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Masterpiece painting by Eugène Delacroix called Liberty Leading the People portrays the July Revolution using the stylistic views of Romanticism. Since Liberty is part of the motto «Liberté, égalité, fraternité», as the French put it, this painting became the primary symbol of the French Republic.

The culture of France and of the French people has been shaped by geography, by profound historical events, and by foreign and internal forces and groups. France, and in particular Paris, has played an important role as a center of high culture and of decorative arts since the seventeenth century, first in Europe, and from the nineteenth century on, world wide. From the late nineteenth century, France has also played an important role in modern art, cinema, fashion and cuisine. The importance of French culture has waned and waxed over the centuries, depending on its economic, political and military importance. French culture today is marked both by great regional and socioeconomic differences and by strong unifying tendencies.

==Culture, whether in France, Europe or in general, consists of beliefs and values learned through the socialization process as well as material artifacts.[1][2] Culture guides the social interactions between members of society and influences the personal beliefs and values that shape a person's perception of their environment: "Culture is the learned set of beliefs, values, norms and material goods shared by group members. Culture consists of everything we learn in groups during the life course-from infancy to old age."[3]

The conception of "French" culture however poses certain difficulties and presupposes a series of assumptions about what precisely the expression "French" means. Where as American culture posits the notion of the "melting-pot" and cultural diversity, the expression "French culture" tends to refer implicitly to a specific geographical entity (as, say, "metropolitan France", generally excluding its overseas departments) or to a specific historico-sociological group defined by ethnicity, language, religion and geography. The realities of "Frenchness" however, are extremely complicated. Even before the late nineteenth century, "metropolitan France" was largely a patchwork of local customs and regional differences that the unifying aims of the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution had only begun to work against, and today's France remains a nation of numerous indigenous and foreign languages, of multiple ethnicities and religions, and of regional diversity that includes French citizens in Corsica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and elsewhere around the globe.

The creation of some sort of typical or shared French culture or "cultural identity", despite this vast heterogeneity, is the result of powerful internal forces — such as the French educational system, mandatory military service, state linguistic and cultural policies — and by profound historic events — such as the Franco-Prussian war and the two World Wars — which have forged a sense of national identity over the last 200 years. However, despite these unifying forces, France today still remains marked by social class and by important regional differences in culture (cuisine, dialect/accent, local traditions) that many fear will be unable to withstand contemporary social forces (depopulation of the countryside, immigration, centralization, market forces and the world economy).

In recent years, to fight the loss of regional diversity, many in France have promoted forms of multiculturalism and encouraged cultural enclaves (communautarisme), including reforms on the preservation of regional languages and the decentralization of certain government functions, but French multiculturalism has had a harder time of accepting, or of integrating into the collective identity, the large non-Christian and immigrant communities and groups that have come to France since the 1960s.

The last fifty years has also seen French cultural identity "threatened" by global market forces and by American "cultural hegemony". Since its dealings with the 1993 GATT free trade negotiations, France has fought for what it calls the exception culturelle, meaning the right to subsidize or treat favorably domestic cultural production and to limit or control foreign cultural products (as seen in public funding for French cinema or the lower VAT accorded to books). The notion of an explicit exception française however has angered many of France's critics[4].

The French are often perceived as taking a great pride in national identity and the positive achievements of France (the expression "chauvinism" is of French origin) and cultural issues are more integrated in the body of the politics than elsewhere (see "The Role of the State", below). The French Revolution claimed universalism for the democratic principles of the Republic. Charles de Gaulle actively promoted a notion of French "grandeur" ("greatness"). Perceived declines in cultural status are a matter of national concern and have generated national debates, both from the left (as seen in the anti-globalism of José Bové) and from the right and far right (as in the discourses of the National Front).

According to Hofstede's Framework for Assessing Culture, the culture of France is moderately individualistic and high Power Distance Index.


Now, the interracial blending of some native French and newcomers stands as a vibrant and boasted feature of French culture, from popular music to movies and literature. Therefore, alongside mixing of populations, exists also a cultural blending (le métissage culturel) that is present in France. It may be compared to the traditional US conception of the melting-pot. The French culture might have been already blended in from other races and ethnicities, in cases of some biographical research on the possibility of African ancestry on a small number of famous French citizens. Author Alexandre Dumas, père possessed one-fourth black Haitian descent,[5] and Empress Josephine Napoleon who was born and raised in the French West Indies from a plantation estate family. We can mention as well, the most famous French singer Edith Piaf whose grandmother was a North African from Kabylie[6].

For a long time, the only objection to such outcomes predictably came from the far-right schools of thought. In the past few years, other unexpected voices are however beginning to question what they interpret, as the new philosopher Alain Finkielkraut coined the term, as an "ideology of miscegenation" (une idéologie du métissage) that may come from what one other philosopher, Pascal Bruckner, defined as the "sob of the White man" (le sanglot de l'homme blanc). These critics have been dismissed by the mainstream and their propagators have been labelled as new reactionaries (les nouveaux réactionnaires)[7], even if racist and anti-immigration sentiment has recently been documented to be increasing in France at least according to one poll[8]. Such critics, including Nicolas Sarkozy, the current President of France, take example on the United States' conception of multiculturalism to claim that France has consistently denied the existence of ethnic groups within their borders and has refused to grant them specific rights.

[[Media:Media:Example.ogg]]==Language==

French culture is profoundly allied with the French language. The artful use of the mother tongue, and its defense against perceived decline or corruption by foreign terms, is a major preoccupation for some people and entities.

The Académie française sets an official standard of language purity; however, this standard, which is not mandatory, is even occasionally ignored by the government itself: for instance, the left-wing government of Lionel Jospin pushed for the feminization of the names of some functions (madame la ministre) while the Académie pushed for some more traditional madame le ministre.

Some action has been taken by the government in order to promote French culture and the French language. For instance, there exists a system of subsidies and preferential loans for supporting French cinema. The Toubon law, from the name of the conservative culture minister who promoted it, makes it mandatory to use French in advertisements directed to the general public. Note that contrary to some misconception sometimes found in the Anglophone media, the French government neither regulates the language used by private parties in non-commercial settings, nor makes it compulsory that France-based WWW sites should be in French.

France counts many regional languages, some of them being very different from standard French such as Breton and Alsatian. Some regional languages are Romance, like French, such as Occitan. The Basque language is completely unrelated to French and, indeed, to any other language in the world; its area straddles the border between the south west of France and the north of Spain. Many of those languages have enthusiastic advocates; however, the real importance of local languages remains subject to debate. In April 2001, the Minister of Education, Jack Lang, admitted formally that for more than two centuries, the political powers of the French government had repressed regional languages, and announced that bilingual education would, for the first time, be recognized, and bilingual teachers recruited in French public schools.

A revision of the French constitution creating official recognition of regional languages was implemented by the Parliament in Congress at Versailles in July 2008.[9]

Contents

Religion

France is a secular country where freedom of thought and of religion is preserved, by virtue of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The Republic is based on the principle of laïcité, that is of freedom of religion (including of agnosticism and atheism) enforced by the Jules Ferry laws and the 1905 law on the separation of the State and the Church, enacted at the beginning of the Third Republic (1871–1940). A January 2007 poll found that 51% of the French population describe themselves as Catholics—and only half of those said they believed in God--, 31% as atheists, 4% as Muslims, 3% as Protestants and 1% as Jews.[10]

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Catholicism

The Roman Catholic faith is no longer considered the state religion, as it was before the 1789 Revolution and throughout the various, non-republican regimes of the 19th century (the Restauration, the July Monarchy and the Second Empire). The Official split of Catholic Church and State ("Séparation de l'Eglise et de l'Etat") took place in 1905, and this major reform emphazises the Laicist and anti-clericalist mood of French Radical Republicans in this period.

At the beginning of the 20th century, France was a largely rural country with conservative Catholic mores, but in the hundred years since then, the countryside has become depopulated, and the population has largely become more secular. A December 2006 poll by Harris Interactive, published in The Financial Times, found that 32% of the French population described themselves as agnostic, a further 32% as atheist and only 27% believed in any type of God or supreme being.[11]

Islam

After Catholicism, Islam is the second largest faith in France today, and the country has the largest Muslim population (in percentage) of any Western European country. This is a result of immigration and permanent family settlement in France, from the 1960s on, of groups from, principally, North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and, to a lesser extent, other areas such as Turkey and West Africa.[12] While it is prohibited in France for the government census to collect data on religious beliefs, estimates and polls place the percentage of Muslims at between 4% and 7% [13]. The Muslim population in France has had to deal with many difficulties in terms of social and cultural integration into mainstream French society, stemming both from socioeconomic issues (unskilled jobs, low incomes, poor neighborhoods, etc.) and ethnic and religious issues (prejudice, concerns over "radical Islam", problems of integration into a secular country, etc.) that have been exemplified in recent years through civil unrest in working-class and immigrant suburbs (see, for example, 2005 civil unrest in France) and legal/political issues (such as the "Islamic headscarf affair")

Judaism

The current Jewish community in France numbers around 600,000, according to the World Jewish Congress and 500,000 according to the Appel Unifié Juif de France, and is found mainly in the metropolitan areas of Paris, Marseille and Strasbourg.

The history of the Jews of France dates back over 2,000 years. In the early Middle Ages, France was a center of Jewish learning, but persecution increased as the Middle Ages wore on. France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population during the French Revolution, but, despite legal equality anti-Semitism remained an issue, as illustrated in the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century. Despite the death of a quarter of all French Jews during the Holocaust, France currently has the largest Jewish population in Europe.

French Jews are mostly Sephardic and span a range of religious affiliations, from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities to the large segment of Jews who are entirely secular.

Buddhism

Buddhism is widely reported to be the fourth largest religion in France, after Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. France has over two hundred Buddhist meditation centers, including about twenty sizable retreat centers in rural areas. The Buddhist population mainly consists of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, with a substantial minority of native French converts and “sympathizers.” The rising popularity of Buddhism in France has been the subject of considerable discussion in the French media and academy in recent years.

Cults and new religious movements

France created in 2006 the first French parliamentary commission on cult activities which led to a report registering a number of cults considered as dangerous. Supporters of such movements have criticized the report on the grounds of the respect of religious freedom. Proponents of the measure contend that only dangerous cults have been listed as such, and state secularism insures religious freedom of France.

Regional customs and traditions

Modern France is the result of centuries of nation building and the acquisition and incorporation of a number of historical provinces and overseas colonies into its geographical and political structure. These regions all evolved with their own specific cultural and linguistic traditions in fashion, religious observance, regional language and accent, family structure, cuisine, leisure activities, industry, etc.

The evolution of the French state and culture, from the Renaissance to today, has however promoted a centralization of politics, media, and cultural production in and around Paris (and, to a lesser extent, around the other major urban centers), and the industrialization of the country in the twentieth century has led to a massive move of French people from the countryside to urban areas. At the end of the nineteenth century, around 50% of the French depended on the land for a living; today French farmers only make up 6-7%, while 73% live in cities.[14] Nineteenth century French literature abounds in scenes of provincial youth "coming up" to Paris to "make it" in the cultural, political or social scene of the capital (this scheme is frequent in the novels of Balzac). Policies enacted by the French Third Republic also encouraged this displacement through mandatory military service, a centralized national educational system, and suppression of regional languages. While government policy and public debate in France in recent years has returned to a valorization of regional differences and a call for decentralization of certain aspects of the public sphere (sometimes with ethnic, racial or reactionary overtones), the history of regional displacement and the nature of the modern urban environment and of mass media and culture have made the preservation of a regional "sense of place or culture" in today's France extremely difficult.

The names of the historical French provinces — such as Brittany, Berry, Orléanais, Normandy, Languedoc, Lyonnais, Dauphiné, Champagne, Poitou, Guyenne and Gascony, Burgundy, Picardy, Provence, Touraine, Limousin, Auvergne, Béarn, Alsace, Flanders, Lorraine, Corsica, Savoy... (please see individual articles for specifics about each regional culture) — are still used to designate natural, historical and cultural regions, and many of them appear in modern région or département names. These names are also used by the French in their self-identification of family origin. Regional identification is most pronounced today in cultures linked to non-French languages like Corsu, Català, Occitan, Alsatian, Basque and Brezhoneg (Breton), and some of these regions have promoted movements calling for some degree of regional autonomy, and, occasionally, national independence (see, for example, Breton nationalism and Corsica).

