France is a magical country full of history, with Paris touted as the City of love. France remains one of the top-visited countries globally. It has so much to offer, starting with its famed cuisine, popular tourist destinations, and famous landmarks.
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Before embarking on a trip to France, you must be aware of the rich French culture, and to enjoy the trip, you must, at least, have a clue on what constitutes as right or wrong, polite or rude.
Do learn some French
Whether you are visiting France for a day, a week, or a month, it pays to learn some basic French phrases. Locals may speak some English, but remember it is a French-speaking nation, so in all likelihood, 90% speak French. The right words and phrases will be a big help during your stay as you can get by with them. Remember, this is not necessary, but the locals will appreciate the effort and you will have a much easier tie without the language barrier.
Buy an English-French dictionary, or at least learn some basics online. If you are off to France for a while, it is a good idea to take French lessons long before you are due for the trip. You can be sure the locals will greatly appreciate the effort to speak their language!
Do know when to greet with a handshake or a kiss
In France, it is common for strangers to greet with a handshake, while it is the norm for friends to kiss. The kiss is usually as a hello and goodbye and is a kiss on both cheeks. In the small villages of France, strangers say hi to each other with a cheery “Bonjour” but this is not the same in the large cities such as Lyon or Paris.
Trying this stunt in Paris will get you a cold stare and no response! Remember the French do not easily get comfortable with people they do not know.
Do dress up
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France, and specifically Paris, is known as the world’s fashion capital. You have to remember to switch on your A-game when it comes to fashion. When strolling the streets of Paris, you should refrain from wearing sweatpants, and if you do dine out at an upscale restaurant, put a little more effort into your outfit.
In France, it is rare to see people dressed casually in flip-flops or gym wear unlike in America. The French like dressing sensibly in stylish clothes and shoes, mostly in grey, navy, or black colours. Rarely will you see them go overboard with make-up or accessories.
Do visit the Eiffel Tower
If you have visited France and not gone to the iconic Eiffel Tower, then you have not really been to France! For many tourists, it is unheard of to visit the Eiffel and not take photos. Make sure you do not just look at it from the outside, but make sure you go to the very top of the tower.
Take the stairs if you feel fit enough, or just take a lift. There are three different lifts, which are in the North, East, and West pillars. They will only take you 15m up, and if you are adventurous and want to reach the top, all 27m of it, take another lift on the second floor. For those adventurous souls, take the stairs and you can see the tower from every imaginable angle and take in the breath-taking views with every step.
There is free Wi-Fi at the Eiffel Towers but remember as with all public Wi-Fi, exercise caution. Consider a VPN to protect you from public Wi-Fi.
Btw, using a VPN can also make sense at home. Not only does it enable you to watch (French) movies that are blocked in your region, it can also help to improve your internet speeds which you can test on sites like this.
Do ride the metro at night or take the bus
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At night, France is amazingly beautiful, with the whole city sparkling under a million lights. To witness this amazing scenery, take the metro at night and enjoy France like a local. The metro, however, does not run all night, so if you need to do some late night or wee morning travel, check the train schedule.
Something else to remember while riding the metro is not to lose your ticket. You must keep it until your station of exit and if lost, the Metro Police will fine you £35 instantly! To feel like a local, try the bus, which is not as crowded as the metro. You get a chance to see the beautiful scenery as well, with bus stops everywhere in the city.
Do go for some shopping
If you have some money set aside for shopping, Paris will not disappoint you. The city is full of boutiques that include large chain stores, designer, and luxury stores. Depending on your budget, Paris has it all. If you swing on the haute couture side of the pendulum, or you are on a budget, Paris accommodates all.
Stores are however not open all night. Some stores take a lunch break from 12 midday to 2 pm, though not common, and closed on weekends. The best shopping streets are Rue St Honoré, Boulevard Saint Michael, Boulevard Haussmann, Rue de Rivoli among many others.
Remember to say “Bonjour Madame or Monsieur” when going into restaurants or stores. This is the standard greeting for staff and storekeepers. It works well as an icebreaker and people will be more welcoming.
Do learn the French dining etiquettes
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France is famous for its delectable cuisine and they take dining etiquette seriously. These are the basics:
- Place napkin on lap once seated and keep hands on the table and elbows off the table while eating
- Wine glasses are not filled to the brim, but halfway
- Bread is never cut, but broken
- Fold the salad with your fork and never cut with fork or knife
- Peel and slice fruits first before eating
- Coffee or tea is for breakfast. If you would like a cup of either after lunch or dinner, order it after dessert, not alongside it.
Takeaways are not appreciated by the French, although this is slowly taking a turn. The French believe in fine dining and savouring every meal, and always sit for every meal
Do bring a gift for your host or hostess
If you happen to be invited over to a French home, the norm is to carry a token of appreciation to your host/ hostess. A bottle of some wine or some flowers will do, be on time, and most of all, remember to dress up!
When you finally sit down for the meal, do not start digging into your meal before the host announces, “Bon appetite.” Remember your dining etiquette and finish everything on your plate as a compliment to your host.
Do tip the waiters in cafes and restaurants
Tipping in France, especially Paris is nothing like in America. When dining in cafes and restaurants, your meal check is inclusive of the waiter’s tip, which is a legal requirement. If you see 15% “service compris,” it means the service charge. However, giving the waiter a small tip is highly appreciated and encouraged. It is not compulsory, but it is considered a courtesy. You are also encouraged to tip other service providers such as restroom attendants, taxi drivers, and others. It is just a small way of saying thank you and need not be a lot of money.
Going to France is exciting, considering it is the fashion capital of the world, and it is world-famous for its fabulous cuisine. Remember to look up any details you need to know on the country’s culture and learn a bit of the language.
The French are very particular about many things dining and fashion, so to escape any faux pas, due your due diligence and avoid some embarrassing moments!