10 Things About France You Should Know Before Visiting

By Maike Woutersen

France is an ultra-popular and trendy holiday destination with an amazing culture that spreads over 18 regions. These are the 10 things about France you should know before visiting.

You can admire many great ‘Châteaux’ (French Castles), enjoy a road trip through the lush countryside, visit beautiful seaside towns where you can enjoy the most amazing fresh fish, and tour old historical cities or towns like Carcassone and Chartes.

You also have to look at the vast vineyards that spread out over Bordeaux, and whilst you are there enjoy a good wine tasting.

Make sure to try some of the world’s most amazing cuisine in whichever part of France as well. 

Travel Tips for France - Things About France You Need to Know

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As with any other country that you wish to travel to, however, it is good to know its particular customs beforehand though. I am going to let you into a few secrets that will ease you into this excellent culture and make you feel right at home, as well as preparing you for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of my favorite countries in Europe.

1. French way of Greeting

Handshake, Greetings

As a first step, it’s always worth knowing how you should greet people on your first visit to France.

It is important to the locals to be courteous, so say ‘Bonjour,’ meaning hello, or ‘Bonsoir,’ – good evening, before you start to converse with them.

Another important key to remember is when it is appropriate to greet people with a handshake or a kiss. If you are unacquainted with the person then choose a handshake, but if you are friendly with someone then it is customary to kiss them on both cheeks. Even the men will greet their fellow friends this way so don’t be alarmed if you see this in public a lot!

2. Dress well to fit in 

Paris Fashion

What to know before going to Paris: The French capital is also the fashion capital of the world.

It is hard not to find a French person who doesn’t carry themselves with a subtly, classy ‘a la mode’ style. They like to dress elegantly, usually in dark colors: especially black, navy and grey.

Everybody dresses in the latest designer wear. Women are often manicured with a chic hairstyle to match, always keeping to their trendy trademark. They never dress too extravagantly, though.

On the contrary, they are known to be judgemental of extravagant styles and of women who wear really short shorts, if they’re not at the beach!

So if you want to fit in, in Paris, then go for a classic, stylish look to match a pair of designer jeans and treat yourself to a manicure and hairdo before you fly for added adaptation.

3. It is necessary to carry a copy of your ID

French ID and Passport

In France, it’s the law to carry your ID with you in public at all times.

Whether a driving license or passport, it’s essential when you’re out exploring, to have it with you, if you don’t want any unnecessary problems to come your way.

Print some photocopies before you fly, and carry them with you if you’d rather not risk losing the original or having your passport stolen. Make sure to print them in the correct PDF format so they are liable representative as official documents.

Don’t forget having it with you will get you a step ahead if you find yourself in a sticky situation. A photocopy of your passport helps if you lose it and you need to quickly apply for an emergency one to be printed in 24 hours. 

To apply for an emergency passport and to attend to any other emergencies or legal matters, which you can’t solve at the nearest police station, make sure go to to your embassy.

4. Learn a few essential phrases 

Asking for directions

Before your long-awaited visit to France learn some popular words and phrases to feel more comfortable in your surroundings. Don’t feel shy, the french appreciate you trying to speak their language.

Of course, you cannot expect to learn the language in one day but when you know some familiar phrases you’ll pass well and save time on your trip. It also helps to ask for directions or help.

The important thing is to enjoy yourself! So make sure you have access to a phrasebook or Google translate at all times.

In some areas outside the city, you’ll find some people that speak no English at all, so you may find it inevitable to do some translating.

Important to know, don’t use ‘tu’ (you) unless the person is familiar to you. The formal way of speaking to a stranger would be ‘vous’ (formal you).

Also, keep in mind that it is very important to the French to always show your best behavior, thus do not speak to someone with your hands in your pockets and avoid yawning, shouting, or chewing bubble gum in public.

Here are some basic French phrases and their pronunciation that might come in handy when traveling through France: 

French Greetings:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
HelloSalutSah-loo
Good morningBonjourBohn-jur
Good eveningBonsoirBohn-swah
GoodbyeAu revoirOh rev-war

Essential French Phrases:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
PleaseS’il vous plaitSil voo pleh
Thank youMerciMer-see
You’re welcomeDe rienDeh ree-en
YesOuiWee
NoNoNoh
Excuse mePardonnez-moiPar-don-eh-mwah
I don’t understandJe ne comprends pasJehn kom-pron pah
Do you speak English?Parlez-vous anglais?Par-leh-voo on-gleh

Questions:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
Where is…?Ou c’est…?Oo seh
How much is…?Combien coute…?Kohm-byen koot
May I please have…Est-ce que je pourrais avoir…?Es-kerh jeh poo-ray av-war

Eating Out:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
BeerBiereByair
WineVinVahn
WaterEauOh
I don’t eat…Je ne mange pas de…Jehn monj pah
I’m vegetarianJe suis vegetarien (m)/ vegetarienne (f)Je swee ve-jeh-tair-ree-an/ ve-jeh-tair-ree-en
The bill, PleaseL’addition, s’il vous plaitLah-dee-zyon, sil voo pleh

Getting Around:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
LeftGaucheGawsh
RightDroiteDrwah
Straight aheadTout droiteToo Drwat
Bus StopArret de busAh – ret deh boos
Train StationGareGaar
AirportAeroportAh – eh – ro – por
EntryEntreeOhn – treh
ExitSortieSor – Tee

Emergency:

EnglishFrenchPronunciation
Help!A l’aide!Ah led
Fire!Au Feu!Au fur
I need a doctorJ’ai be soin d’un medecinJay bez-wahn dohn meh-deh-san

If you would like to learn a bit more of the french language, you can make use of apps like Duolingo.