There are huge differences in life style, socioeconomic status and world view between Paris and the provinces. The French often use the expression "la France profonde" ("Deep France", similar to "heartland") to designate the profoundly "French" aspects of provincial towns, village life and rural agricultural culture, which escape the hegemony of Paris. The expression can however have a pejorative meaning, similar to the expression "le désert français" ("the French desert") used to describe a lack of acculturation of the provinces. Another expression, "terroir" is a French term originally used for wine and coffee to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon these products. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place" which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment (especially the "soil") has had on the growth of the product. The use of the term has since been generalized to talk about many cultural products.

In addition to its metropolitan territory, France also consists of overseas departments made up of its former colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana in the Caribbean, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. (There also exist a number of "overseas collectivities and "overseas territories". For a full discussion, see administrative divisions of France. Since 1982, following the French government’s policy of decentralisation, overseas departments have elected regional councils with powers similar to those of the regions of metropolitan France. As a result of a constitutional revision which occurred in 2003, these regions are now to be called overseas regions.) These overseas departments have the same political status as metropolitan departments and are integral parts of France, similar to how Hawaii is a state and an integral part of the United States, yet they also have specific cultural and linguistic traditions which set them apart. Certain elements of overseas culture have also been introduced to metropolitan culture (as, for example, the musical form the biguine).

Industrialization, immigration and urbanization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have also created new socioeconomic regional communities in France, both urban (like Paris, Lyon, Villeurbanne, Lille, Marseille, etc.) and the suburban and working class hinterlands (like Seine-Saint-Denis) of urban agglomerations (called variously banlieues ("suburbs", sometimes qualified as "chic" or "pauvres") or les cités ("housing projects") which have developed their own "sense of place" and local culture (much like the various boroughs of New York City or suburbs of Los Angeles), as well as cultural identity.

Other specific communities

Paris has traditionally been associated with alternative, artistic or intellectual subcultures, many of which involved foreigners. Such subcultures include the "Bohemians" of the mid-nineteenth century, the Impressionists, artistic circles of the Belle époque (around such artists as Picasso and Alfred Jarry), the Dadaists, Surrealists, the "Lost Generation" (Hemingway, Gertrude Stein) and the post-war "intellectuals" associated with Montparnasse (Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir).

France has an estimated 280,000-340,000 Roma, generally known as Gitans, Tsiganes, Romanichels (slightly pejorative), Bohémiens, or Gens du voyage ("travellers").

There are gay and lesbian communities in the cities, particularly in the Paris metropolitan area (such as in Le Marais district of the capital). Although homosexuality is perhaps not as well tolerated in France as in Spain, Scandinavia, and the Benelux nations, surveys of the French public reveal a considerable shift in attitudes comparable to other Western European nations. As of 2001, 55% of the French consider homosexuality "an acceptable lifestyle."[15] The current mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is gay. In 2006, an Ipsos survey shows that 62% support same-sex marriage, while 37% were opposed. 55% believed gay and lesbian couples should not have parenting rights, while 44% believe same-sex couples should be able to adopt.[16] See also LGBT rights in France.

Social class

Despite the egalitarian aspects of French society, French culture remains marked by social-economic class and by many class distinctions.

Families and romantic relationships

Household structure

Growing out of the values of the Catholic Church and rural communities, the basic unit of French society was traditionally held to be the family .[17] Over the twentieth century, the "traditional" family structure in France has evolved from extended families to, after World War II, nuclear families. Since the 1960s, marriages have decreased and divorces have increased in France, and divorce law and legal family status have evolved to reflect these social changes.[18]

According to INSEE figures, household and family composition in metropolitan France continues to evolve. Most significantly, from 1982 to 1999, single parent families have increased from 3.6% to 7.4%; there have also been increases in the number of unmarried couples, childless couples, and single men (from 8.5% to 12.5) and women (from 16.0% to 18.5%). Their analysis indicates that "one in three dwellings are occupied by a person living alone; one in four dwellings are occupied by a childless couple.." [2]

Voted by the French Parliament in November 1999 following some controversy, the pacte civil de solidarité ("civil pact of solidarity") commonly known as a PACS, is a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organising their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. From a legal standpoint, a PACS is a "contract" drawn up between the two individuals, which is stamped and registered by the clerk of the court. Individuals who have registered a PACS are still considered "single" with regard to family status for some purposes, while they are increasingly considered in the same way as married couples are for other purposes. While it was pushed by the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in 1998, it was also opposed, mostly by people on the right-wing who support traditionalist family values and who argued that PACS and the recognition of homosexual unions would be disastrous for French society.

Same-sex marriage is however not legally recognised in France

Role of the State

The French state has traditionally played a key role in promoting and supporting culture through the educational, linguistic, cultural and economic policies of the government and through its promotion of national identity. Because of the closeness of this relationship, cultural changes in France are often linked to, or produce, political crisis.[19]

The relationship between the French state and culture is an old one. Under Louis XIII's minister Richelieu, the independent Académie française came under state supervision and became an official organ of control over the French language and seventeenth-century literature. During Louis XIV's reign, his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert brought French luxury industries, like textile and porcelain, under royal control and the architecture, furniture, fashion and etiquette of the royal court (particularly at the Château de Versailles) became the preeminent model of noble culture in France (and, to a great degree, throughout Europe) during the latter half of the seventeenth century.

At times, French state policies have sought to unify the country around certain cultural norms, while at other times they have promoted regional differences within a heterogeneous French identity. The unifying effect was particularly true of the "radical period"" of the French Third Republic which fought regionalisms (including regional languages), supported anti-clericalism and a strict separation of church from state (including education) and actively promoted national identity, thus converting (as the historian Eugen Weber has put it) a "country of peasants into a nation of Frenchmen". The Vichy Regime, on the other hand, promoted regional "folk" traditions.

The cultural policies of the (current) French Fifth Republic have been varied, but a consensus seems to exist around the need for preservation of French regionalisms (such as food and language) as long as these don't undermine national identity. Meanwhile, the French state remains ambivalent over the integration into "French" culture of cultural traditions from recent immigrant groups and from foreign cultures, particularly American culture (movies, music, fashion, fast food, language, etc.). There also exists a certain fear over the perceived loss of French identity and culture in the European system and under American "cultural hegemony".

Education

International educational scores (1995)
(13-year-old's average score, TIMSS
Trends in International Math and Science Study, 1995)
Countries:
(sample)
Global
rank
Maths Science
Score Rank Score Rank
Singapore 1 643 1 607 1
Japan 2 605 3 571 3
South Korea 3 607 2 565 4
Czech Republic 4 564 6 574 2
Belgium (F) 5 565 5 550 11
Hong Kong 6 588 4 522 24
Bulgaria 7 540 11 565 5
Netherlands 8 541 9 560 6
Slovenia 9 541 10 560 7
Austria 10 539 12 558 8
Slovakia 11 547 7 544 13
Hungary 12 537 14 554 9
Australia 13 530 16 545 12
Russia 14 535 15 538 14
Switzerland 15 545 8 522 25
Ireland 16 527 17 538 15
Canada 17 527 18 531 18
England 18 506 25 552 10
Sweden 19 519 22 535 16
Thailand 20 522 20 525 21
Israel 21 522 21 524 23
Germany 22 509 23 531 19
France 23 538 13 498 28
United States 24 500 28 534 17
New Zealand 25 508 24 525 22
Norway 26 503 26 527 20
Belgium (W) 27 526 19 471 36
Denmark 28 502 27 478 34
Source: TIMSS data, in The Economist March 29th, 1997, p.25

The French educational system is highly centralised, organised, and ramified. It is divided into three different stages:

  • primary education (enseignement primaire); middle school (le lycée); and secondary education (l'université).

Primary and secondary education is predominantly public (private schools also exist, in particular a strong nationwide network of primary and secondary Catholic education), while higher education has both public and private elements. At the end of secondary education, students take the baccalauréat exam, which allows them to pursue higher education. The baccalauréat pass rate in 1999 was 78.3%.

In 1999–2000, educational spending amounted to 7% of the French GDP and 37% of the national budget.

Since the Jules Ferry laws of 1881-2, named after the then Minister of Public Instruction, all state-funded schools, including universities, are independent from the (Roman Catholic) Church. Education in these institutions is free. Non-secular institutions are allowed to organize education as well. The French educational system differs strongly from Northern-European and American systems in that it stresses the importance of the development of the individual as an independent intellectual rather than a productive servant (of the State or the Company).[citation needed]

Secular educational policy has become critical in recent issues of French multiculturalism, as in the "affair of the Islamic headscarf".

Minister of Culture

The Minister of Culture is, in the Government of France, the cabinet member in charge of national museums and monuments; promoting and protecting the arts (visual, plastic, theatrical, musical, dance, architectural, literary, televisual and cinematographic) in France and abroad; and managing the national archives and regional "maisons de culture" (culture centres). The Ministry of Culture is located on the Palais Royal in Paris.

The modern post of Minister of Culture was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959 and the first Minister was the writer André Malraux. Malraux was responsible for realizing the goals of the "droit à la culture" ("the right to culture") -- an idea which had been incorporated in the French constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) -- by democratizing access to culture, while also achieving the Gaullist aim of elevating the "grandeur" ("greatness") of post-war France. To this end, he created numerous regional cultural centres throughout France and actively sponsored the arts. Malraux's artistic tastes included the modern arts and the avant-garde, but on the whole he remained conservative.

The Ministry of Jacques Toubon was notable for a number of laws (the "Toubon Laws") enacted for the preservation of the French language, both in advertisements (all ads must include a French translation of foreign words) and on the radio (40% of songs on French radio stations must be in French), ostensibly in reaction to the presence of English.

Académie française

The Académie française, or the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte (the Académie considers itself having been suspended, not suppressed, during the revolution). It is the oldest of the five académies of the Institut de France.

The Académie consists of forty members, known as immortels (immortals). New members are elected by the members of the Académie itself. Académicians hold office for life, but they may be removed for misconduct. The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language. Its rulings, however, are only advisory; not binding on either the public or the government.

Military service

Until 1996, France had compulsory military service of young men. This has been credited by historians for further promoting a unified national identity and by breaking down regional isolationism.

Labor and employment policy

In France the first labour laws were Waldeck Rousseau's laws passed in 1884. Between 1936 and 1938 the Popular Front enacted a law mandating 12 days (2 weeks) each year of paid vacation for workers, and a law limiting the work week to 40 hours, excluding overtime. The Grenelle accords negotiated on May 25 and 26th in the middle of the May 1968 crisis, reduced the working week to 44 hours and created trade union sections in each enterprise.[20] The minimum wage was also increased by 25%.[21] In 2000 Lionel Jospin's government then enacted the 35-hour workweek, down from 39 hours. Five years later, conservative prime minister Dominique de Villepin enacted the New Employment Contract (CNE). Addressing the demands of employers asking for more flexibility in French labour laws, the CNE sparked criticism from trade unions and opponents claiming it was lending favour to contingent work. In 2006 he then attempted to pass the First Employment Contract (CPE) through a vote by emergency procedure, but that it was met by students and unions' protests. President Jacques Chirac finally had no choice but to repeal it.

Healthcare and social welfare

The French are profoundly committed to the public healthcare system (called "sécurité sociale") and to their "pay-as-you-go" social welfare system.

In 1998, 75% of health payments in France were paid through the public healthcare system. Since 27 July 1999, France has a universal medical coverage for permanent residents in France (stable residence for more than three months).

Food and lifestyle

Food and alcohol

Traditional French culture places a high priority on the enjoyment of food. French cuisine was codified in the 20th century by Georges Auguste Escoffier to become the modern version of haute cuisine. Escoffier's major work, however, left out much of the regional character to be found in the provinces of France. Gastro-tourism and the Guide Michelin helped to bring people to the countryside during the 20th century and beyond, to sample this rich bourgeois and peasant cuisine of France. Basque cuisine has also been a great influence over the cuisine in the southwest of France.

Ingredients and dishes vary by region (see regional cuisine). There are many significant regional dishes that have become both national and regional. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. Cheese (see list of French cheeses) and wine (see French wine) are also a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) (regulated appellation) laws (lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay also have an AOC status). Another French product of special note is the Charolais cattle.

