Bonjour! Ok, so we have all been there right….any country where, when travelling, you want to just blend into the crowd and ‘FIT IN’! France is one of those special countries, I believe, where if you don’t really know the rules and/or speciﬁc etiquette (there a few and not well known) your innocent actions could be misconstrued and label you as just another ignorant tourist who snubs their nose at this ancient and reﬁned culture!
So, to help and also because I’ve had to learn these ‘customs’ myself through years of visits, family stays and of of course, MB (Monsieur Blue), I have compiled a list of (what I imagine to be) some of the most important things to do (or not to do) whilst exploring this magniﬁcent place! Bonne chance!
1: TRY NOT TO DRESS LIKE A ‘TYPICAL TOURIST’!
For God’s sake people, please leave the camouﬂage Bermuda shorts, velcro adjustable sandals, scuﬀed old trainers or…CROCS… at home and wear some comfortable but Stylish Clothes! Just because your are travelling, doesn’t mean that style and fashion sense ﬂy out the aeroplane doors just before they close! Keep it simple and sophisticated. Think ﬂowery and colourful ﬂoaty skirts and dresses (knee length in summer of course), funky jeans or soft pants. For shoes, how about some pretty leather ﬂats (closed in or fashion sandals), a low wedge heel or a pair of local espadrilles! Trés Francaise!
If any trainers are required, the most stylish de riguer are anything designer that go with everything or the very popular BENSIMONS canvas lace-ups. Remember, cobblestones streets and steep alleyways are everywhere in France and are NOT a stilettos best friend! The French choose clothes in basic colours…white, grey, neutrals, black or navy or anything blue and white striped, which is popular in the South! With these hints, you can’t go wrong! Throw in a scarf for some colour (EVERYONE male or female wears a scarf all year long) or at least have one in your bag. BAGS: Carry a tote bag… (please no backpacks or bumbags), even a lovely basket you can hold on your shoulder or a simple crossover style that allows you to keep your hands free for all those fantastic markets stalls that you will soon be exploring! To top oﬀ your new French look, throw on a huge pair of sunglasses and your set to go! Now go forth, hold that head high, smile and pretend you are in the Amélie movie even it’s only for a day!
2: TRY TO SPEAK SOME FRENCH!
Oui,oui, we all know the heart-pounding terror of being in a foreign country and not speaking the language! The signs, menus, train stations, shops, prices and simple tasks of buying stamps or a bottle of water can strike fear into the most worldly of travellers, and in France it’s no diﬀerent. The French language is a beautiful melody and wonderful on the ears, but also extremely diﬃcult to learn and pronounce.
Don’t be too scared… just try to learn some basics like Bonjour (hello), Au Revoir (goodbye), Merci (thank you), Oui (yes), Non (no), Salut (hi), Ça va (ok) for example! You need not have listened to the ‘1000hrs of French for Dummies’ cd in your car before you go, it’s just so you can feel a bit more conﬁdent and, trust me, it will be appreciated. When in doubt, lots of smiling, pointing and dramatic demonstrative hand gestures go along way and makes everyone look more European! NOTE: ALWAYS ALWAYS say BONJOUR and AU REVOIR when entering and leaving ANY STORE! It’s a tell tale sign that you’re a tourist if you don’t! Also…it is very polite and who can argue with that?!
3: NEVER HUG A FRENCH PERSON!
Sounds weird and cold? Yes maybe…a bit, but that’s just the way of the French! Trust me, I tried ‘the hug’ once with my very French mother- in- law and I think I’ve been scarred for life! I have never forgotten the look of absolute horror on her face or the ‘very uncomfortable, stiﬀ as a board, hands raised in protection mode’ response I was given as I lunged at her with all my Australian charm and enthusiasm! This was a huge faux pas! But it’s not their fault. French people kiss or shake hands when they meet, both males and females, as is the culture and I adore it! Anywhere from two to four kisses (four in the South), is acceptable. I say just go with the ﬂow! MB always does four but he thinks he’s Niçoise even though he was born in Paris! Always fun for my non European friends who never see these multitude of kisses coming their way! Trés Continental!
4: BUY A LOCAL SIM CARD!
