17 issues solely the locals know in France (and now you do too)

France’s high spot on the record of the world’s most visited nations doesn’t shock me – its exhilarating cities, photogenic villages, surf seashores and snow-topped mountains, together with unbelievable gastronomy and wine are irresistible for French residents like me with a lifetime of journey right here, in addition to worldwide guests. 

After all, the flipside of its recognition means planning forward. The following pointers will aid you navigate the nation, customs and potential challenges for a clean, stress-free journey to France.

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How lengthy must you spend in France?

Tempting as it’s to cram in as a lot as doable, that is certainly one of Europe’s largest nations, each in measurement and inhabitants, and speeding is counterproductive to French joie de vivre (enjoyment of life). Savoring small, every day rituals like people-watching over an apéro (apéritif; predinner drink) on a restaurant terrace enhances any journey and can in all probability grow to be a few of your favourite recollections.

With every week or much less, maximize your time by sticking to only a few cities or areas. Round 10 days or so is nice for visiting a wide selection of France’s highlights, from city facilities to châteaux and enchanting countryside. In case you have longer, France is your oyster.

Keep away from getting caught out by seasonal crowds or closures

Les grandes vacances (summer season holidays) are sacrosanct in France. Most individuals take a minimal of two or three weeks off in July or particularly August, when even providers akin to submit places of work and banks are on skeleton workers till la rentrée in early September, when regular life resumes. When touring in summer season, enable time on the street for bouchons (site visitors jams), purchase prepare tickets prematurely, reserve timeslots on-line for main sights wherever doable, and make lodging and widespread and/or high-end restaurant bookings weeks, if not months forward. In large cities like Paris, many eating places and smaller boutiques shut for at the very least a few weeks – verify institutions’ fermeture annuelle or congés d’été, and have alternate options deliberate.

Winter is peak season on the mountains’ ski resorts however cities are quieter and costs decrease, and particularly exterior the principle facilities, many sights have diminished opening hours or could also be closed altogether. Spring (significantly April and Might) and fall (September and October) hit the candy spot for good climate, manageable customer numbers and catching most locations open. Preserve tabs on busy durations by wanting up French school holidays.

The prepare community in France is the most affordable and best strategy to get round © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

What’s the easiest way to get round France?

For those who’re simply hopping between cities and enormous cities: France’s wonderful rail network together with TGV quick trains could be the most affordable, best strategy to go (seat61 is a useful primer). Undoubtedly save your self the effort of driving in Paris’ heavy site visitors and scarce parking; the very good public transport system covers the entire metropolis.

A street journey provides you freedom for spontaneous stops, detours and impromptu picnics within the beautiful countryside. Ebook rental vehicles nicely forward for busy instances as costs spike and availability plummets. The vast majority of vehicles in France are handbook (stick shift); automated leases are in shorter provide. Autoroutes (highways) are the quickest however least fascinating routes and péages (tolls) rapidly mount up. Smaller again roads and lanes take you into the center of France’s well-known vineyards, patchwork fields, historic villages and pure landscapes. 

Michelin’s route planner ViaMichelin marks extra-scenic stretches in inexperienced and has a “Discovery” possibility; the web site additionally estimates toll and gas prices. As you drive by means of France, geolocate the most affordable close by gasoline stations utilizing plein-moins-cher.fr.

Plan your itinerary round market days

Metropolis neighborhoods, cities and even tiny villages have weekly-or-better marchés (markets). Typically courting again centuries, they’re native traditions that provide you with a window into French life, and have the very best, freshest seasonal produce (with the bottom carbon footprint in journey miles). Convey your personal buying bag or basket to browse sun-ripened fruit, greens, cheeses, breads, charcuterie, olive oils, nuts, preserves and regional specialities, in addition to ready-to-devour snacks.

At market stalls, don’t contact the produce (ask the seller as an alternative) and don’t haggle (bargaining is barely OK at flea markets). And all the time ask permission to take photographs (the identical goes for retailers).

A heads-up if you happen to’re arriving the evening earlier than by automotive: look out for early-morning market-day parking restrictions that might see your automobile towed.


A phrasebook or language app may very well be your finest French pal

Even in greater cities and vacationer facilities akin to Good the place English is extra broadly spoken, open with French, if solely “excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?” (“excuse me, do you communicate English?”), and brush up on at the very least just a few fundamental phrases. The deeper you head into la France profonde (rural France), the extra French you have to.

First impressions are every thing

Any and each interplay in France – with shopkeepers, restaurant workers, somebody driving the identical elevator… – begins with bonjour (bonsoir after nightfall). After you’ve greeted somebody as soon as, it’s pointless to repeat it all through the day, though you may say rebonjour (good day once more). Simply as essential is farewelling individuals with au revoir (and, after all, thanking them with merci).

Woman sitting on scooter embracing friend
The variety of

Kissing varies throughout the nation

La bise (giving cheek-skimming kisses) is again post-pandemic. Informal acquaintances and associates change at the very least two bisous (kisses). In some areas just like the extra effusive south of France, it may be as much as 4, often beginning with the proper cheek (however once more relying on the area).

If doubtful, talk formally (and softly)

France stays a reasonably formal place. Use the polite-form vous (eg s’il vous plaît, “please”) except/till you are invited to make use of tu (if you would swap to s’il te plaît, as an illustration). It’s respectful to deal with girls/males as Madame/Monsieur in interactions (completely by no means use garçon, that means “boy”, to summon a waiter).

