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France is the most visited country in the world, and it’s easy to see why. It boasts varied landscapes, a rich cultural heritage, iconic landmarks, and of course, gourmet cuisine. But before you say ‘au revoir’ and pack your bags, here are 5 things every tourist going to France should know.
Don’t Just Stick to the Tourist Hubs
When visiting France, everyone wants to see its iconic landmarks. A few top examples on every Francophile’s bucket list are the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Palace of Versailles. They are beautiful examples of French architectural history and make great backgrounds for your vacation selfies.
However, these tourist hotspots are always crowded, and after a few days of sightseeing, you’ll need a break. So don’t just stick to the tourist hubs. France has many other treasures for you to explore, like Normandy in the northwestern region of France.
Here you’ll see the beach landing sites of the D-Day invasion, memorials to the fallen Allied heroes, and museums dedicated to WW2 memorabilia. For a trip with all the WW2 highlights, take one of the popular Band of Brothers Tours and learn more about this fascinating region and its military past.
Like many European destinations, France has a very efficient public transportation system. Familiarize yourself with the metro, buses, and trains as soon as you arrive, and you will find your travels less stressful.
France’s national train network (SNCF) is a convenient and reliable way to get from one city to the next. It also operates one of the fastest trains in the world—the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). If you plan on doing a lot of traveling, consider purchasing a Euro Rail France Pass.
If you prefer to travel by bus, the French bus service covers most cities throughout France. This service is provided by three intercity operators – Flixbus, Ouibus, and Eurolines. You’ll also find Metro stations in most major cities.
You can book bus and train tickets online. If you don’t speak French, this may be a better option than trying to communicate at a ticket office.
Rideshare services like Uber operate in Paris, but locals prefer their own metered taxis. There is no major difference in the pricing, and the one you choose will be a matter of preference.
Learn a Few French Phrases
It’s always a good idea to know a few basic phrases in the local language before visiting a foreign country. France is no exception. Although many French people can speak English, you’ll find this is more confined to the tourist hubs and major cities.
Should you decide to go off the beaten track and explore the rural regions, you’ll find far fewer people to converse with in English. You don’t have to be fluent in the language before you go. But a short course in conversational French and a French phrase book certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Use the Correct Greetings
When visiting a foreign land, you must always respect the local culture and traditions. Familiarize yourself with French customs before you go.
The French also place a lot of importance on appropriate greetings, so this is a good place to start.
- In verbal greetings, you’ll address the person as ‘Madam’ (‘Ms’) or ‘Monsieur’ (‘Mr’). ‘Mademoiselle’ is no longer in common use, thus you may say ‘Madam’ regardless of their marital status.
- In formal settings, always use the title first before proceeding with any conversation. An example of this is “Madam, would you like a glass of wine?” or “Monsieur, thank you for your invitation.”
- If someone has an academic title (a doctor or professor, for example), always acknowledge them by this title.
- At formal events and when addressing elders, use appropriate titles and their last names, only, until they invite you to address them by their first names.
- Handshakes are the norm for more formal greetings and are not confined to the business environment. The renowned ‘la bise’ (kiss on both cheeks) is reserved for relatives and close friends.
Get to Know the Dining Etiquette
If you think the food in Rome is good, you’re in for a treat in France. This is the home of fine cuisine, and to the French, dining is not just a necessity of life, but an art form. Avoid making a ‘faux pas’ and learning more about French dining etiquette.
- If you are invited to dinner at someone’s home, you should take a bottle of wine, and maybe a bouquet of fresh flowers for the hostess. Never show up empty-handed. And that wine had better be French!
- At a formal dinner party, don’t start drinking until the host has filled up everyone’s glass and you’ve all raised a toast. Wait to be seated and wait to be served. Don’t just sit down and start eating before the host sits down and invites everyone to eat.
- If the occasion includes a variety of snacks laid out on a central table, there will probably be little plates to use. Don’t eat directly from the platters, but put a few onto a plate for yourself. The same goes for any dips.