5. France is the culinary capital of the world 

French Cuisine

A fact true to France is their excellent mastery of cuisine. They cook food like no other!

Be prepared to indulge your tastebuds in some of the best dishes known to mankind. No matter where you go in France you’ll find a wide selection of amazing dishes.

Paris is home to some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world with chefs holding multiple Michelin stars. Just keep in mind, if you are choosing to eat at 5-star quality locations be prepared for mega high prices and waiting lists.

You can also find excellent quality food at more affordable prices outside Paris, especially in the Bordeaux region, in the south of France.

Table Manners and Tipping:

  • The French eat their bread together with the meal, not as an appetizer
  • Keep the knife in your right hand and the fork in your left hand
  • Finish your plate and when you are done eating, lay your fork & knife across the right side of the plate
  • Service Charge is usually added to most bar & restaurant bills, however, add 5% for tipping your waiter.

6. Cheese is a sweet

French Cheese Platter

Be prepared to have your sweet tooth knocked, when you are served a platter of mixed cheeses for your final course.

It is tradition to be served cheese, including the famous Roquefort blue cheese with fresh-cut baguette bread or savory biscuits.

You are still sure to find a fine choice of desserts when you’re eating out, like the famous Crème brûlée or Mousse au Chocolat, but if you’re invited to dinner expect cheese for dessert.

The French prefer savory over sweet at the end of dinner, yet they would rather eat sugary foods for breakfast. There are bakeries open from the early hours of every day, (apart from Sundays in most places) serving up fresh croissants and pastries for breakfast. Do not expect to find, anywhere apart from maybe your hotel, breakfast with sausages, bacon, and eggs on the menu.

7. ‘Sante!’… Raise your glass of the very best wine

French Wine

How can you wine and dine without the wine?

France is home to some of the best wines in the world. From full-bodied reds, brewed in Bordeaux to the most prestigious sparkling wine, ‘Champagne’, which is patented solely to France.

During your stay in France you’re sure to try excellent wine, more so if you’re traveling around. Each region has its own special grape and production technique to turn it into the finest of wines.

St. Emilion is a small Medieval town in the region of Bordeaux that is famous for excellent full-bodied red wine.

A historical dwelling and small at first sight, it’s a world heritage site with acres of vineyards that surround the town dating 2000 years old. In the 8th century, it was named after a local friar who started the commercial wine industry trade from this minute location in the French mainland.

If you get a chance to visit this hidden gem do some wine tasting and visit the old wineries through the quaint, old cobbled streets. Some of the wine shops are centuries old. The shopkeepers provide you with precise knowledge about each grape while you enjoy the wine!

8. Espresso to go!

Barista Coffee

The French love their coffee! Especially, if not always, as a short espresso and extra strong too.

They will drink it all day from morning through to night, for coffee breaks during the day and traditionally again to end the meal after they have devoured their selection of cheeses. However, they do not drink the coffee together with their meal.

If you are expecting a coffee to be served with milk make sure you specify, ‘cafe au lait,’ (coffee with milk) or you’re likely to be served a customary short double espresso, with an extra kick to get you off your seat. It is also not common for french people to drink Milk Coffee at any other time but breakfast.  

9. Beware of road charges

Traffic in Paris

Beware of toll charges on the motorways!

For those of you mapping out a road trip across France and plan to cross regional borders make sure you consider toll charges in your travel budget.

Research them online to know the exact toll charge for each stop. To avoid disrupting traffic, carry some loose change or a bank card at hand when traveling.

Another thing to remember, whilst traveling across the country is that some of the beaten, off-road tracks will not appear on your GPS map device. You may have to stop and ask for directions, again where your phrasebook will come in handy.

Another thing we noticed driving through France is that the French really do love their roundabouts. 😉

10. Santa Claus visits France on Christmas Eve night!

Christmas Dinner

Last but not least we’re ending our fabulous French guide with a ho ho ho…

For all of you planning a visit to France during December, Disneyland Paris is a family must visit at Christmas time. Located an hour away from the city of Paris it’s a magical holiday destination. However, there is one essential fact to remember; like many European countries, the French celebrate Christmas on the night of the 24th.

They often have a great big family get-together on Christmas Eve at home or at a popular restaurant. If you’re planning to eat out on Christmas eve then be prepared that the popular places will all be booked up well in advance. Shops and commercial businesses shut early and are shut through to Boxing Day, and some the day after even.

Santa visits all families and children who have behaved themselves on Christmas Eve, and the 25th is a religious day, where locals go to Church, whilst others enjoy time with family and friends feasting and sharing gifts if they haven’t already done so the night before.

France is a beautiful European country and these tips make it just a bit easier to enjoy your travel through this amazing country so much more. We hope you feel the same way.

Let us know if we missed an important point or simply share with us what you loved about your France Travel.

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