10 things to know before travelling to France
Think you know all there is to know about France? Think again. Yes the wine is cheap and the people are dressed well, but there’s much more you need to know about France than what you see in the movies. Here are just 10 things you should know before you go.
Try French first
Legend has it the French can be a rude bunch. Such legends though stem from countless tourists invading the country only to walk up to the locals and obnoxiously speak English. So can you blame them? You’d eye roll too if you were constantly asked questions in French during the Aussie summer. To avoid causing any grief, or being mistaken for a Brit, you’ll find that even just attempting to speak French with a smile will get you very far in France. Remember your manners, always say ‘bonjour’ when you walk into a shop or café and when in doubt, learn how to ask if they speak English – Parlez-vous anglais?
Forget bacon and eggs
In fact, forget what you know about breakfast all together. In France, breakfast is really our version of an awesome morning tea party, complete with croissants, brioche, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), pain aux raisins (flat cream-filled pasties with raisins), crepes, baguette with jam, cheeses and croquet monsieurs (a super cheesy, ham and cheese sandwich). So if you can’t start the day without a bowl of Weet-bix, you’re going to have to BYO.
Pay attention to your valuables
Paris may be the city of lights, romance and fantastic fashion, but it’s also one of the world’s worst pick-pocketing cities. By all means, soak up the beauty of Paris but avoid falling into a total haze. Keep your wits about you, be extra careful on the metro train and in tourist areas and be savvy when it comes to pickpocketing tricks – if someone asks you to sign a petition or tells you you’ve dropped a ring, firmly say no and keep walking.
It looks its best in spring
Paris, as Audrey Hepburn famously said in the classic film Sabrina, is always a good idea. That it may be, but it’s an even better idea in spring. Avoiding the crowds and expensive prices of summer and the cold chills of winter, spring is a fantastic time to visit France, especially Paris which features mild, sunny days for the most part (weather can vary, but that only adds to the overall experience) as well as the French Open.
Alcohol is an entrée and dessert
We all know the French love their wine, but they also love their aperitifs and digestifs. Served before and after a meal respectfully, aperitifs and digestifs are part in parcel with a meal (usually a long lunch) in France. For an aperitif, the anise flavours Pastis and vanilla-tasting Pommeau are popular options, while for digestifs, the French love Cognac and sweet crèmes which usually include a flavoured liqueur served with sorbet or ice-cream.
You won’t get the bill at a restaurant unless you ask for it
The French love to people watch, particularly in Paris, which is why most of their restaurants offer alfresco dining with tables and chairs facing the street. And who could blame them when they’re such a stylish bunch. So in between all the people watching, the aperitif, the entrée, main, cheese plate, digestif, wine, espresso and cigarettes (all enjoyed slowly mind you), the French are notorious for taking their time when dining out. As a result, café and restaurant staff will invariably leave you alone to sip, eat, watch and talk for hours, so don’t bother waiting for them to come to you once you’ve finished eating. If you want the bill, you’ve got to ask for it with a polite ‘L’addition s’il vous plait?’
The French love compliments
Sure, everyone loves compliments, but the French love them the most. And rightly so considering just how beautiful their country, their culture, their food and their inhabitants are. So, if you’re looking to make French friends, look to give them a compliment. Extra brownie points if you can manage it in French.
There’s more to France than Paris
Paris is a lovely city, but it’s not the be all and end all in France (although its locals may think otherwise). To truly experience France you’ve got to venture beyond the capital’s arrondissements and out to the country and seaside. A few places to put on your itinerary are the quiet yet oh-so-glamorous fishing village of Cannes, the more popular and vibrant French Riviera town of Nice (above), the wine-friendly Bordeaux and the Provencal Arles.
Don’t bother shopping on Sunday and Monday
Because they’ll be closed. The tourist areas in Paris tend to be different, but for the most part, there’s no shopping on Sunday and Monday in France.
A picnic is a must
If you’re on a budget, the best dining experience is the one you create yourself on a picnic. A favourite way to dine, the French, especially Parisians, love their public parks and will regularly meet friends on a spot of green for cheese and wine. Sure, it’s a cliché but most good things in life are.