What to expect if you visit France ?
With an average of 85 million tourists per year, France is the most visited country in the world. From the amazing historical and art culture, the food and the wine, to the stunning landscapes that the countryside has to offer, France is an incredible country to go to and no wonder why it’s on the top of everyone’s bucket list.
But yet, most people imagine France as a wonderful place, and the locals living the best life. As a French expat living in Australia, many people see me as a Parisian fashionista lost in translation when they first meet me. They imagine a black and white postcard of Paris with people riding bicycles on the background. Anyway, we all have big clichés about every country before we hit the reality when we visit it. Some people come back from a trip to France saying they loved it, some come back disappointed about their experience.
I went back after 4 years in Australia, and tried to see France with a tourist eye. I was surprised, but I loved it.
So what do you need to expect before you visit France ?
Paris is Paris, France is France.
By all means, go to Paris. This is the City of Lights, this is the romantic image you have to get. This is the Louvre, this is Disneyland and of course, the iconic Eiffel Tower. Get your picture for Instagram and make your friends jealous.
But you can’t say you’ve been to France if you’ve only seen Paris. The great thing with this country is the diverse landscape and hilltop villages that are so easy to explore. And the locals are also very different from a region to another. Paris is extremely busy, extremely expensive and it’s reflecting on parisians behavior. You can feel oppressed very quickly and you end up feeling unsatisfied about your holiday.
Get out of the city and travel around the country ! People will welcome you with a massive smile on their faces and if you from far away, that’s even better. They love foreigners and are very proud of their little piece of land. And everything is cheaper !
So stay in Paris for a bit, and make you way around to see the real side of France. Then go back home with plenty of memories and photos to share, and you will feel like a champion.
Find a smart way to travel around.
Speaking of, you need to find out how you’re going to travel. There are around 170 airports in France, and it can take in average an hour and a half to get from a place to another by plane. It’s pretty convenient but you can count about 130 to 170 euros for one person from Paris to Marseille. The thing is, people don’t have the same budget.
Second option is trains and/or buses. Now, this can be a bit cheaper but the French railway company can also be a bit difficult to travel with as there are frequent delays and technical problems. It costs about 75 to 120 euros for one person from Paris to Marseille and it takes 3 and a half hours but if you don’t book in advance, you are not garanteed to have a seat. You can find tickets at a better cost on kelbillet.com depending on where and when you are travelling.
Buses are a much cheaper option as you can get a seat for only 20 euros with OUIbus.com but it can take up to 12 hours to get to your destination but again, it depends of where you want to go.
The best option in my opinion is to get A CAR. If you are a few people travelling together, you can rent a car for 1000 euros for a week if you going from Paris to the South, and drive around as you like.
I personally used BlablaCar for my trips around the country. It’s an online marketplace for carpooling that connects drivers and travellers together to share the cost of the journey and make new friends ! You just need to download the app, create your profile and search what’s available for your destination, plus you don’t need to book in advance. Create an alert, wait for the different rides and book your favorite one. The great thing is that you can also use it if you are doing a Europe tour ! It’s safe, fun, convenient, you meet new people, for only 50 euros for a trip Paris-Marseille, if not cheaper. I definitely recommend using BlablaCar.fr if you are travelling alone or as a couple.
You have to prepare to be searched.
It can be a bit intimidating but that’s the way France works now. After the last tough years of being affected by terrorist attacks and riots, it’s not unusual to get approached by a law enforcement officer when you walk into some shopping centers or during local events. The military is also very present around airports and train stations and the identity check can be massive if you are not French. During my 3 weeks holiday, I’ve been searched a couple of times at the entrance of shopping villages and Christmas markets in big cities, but nothing abusive. It felt a bit weird at first but for everyone’s safety, this is necessary. Just be patient !
French people debate. A LOT.
We know that, we complain a lot. We always find something to be angry at. Politics is the top conversation during family dinners. The population is in a constant fight against an abusive system that raises prices but not wages. France is obviously a rich country but the buying power is not high. And once in a while, French people express their anger to the government by taking to the streets in order to be heard. And if they don’t act in the protestation, they just talk a lot about it.
So don’t be surprised if someone ask you ‘so what do you think of… ?’ during a gathering or if the conversation doesn’t keep on topic and turns into a big politic debate. As French, we hate inequality and it’s in our culture to do something about it.
Cheese and wine are a MUST.
This is the perfect pairing. French cheese and wine are blessed and go with every meal. You can’t go to France without doing some tasting and we all know it, it’s delicious. God bless French gastronomy !
Also, we are very disciplined with our food. Cheese is not an appetizer, it is served on a platter after the meal just before dessert. Have it with red wine and you’ll be in heaven, my friend.
And in France, it is EVERY SINGLE DAY. I mean, at least it’s the way I personally work. Give me some goat cheese on toast with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and I am the happiest person on Earth.
Let’s be honest, France is the country of cheese. So if you’re going to the restaurant, you have to try any cheese available for you and crack a nice bottle of red. Honestly, do it. Get the real French food experience. Who cares if you go back home with an extra 5 kg ?
Sunday is Lord’s Day.
The big sacred day ! Whether in Australia, every day seems to be the same, there is a whole different pace in France during Sundays. French people care a lot about they rest day. Most shops are closed, and the city is very quiet. Everybody’s home, having a rest and spending time with their family. In France, we follow our traditions, especially that day. Bakeries are open on the morning so we usually have a late and relaxed breakfast, then family members gather together for midday to have a long lunch followed by a little nap or a walk outside and a light dinner.
As a tourist, Sunday is the opportunity for you to relax as well. Rent a bike and have a look around enjoying the calmness. Go to the restaurant for dinner but don’t forget to book before as it’s usually pretty busy. Bless the Lord’s day in France !
(Bless it with red wine too.)
Have a great holiday in France !
Eileen – Pretty Little Mantras