu"/la formule is a set of fixed formulas of 2+ courses. I personally like la formule, but it's always good to see all of your options on la carte. -While we are talking about menus, l'entrée is your appetizer and "le plat principale" is the main course. Those are all the things I can think about right now. If you mess up, it's no big deal, and people generally won't be angry (except the woman that yelled at me on a train for talking to loudly lol).
Finger-counting varies between cultures. Some begin counting with our index finger as done in North America and the UK, while Continental Europeans such as the French begin with their thumb.
It might not seem significant, but miscommunications can happen with gestures, such as if I were to say to a waiter, “Un café, si’l vous plaît,” intending to order only one cup of coffee in a party of two. The waiter might seek to confirm by asking, “Deux?” Despite holding up an index finger and repeating, “Non, un.” my hand gesture might trump a bad accent and result in two cups of coffee. If instead I'd held up my thumb only while speaking I might not have confused the waiter.
While it's true that we start counting with the thumb I think I might use my index instead of my thumb to gesture "one" because having only the thumb extended looks like an "ok" more than a "one". It's not a really big deal though.
As an aside we also draw ones a bit differently from americans as far as I can tell. Americans generally seem to just draw a single vertical line while we always add the small "dash" serif at the top.
More table manners items from the French course I just took:
The fork will generally be set on the table tines down, as opposed to tines up as in America. You're expected to use it tines down, as well. Use your knife to push a small amount of food that can't be easily speared (like rice) onto the back of the tines. This will slow down how fast you eat, but that's also very French. A meal is a social occasion.
Salt and pepper might not be available at the table. If you ask for the salt, your host or the chef may be insulted, in France the cook is supposed to properly season the food, to add salt is to tell the cook that he or she did a poor job seasoning it.
And if you do ask for the salt, you'll get only the salt, not the pepper. If you want the pepper, you have to ask for it. It is considered gauche to hand the salt directly to someone, you set it on the table and let them pick it up.
Bread is generally served and eaten without butter, and except in very formal settings there will not be a bread plate, you set the bread directly on the table cloth. You tear off a small piece and eat it. You can (and are generally expected) to use bread to soak up sauce on the place.
Except for bread, NOTHING is eaten by picking it up with your hands, even a hamburger is cut into pieces, one piece at a time, with a knife and fork. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, even the McDonalds in Paris provide cutlery with a burger.
Never had cutlery in McDonalds in Paris. In fast food restaurants, people eat burgers and fries with their hands. In "normal" restaurants that serve burgers, people usually use cutlery to eat them.
See http://www.grubstreet.com/2017/06/mcdonalds-introduces-forks-and-knives-in-france.html (just one of dozens of articles on the matter.)
The question of why someone would want to go to a McDonald's in Paris when there are so many other better places to eat is a separate matter.
Personally, I've never had a burger I thought was worth $15.
It's really a novelty though, lately Mc Donalds in france is trying to get a "fancier" image, probably to differentiate themselves from the other fast food joints. Now they bring food directly to your table and they introduce so-called "gourmet" items in their menus.
They also introduced a "mc-baguette" sandwich a few years ago but their bread looked more like ciabatta than anything resembling a baguette. Many people died during the riots that ensued.
To get back to the original question, I wouldn't worry too much about table etiquette unless you eat at a very fancy restaurant with very fancy people. It's true that outside of fast-food joints we tend to use fork and knife to eat everything, even things like pizzas or hamburgers.
However I'm really not sure about using a fork tines down all the time. For some things it's more practical to do so (spearing meat for instance, you don't have to bend your wrist nearly as much) but the idea of eating rice with the tines down sounds almost comical to me. Maybe I'm just not fancy enough.