A sweet crêpe. Crêpes are originally from Brittany

The French typically eat only a simple breakfast ("petit déjeuner") (of, say, coffee or tea, served traditionally in a large handleless "bol" (bowl) and bread, breakfast pastries (croissants), or yogurt). Lunch ("déjeuner") and dinner ("dîner") are the main meals of the day. Formal four course meals consist of a starter course ("entrée"), a main course ("plat principal") followed by a salad course, and finally a cheese and/or a dessert course. While French cuisine is often associated with rich desserts, in most homes dessert consists of only a fruit or yogurt.

Food shopping in France was formerly done almost daily in small local shops and markets, but the arrival of the supermarket and the even larger "hypermarchés" (large-surface distributors) in France have disrupted this tradition. With depopulation of the countryside, many towns have been forced to close shops and markets.

Rates of obesity and heart disease in France have traditionally been lower than in other north-western European countries. This is sometimes called the "French paradox" (see, for example, Mireille Guiliano's 2006 book French Women Don't Get Fat). French cuisine and eating habits have however come under great pressure in recent years from modern "fast food", American products and the new global agricultural industry (including genetically modified organisms). While French youth culture has gravitated toward fast food and American eating habits (with an attendant rise in obesity), the French in general have remained committed to preserving certain elements of their food culture through such activities as including programs of "taste acquisition" in their public schools, by the use of the "appellation d'origine contrôlée" laws, and by state and European subsides to the French agricultural industry. Emblematic of these tensions is the work of José Bové, who founded, in 1987, the Confédération Paysanne, an agricultural union that places its highest political values on humans and the environment, promotes organic farming and opposes genetically modified organisms; Bové's most famous protest was the dismantling of a McDonald's franchise in Millau (Aveyron), in 1999.

In France, cutlery is used in the continental manner (with the fork in the left hand, prongs facing down and the knife in the right hand). French etiquette prohibits the placing of hands below the table.

The legal drinking age is officially 18 (see Legal drinking age).

France is one of the oldest wine-producing regions of Europe. France now produces the most wine by value in the world (although Italy rivals it by volume and Spain has more land under cultivation for wine grapes). Bordeaux wine, Bourgogne wine and Champagne are important agricultural products.

Tobacco and drugs

The cigarette smoking age is 18 years. According to a widespread cliché, smoking has been part of French culture — actually figures indicate that in terms of consumption per capita, France is only the 60th country out of 121 (Japan: 12th - Spain : 9th - Switzerland : 23 th - USA : 39th)List of countries by cigarette consumption per capita.

France, from 1 February 2007, tightened the existing ban on smoking in public places found in the 1991 Évin law: Law n°91-32 of 10 January, 1991, containing a variety of measures against alcoholism and tobacco consumption.

Smoking is now banned in all public places (stations, museums, etc.); an exception exists for special smoking rooms fulfilling drastic conditions, see below. A special exemption was made for cafés and restaurants, clubs, casinos, bars, etc. which ended, 1 January 2008.[22] Opinion polls suggest 70% of people support the ban.[23] Previously, under the former implementation rules of the 1991 Évin law, restaurants, cafés etc. just had to provide smoking and non-smoking sections, which in practice were often not well separated.

Under the new regulations, smoking rooms are allowed, but are subjected to very strict conditions: they may occupy at most 20% of the total floor space of the establishment and their size may not be more than 35 m²; they need to be equipped with separate ventilation which replaces the full volume of air ten times per hour; the air pressure of the smoking room must constantly be lower than the pressure in the contiguous rooms; they have doors that close automatically; no service can be provided in the smoking rooms; cleaning and maintenance personnel may enter the room only one hour after it was last used for smoking.

Popular French cigarette brands include Gauloises and Gitanes.

The possession, sale and use of cannabis (predominantly Moroccan hashish) is illegal in France. Since 1 March 1994, the penalties for cannabis use are from two months to a year and/or a fine, while possession, cultivation or trafficking of the drug can be punished much more severely, up to ten years. According to a 1992 survey by SOFRES, 4.7 million French people ages 12–44 have at one time smoked cannabis.[3]

Sports and hobbies

The French "national" sport is football (soccer), colloquially called 'le foot' (see Football in France). The most-watched sports in France are football (soccer), rugby union, basketball, cycling, sailing and tennis. France is notable for holding (and winning) the football World Cup in 1998, for holding the annual cycling race Tour de France, and the tennis Grand Slam tournament Roland Garros, or the French Open. Sport is encouraged in school, and local sports clubs receive financial support from the local governments. While football (soccer) is definitely the most popular, rugby union and rugby league takes dominance in the southwest, especially around the city of Toulouse (see Rugby union in France and Rugby league in France)

The modern Olympics was invented in France, in 1894.

Professional sailing in France is centred on singlehanded/shorthanded ocean racing with the pinnacle of this branch of the sport being the Vendee Globe singlehanded around the world race which starts every 4 years from the French Atlantic coast. Other significant events include the Solitaire du Figaro, Mini Transat 6.50, Tour de France a Voile and Route de Rhum transatlantic race. France has been a regular competitor in the America's Cup since the 1970s.

Other important sports include:

People playing Pétanque next to the beach at Nice, France
  • Grand Prix Racing (Formula 1) - invented in France in 1946
  • Pétanque - the international federation is recognized by the IOC. [4] [5].
  • Fencing - fencing leads the list of sports for which gold medals were won for France at summer Olympics (see France at the Olympics).
  • Parkour - developed in France, parkour ("art du déplacement") is a physical activity that resembles self-defense or martial arts.
  • Babyfoot (table football) - a very popular pastime in bars and in homes in France, and the French are the predominant winners of worldwide table football competitions.
  • Kite-surf

Like other cultural areas in France, sport is overseen by a government ministry, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports (France) which is in charge of national and public sport associations, youth affairs, public sports centers and national stadia (like the Stade de France).

Fashion

Along with Milan, London and New York, Paris is sometimes called the "fashion capital of the world". The association of France with fashion (French: la mode) dates largely to the reign of Louis XIV [24] when the luxury goods industries in France came increasingly under royal control and the French royal court became, arguably, the arbiter of taste and style in Europe.

France renewed its dominance of the high fashion (French: couture or haute couture) industry in the years 1860–1960 through the establishing of the great couturier houses, the fashion press (Vogue was founded in 1892; Elle was founded in 1945) and fashion shows. The first modern Parisian couturier house is generally considered the work of the Englishman Charles Frederick Worth who dominated the industry from 1858-1895.[25] In the early twentieth century, the industry expanded through such Parisian fashion houses as the house of Chanel (which first came to prominence in 1925) and Balenciaga (founded by a Spaniard in 1937). In the post war year, fashion returned to prominence through Christian Dior's famous "new look" in 1947, and through the houses of Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy (opened in 1952). In the 1960s, "high fashion" came under criticism from France's youth culture while designers like Yves Saint Laurent broke with established high fashion norms by launching prêt-à-porter ("ready to wear") lines and expanding French fashion into mass manufacturing and marketing.[26] Further innovations were carried out by Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. With a greater focus on marketing and manufacturing, new trends were established in the 70s and 80s by Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. The 1990s saw a conglomeration of many French couture houses under luxury giants and multinationals such as LVMH.

Since the 1960s, France's fashion industry has come under increasing competition from London, New York, Milan and Tokyo, and the French have increasingly adopted foreign (particularly American) fashions (such as jeans, tennis shoes). Nevertheless, many foreign designers still seek to make their careers in France.

Pets

In 2006, 52% of French households had at least one pet [27]: 9.7 million cats, 8.8 million dogs, 2.3 million rodents, 8 million birds, and 28 million fish.

Media and art

Art and museums

The first paintings of France are those that are from prehistoric times, painted in the caves of Lascaux well over 10,000 years ago. The arts flourished already 1,200 years ago, at the time of Charlemagne, as can be seen in many hand made and hand illustrated books of that time.

Classic painters of the 17th century in France are Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. During the 18th century the Rococo style emerged as a frivolous continuation of the Baroque style. The most famous painters of the era were Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. At the end of the century, Jacques-Louis David was the most influential painter of the Neoclassicism.

Géricault and Delacroix were the most important painters of the Romanticism. Afterwards, the painters were more realistic, describing nature (Barbizon school). The realistic movement was led by Courbet and Honoré Daumier. Impressionism was developed in France by artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro. At the turn of the century, France had become more than ever the center of innovative art. The Spaniard Pablo Picasso came to France, like many other foreign artists, to deploy his talents there for decades to come. Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Cézanne were painting then. Cubism is an avant-garde movement born in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Louvre in Paris is one of the most famous and the largest art museums in the world, created by the new revolutionary regime in 1793 in the former royal palace. It holds a vast amount of art of French and other artists, e.g. the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, and classical Greek Venus de Milo and ancient works of culture and art from Egypt and the Middle East.

Music

France boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk music, as well as styles played by immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the field of classical music, France has produced a number of legendary composers, like Gabriel Faure, while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French hip hop, French rock, techno/funk, and turntablists/djs.

France created the Fête de la Musique (first held in 1982), a music festival, which has since become worldwide. It takes place every June 21, on summer's day.

Cinema

Television

Books, newspapers and magazines

France has the reputation of being a "literary culture"[28], and this image is reinforced by such things as the importance of French literature in the French educational system, the attention paid by the French media to French book fairs and book prizes (like the Prix Goncourt, Prix Renaudot or Prix Femina) and by the popular success of the (former) literary television show "Apostrophes" (hosted by Bernard Pivot). This image not withstanding, 1980s figures showed that the French spent 50% less on books and used lending libraries 1/12 as often as the British.[citation needed]

Although the official literacy rate of France is 99%, some estimates have placed functional illiteracy at between 10% and 20% of the adult population (and higher in the prison population).[29]

While reading remains a favorite pastime of French youth today, surveys show that it has decreased in importance compared to music, television, sports and other activities.[29] The crisis of academic publishing has also hit France (see, for example, the financial difficulties of the Presses universitaires de France (PUF), France's premier academic publishing house, in the 1990s).[30]

Literary taste in France remains centered on the novel (26.4% of book sales in 1997), although the French read more non-fiction essays and books on current affairs than the British or Americans.[31] Contemporary novels, including French translations of foreign novels, lead the list (13% of total books sold), followed by sentimental novels (4.1%), detective and spy fiction (3.7%), "classic" literature (3.5%), science fiction and horror (1.3%) and erotic fiction (0.2%).[32] About 30% of all fiction sold in France today is translated from English (authors such as William Boyd, John le Carré, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster and Douglas Kennedy are well received).[33]

An important subset of book sales is comic books (typically Franco-Belgian comics like Tintin and Astérix) which are published in a large hardback format; comic books represented 4% of total book sales in 1997[34]. French artists have made the country a leader in the graphic novel genre[33] and France hosts the Angoulême International Comics Festival, Europe's preeminent comics festival.

Like other areas of French culture, book culture is influenced, in part, by the state, in particular by the "Direction du livre et de la lecture" of the Ministry of Culture, which oversees the "Centre national du livre" (National Book Center). The French Ministry of Industry also plays a role in price control. Finally, the VAT for books and other cultural products in France is at the reduced rate of 5.5%, which is also that of food and other necessities (see here).

In terms of journalism in France, the regional press (see list of newspapers in France) has become more important than national dailies (such as Le Monde and Le Figaro) over the past century: in 1939, national dailies were 2/3 of the dailies market, while today they are less than 1/4.[35] The magazine market is currently dominated by TV listings magazines[36] followed by news magazines such as Le Nouvel Observateur, L'Express and Le Point.

Architecture and housing

Transportation

There are significant differences in lifestyles with respect to transportation between very urbanized regions such as Paris, and smaller towns and rural areas. In Paris, and to a lesser extent in other major cities, many households do not own an automobile and simply use efficient mass transportation.The cliché about the parisien is rush hour in the Métro subway. However, outside of such areas, ownership of one or more cars is standard, especially for households with children.

The TGV high speed rail network, train à grande vitesse is a fast rail transport which serves several areas of the country and is self financing. There are plans to reach most parts of France and many other destinations in Europe in coming years. Rail services to major destinations are punctual and frequent.

Holidays

Despite the principles of laïcité and the separation of church from state, public and school holidays in France generally follow the Roman Catholic religious calendar (including Easter, Christmas, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Assumption of Mary, All Saints Day, etc.). Labor Day and the National Holiday are the only business holidays determined by government statute; the other holidays are granted by convention collective (agreement between employers' and employees' unions) or by agreement of the employer.

