French Etiquette: How to Behave in a Museum

French Etiquette: How to Behave in a Museum

The age of the selfie brings a fresh challenge to curators. How to keep people from causing disruption while taking photos in French museums now that virtually everybody is carrying a camera or a smartphone? Museum staff is irretrievably outnumbered so if you can’t beat them … just admit that everybody is a photographer!

The indiscriminate taking of photographs and selfies is causing congestion and disruption to people who visit a museum as a place of reflection or study. Not to mention the intellectual rights violation of copyright protected art, particularly when showing pieces belonging to private collectors, or the repercussions on the rights of members of the public who may not wish to appear in someone else’s social media page and the fact that France protects the “right to your own image” as part of the privacy rules in their civil and criminal codes.

If you consider that just one institution, the Louvre, welcomes around ten million visitors in a year, and let’s say at least one in three of them carry a smartphone, just imagine the scale of the issue.

A crowd of people in a museumMuseum leaders have struggled with the phenomenon. In a grand gesture in 2010 the Musée d’Orsay banned all photography, only to spawn a wave of rebellious activism such as Orsay Commons that even organized photo competitions challenging people to take as many photos as possible in retaliation.

The latest softly-softly approach is an open letter to both visitors and authorities called “Tous Photographes!” listing good practices when visiting an art gallery, monument or museum. Published by the Ministry of Culture in consultation with the main cultural institutions such the Centre des Monuments Nationaux , Réunion des Musées Nationaux (grouping d’Orsay, l’Orangerie, Louvre, quai Branly, Moyen-Âge-Cluny, château-musée de Versailles, Centre G. Pompidou, and others) and musées de la Ville de Paris.

Guidelines of how to behave in a museum

Click to enlarge

This is the recommended etiquette in museums and national monuments in France :

Article 1: upon arrival the visitor turns off the flash and avoids disrupting other visitors while taking photos or filming. There are signs posted along the site to facilitate a comfortably shared visit with others.

Article 2: while photographing or filming the visitor will take care not to pose any risk to the integrity of the works. The rules for visitors concerning allowed photography are available on request.

Article 3: the visitor can share and publish their photos and videos on the internet and social media respecting the existing legal framework. Insitutions make available free of charge on their sites the digital images of their collection with clear guidelines for use.

Article 4: the visitor will avoid taking an image of a member of staff, if the individual is identifiable, without their formal agreement. The information on copyright and privacy rights of individuals are available for download.

Article 5: In cases where capturing the images requires supplementary material [lighting, tripods, microphones] the visitor must request specific authorization.

The letter also states that these institutions are committed to organise specific artistic and cultural photography activities available to the general public.

Selfie sticks are banned in Versailles and Disneyland Paris, and the main museums are considering extending the ban as well, to protect the art and ensure the flow of foot traffic, so perhaps it is best to leave the selfie stick behind if you are planning to visit a museum in France?

What about you?

The proof is in the pudding so we will see in future months if this is the antidote to the selfie craze. I would add other obvious behaviours to be avoided such as eating, drinking, chewing gum or talking too loud… but what about you? What is your museum style? Do you take photos as souvenirs or do you prefer to contemplate and absorb with your own eyes? Do you have any pet peeves about tourist behaviour in the altars of culture?

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • V
    2014-08-20 22:51:48
    Here how to blend in Paris, the rules set by a parisian for tourists, feel free to read it.


  • pedmar10
    2014-08-06 16:31:26
    I am against it, we need to protect the values in the museum, buy a post card. unfortunately due to sheer pressure the Orsay is back allowing pictures. these are nomads of people climbing over each other for a picture as you said copyrighted material and very fragile. The rules are a compromise lets see how it is uphold and enforced. Time will tell.