The French like to give flowers. On an annual basis, more than 8 out of 10 French people have given flowers as a gift at least once during the year.
And if you are traveling around France, you will notice that almost every neighborhood, village, or town will have a florist or a marché des fleurs.
But giving flowers in France comes with its own set of do’s and don’ts. When it comes to the symbolism and significance of different flowers, what is the norm in France may be not quite what you are used to.
So let’s explore all the different etiquette rules around giving flowers in France, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Valentine’s day flowers
Like in many countries red roses are the most popular flowers on Valentine’s Day in France. The eternal symbol of love, you are bound to succeed in proclaiming your amour with a bouquet of red roses.
Note, in France red roses are an expression of passionate love, seduction, desire, and so it would be inappropriate to offer red roses to anyone other than a romantic date.
You could also offer pink flowers, which refer to a more playful and tender love. These are traditionally associated with femininity, and perceived as delicate, sweet and charming.
2. Lily of the valley is offered on May day.
One of the most important French traditions for May day is offering a bouquet of flowers to friends and family for good luck.
Lilies of the valley (known in French as muguet) are flowers that grow at the start of spring, and thus are ideal for celebrating the start of may. In France, you will notice that they are sold by florists, grocery stores, and street vendors all over town.
The tradition dates back to Greek times when wreaths of flowers were hung at the entrance to houses. In Roman times at the start of May, flowers were offered, the Florales, in honor of Flora, goddess of flowers.
More recently, the offering of flowers dates back to the Renaissance when it was customary, in the countryside, to offer a branch to chase away the curse of winter. In 1560, French King Charles IX visited the Drôme countryside where he was offered a sprig of muguet. The following year he gave a bouquet of lilies of the valley to the ladies of the royal court, as a good luck charm.
The habit caught on and became massively popular in France. These days, the occasion is such a big deal (and big business) that the government issues licenses for who can sell muguets and who cannot.
Note, this white lily or muguet is not related to the flower of the fleur de lys, the former royal symbol of France. That flower is thought to be an Iris.
3. Red carnations can be unlucky.
Old legend has it that the red carnation grew from the tears of the Virgin Mary after saw her son crucified. In French, carnations are called “oeillets“, with “oeil” being the French word for “eye”.
As such, in some countries including France, red carnations are not offered because it is considered an unlucky flower that implies that you are wishing bad luck or ill will on the person.
Red carnations are also considered a deep sign of love, so the combination of the two symbols mean that they are usually offered at funerals. Along with love, it can also imply cheating on someone else, so a flower best to be avoided unless you are trying to please a forbidden lover!
4. Chrysanthemums are offered on All Saints’ day.
Chrysanthemums is a sign of death and mourning and are usually only offered on November 1st which is All Saints’ day in France.
Known as Toussaint in French, November 1st is a public holiday where all schools, government office, and businesses are closed.
For those who are religious, it is an occasion to remember the dead. Chrysanthemums are laid on gravestones of the dearly departed. Over €170million in flowers is spent in France each year at Toussaint.
5. Beware of yellow flowers.
Yellow is very popular color when it comes to flowers, symbolizing the sun and summer. Certain flowers like tulips, hyacinths, or sunflowers imply a breath of fresh air and a joie de vivre to express thankfulness.
For the purists in France however, yellow flowers can mean “not loyal”. Yellow carnations in particular are said to symbolize rejection and contempt.
There are many differing viewpoints on yellow flowers, and in general carnations are among the most sold flowers in France. So you will have to decide for yourself if you want to offer a bouquet of yellow carnations!
And if you are giving flowers to a lover, do not choose yellow roses as they signify infidelity.
6. For a French Dinner Party
In France, wine is usually a bit of a taboo to give as a gift at a dinner party, as the assumption is that the host has already bought wine to pair with each dish he/she is serving.
So one option for guests is to offer flowers instead. However, with all these rules, it can be complicated to bring flowers to a French dinner party.
Examples of the flowers that are safe to give as gifts are lilies, poppies, hydrangeas, or hyacinths. Or how about a floral arrangement of gorgeous white camellias as lovely compliment for their welcome?
7. For Bridal and Wedding in France
If you are planning a wedding in France, you may be wondering what flowers to get. White flowers are considered the most traditional, and you can also choose to add touches of another color in your bouquets according to the theme of the wedding.
French bridal bouquets tend to be round and small, without being overwhelming. Soft colors tend to work well to not overpower the look of the look of the bride. Pastel shades mixed in with the white flowers is also very popular.
For table settings, long elegant flowers like lilies, orchids, or roses are usually very popular.
8. To wish good health
If you wish to offer someone in France a floral arrangement for good health, consider the color blue. It is a lovely relaxing color and flowers such as irises, bluebells, and hyacinths represent calm and tranquility, making them quite suitable for a speedy recovery.
Lavender from Provence is also very popular in floral arrangements for their scent which is considered healing and relaxing.
If a person is convalescing, a predominantly green bouquet may also be ideal since green emphasises the environment and also good luck.
9. For the birth of a baby
Sweet pastel colors in a floral bouquet are always welcome for the birth of a baby. Chrysanthemums, violets, daisies or lilies will always be much appreciated.
In addition, buttercups can represent innocence and childishness in France, and so could be an excellent bouquet to offer.
10. To say thank you
Bright colors bring comfort and joy so don’t be afraid to add a bit of color to your floral bouquet. Certain flowers emphasize certain qualities in France, such as perseverance and calm with hydrangeas or optimism with sunflowers.
The orange color of the flowers conveys pure happiness and joy so consider offering a bouquet of orange flowers like tulips, begonias, or zinnias.
A bouquet of purple flowers will symbolize elegance and refinement. Orchids or lavender are can be great choices for purple flowers.
11. For Mother’s Day
If you would like to offer flowers for Mother’s day in France, it is probably best to get to know your mom’s personal taste and offer her that every year!
However, in general flowers like tulips, daffodils, orchids, and pink roses are always very popular. France is only a few hours drive from the Netherlands where tulip season is in full spring in May, making the tulip particularly popular.
12. Avoid poisonous flowers
If you are offering flowers to a friend or family member who has children, avoid poisonous flowers. Certain flowers like the foxglove or hemlock can be fatal if ingested.
13. Try not to give marigolds
Now this is a rather funny “lost-in-translation” tip, which you can choose to ignore.
In French, marigolds are called “soucis“, which has a double meaning and also translates as “worries”. So in effect, you would be giving a “bouquet of worries”!
14. For Easter
Easter in France is typically a religious holiday celebrated with church services and family gatherings for lunch. If visiting someone house, flowers are usually offered to the host. Some flowers that can be offered for Easter are:
- White lilies
15. Giving a cactus
And finally, if you are looking to symbolize long-lasting love, why not give a cactus? It isn’t usually offered in France during events like marriage, births, or bereavement, but for any other occasion it can be a fun and suitable offering. At the very least, they won’t have to remember to water it!
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about the realities of living in Paris. A bientôt!