Travel tips for France

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes. This one is especially special for her and for us because she’s writing about home.
Ah, France, the mythical country of romance and smelly cheeses…Leave your baseball cap and your sneakers at home, pack your most stylish clothes and a silk scarf, and “à vous la belle vie!”
Image by enggul via Flickr
A little bit of French will go a very long way. French people can be a bit abrupt with Americans, because they resent what they perceive as rudeness and a refusal to adapt to local customs. If you make no effort at all to learn even the word for “Hello”, be prepared to meet with offended stares. On the other hand, try a few words, however mangled, and even Parisians will welcome your efforts with a smile.
In several French cities you will find a bike rental scheme in place, like Vélib’ in Paris or Vélô in Toulouse: bikes are parked at designated spots along the streets. Walk up to the machine that should be situated right in the middle of the bike racks and follow the instructions in English.
Food in restaurants might seem more expensive than in the US. This is because taxes and the service charge are included in the price, so what you end up paying is actually what is written on the menu. Leave a tip, around 10%, when you want to thank staff for thoughtful service — tipping is not compulsory though.
Do you find service in restaurants slow compared to the US? This is because people eat more slowly and do not want to be rushed. If, on the other hand, you are in a bit of a hurry, make sure to let the waiter know when you sit down and ask what items on the menu can be served quickly.
You can order a free jug of water (“une carafe d’eau”) with your meal. The waiter will bring a jug of tap water, usually with ice or a slice of lemon in it. Tap water in France is perfectly ok to drink, although it might taste of chlorine in certain areas. Mineral water can be quite expensive in restaurants.
When walking into a shop in France, unless it’s very busy, you are expected to answer the greeting of the shop assistant and make eye contact; same when leaving.
Generally taxis are expensive in France, while public transport is good and reliable, especially in big cities. Unless you’re rushing to get to a business meeting and need a cab, find out which bus or local train can take you where you want to go.
Looking for good quality French wine at a bargain? Head for the nearest “Nicolas” shop. Nicolas is a chain of wine stores all over France, with friendly and knowledgeable staff that will be happy to recommend little-known chateaux to suit your budget.
And while you enjoy that Bordeaux, read more about my beret-wearing countrymen.
A Piano in the Pyrenees, by Tony Hawks, is the hilarious account of how the author moved to the mountains in the south of the country – with his piano, yes. Less romantic but more accurate than many Provence-inspired memoirs out there.
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong : Why We Love France but Not the French, by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow. Still trying to make sense of France ? This serious – but far from dry – study will show you how it all works. You might even come to appreciate the French!
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