Hi, my name is Gyl and I've been living in France for a little over four years. Right now I live in Montpellier which is in the south of France. I enjoy living here and I hope to give advice to others who wish to travel here and/or live here as well.
Here are my travel tips:
1. Some Basics
Business Hours are technically from 9 to 6. However in most parts of France assume that between 12 noon and 2 pm many shops and especially agencies are closed. France has a huge amount of religious holidays which are observed by a day off. This as well will affect all shops and government agencies, which will be closed. If you enjoy eating out, on average, lunchtime is between 12 noon and 2 pm and for dinner it’s safest to get a table between the hours of 7pm and 9:30 pm. Long holidays are in February, and much notably in July and August where all businesses will close for at least one month.
Tipping also known as “service charge” is included in the price that you receive in the form of the check. Do not leave a tip unless the server did something exceptional or if you were a large difficult group. This goes for most people performing a service, such as a cab driver.
Speaking in public is normally more discrete in France. Usually when out in public people will speak in a lower voice. For example, in a typical French restaurant tables are close together so a low tone is appreciated as to not disturb others.
When greeting, always address people you don’t know with Monsieur or Madame. When entering all establishments you are expected to say “Bonjour” and “Au revoir”. When speaking French, use the formal “vous” form until you are invited to use the familiar “tu/toi” If you are in the south, you, yourself may ask early on if you can use the familiar when speaking.
2. The Language
Speaking French in France is a popular topic for foreigners planning to visit. If you plan to stay for two weeks or so, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem especially if you will be in big or famous cities where many tourists visit. However, know that outside of highly touristy areas, even in a big city like Paris, most French people do not speak English and make no apologies for it.
That said, for best results, I suggest you take the initiative to speak a little French. Oddly enough, just showing a small amount of effort to communicate in the native language can make miracles happen. For example, the same French person who said they didn’t speak English suddenly is putting together, albeit odd, sentence in English and doing whatever they can to help you. A simple French phrase book with a vocabulary appendix in the back is all you need. Also remember, when in doubt, the bigger the word, the more likely it’s the same in French.
3. Regions to Visit
When we hear the word France, we automatically think of Paris. This is not unlike many countries where the capital is both the most famous city as well as the least resembling of the said country. Yes, Paris is definitely worth seeing; from the nightlife, the shopping and the museums, it can’t be beat just on mere variety of selection available. However, as New York City certainly can’t be representative of the entire United States, never can Paris for France. Try to visit at least one other region while here.
If you don’t want to travel too far, I suggest Normandy with its half timber construction architecture, beautiful coastline and super friendly people. If you don’t mind a bit longer journey, I suggest, albeit highly popular these days, Provence. For such a small region, it offers a mind boggling range of activities, things to do and see which provide an array of diversity. From bullfighting to lavender fields to kayaking, flamingo watching and, oh my gosh, how could I leave out wine tasting, you can’t get bored. And I haven’t even scratched the surface.
4. Getting Around
When traveling by train, you must buy train tickets in advance and right before boarding your train, you must validate your tickets before getting on board. If not when your ticket is checked on board, you may be fined extra.
Train strikes occur often in France and when one occurs, there is nothing you can do but wait. If you want to avoid serious mishaps, like missing a flight, plan in some space between travel transitions.
Renting a car is reasonably easy and convenient as well as economic. There only possible problems you could encounter is parking in general. Especially in very small villages where it is all pedestrian which means you will have to park outside of the city.
The least expensive form of transport is by bus. France has a reasonably well connected bus system and there shouldn’t be many cultural challenges here.
With local transportation, it varies from city to city, but often when you but a ticket you will be expected to validate the ticket when boarding. If you don’t you could be fined while on the transport of choice.
As a rule of thumb, France as a whole is an expensive country to spend time. This even holds true when we compare it with its neighbors Spain and Italy. While accommodations, especially outside of Paris and the Cote d’Azur, have a good range of prices from budget housing to mid range to top end, the lowest rates such as what can be found in a youth hostel or said in French,”Auberge de Jeunesse” are not so low as you would have trouble finding something under 23 euros per night.
Transportation all over France is quite expensive when on considers the price in relation to distance. The least expensive option would be the bus. If you want to reach the smaller towns, renting a car would be the next best solution. While you can find some super cheap deals on car rentals, especially on the internet, the real cost comes from buying gas, paying tolls and parking.
The only area where you could find a break on the wallet is eating. That is if you avoid the restaurants and seek out the bakeries and the pork butcher shop,”une charcuterie”. A baguette, salami and red wine can provide a fulfilling meal while being highly easy on the pocketbook. If you have a bit more of a budget, of course there are a wide range of options between this and a five course meal.