I realise that most of us, when travelling, already have a roaming Sim Card from our local telecommunications company, but the charges on this can amount to mega bucks upon arrival back home! Think of all that wasted cash you could have spent on wine and cheese! Gasp! So my suggestion, and this is what MB et Moi have always done, is to invest in a local Sim Card. It’s actually easier that you would imagine! The company we use is SFR and they are everywhere. Find a store closest to you (google helps here), and just go into store ( they will speak English, don’t panic) and pick up a Sim on the spot! Comes with internet data too and they will connect you immediately. Fantastic! Remember to bring your passport with you for ID. To top up your credit, just go into any SFR store and they will help you. You can also try your local Tabac as they sometimes sell phone credit vouchers, but be wary if your French is not good as you can sometimes end up buying a whole other type of credit! NOTE: When the French answer the phone they say, “Allo?!”
5: STAY IN A LOCAL RENTAL APARTMENT NOT A HOTEL!
Want to live like a true French person? Best way by far is to book a local apartment before you go! Gone are the days of staying in stuﬀy and cramped hotel rooms where you can’t open the windows or make a cup of tea/coﬀee, no ironing board and exorbitant prices for hotel laundry! I say NON NON NON! With all the new companies out there oﬀering alternative accommodation, there are hundreds of choices available in all styles and budgets for everyone to have an authentic experience in France, in an apartment just right pour vous! Check the website and apartment types for English speakers ( or whatever is your preferred language of choice) as correspondence before and on arrival will be much simpler and all questions can be answered easily. NOTE: We have stayed in many diﬀerent apartments in many little towns, and some are not all that great once you arrive! Please be prepared for no cupboard space, lumpy pillows and lots of stairs! Check for lifts in the building too as many apartments are on the top ﬂoor (denier étage) and that can be up to seven or more ﬂights of stairs! No joke! Great for the butt and legs but not fun when carrying huge suitcases up and down! I love this challenge as I’m weird, but many of you will not share my view! Just remember it’s all part of the charm of this beautiful country and well worth it for that extra croissant in the morning! Voilà!
6: EAT FOOD A LA FRANCAISE!
Food, eating and meal times are EXTREMELY important in France. It’s a serious passion and one not to be taken lightly. The French love to talk about, eat, buy and cook food. Who doesn’t? They even like to talk about the lunch and dinner menus whilst munching on their croissants at breakfast! “French Women Don’t Get Fat” is a famous book and quote by the author Mireille Guiliano, but I think that’s a bit of a ﬁb! Maybe the model types in the 3rd/4th/6th/16th and 17th arrondissements of Paris don’t eat, but us real chicks and many other French gals do!
I say devour everything in sight, (NEVER whilst walking…the French always sit down to eat so curb the urge to wander around chewing on a pastry…HUGE mistake!) with, of course, the utmost of glamour and poise! Cheese, bread and delicious desserts are all acceptable food choices (together with glasses of wine ) everywhere in France. Most meals are four courses with an aperitif before hand as is the routine. These courses however, are not huge in portion size so that’s really the secret here I think! It allows you to have le gateau and eat it too! Bravo! When dining in a bistro, I recommend ordering the Menu du Jour (Menu of the day). It is usually written on a blackboard and is a set price (Prix ﬁx) for either an entreé and main or main and dessert or all three! The choices are fantastic and will vary according to region and season. Don’t be scared to try something diﬀerent like tongue or a liver salad, escargots or herrings. The chef has normally taken into account the season and what is the best value for that day. I’ve never had a bad experience, but then again I eat almost EVERYTHING and love trying new foods! NOTE: Bread is always saved complimentary with every meal but NEVER put your bread on your plate…always tear it and leave it on the table. Also, don’t expect butter as the bread is there to pick on whilst waiting and to mop up sauces or the dressing from your meal. Bon Appetite!
7: RESTAURANT ETIQUETTE!
Don’t like to eat close to others or at the same table? Maybe France isn’t for you! In the bistro’s and cafés the tables are usually positioned VERY CLOSE to one another and are oddly small and round. Leave all trepidation behind and go with the ﬂow! Talk normally at a reasonable volume (never be loud mouthed, shout or overly swear) and just try to ignore the fact that you are elbow to elbow with other diners! They are used to it and you will be soon as well! Be yourself. Stop imagining that everyone is listening to your conversation or looking at what you are eating…they are not. You will probably end up chatting to the couple next to you by the end of the meal! Like one big happy French family! Also be prepared to have smokers and dogs next to you whilst you are eating. I have no problems with any of this, but many people will ﬁnd it very confronting. Sorry, but if you are in another country, you have to accept their customs and quirks! NOTE: When tipping, leave about 20-30 cents when having just coﬀee and about 2-4 Euro (or more) after meals. This is not mandatory but just a nice gesture as these waitstaﬀ MOVE!!! Also many cafés have a sign that says” PAS de CB ACCEPTÉES”. This translates to ‘NO CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED’. (CB or CARTE BLEU/CARTES de CRÉDIT is Credit Card). So moral of the story….ALWAYS carry cash to keep you from any embarrassing situations! Santé
8: NEVER DRINK WHITE COFFEE AFTER 10AM!