The five holiday periods of the public school year[37] are:

  • the vacances de la Toussaint (All Saints Day) - one and a half weeks starting near the end of October.
  • the vacances de Noël (Christmas) - two weeks, ending after New Years.
  • the vacances d'hiver (winter) - two weeks in February and March.
  • the vacances de printemps (spring), formerly vacances de Pâques (Easter) - two weeks in April and May.
  • the vacances d'été (summer), or grandes vacances (literally: big holidays) - two months in July and August.

On May 1, Labour Day (La Fête du Travail) the French give flowers of Lily of the Valley to one another.

The National holiday (called Bastille Day in English) is on the 14 of July. Military parades, called Défilés du 14 juillet, are held, the largest on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic.

On November 2, All Souls Day (La Fête des morts), the French traditionally bring chrysanthemums to the tombs of departed family members.

On November 11, Remembrance Day (Le Jour du Souvenir) is an official holiday.

Christmas is generally celebrated in France on Christmas Eve by a traditional meal (typical dishes include oysters, boudin blanc and the bûche de Noël), by opening presents and by attending the midnight mass (even among Catholics who do not attend church at other times of the year).

Candlemas (La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes. The popular saying is that if the cook can flip a crêpe singlehandedly with a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year.

The Anglo-Saxon and American holiday Halloween has grown in popularity following its introduction in the mid-1990s by the trade associations. The growth seems to have stalled during the following decade.

See also

References

  • Bernstein, Richard. Fragile Glory: A Portrait of France and the French. Plume, 1991.
  • Carroll, Raymonde. Carol Volk, translator. Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience. University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. Vintage, 1984. ISBN 0-394-72927-7
  • Dauncey, Hugh, ed. French Popular Culture: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press (Arnold Publishers), 2003.
  • DeJean, Joan. The Essence of Style: How The French INvented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7432-6413-6
  • Forbes, Jill and Michael Kelly, eds. French Cultural Studies: An Introduction. Clarendon Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-871501-3
  • Gopnik, Adam. Paris to the Moon. Random House, 2001.
  • Hall, Edward Twitchell and Mildred Reed Hall. Understanding Cultural Differences: Germans, French and Americans. Intercultural Press, 1990.
  • Howarth, David and Georgios Varouzakis. Contemporary France: An Introduction to French Politics and Society. New York: Oxford University Press (Arnold Publishers), 2003. ISBN 0-340-74187-2
  • Kelly, Michael. French Culture and Society: The Essentials. New York: Oxford University Press (Arnold Publishers), 2001. (A Reference Guide)
  • Kidd, William and Siân Reynolds, eds. Contemporary French Cultural Studies. Arnold Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0-340-74050-7
  • Nadeau, Jean-Benoît and Julie Barlow. Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France But Not The French. Sourcebooks Trade, 2003. ISBN 1-4022-0045-5
  • Robb, Graham. The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War. New York: Norton, 2007. ISBN 978-0-393-05973-1
  • (French) Wylie, Laurence and Jean-François Brière. Les Français. 3rd edition. Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • Zedlin, Theodore and Philippe Turner, eds. The French. Kodansha International, 1996.

Notes

  1. ^ Jary, D. and J. Jary. 1991. The HarperCollins Dictionary of Sociology, page 101.
  2. ^ Hoult, T. F, ed. 1969. Dictionary of Modern Sociology, p. 93.
  3. ^ Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus'. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-41365-X. 
  4. ^ see, for example, Jonathan Fenby: On the Brink; the Trouble with France Warner Books London, 1998
  5. ^ Dumas, père, Alexandre (1852-1854). Mes Mémoires. Cadot. 
  6. ^ Aïcha Saïd Ben Mohamed (1876 - 1930) was born in Kabylie, Généalogie Magazine, N° 233, p. 30/36
  7. ^ Le Point, February 8, 2007
  8. ^ "One in three French 'are racist'". BBC News. 2006-03-22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4832238.stm. Retrieved 2006-05-03. 
  9. ^ Article 75-1: (a new article): "Les langues régionales appartiennent au patrimoine de la France" ("Regional languages belong to the patrimony of France"). See Loi constitutionnelle du 23 juillet 2008.
  10. ^ (Romanian) Franţa nu mai e o ţară catolică (France is no longer a Catholic country), Cotidianul, 2007-01-11; "France 'no longer a Catholic country'", Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2007
  11. ^ Religion Important for Americans, Italians, Angus Reid Global Monitor, December 30, 2006
  12. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 104-5.
  13. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, for example, give a figure of 4 million Muslims, or 6.9%, based on sources dated 1993, 1994, 1999. (102). See Islam in France for more on recent estimates.
  14. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 30-31.
  15. ^ Embassy of France in the US - The PACS - A civil solidarity pact
  16. ^ Gay News From 365Gay.com
  17. ^ Kelley, "Family", 100.
  18. ^ Ibid.
  19. ^ Kelley, 246-7.
  20. ^ fr:section syndicale d'entreprise December 27, 1968 law
  21. ^ fr:SMIG
  22. ^ Decree n°2006-1386 over 15th November, 2006 taken as application of article L3511-7 of the Public Health Code, banning smoking in public places.
  23. ^ "France to ban smoking in public". BBC News. 2006-10-08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6032125.stm. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  24. ^ Kelly, 101. DeJean, chapters 2-4.
  25. ^ Kelly, 101.
  26. ^ Dauncey, 195.
  27. ^ Le marché des aliments pour chiens et chats en Belgique. Mission Economique de Bruxelles, 2006. Read this document (in French) PDF
  28. ^ Theodore Zedlin, quoted in Kidd and Reynolds, 266
  29. ^ a b Kidd and Reynolds, 261.
  30. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 266.
  31. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 258 and 264.
  32. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 265.
  33. ^ a b Donald Morrison, "The Death of French Culture", Time, Wednesday Nov. 21, 2007. {http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1686532,00.html}
  34. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 264.
  35. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 232.
  36. ^ Kidd and Reynolds, 236
  37. ^ French schoolyear calendar {fr}[1]

-

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Travel guide

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From Wikitravel

Europe : France
The Louvre, Paris
Location
France in Europe
Flag
Image:fr-flag.png
Quick Facts
Capital Paris
Government Republic
Currency euro or € (EUR)
Area 547,030 km2
Population 61,538,322 (April 2007) in non-overseas France
Language French, some regional languages and dialects
Religion (numbers of unclear basis) Roman Catholic 83%-88%, Muslim 5%-10%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, unaffiliated 4%
Calling Code 33
Internet TLD .fr
Time Zone UTC +1

France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom).

France is the world's most popular tourist destination (78 million in 2006) boasting dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera), the Atlantic beaches, the winter sport resorts of the Alps, the Castles of Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy: Mont Saint Michel. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.

Understand

Climate

A lot of variety, but temperate winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the south west (the latter has lots of rain in winter). Mild winters (with lots of rain) and cool summers in the north west (Brittany). Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhône Valley, occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral. Cold winters with lots of the snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne

Terrain

Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south west, Vosges , Jura and Alps in east, Massif Central in the mid south.

History

France has been populated since the Neolithic period. The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others are temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux.

Rise and fall of the Roman empire

Written History began in France with the invasion of the territory by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC. Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls (name given to local Celts by the Romans), who lived there before Roman invasions, became accultured "Gallo-romans".

With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between gallo-romans and "barbaric" easterners (Mainly the Franks, but also other tribes like the "burgondes").

The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organisation of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp (especially Paris). The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time

Middle-Ages

Clovis, who died in 511, is considered as the first French king although his realm was not much more than the area of the present Ile de France, around Paris. Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, was the first strong ruler. He united under his rule territories which extend today in Belgium, Germany and Italy. His capital was Aix-la-Chapelle (now in Germany, known as Aachen).

The country was under attack by the Vikings who came from the north and navigated upstream the rivers to plunder the cities and abbeys, it was also under attack from the south by the Muslim Saracens who were established in Spain. The Vikings were given a part of the territory (today's Normandy) in 911 and melted fast in the Feudal system. The Saracens were stopped in 732 in Poitiers by Charles Martel, grand father of Charlemagne, a rather rough warrior who was later painted as a national hero.

Starting with Charlemange, a new society starts to settle, based on the personal links of feudalism. This era is named middle age. Although generally seen as an era of stagnation, it can more be described as a very complex mix of periods of economic and cultural developments (Music and poems of the Troubadours and Trouveres, building of the Romanantic, then Gothic cathedrals), and recessions due to pandemic disease and wars.

In 987, Hughes Capet was crowned as king of France ; he is the root of the royal families who later governed France. In 1154 much of the western part of France went under English rule with the wedding of Alienor d'Aquitaine to Henry II (Count of Anjou, born in the town of Le Mans). Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, and his father Henry II, who lies in the Abbaye de Fontevraud. The struggle between the English and French kings between 1337 and 1435 is known as the Hundred Years War and the most famous figure, considered as a national heroine, is Joan of Arc.

The making of a modern state nation

The beginning of the XVIth century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with its border relatively close to the present ones (Alsace, Corsica, Savoy, the Nice region weren't yet French). Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 (72 years) was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. French influence extended deep in western Europe, its language was used in the European courts and its culture was exported all over Europe.

That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole series of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England (later Britain) and Spain over the control of North America.

The French Revolution started in 1789, leading to the creation of the Republic. Although this period was also fertile in bloody excesses it was, and still is, a reference for many other liberation struggles.

Napoléon reunited the country but his militaristic ambition which, at first, made him the ruler of most of western Europe were finally his downfall. In 1815 he was defeated in Waterloo (Belgium) by an alliance of British and Prussian forces. He is still revered in some Eastern European countries as its armies and its government brought with them the thinkings of the French philosophers.

France went back to monarchy and another revolution in 1848 which allowed a nephew of Napoleon to be elected president and then become emperor under the name of Napoléon III. The end of the XIX century was the start of the industrialization of the country, the development of the railways but also the start of the bitter wars with Prussia and later Germany.

20th and 21st centuries

1905 saw the separation of the Church from the State. This was a traumatic process, especially in rural areas. The French state carefully avoids any religious recognition. Under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy the law forbids French students and civil servants from displaying any sign explicitly showing their religion. This policy applies to wearing Christian crosses, and has recently been applied to the Muslim hijab (and has been copied in countries like Tunisia and Turkey). In the early 21st century, statistics for Church going and belief in God are among the lowest in Europe.

World War I (1914 -18) was a disaster for France, even though the country was ultimately a victor. A significant part of the male workforce had been killed and disabled and a large part of the country and industry destroyed. World War II (1939 - 45) also destroyed a number of areas.

Since the end of WWII France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity came back with the development of industry. France and Germany were at the start of the Treaties which eventually became the European Union. One of the most visible consequence being the introduction in 2002 of the Euro (€), the common currency of sixteen European countries.

In 2004, France is a republic with a President elected for a 5-year term. Some current main issues are the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, defense, and so on.

Regions

France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into 7 main "cultural regions", which share common points.

Cities and regions in France
Cities and regions in France
Ile de France
The region surrounding the French capital, Paris.
Northern France (Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardie, and Haute-Normandie)
A region where the world wars have left many scars.
Northeast France (Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comté)
A region where wider European culture (and especially Germanic culture) has merged with the French, giving to interesting results.
Great West (Brittany, Basse-Normandie, and Pays de la Loire)
An ocean region with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples.
Central France (Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy, Limousin, and Auvergne)
A largely agricultural and vinicultural region, featuring river valleys, chateaux and historic towns.
Southwestern France (Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees)
A region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic Ocean and young high mountains close to Spain.
Southeastern France (Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean island of Corsica)
The primary tourist region of the country outside of Paris, with a warm climate and azure sea, contrasting with the mountainous French Alps.

The world-famous Loire Valley - best known for its wines and chateaux - extends across two regions in west and central France.

Corsica is a large French island located to the south-east of mainland France in the west Mediterranean Sea (close to Nice on one side and Livorno, Italy).

Each region is divided into a number of Departments. Each Department is allocated a 2 digit number. This number forms the first 2 digits of the 5 digit French postcode.

The following overseas territories are remote possessions kept as natural reservations:

A very limited form of tourism is available in the TAAF islands.