Folks right here communicate extra quietly than you is likely to be used to, so undertake the same pitch to mix in and preserve noise down at evening. French youngsters are usually quieter than a few of their worldwide counterparts.

Keep away from cash as a dialog subject

Discretion is very valued in France, and discussing monetary affairs (akin to salaries or spending outlays) is mostly off-limits in public. Safer topics embrace artwork, philosophy, sport and France’s nationwide obsession, meals.

A waiter attends a tourist couple on the terrace of a bistro in the Le Panier neighborhood, one of the liveliest and most touristic districts of Marseille
Brush up on important restaurant etiquette earlier than you eat out in France © Javier García Blanco / Getty Photographs

Familiarize yourself with restaurant etiquette

Tipping isn’t a part of French tradition – the restaurant business is a time-honored occupation and a service cost is included (although diners often depart just a few further euros). Asking a waiter’s recommendation on the menu is appreciated. Requesting swap-out components or objects within the kitchen’s meticulously crafted dishes, nonetheless, will not be.

Ordering une carafe d’eau (a free jug of faucet water) is not any downside, although glaçons (ice) unusual. A brief, sharp espresso (not milky espresso or tea) is the best way to complete a meal. Telephones on the desk are frowned upon (guarantee you have got them on silent).

Waiters bringing you l’addition (the verify) earlier than you’ve requested for it’s thought of impolite, so put together to be persistent (don’t wave them over, catching their eye or making a slight hand motion is sufficient). Splitting the invoice isn’t performed. For those who’ve been invited out for a meal, the one who requested you pays; if you happen to’ve performed the inviting, you’ll be anticipated to cowl it. As a result of the meals and eating expertise are inseparable, doggy luggage or bins aren’t an idea. You’re all the time higher off avoiding eating places touting a menu touristique; the very best locations are those catering to locals.

Gown the half in any scenario

France is a classy place however as long as you’re sporting good informal garments in midrange eating places and up (no denims or sneakers) try to be nice. Swimwear is strictly for the seaside or pool. At public swimming pools, males are required to put on tight-fitting Speedo-style trunks. Controversially, body-covering burkinis are banned in some public swimming areas.

Once you’re visiting spiritual sights akin to church buildings, gown modestly and canopy naked shoulders (skip sightseeing altogether whereas worship and non secular celebrations are happening).

Well being and security

Be able to adapt your plans in case of strikes

Grèves (strikes) are comparatively frequent in France, and disrupted or canceled transport providers can actually put a crimp in your plans. Keep up with the information and have a plan B prepared if you happen to want it.

The busy Commerce St Andre street in the Latin district at dusk.
Be aware of your valuables in busy vacationer areas © Artem Avetisyan / Shutterstock

Prevention helps avert petty theft

Whereas France is essentially secure, pickpocketing is fairly rife in locations the place vacationers congregate. Precautions are your finest protection: sling your bag throughout your physique; preserve your pockets in a entrance, not again, pocket; and conceal money and playing cards in a cash belt. Go away essential paperwork like passports in your lodge secure. 

At café terraces, don’t grasp your bag or jacket over the again of your chair out of sight, or depart your telephone the place it’s simply snatched. Distraction scams (akin to pretend petitions) are a favourite pickpocket tactic. Primary prepare stations usually entice dodgy characters day and evening. Keep alert.

Automotive break-ins are particularly prevalent within the south (locations the place vehicles are unattended for longer stretches like seashores and distant sights are prime targets). Don’t depart possessions on view and take something worthwhile with you. Ditto for prepare journeys in case your baggage is stowed on the finish of the carriage.

Keep away from getting caught up in avenue protests

La manif (brief for manifestation) can seem to be it’s virtually a nationwide pastime, with protestors commonly taking to the streets. Protests can flip violent, although, so preserve your distance.

Are you able to drink the water?

France’s faucet water is OK to drink, although some residents want bottled water. Fountains in villages and cities generally have eau potable (consuming water). Don’t drink any that’s labeled non potable (undrinkable).

Take care crossing roads

It’s by no means secure to imagine vehicles will cease at pedestrian crossings, so be sure that drivers have seen you and be extra-vigilant with youngsters. Pedestrians must look rigorously too earlier than getting into bike lanes.

Be careful in looking season

Accidents make headlines each looking season (September to February). Don’t enter an space if you happen to see indicators on timber studying chasseurs or chasse gardée.

Be sea- and snow-safe

Highly effective tides and undertows happen on France’s Atlantic Coast; don’t swim at un-patrolled seashores.

Avalanches are a threat within the Alps and Pyrenees: verify every day reviews and preserve to groomed pistes. Summer time can carry sudden, intense thunderstorms.

Know what to do if issues go fallacious

Hopefully your journey will probably be a breeze however if you happen to want the emergency providers, use these free 24/7 telephone numbers: police 17; hearth 18; ambulance (SAMU) 15. Deaf and hard-of-hearing vacationers can contact 114 for SMS texting providers. The EU-wide emergency quantity is 112.

Pharmacies present over-the-counter medicines and recommendation for minor well being points. If you should attend a hospital or run into different issues, having an simply accessed backup copy of your identification paperwork and journey insurance coverage coverage will make issues simpler.