France is a beautiful country with huge regional variations. To put it in perspective, France is twice the size of the UK, which surprises some people. It has a coastline along three seas, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean, and a surprising number of dependencies. It’s also one of the most visited countries in the world.
So, let's dispel a myth first. The French are very welcoming people, contrary to popular belief in some quarters! Now, if we are talking about Paris, then that’s different. The French themselves say the Parisians are not very friendly.
Having lived in France for a number of years and still own a house in the Pyrenees, maybe I’m biased, but I encourage you to get beyond Paris and discover the real France.
You’ll probably need a USB travel adapter to keep your smartphone and camera charged, so remember to pack this in your hand luggage.
Top tips for traveling to France
Do learn some basic vocabulary.
Many French can speak a little English, but they are paranoid about making mistakes. Try a little French first and they will respond and try to speak some English to help.
- Hello – Bonjour
- Yes – Oui
- No – Non
- Please – S'il vous plait
- Thank you – Merci
- Excuse me - Pardon
When meeting friends, the French will kiss each other on both cheeks, and do the same ritual when saying goodbye. A handshake is normal for strangers, but if you get along, it may be a kiss on departure. Follow the French persons lead.
Away from the larger cities, it is customary for a complete stranger to say “Bonjour” to you in the street. Just reply “Bonjour”, with a smile. When entering small shops or bakeries, they will often say, “Bonjour, madame, monsieur” to greet everyone in the shop. Again, just reply “Bonjour (madam or monsieur)”. No conversation is expected.
The French do consider themselves to be the gastronomic giants of the world, and it is taken seriously, right down to table manners. Bread should be broken not cut, don’t chop your salad but fold it using your fork and order your coffee after your dessert course.
You will often be offered an aperitive which is normally a light alcoholic drink when you arrive and a digestive after your coffee, which is normally a cognac, brandy or whiskey. Also, remember that in a four-course meal, you’ll have a cheese course before the dessert.
Set meals in restaurants at lunchtime, menu du jour, are usually great value, as is the dish of the day, the plat du jour. This brings us to lunch in France.
Above all, relax, take your time and enjoy the food. This is not something that is rushed in France.
It is still the norm in many areas of France to take a two-hour lunch break, with a little wine. Most will have their local restaurant they frequent and the vast majority will have the menu du jour. It is changing in places, but in rural areas, expect most shops and offices to be closed for at least two hours over lunch.
You’ll notice on your check for a meal that a service charge of 15% is included in the price of all items, service compris will be written somewhere. If drinking at a bar, then it most probably won’t be included. So should you tip? It’s entirely up to you, but leaving your small change is appreciated by the staff and will be remembered if you become a regular during your stay.
Have a great time in France, it is a wonderful place to visit with so much variation. Remember to pack your USB travel adapter in your hand luggage. We don’t want you to miss all those great photo opportunities!
More on traveling to France