May 20, 2019
Carole Pinto

Getting Ready for Your Trip

When you are planning a trip to France, remember that Paris is not the only city to visit in France and that there are many other beautiful places to discover. Paris is less than four hours by train from Brittany, Aquitaine, Alsace-Lorraine, Normandy, the Alps, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Provence, or almost six hours to the Riviera. You also need to get ready for your trip: know what to wear depending on the season, as some areas can be very hot or cold; know what to order for a meal; and most of all, make sure you know about the French habits and customs, as they are very different from the United States.

Public Transportation

  • Public transportation usually runs from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., but it depends on the city. Go to the Tourist Office to get as much information as you can.
  • Don’t stick to taking taxis, which are expensive, or guided tours, which can also be expensive and unreliable. Instead, try to travel by train and prepare your trip in advance with a tourist book like The Lonely Planet or Le Guide du Routard. Trains are comfortable and take you everywhere, unless there is a strike, which happens more often than you would think (SNCF has a very bad reputation with delayed or canceled trains). It is often cheaper to buy your train ticket in France, than if you buy it outside of France, so you can decide to go somewhere on a whim without it costing you an arm and a leg. You can also get cheaper fares online.
  • Buses and trams are also a great value. You can buy one-day travel cards, which allow you to travel all around a city at a set price. They are not very expensive (less than €10).

Crossing Roads, Visiting Places, and Taking a Taxi

  • Be careful when crossing roads: once you’re engaged, people have to stop, but when they are in a rush, they can get mad at you and honk their horn because the French don’t always respect the driver’s manual. Sometimes, pedestrians cross the roads anywhere, without traffic lights or zebra crossings (editor’s note: “crosswalks”), assuming they have the right to do so if they are engaged, at the risk of their own lives. However, it can be the other way around: you can spend ages waiting before being able to cross a road because no one is ever going to stop if there are no lights at a crossing and people are in a rush or there is a lot of traffic. When you feel like it’s not dangerous, attempt to step on the road in order to show you are going to cross it when the cars are not driving too fast and if they are not too close—they have to let you cross and stop once you’re engaged: it’s the law. Smile at the driver and wave your hand in order to thank them.
  • You can wander in almost every district of every city with a very low risk of mugging. However, some areas are safer than others. For instance, there is a dodgy place in Toulon, which is called “Chicago.” Don’t ever go to French Chicago! Stick to the most touristy areas, as they are very safe and vibrant places either at day or night. Avoid walking around at night on your own, even in small cities, and make sure you are always going out with a group of friends, even in the city center.
  • Beware of clandestine taxis! It’s always dangerous to take an unmarked or unofficial taxi, no matter where you are in the world. Always take a regular taxi that has a light on top of the car saying “taxi.” Non-legit taxis will take you for a long ride in order to extort as much money as they can from you.
  • Editor’s note: As an alternative to taking taxis, one can find affordable alternatives with a car-share service such as Uber and a rental car service for modified cars, such as Wheeliz.

Book at Smaller Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts

Don’t just go for the easy option of an international chain hotel that will be very expensive and probably impersonal. Instead, try some of the smaller hotels, a bed and breakfast, or a maison d’hôte. Many of the owners, particularly in the most popular tourist areas, speak English. Some also offer dinner, which is always a much better value than in a restaurant or hotel, and includes wine. You all sit at a communal table where you can get great tips about the local area, what to see, etc.

If you want to practice your French, don’t hesitate to ask politely for your host to talk to you in French, unless you don’t understand a word they say, as the accents and expressions are very different in all regions. The French understand each other, but Parisian French is only spoken in Paris. For instance, a pain au chocolat is a chocolatine in Toulouse and a recyclable plastic bag is called une poche (or “a pocket”), and the pronunciation and different accents can be very confusing for foreign people.

Other Things to Consider

The French Schedule

If you want to shop, sightsee, and taste great food while you’re on vacation in France, here’s the thing: time it wrong, and you might end up locked out of all those things, which can be quite frustrating. There’s a rhythm to the French schedule, and you should definitely know it before you visit. That way, you can plan your days in France properly and not miss a thing. For instance, in small towns and villages (though not cities), all shops and businesses, including banks, close for at least two hours for lunch. In remote areas, it can be from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. In the south, local markets open early (from around 7:00 a.m.) and close around noon. Get used to the rhythm and plan your visit in advance or you will end up missing a great local market. Shops usually open around 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., even in big cities. There are no 24/7 shops as the French don’t work at night or on Sundays.

Tutoyer ou vouvoyer ?

Don’t forget to use “vous” instead of “tu” if you are introduced to people. You should only use “tu” with friends, but when you get to know people better, you can ask them: “Est-ce que je peux vous tutoyer ou est-ce que vous préférez que je vous vouvoie ?” If you are meeting new people, you should always say “vous.” Always say “vous” to senior people as a sign of respect.

Last but not least, you probably won’t get a chance to visit France many times, so make sure you get the most out of it, as it is a very beautiful country and all regions have their own characteristics, however small France may seem compared to the United States.

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