Cities

France has numerous cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below is a list of thirteen of the most notable:

  • Paris -- the "City of Light", the capital of France
  • Toulouse -- the "Pink City" (for its distinctive brick architecture), capital of Occitania. The city is the home base of the European aerospace industry
  • Aix-en-Provence - city of water, city of art
  • Bordeaux - city of wine, nice architecture
  • Bourges -- a middle aged city, capital of central France.
  • Cannes -- host of the annual Cannes Film Festival
  • Lille - France's fourth city, capital of the north of France. Dynamic flemish city with nice architecture.
  • Lyon - France's second city, with a history from Roman times to the Resistance, restaurants (Beaujolais and delicatessen)
  • Marseille - big harbor, heart of Provence
  • Nantes -- the "Greenest City", the "Best Place to Live" in Europe
  • Nice - a major resort on the French Riviera and the gateway to Monaco.
  • Strasbourg -- a historic city on the Ill Rhine and home to, among other institutions, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Ombudsman, the European Parliament
  • Tours -- Tours (pronounced "Tuurh") is located on the river Loire in the Centre-Val de Loire region.

Other destinations

Centre - Val de Loire

The Centre (pronounced "son-truh") is a large inland region of central France located to the south-west of the French capital Paris. The official name for the region is frequently combined in tourist literature with the French 'Val de Loire' to produce the combination Centre-Val de Loire, reflecting the fact that much of UNESCO World Heritage listed valley of the river Loire is embraced by this region. The region is known for its fine historical towns (medieval town of Chinon for example), for its vineyards (Bourgueil, Chinon, Touraine, St Nicolas), its gastronomy (Goat Cheese : St Maure de Touraine, Poire Tappee, Rillons...) and for its many beautiful castles or "chateaux" (Chambord - Amboise - Blois - Chinon - Villandry - Rivau - Azay le Rideau - Rigny Usse - Montsoreau) and Gardens (Villandry - Rivau - Valmer - Chaumont - Chatonniere).

The Canal du Midi

One of the most remarkable inland waterways in the world, The Canal du Midi was built in the 17th century to link the Atlantic with the Mediterranean, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Canal itself, which starts in Toulouse and finishes in the Thau Lagoon near Sète, has 240 km of navigable waterway, making it ideal for boat holidays. The Canal is extremely picturesque, often serene, and shaded for much of its length by trees. There are some impressive engineering feats along its course, including the series of locks at Fonseranes, near Béziers, which was the birthplace of the Canal's founder, Pierre-Paul Riquet.

Franche Comté

In 19th-century European high society, people would often talk of a magical land where winter never came - that land of unending sunshine and azur waters. A few miles back from the shore is a less publicized side of the Riviera --- a world of romantic hill towns and perched villages balanced on craggy peaks. Worn-down stone stairs and cobbled byways lead through modest hamlets crowding around ancient châteaux.

Rhone-Alps

A region flagged by the peaks of it mountains where hiking and winter sports are king. Springing from a glacier, the Rhône River flows south through France toward the sunshine of the Mediterranean. Its broad valley embraces thriving cities, Roman ruins, medieval castles, fabled vineyards and the snowy peaks of the French Alps.

Ile-de-France

The Louvre Museum, Versailles Château, Orsay Museum, Saint-Denis Basilica and the Fontainebleau Château are all just a small part of what makes Paris Ile-de-France the most beautiful museum in the world. Between cultural visits and entertainment possibilities, there are ample opportunities to take advantage of your stay and discover the very best in festive entertainment and leisure activity : shows, Parisian reviews, operas, not to mention shopping, sports and more.

Reading up

Before you leave you may want to read a book like French or Foe by Polly Platt or Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — interesting, well written records from English speaking persons who live in France. For the adult reader interested in the the famous reputation enjoyed by Paris for romance and sensuality, try "SENSUAL PARIS: Sex, Seduction and Romance in the Sublime City of Light" by Jonathan LeBlanc Roberts

Burgundy

Norman abbeys, châteaux with glazed rooves, ducal towns and charming villages make Burgundy a historic region with a glorious heritage.Bienvenue to Burgundy, where every day is a celebration of world-famous wines and fond memories often recorded on bottles labeled Gevrey-Chambertin, Pommard, Romanee-Conti or Montrachet.

Western Loire

The Western Loire stretches along the Atlantic Ocean, just below Brittany. It is a very scenic region, with some 30 miles of the Jade Coast, plenty of green countryside, and 250 miles of waterways.Starting roughly where the huge châteaux of the Loire Valley end and winding west with the river to fine beaches and islands on the Atlantic coast, lies the Western Loire. Its attractions make up the best of two worlds: inland and aquatic.

Normandy

During the American assault of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, the Second Ranger Battalion scaled the 100-foot cliff of the Pointe-du-Hoc and seized the German artillery pieces. Normandy echoes the history of past struggles: the Norman Conquest woven into the tapestry at Bayeux; the perils of Jeanne d'Arc recorded in Rouen; and the drama of the D-Day landings recorded along the Normandy beaches.

Picardy

France itself was born in this northern province located between the Marne and the Somme, for it was here that the Franks - ancestors of the French - settled down. Picardy is the first region and the historical beginning of France; it is a veritable treasure-trove of art and natural beauty.

Champagne Ardenne

The home of champagne could only be welcoming. Accept its invitation and feast your eyes and taste buds! Champagne country, birthplace of le champagne, the world's most festive wine. La Champagne, the region where this fine bubbly is made, holds so many treasures: a rolling countryside, dotted medieval churches, timeless castles and villages along winding waterways, historic fortifications in the forested Ardennes, and vineyards as far as the eye can see between Reims and Epernay.

Auvergne

Shaped by the volcanic activity that took place 30 million years ago, the Auvergne landscape is all green mountains and wild gorges. Nature in the raw. Intriguing Auvergne, in the very center of France between Vichy and Le Puy, has a broad history from the 13th century's King Philippe Augustus to the Marquis de la Fayette. Celebrated Frenchmen from this region include Vercingétorix, the first Gaulois king, one of the great thinkers of modern times, Blaise Pascal, and former president Georges Pompidou.

Poitou Charente

The Poitou-Charentes region has a magnificent coastline - and is one of the finest destinations for countryside holidays. The region's reputation is closely linked to cognac – the superb, refined, locally-produced spirit. Poitou-Charentes is a land of tradition, where skills are passed on from generation to generation: its inhabitants know how to wait for a good product to mature – and they also know how to take the time to enjoy life and to welcome guests.

Aquitaine

An immense line of golden sandy beaches, bastides and châteaux, an abundance of vineyards, mountains and countryside - that's Aquitaine. Bountiful Aquitaine - what landscapes, culture and heritage! A generosity that is also hinted at in the diversity of its countryside: the sloping Bordeaux vineyards, the sandy heathland along the coasts of the Basque country, the plateaux of the Périgord.

Alsace

A region situated at the crossroads of Europe, Alsace is a frontier land both open to the world and attached to its own traditions. Alsace is renowned for its geranium-filled villages, its medieval capital of Strasbourg, its tasty "choucroute garni" dishes and its crispy dry white wines. Nestled between the mighty Rhine and the Vosges mountains, picturesque Alsace is fiercely French in its social and political attitudes, but ever so slightly German in its tastes and appetites.

Brittany

A region that values its idiosyncrasies, Brittany is a world of its own at the edge of the country. At the westernmost tip of France, Brittany extends out to the sea where the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel meet. Rooted in its Celtic past, Brittany presents visitors with a special personality: an ancient countryside with quiet beaches, rugged capes, melancholic moors, small fishing villages, walled cities and prehistoric megaliths

Corsica

Corsica is the "the island of beauty", with its contrasting colors: blue like the vast sea, dark green like its laricio pines, ochre like its Genoese towers and red like its creeks. Once described as "That mountain in the sea," the isle of Corsica, with over 600 miles of sandy beaches, and crested by 9,000 foot peaks, lies in the heart of the Western Mediterranean. Easily accessible by air and sea, Corsica is just 110 miles off the Southeastern coast of France and 50 miles from the shores of Italy.

Languedoc Roussillon

Miles of fine sandy beaches, a hinterland rising up the foothills of the Massif Central and the Pyrénées - Languedoc-Roussillon is a land of sun-filled charm.The Languedoc-Roussillon region, where the Pyrénées Mountains plunge into the Mediterranean, has come into its own with a sparkling group of new yacht-port resorts.

Limousin

Make a getaway to Limousin and plunge into the most lush vacation destination you could imagine - a land of trees, water and pure, clean air. The Limousin region, on the western slopes of the Massif Central, attracts visitors in search of unspoiled countryside. Almost entirely covered by a thick carpet of vegetation, lit up by a large number of rivers and lakes, Limousin is a haven of profoundly harmonious landscapes.

Lorraine

Lorraine is proud of its strategic position at the border of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. A strategic position at the crossroads of Europe explains Lorraine's long, colorful and often turbulent history, which has endowed two major cities with diverse artistic wealth: Metz, once a Gallo-Roman stronghold; and Nancy, whose elegant 18th-century buildings make artwork out of urban architecture.

Midi Pyrénées

The Midi-Pyrénées is made up of eight departments set in the heart of southwestern France. It has an incredibly wide range of natural sites: from the Pyrenees to the valley of the Dordogne and from Gascony to the Gorges du Tarn; the diversity of its landscapes is equalled only by the wealth of its heritage. One of France's most enticing and enchanting regions, the Midi-Pyrénées boasts a rich cultural, historical and natural heritage.

Pas de Calais

A region of festivities and human warmth where joie de vivre is a communal affair. Just over the border from Belgium and a tunnel ride across the Channel from England lies the Nord/Pas-de-Calais region. Its major city is Lille, the captivating crossroads of TGV Paris - Brussels and London.

Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur

With its feet in the Mediterranean and its head in the Alps, the region has an extensive palette of colorful landscapes. Provence, the Midi, these are magical names in a luminous landscape that inspired Van Gogh and Cézanne, and changed the course of modern painting. They have also created a new current in contemporary travel.

Franche Comté

Between the Vosges and the Jura, Franche-Comté is one of those regions where the natural surroundings are second to none. Verdant and friendly, Franche-Comté occupies France's mid-east, located between the old Duchy of Burgundy and Switzerland, and embraces the western part of the dramatic Jura Mountains.

Most of the cities in France would have an "Office du tourisme". These can help at making itineraries, getting a map, get information about accommodation, visit chateaux, organise wine testing and so on.

Get in

Passport and Visa

France is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For EU, EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) or Swiss citizens, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Others will generally need a passport for entry.

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: Not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union.

Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you travelling within the Schengen area or not, some airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.

Keep in mind that the counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa.

As of January 2010 only the citizens of the following non-EU/EEA/Swiss countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area; note that they must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work while in the EU: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.

Note that

  • while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
  • British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.

However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.

Further note that

(*) Macedonian, Montenegrin and Serbian citizens need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel and

(**) Serbian citizens with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (Serbs residing in Kosovo) still do need a visa.

By plane

The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) [1], is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for most intercontinental flights. AF and the companies forming the SkyTeam Alliance (Dutch KLM, AeroMexico, Alitalia, US Continental, NorthWest and Delta Airlines, Korean Air) use Terminal 2 while most other foreign airlines use Terminal 1. A third terminal is used for charter flights. If transferring through CDG (especially between the various terminals) it is important to leave substantial time between flights. Ensure you have no less than one hour between transfers. Add more if you have to change terminals as you will need to clear through security.

Transfers to another flight in France: AF operates domestic flights from CDG too, but a lot of domestic flights, and also some internal European flights, use Orly, the second Paris airport. For transfers within CDG you can use the free bus shuttle linking all terminals, train station, parking lots and hotels on the platform. For transfers to Orly there is a (free for AF passengers) bus link operated by AF. The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF has agreements with the SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGVs (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For transfer to Paris see Paris.

Other airports have international destinations: Paris - Orly, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to cities in western Europe and North-Africa; those airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.

Some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80 km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites.

Ryanair flies direct from the UK to Montpellier, Perpignan, Nimes, Carcassonne and Béziers in Languedoc Roussillon.

Shuttle service in Paris: Paris Star Shuttle [2]

By train

The French rail company, SNCF, provides direct service from most European countries using regular trains. French train tickets can be purchased directly in the US from RailEurope [3] a subsidiary of the SNCF. The Eurostar [4] service uses high-speed to connect Lille and Paris with London, the latter via the Calais-Dover channel tunnel. More recently, the Eurostar [5] has been expanded within London with the opening of St Pancras International in November 2007. You can now travel from London to Paris in 2 hours 15 minutes. The Thalys [6] service uses high-speed TGV trains [7] to connect Paris to Brussels and onward to cities in the Netherlands and Germany.