Sounds harsh but there you go! If you want to stand out like a tourist… order a ﬂat white or a latté after lunch or dinner! You will surely be given “the look” of disgust from the waitstaﬀ or anyone else around you! Milk coﬀee in France is only ever drunk in the morning and usually in a large cup or bowl and it’s called a Café Créme or Un Café au Lait .This breakfast coﬀee is large, so as to give the diner enough space to dunk his or her buttery croissant, le pain or pain au chocolat! Dunking any kind of pastry in coﬀee, white or black is widely acceptable in France and this action in itself will automatically make you appear very “French!” The only acceptable coﬀee to have after a meal is un Café…a small black coﬀee/espresso. These little cups of black magic are consumed many times throughout the day usually with a cigarette, in a café, watching the world go by! NOTE: Tea is also widely consumed but often drunk black with lemon. Expect to pay about 1-2 euros for a small coﬀee.
Big tip…learn what your dress or trouser size is in European Measurements! There is nothing worse than being in a bustling store or a chic boutique, looking blindly at the size label only to have no clue what all those numbers mean! It also helps if you look like you know what you are doing when you carry the multitude of sale items into the dressing room, only to discover that only two of them ﬁt because you have just grabbed random pieces so as not to be questioned by the sales assistant! Aidez-moi! Knowing (or appearing) like you know what you are doing gives oﬀ an air of conﬁdence and indiﬀerence and will keep the sales assistant from asking you, (in French) what you are looking for or what size you may require! Also, many dressing rooms in France don’t have mirrors in them and you must come out into the store to look in the main mirror. This can be a very daunting experience and can make you either not buy anything or purchase a mistake all because you refuse to come out from behind the curtain! Don’t stress too much… everyone else crowding the mirror are looking at themselves and not at you, but if the sales assistant or another person does say something, it’s usually done in complete honestly and out of kindness. Don’t forget, the French are well known for their fashion sense so any tips go along way! Never allow any store to intimidate you, just browse, enjoy and ﬁnd that special piece! Oh and remember to say… “Bonjour!” and “Merci, Au revoir!” when entering and exiting and you will be remembered with a smile! NOTE: When grocery shopping in France, always carry you own basket or bag to the supermarket and markets as plastic bags are banned. You can, however, purchase an environmental bag at the supermarket counter for one Euro if necessary, but to BYO like a pro makes you appear both savvy and local!
10: SIESTA AND SAYING GOOD BYE!
After you have consumed all the wine/ cheese/ bread and Tarte Tartin at your long lunch (usually about two hours at a family home and one hour or more in a bistro) that you can physically endure, the French like to have a little nap or Siesta! This tradition folks is trés serious and it’s all done in the interest of one’s digestion! Clever! You need to sleep oﬀ all that good food you had for lunch to prepare your little tummies for the all important next meal…Dîner! This will also be four courses but ‘lighter.’ Mmmm?! As you can see, la siesta is a very important part of the dining process! When at a family home, everyone goes oﬀ and has a lie down for about 1.5 hours after lunch to recover!
Trust me, you’ll need it! If in a bistro or restaurant, it’s not as common or as simple, but MB et Moi have always found a park/ beach/ﬁeld or riverbank where we could have a little snooze and also enjoy the magniﬁcent French outdoors. Not so simple in winter though as you will need a shawl or light blanket! As a tourist, you won’t HAVE to have a nana nap but it is actually a fab idea and one that makes bloody good sense! ON A FINAL NOTE: When leaving anything (lunch, dinner, bar, gallery etc) where you have been with other people, make sure you allow at least 20 minutes to say “AU REVOIR!” The French cannot say a quick bye-bye…Impossible! They will literally keep talking (but standing now) about the same subject you were all talking about earlier! Or this will be the time they start asking you all sorts of questions about things and you have been with them for three hours already! Hilarious! Then they will do all the 2/3/4 kisses (no hugs remember), keep talking and then kiss all over AGAIN! I’m serious! So remember, if you are in a hurry, plan to leave at least 30 minutes prior to the time you actually need to in preparation for the LONG GOODBYE. Au Revoir!
…“I must represent France. I want to be elegant and I want the French people to be proud of me”… Carla Bruni