  • There is no single national bus service. Furthermore, buses are limited to local mass transit or departmental/regional service. You must therefore check for the peculiarities of bus service in the actual region you are in. However, bus tickets in the region of Ile De France generally cost about 1.40€.

Get around

By plane

The following carriers offer domestic flights within France:

  1. Air France [8] (Ajaccio (Campo Dell Oro Airport), Annecy-Meythet Airport, Avignon-Caum Airport, Bastia (Poretta Airport), Biarritz Parme Airport, Bordeaux Airport, Brest (Guipavas Airport), Caen (Carpiquet Airport), Calvi (Sainte Catherine Airport), Clermont-Ferrand (Aulnat Airport), Figari (Sud Corse Airport), Lannion (Servel Airport), Le Havre (Octeville Airport), Lille (Lesquin Airport), Limoges (Bellegarde Airport), Lorient (Lann Bihoue Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport, Metz/Nancy (Metz-Nancy-Lorraine Airport), Montpellier (Mediterranee Airport), Mulhouse/Basel (EuroAirport French), Nantes Atlantique Airport, Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport), Paris (Charles De Gaulle Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Pau (Uzein Airport), Perpignan (Llabanere Airport), Quimper (Pluguffan Airport), Rennes (St Jacques Airport), Rodez (Marcillac Airport), Rouen (Boos Airport), Strasbourg (Entzheim Airport), Tarbes Ossun Lourdes Airport, Toulon (Hyeres Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
  2. Airlinair [9] (Aurillac Airport, Bastia (Poretta Airport), Beziers Vias Airport, Bordeaux Airport, Brest (Guipavas Airport), Brive-La-Gaillarde (Laroche Airport), La Rochelle (Laleu Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Mulhouse/Basel (EuroAirport French), Nantes Atlantique Airport, Paris (Orly Field), Poitiers (Biard Airport), Rennes (St Jacques Airport), Saint Nazaire (Montoir Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
  3. CCM [10] (Ajaccio (Campo Dell Oro Airport), Bastia (Poretta Airport), Calvi (Sainte Catherine Airport), Figari (Sud Corse Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport, Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
  4. Twin Jet [11] (Cherbourg (Maupertus Airport), Marseille Airport, Metz/Nancy (Metz-Nancy-Lorraine Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Saint Etienne (Boutheon Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
  5. easyJet [12] (Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport), Paris (Charles De Gaulle Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
  6. Hex'Air [13] (Le Puy (Loudes Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Paris (Orly Field), Rodez (Marcillac Airport))
  7. Air Austral [14] (Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport)
  8. Heli Securite [15] (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
  9. Nice Helicopteres [16] (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))

By car

See also: Driving in France

France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards although may not accept foreign credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.

Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centers tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.

France drives on the right.

A French driver flashing headlights means they are asserting their right of way and warning you of their intentions and presence. Do not use it to mean thank-you. Flashing headlights can also often mean, "Watch out, there's a police speed-check ahead of you!"

By thumb

France is a good country for hitchhiking. Be patient, prepare yourself for a long wait or walk and in the meantime enjoy the landscape. A ride will come along. People who stop are usually friendly and not dangerous. They will like you more if you speak a little French. They never expect any money for the ride.

Remember that getting out of Paris by thumb is almost impossible. You can try your luck at the portes, but heavy traffic and limited areas for stopping will try your patience. It's a good idea to take the local train to a nearby suburb as your chance of being picked up will increase dramatically.

Outside Paris, it's advisable to try your luck after roundabouts. As it's illegal to hitchhike on the motorways (autoroutes) and they are well observed by the police, you may try on a motorway entry. The greatest chance is at toll plazas (stations de péage), some of which require all cars to stop and are thus great places to catch a lift. Some tollbooths are really good, some not so good. If you've been waiting for a while with an indication of where to go, drop it and try with your thumb only. And also, you can try to get a ride to the next good spot in the wrong direction.

Note, though, that hitching from a péage, while a common practice, isn't legal and French police or highway security, who are normally very tolerant of hitchhikers, may stop and force you to leave. You can get free maps in the toll offices - these also indicate where you can find the "all-stop-Péage".

Car Hire Once you land in France you may need to use car hire services and most of the leading companies operate from French airports. There is good merit in booking car hire in advance but it is a regular experience at smaller french airports to not get the type of car you booked online but an alternative model. Sometimes the alternative model is quite different but do not be afraid to stand your ground.

It is a good tip when travelling in numbers to get one member of the party with hand luggage to go straight through to the car hire desk ahead of everybody else, this will avoid the crush once the main luggage is picked up from the conveyor.

By train

Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Train). Reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

The French national railway network is managed by Réseaux Ferrés de France, and most of the trains are run by the SNCF [17] (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). For interregional trains you can get schedules and book tickets online at voyages-sncf.com [18]. For regional trains, schedules can be found at ter-sncf.com [19] (choose your region, then "Carte and horaires" for maps and timetables). Booking is available in two classes: première classe (First Class) is less crowded and more comfortable but can also be about 50% more expensive than deuxième classe (Second Class). Note that if your TGV is fully-booked, step aboard seconds before the doors close, and look for the guard ("contrôleur"). He will find you a seat somewhere.

There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:

  • TER. Regional trains : TER are slow but do serve most stations. "E" means "Express"....  edit
  • Corail Intercité. normal day (no special name) operate to and from most cities in France and are usually your best bet for destinations all over France. These are the trains you'll find yourself on if you have a Eurail pass, and don't want to pay extra for reservations.  edit
  • Corail Téoz. As Corail Intercité but you need a reservation.  edit
  • Corail Lunéa. night trains (no special name) operate to and from most cities in France and are usually your best bet for destinations all over France. These are the trains you'll find yourself on if you have a Eurail pass, and don't want to pay extra for reservations.  edit
  • TGV, [20]. The world-famous French high-speed trains (Trains à Grande Vitesse) run several times a day to the Southeast Nice(5-6h), Marseille (3h) and Avignon (2.5 h), the East Geneva (3h) or Lausanne, Switzerland and Dijon (1h15) , the Southwest Bordeaux (3h), the West Rennes (3h) and the North Lille (less than 1h). Eurostar to London (2h15) and Thalys to Brussels (1h20) use almost identical trains.  edit
  • Thalys, [21]. A high-speed train service running daily to/from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany - it can be a bit expensive compared to normal trains.  edit
  • Intercity. Intercity trains leave for all parts of Europe, including overnight trains to San Sebastian in Spain, Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.  edit
  • Eurostar, [22]. The Eurostar service connects Paris with London directly and Brussels indirectly, as well many other destinations indirectly through the various west European rail services. Travel time between Paris and London through St. Pancras International currently averages at 2 hours 15 minutes, following the opening of a new rail link in late 2007.  edit

If you'll be doing more than about 2 return journeys in France, and are younger than 26, getting a "Carte 12-25" will save you money. They cost €49, last a year and generally give a 50% reduction on ticket prices.

If you've booked online on Voyages SNCF [23], you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train station. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, this web site allows you to order even if you live in the US; it is not concerned where you live, but where you will pick up the tickets or have them sent; thus if you wish to pick up the tickets at a SNCF train station or office, answer "France". When at the station, just go to the counter ("Guichet") and ask to have your ticket issued ("retirer votre billet"). You can ask "Je voudrais retirer mon billet, s'il vous plait", or 'zhe voo dray ruh teer ay mon bee yay, sill voo play' and then hand them the paper with the reference number.

To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track ("Voie") number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains. On other long-distance trains, you can optionally make reservations (at least one day in advance); if you do not have one you may use any unused seat not marked as reserved. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train coach number ("Voit. No"). Pay attention to the possible confusion between track number (Voie) and coach (voiture) number (abbreviated Voit) As you go down the track, the coach number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors.

The reserved seat rules are lax; you'll not be fined if you switch seats or use another seat if it is empty because the TGV is not fully booked, or if the other person agrees to switch with you. The only requirement is not to continue using a reserved seat if the person holding the reservation claims it.

On the main lines, TGVs often run in twos. There are two possibilities: either the two TGVs are considered as one train with one train number (in this case each coach has a different number); or the two TGVs are considered as separate trains which run together during a part of their journey, with two different train numbers (in this case, the two trains may have two close numbers such as 1527 and 1537), and each train will have its own coach numbering. So be sure you are in the right train (the train number is shown on the LCD screen, with the coach number).

If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will line up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can stand by the letter corresponding with your coach number and wait to board the train closest to your coach. You can easily go from one coach to another, so if you are very late, jump in any coach of the same class before the train starts, wait until most people are seated, then walk to your coach and seat number.

Beware: To avoid any form of fraud, your ticket must be punched by an automatic machine ("composteur") to be valid. Older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray. The machines are situated at the entrance of all platforms. Failure to punch the ticket may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on how the conductor feels. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket you MUST find the conductor ("contrôleur") and tell him about your situation before he finds you.

French information booths, especially in larger train stations, can be quite unhelpful, especially if you do not understand much French. If something does not seem to make sense, just say "excusez-moi" or ex qu say mwa, and they should repeat it.

Night train services also exist. These include couchettes second class (6 bunk beds in a compartment), first class (4 bunks) and Reclining seats. wagon-lits (a compartment with 2 real beds) were totally withdrawn from French overnight trains. However, you can ask for a "private room" (in first class). Night trains have occasionally been targeted by criminals, though this is not a widespread problem.

L'Anglais et les Français

Yes, it's true: while most people in France under the age of 60 have studied English, they are often unable or unwilling to use it. This is not necessarily linguistic snobbery, but is usually due to lack of practice, or fear that their little-used-since-high-school English will sound ridiculous. Please note that British English, spoken with the carefully articulated "received pronunciation", is what is generally taught in France; thus, other accents (such as Irish, Scottish, Southern US or Australian accents) may be understood with difficulty, if at all. Try to speak clearly and slowly, and avoid slang or US-specific words or phrases. There is no need to speak loudly (unless in a loud environment) to be understood; doing so is considered impolite. Don't forget that French people will really appreciate any attempts you do to speak French.

See also: French phrasebook

French is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words. For example, throughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we" is pronounced "waay." It's similar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes".

In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a dialect of German called "Alsatian", which is almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard High German, is spoken. In the south, some still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc (because the word for "yes" is oc): Languedocien, Limousin, Auvergnat, or Provençal. Langue d'Oc is a Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan. In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French. In parts of Aquitaine, Basque is spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken.In Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera. In Paris, the ethnic Chinese community in Chinatown also speaks Teochew.

However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever come across regional languages, except in order to give a "folkloric" flair to things.

Hardly anybody understands imperial units such as gallons or Fahrenheit. Stick to metric units.

The French are generally attached to politeness and will react coolly to strangers that forget it. You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos/goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes. It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "bonjour". For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases, or some equivalent polite form in English, goes a long way to convince them to try and help you.

  • "Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame": Excuse me (ex-CUE-zeh-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM)
  • "S'il vous plait Monsieur/Madame" : Please (SEEL-voo-PLAY)
  • "Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you (mare-SEE)
  • "Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye (Ore-vwar)

Note that French spoken with an hard English accent or an American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand. In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say. But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated. A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English (If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in the more tourist-orientated areas, especially in Paris).

Please note that some parts of France (such as Paris) are at times overrun by tourists. The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping for the umpteenth time foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city. Be courteous and understanding.

As France is a very multicultural society, many African languages, Arabic, Chinese dialects, Vietnamese or Cambodian could be spoken.

Buy

Vacations

Many of the French take their vacations in August. As a result, outside of touristic areas, many of the smaller stores (butcher shops, bakeries...) will be closed in parts of August. This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians. Obviously, in touristy areas, stores will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August. In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during Easter week-end.

Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the touristic season.

Mountain areas tend to have two touristic seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking.

Money

France is part of the Eurozone, so as in many other European Union countries the currency used is the euro (symbol: ). Some foreign currencies such as the US dollar and the British Pound are occasionally accepted, especially in touristic areas and in higher-end places, but one should not count on it; furthermore, the merchant may apply some unfavourable rate. In general, shops will refuse transactions in foreign currency.

It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside (note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum).

Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard. American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Check with your bank for applicable fees (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee).

French CB cards (and CB/Visa and CB/Mastercard cards) have a "smart chip" on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions. This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer British cards are compatible. Some automatic retail machines (such as those vending tickets) may be compatible only with cards with the microchip. In addition, cashiers unaccustomed to foreign cards possibly do not know that foreign Visa or Mastercard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don't sign the transactions.

There is (practically) no way to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France.

Automatic teller machines (ATM) are by far the best way to get money in France. They all take CB, Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France. They may accept other kinds of card; check for the logos on the ATM and on your card (on the back, generally) if at least one matches. It is possible that some machines do not handle 6-digit PIN codes (only 4-digit ones), or that they do not offer the choice between different accounts (defaulting on the checking account). Check with your bank about applicable fees, which may vary greatly (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee; because of the fixed fee it is generally better to withdraw money in big chunks rather than €20 at a time). Also, check about applicable maximal withdrawal limits.

Traveller's cheques are difficult to use — most merchants will not accept them, and exchanging them may involve finding a bank that accepts to exchange them and possibly paying a fee.

Note that the postal service doubles as a bank, so often post offices will have an ATM. As a result, even minor towns will have ATMs usable with foreign cards.

Exchange offices (bureaux de change) are now rarer with the advent of the Euro - they will in general only be found in towns with a significant foreign tourist presence, such as Paris. Some banks exchange money, often with high fees. The Bank of France no longer does foreign exchange.

Do's Put money into your checking account, carry an ATM card with a Cirrus or Plus logo on it and a 4-digit pin and withdraw cash from ATMs. Pay larger transactions (hotel, restaurants...) with Visa or Mastercard. Always carry some € cash for emergencies.

Don't's Carry foreign currency ($, £...) or traveller's cheques, and exchange them on the go, or expect them to be accepted by shops.

Stores

Inside city centers, you will find smaller stores, chain grocery stores (Casino) as well as, occasionally, department stores and small shopping malls. Residential areas will often have small supermarkets (Champion, Intermarché). Large supermarkets (hypermarchés such as Géant Casino or Carrefour) are mostly located on the outskirts of towns and are probably not useful unless you have a car.

Eat

With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important - try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.

There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardised menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. There are also specific local restaurants, like "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons, "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris), etc.

Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or "traiteurs" (fast-food). They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities. Many places have "Italian" restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors. You will also find North African (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) as well as Greek and Lebanese food. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) are also available; note that McDonalds is more upmarket in France than in the US.

In France, taxes (19.6 per cent of the total) and service (usually 15 per cent) are always included in the bill ; so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service.

Menu fixed price seldom include beverages. If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water (Évian, Thonon) or fizzy water (Badoit, Perrier), at a premium; ask for a carafe d'eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink. Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested (and water with ice may not be available).

As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages. Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket.

Ordering is made either from fixed price menus (prix fixe) or à la carte. A typical fixed price menu will comprise:

  • appetizer, called entrées or hors d'œuvres
  • main dish, called plat
  • dessert (dessert) or cheese (fromage)

Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of three steps, at a reduced price.

Coffee is always served as a final step (though it may be followed by liquors). A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange.

Not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner, nor are they open all year around. It is therefore advisable to check carefully the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner begins at around 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in the downtown area. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas.

In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity. For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations in order to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you're considering is specially advised in guide books.

A lunch or dinner for two on the "menu" including wine and coffee will cost you (as of 2004) €70 to €100 in a listed restaurant in Paris. The same with beer in a local "bistro" or a "crêperie" around €50. A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as €6 if one looks carefully.

Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will include a fourth course, usually cheese. As everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy travelled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember in your plate.

Bread

All white bread variants keep for only a short time - must be eaten the same day. Hence bakers bake at least twice a day!

  • The famous baguette: a long, thin loaf
  • Variants of the baguette : la ficelle (even thinner), la flûte
  • Pain de campagne or Pain complet: made from whole grain which keeps relatively well.

Pastries

Pastries are a large part of French cooking. Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines (pieces of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat, not dissimilar to a chocolate filled croissant (but square rather than crescent shaped).

Pastries can be found in a pâtisserie but also in most boulangeries.

Regional dishes

Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally each region has a unique and widespread dish (usually because it was poor people's food):

  • Cassoulet (in south west) : Beans, duck, pork & sausages
  • Choucroute, or sauerkraut (in Alsace) : stripped fermented cabbage + pork
  • Fondue Savoyarde (central Alps) : Melted/hot cheese with alcohol
  • Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy) : Pieces of beef (in boiled oil), usually served with a selection of various sauces.
  • Raclette (central Alps) : melted cheese & potatoes/meat
  • Pot-au-feu boiled beef with vegetables
  • Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy) : slow cooked beef with gravy
  • Gratin dauphinois (Rhone-Alpes) : oven roasted slices of potatoes
  • Aligot (Auvergne) : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes
  • Bouillabaisse (fish + saffron) (Marseille and French Riviera). Don't be fooled. A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least €30/persons. If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like €15/persons, you'll get a very poor quality.
  • Tartiflette (Savoie) Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon.
  • Confit de Canard (Landes) : Duck Confit, consists of legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called "French Paradox" (eat richly, live long).
  • Foie Gras (Landes) : The liver of a duck or goose. Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price (because of their purchasing power) around the holiday season. It is the time of year when most of foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with Champagne.

Cooking and drinking is a notable part of the French culture, take time to eat and discover new dishes...

Unusual foods

Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead.

  • Frogs' legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab.
  • Most of the taste of Bourgogne snails (escargots de bourgogne) comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture that is what is liked by people who like snails. Catalan style snails ("cargols") are made a completely different way, and taste much weirder.

Let us also cite:

  • Rillettes sarthoise. A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork. A delicious speciality of the Sarthe area in the north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pate.
  • Beef bone marrow (os a moelle). Generally served in small quantities, with a large side. So go ahead: If you don't like it, you'll have something else to eat in your plate.
  • Veal sweetbread (ris de Veau), is a very fine (and generally expensive) delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborates dishes like "bouchees a la reine".
  • Beef stomach (tripes) is served either "A la mode de caen" (with a white wine sauce) or "A la catalane" (with a slightly spiced tomato sauce)
  • Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon
  • Beef tongue (langue de bœuf) and beef nose(museau) and Veal head (tete de veau) are generally eaten cold (but thoroughly cooked!) as an appetizer.
  • Oysters are most commonly served raw in a half shell.
  • Oursins (sea urchins) For those who like concentrated iodine.
  • Steak tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg.
  • Cervelle, pronounced (ser-VAYL) lamb brain.

Cheese

France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaulle was quoted as saying "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?".

Here is a far from exhaustive list of what one can find:

Bleu des Causses Livarot Roquefort
Bleu du Vercors Morbier Saint Nectaire
Boulette d'Avesnes Maroilles Salers
Brie de Meaux Munster Sainte Maure de Touraine
Brie de Melun Murol Selles-sur-Cher
Broccio Neufchâtel Saint Marcellin
Camembert Ossau-Iraty Sainte Maure de Touraine
Cantal Pelardon Tomme de chèvre
Chaource Pérail Tomme des Cévennes
Comté Picodon Tomme des Cévennes
... Valençay

Dietary restrictions

Vegetarianism is not as uncommon as it used to be, especially in larger cities. Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus if you ask for something vegetarian the only things they may have available are salad and vegetable side dishes.

There may still be confusions between vegetarianism and pesce/pollotarianism. Vegetarian/organic food restaurants are starting to appear. However, "traditional" French restaurants may not have anything vegetarian on the menu, so you may have to pick something "à la carte", which is usually more expensive. Veganism is still very uncommon and it may be difficult to find vegan eateries.

Breakfast

Breakfast in France isn't the most important meal of the day and is usually very light. A cafe and a brioche, a croissant, or a pain au chocolat is the norm. Cold meats such as salami or ham, and a variety of cheeses may accompany the meal, but this is usual only on weekends and holidays.

Drink

Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire Valley... France is the home of wine. It can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Beer (lager) is also extremely popular, in particular in northern France, where "[Biere de Garde]" can be found. Note that in France, the minimum age to buy alcohol at cafés is 16 (for beer) and 18 for all others alcohol, but this is not always strictly enforced; however, laws against drunk driving are strictly enforced, with stiff penalties.

Wine and liquors may be purchased from supermarkets, or from specialized stores such as the Nicolas chain. Nicolas offers good advice on what to buy (specify the kind of wine and the price range you desire). In general, only French wines are available unless a foreign wine is a "specialty" with no equivalent in France (such as port), and they are classified by region of origin, not by grape.

Never drink alcoholic beverages (especially red wine or strong alcohol such as cognac) directly from a 75 cl bottle. Such behaviour is generally associated with bums and drunkards. Drinking beer from a 25 to 50cl can or bottle is ok.

Café prices depend heavily on location. Remember, you're not paying so much for the beverage as for the table spot; and accordingly, in general, it is cheaper to drink at the bar than seated at a table. Cafés in touristic areas, especially in Paris, are very expensive. If your intent is simply to have a drink, you'll be better off buying beverages from a grocery store and drinking them in a park.

There are a couple of mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearby francophone countries.

  • Panaché is a mix of beer and lemonade, basically a beer shandy.
  • Monaco is a Panaché with some grenadine syrup added.
  • Kir is a pleasant aperitif of white wine (in theory, Bourgogne Aligoté) or, less frequently, of champagne (then named kir royal and about twice the price of regular kir) and cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), or peche (peach), or mûre (blackberry).
  • Pastis is an anise-based (licorice-flavored) spirit that is more popular in the South, but is also available everywhere else. Served with a small pitcher of iced water that is used to dilute the drink and turns the yellow colored liquid cloudy.

Tap water is safe to drink apart from exceptional cases (remote farms, remote rest areas), in which case it will be labeled eau non potable. Tap water may be obtained in restaurants by asking for a carafe d'eau; it will not come with ice. In some cities, it may have a taste such as that of chlorine.

There is a variety of bottled water, including:

  • Évian, Thonon, Contrex: mineral water
  • Perrier: fizzy water
  • Badoit: slightly fizzy and salty water.

Sleep

Short term rentals

Travelers should definitely consider short term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodations options. Short term can be as few as several days up to months at a stretch. Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only (July & August). This type accommodation belongs to a private party, and can range from basic to luxurious. A particular advantage, aside from competitive prices, is that the accommodations come with fully fitted kitchens.

Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short term rentals on behalf of the owner, and can guide you into finding the best property, at the best price in the most suitable location for you. An internet search for the location and type of property you're looking for will usually return the names of several listing sites, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of properties for you to choose from. There are plenty of sites in both English and French, and the rental properties may be owned by people of any nationality.

France is a diverse and colourful country, and you'll find everything from stunning log chalets in the Alps, Chateaux in the countryside and beach front villas on the Riviera...plus everything in between!

Hotels

Hotels come in 4 categories from 1 to 4 stars. This is the official rating given by the Ministry of Tourism, and it is posted at the entrance on a blue shield. Stars are awarded according to objective yet somewhat outdated administrative criteria (area of the reception hall, percentage of rooms with ensuite bathroom...).

Rates vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.

As of 2004, the rate for a *** hotel listed in a reliable guidebook falls between €70 (cheap) and €110 (expensive) for a double without breakfast.

All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). Note that these are maximal rates: a hotel can always propose a lower rate in order to fill up its rooms. Bargaining is not the norm but you can always ask for a discount.

Hotels located in city centers or near train stations are often very small (15 to 30 rooms) which means that you should book ahead. Many newer hotels, business oriented, are found in the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger structures (100 rooms or more); they may not be easy to reach with public transportation. The newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and have high standards. Many older hotels are now part of chains and provide standardized service but they retain their own atmosphere.

When visiting Paris, it is essential to stay in the city; there are cheaper tourism hotels in the suburbs, but these cater to groups in motor coaches; they will be hard to reach by public transportation.

Along the highways, at the entrance of cities, you find US-like motels ; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels (e.g. Formule 1) have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using credit cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room.

B & B's and Gîtes

Throughout France, mainly in rural areas but also in towns and cities, you can find B&Bs and gîtes. B&B's are known in French as "Chambres d'hôtes", and are generally available on a nightly basis, possibly with breakfast but not always; gites or gites ruraux are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit including a kitchen, mostly on a weekly basis. There are very few near or in the cities. Finding them requires buying a guide or, for greater choice, using the internet, as you will not find a lot of signposts on the road.

Traditionally, gites provided basic good value accommodation, typically adjacent to the owners household or in a nearby outbuilding. More recently the term has been extended, and can now be used to describe most country-based self-catering accommodation in France. Hence it includes accommodation as varied as small cottages villas with private swimming pools.

During peak summer months most self-catering gites require booking several months in advance.

There are thousands of B&Bs and gites in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, and these tend to be listed, sometimes exclusively, with English-language or international organisations and websites that can be found by keying the words "gites" or "gites de france" into any of the major search engines.

There is a large number of organisations and websites offering "gites". Literally the French word gite just means a place to spend the night; however it now largely used to describe rental cottages or self-catering holiday homes, usually in rural parts of France.

Gîtes de France

A France-wide cooperative organisation, Gites de France [24] (Note the capital letters), regroups on a voluntarily basis more than 50,000 rural accommodations and was the first in France to offer a consistent rating system with comprehensive descriptions.

Despite the name, Gites de France offers B&B as well as holiday rental (gite) accommodation.The average B&B price for two including breakfast is €45-50. It is possible to rent just for a weekend, and in a group of 4 or more this becomes very cheap, especially outside the summer months. There are many gites to rent for under €150 for the whole weekend, that will sleep 5 or more people comfortably.

The "Gites de France" rating system uses wheat stalks called Epis (equivalent to stars), based on amenities rather than quality - though generally the two go together.

Through its website, bookings can be done directly with owners or through the local Gîtes de France booking agency (no extra fee for the traveler). Although an English language version is available for many of the website pages, for some departments, the pages giving details of an individual gite are only in French. The advantages of booking through the agency are that it is often possible to book on-line, payments can by made by credit/debit card and there will be someone who can be contacted by phone or e-mail who speaks English. Some French language skills might be necessary if you are dealing directly with the owner. Prices are usually competitive since they are initially geared to the local market. A 25% non refundable payment is standard policy at the time of booking. After making the booking you will receive, by post, a contract to sign. Sign and return one copy. When signing write the words "Read and approved", and the name of your home town, before signing and dating the contract. The remaining 75% of the hire charge will be required one month before the start of your holiday. When you arrive at the gite a security deposit, specified in the contact, should be given to the owner in cash. This will be returned at the end of your stay, less any fuel charges and breakages. In case of dispute with the owner the organisation will mediate since its rating system is at stake.

Gîtes d'étape

Another possibility is gîtes d'étape. These are more like overnight stays for hikers, like a mountain hut. They are mostly much cheaper than the Gîtes de France but also much more basic.

Camping

Camping is very common in France. Most campsite are a little way out of the city centre and virtually all cater not just for tents but for Camper Vans/Caravans also. While all campsites have the basic facilities of Shower/toilet blocks, larger sites tend to offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service laundries, swimming pools or bicycle hire. All campsites except for very small "farm camping" establishments must be registered with the authorities, and are officially graded using a system of stars.

In coastal areas, three-star and four-star campgrounds must generally be booked in advance during the months of July and August, and many people book from one year to the next. In rural areas, outside of popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to show up unannounced, and find a place; this is particularly true with the municipal campsites that can be found in most small towns; though even then it may be advisable to ring up or email in advance to make sure. There are always exceptions.

In France it's forbidden to camp:

  • in woods, natural, regional and national parks
  • on public roads and streets
  • on the seaside
  • less than 200 meters from watering place used for human consumption
  • on natural protected sites
  • less than 500 meters from a protected monument
  • everywhere where it's forbidden by local laws
  • on private properties without the owner's consent.

Learn

France, of course, is the best place to acquire, maintain and develop your French. A number of institutions offer a variety of courses for travellers:

  • Ecole Interculturelle de français pour étrangers [25].
  • Alliance Française, [27].
  • ESL-Ecole Suisse de Langues, learn French in Lyon with ESL [28].

Work

Citizens of EU countries (save from some Eastern European countries, for a temporary period) can work in France without having to secure a work permit. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit - check with the French Embassy in your country. Depending on your qualifications, you can find a lot of different jobs. Do not forget though that the unemployment rate is around 9%.

Note that if you are not from the EU, you cannot work legally in France without a proper work visa or employment permit. Doing so otherwise makes you an illegal alien, potentially subject to possible arrest, prosecution, expulsion, and prohibition from reentering France and the Schengen area.

If you want to earn money to continue traveling, Interim agencies (e.g. Adecco, Manpower) are a good source of temporary jobs. You can also consider working in bars, restaurants, and/or nightclubs (they are often looking for English-speaking workers, particularly those restaurants in tourist areas - fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's and Quick are also always looking for people).

A lot of "student jobs", if you happen to be in a big city, are also available for younger travelers, and foreigners are often very welcome. Such jobs include, for example, giving private English lessons, taking care of young children or many other things...check out the university buildings, they often have a lot of advertisements. An easy way to find job offers in France is to use Trovit.fr [29], search engine for job offers in France.

Don't forget that being an English speaker is a big advantage when you're looking for a job - French employers really have a problem finding English-speaking workers. Do note, however, that it will be much easier for you if you know a bit of French, for the same reason (your colleagues are not likely to speak English). However, don't overestimate your chances of finding work; in March 2005 unemployment is back at 10%, and a whopping 22% among under-25's.... many of whom speak or understand English. There are a lot more people looking for jobs than there are jobs - except those unattractive jobs that no-one wants to do.

The French work market tends to operate through personal contacts - if you know someone that works somewhere, you can probably figure out quite an easy way to work at that place too. It always helps to know people living in the area you wish to work.

In France you will find jobs on CadrEmploi [30].

Stay safe

Crimes

Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17. Law enforcement forces are the National Police (Police Nationale) in urban area and the Gendarmerie in rural area, though for limited issues such as parking and traffic offenses some towns and villages also have a municipal police.

France is not a high crime area but large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against tourists or strangers is rather rare, but there is a significant amount of pickpocketing and purse-snatching.

The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which are better to avoid. Parts of the suburban are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing; however these are almost always far from touristic points and you should have no reason to visit them. Common sense applies: it is very easy to spot derelict areas.

The subject of crime in the poorer suburbs is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones, since many people associate it with working-class youth of North African origin. You should probably not express any opinion on the issue.

If driving along the AutoRoutes particulary near Nice be warned of a robbery that has become incresingly common in recent years. Gangs either in cars or on motorcycle surround cars (especially foreign and rental cars) and force them to stop. During this time the crooks smash your windows and grab what they can. If it appears that a gang is attempting to rob you, remain calm and keep driving. Get off at the next rest area, these are nearly always well Policed. Gangs will usually give up if you pull into a rest stop.

Contrary to what Lonely Planet guides would have you believe Smash and grab attacks on cars stopped at red lights are very rare and where it does happen, the intersections are usually only located in busy town and city areas that are well policed.

If you are traveling alone, especially if you are a woman, you should avoid using public transportation at night time (e.g. Noctambus in Paris) especially on links between the city center and the suburbs.

Usual caution apply for tourists flocking around sights as they may become targets for pickpockets.

While it is not compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, they usually do so. Foreigners should carry some kind of official identity document. Although random checks are not the norm you may be asked for an ID in some kinds of situations, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation; not having one in such cases will result in you being taken to a police station for further checks. Even if you feel that law enforcement officers have no right to check your identity (they can only do so in certain circumstances), it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; better to put up with it and show ID. Again, the subject is touchy as the police have often been accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity : délit de sale gueule = "odd face misdemeanor".

Due to the terrorist factor, police, with the help of military units, are patrolling monuments, the Paris subway, train stations and airports. Depending on the status of the "Vigipirate" plan (anti terrorist units) it is not uncommon to see armed patrols in those areas. The presence of police is of help for tourists, as it also deters pickpockets and the like. However, suspicious behaviour, public disturbances etc., may result in policemen asking to see an ID.

In France, failing to offer assistance to 'a person in danger' is illegal. This means that if you fail to stop upon witnessing a motor accident, fail to report such an accident to emergency services, or ignore appeals for help or urgent assistance, you may be charged. Penalties include suspended prison sentence and fines. The law does not apply in situations where to answer an appeal for help might endanger your life or the lives of others.

Controlled substances

Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude (e.g. the Netherlands) are especially targeted. Police have often been known to stop entire coaches and search every passenger and their bags thouroughly just because they're coming from Amsterdam.

France has a liberal policy with respect to alcohol; there are usually no ID checks for purchasing alcohol (if you look older than 18, of course!) However, causing problems due to public drunkenness is a misdemeanor and may result in a night in a police station until the person can behave themselves. Drunk driving is a severe offense and may result in heavy fines and jail sentences.

A little etiquette note: while it is common to drink beer straight from the bottle at informal meetings, doing the same with wine is normally only done by bums (clochards).

Stay healthy

Medical help

The health care in France is considered to be in very high standards. The World Health Organization (WHO) even considers France's health care to be one of the best in the world (In addition, the WHO ranks their health care to be number one).

Pharmacies in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. Contrary to the US habit, they don't double as general stores, and only sell medicine, contraceptives and often beauty and related products (though these can be very expensive). Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even for non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and can propose you generic drugs.

Since drug brand names vary across countries even though the effective ingredients stay the same, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name. Prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives (aka "the pill"), will only be delivered if a doctor's prescription is shown.

In addition, supermarkets sell condoms (préservatifs) and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical helps. Préservatif machines are often found outside pharmacies and in bar toilets etc.

Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed physicians, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists (e.g. gynecologists), and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying Docteur (médicine générale = general practitioner, etc.). The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is €21, though some physicians charge more (this is the full price and not a co-payment). Physicians may also do home calls, but these are more expensive.

Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travellers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even if at a public hospital; non-EU travellers should thus probably have a travel insurance covering medical costs. Note, however, that, in general, medical fees in France, even when paying the full price, are low compared to those in the United States.

Emergencies

Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgences.

The following numbers are toll-free:

  • 15 Medical emergencies
  • 17 Law enforcement emergencies (for e.g. reporting a crime)
  • 18 Firefighters
  • 112 European standard emergency numbers.

Operators at these numbers can transfer requests to other services if needed (e.g. some medical emergencies may be answered by firefighter groups).

Smoking

Smoking is prohibited by law in all enclosed spaces accessible to the public (this includes train and subway cars, train and subway station enclosures, workplaces, restaurants and cafés) unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. There was an exception for restaurants and cafés, but since the 1st January 2008, the smoking ban law is also enforced there. You may face a fine of €68 if you are found smoking in these places.

Though no smoking rules in cafes and restaurants exist, they are widely flouted. The French have a seemingly ignorant habit of disregarding 'stupid laws' so if you are particularly sensitive to cigarette smoke ask either for an outside table or sit near an open window. Be warned in summer when the majority of France is overrun by a heatwave the smell of nicotine becomes stronger and makes eating out hell for asthma sufferers.

Smoking is banned in métro and trains, as well as enclosed stations. Subway and train conductors do enforce the law and will fine you for smoking in non-designated places; if you encounter problems with a smoker in train, you may go find the conductor.

As hotels are not considered as public places, some offer smoking vs non-smoking rooms.

Only people over the age 16 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID.

Respect

Loudness

It is considered very rude to be loud in a crowded place, such as a subway car or restaurant. Keep in mind that, though you may be enjoying your holiday, most people around you in the métro or other places are probably going to or back from work and may be tired and thus will react very coolly to tourists babbling at the top of their lungs.

Dress code

Dress codes are fast disappearing all over the country but very few French people will wear white sneakers, baseball caps, tracksuit pants and flip-flops (except at the beach). Nobody will tell you anything, you will just be labeled as a tourist. Generally speaking, business casual dress code is sufficient in cities and in all but the most formal occasions.

People won't be offended (although they may be surprised, especially in rural areas) if you wear clothing that is unusual in France, such as a sari, a Scottish kilt, or djelabas.

Usual courtesy apply when entering churches, and although you may not be asked to leave, it is better to avoid short pants and halter tops.

Some restaurants will frown if you come in dressed for trekking but very few will insist upon a jacket and tie. At the same time you'll be surprised by the number of French twenty-somethings who show up at a grungy bar in jacket and tie, even if obviously from a thrift-shop.

Beaches and swimming pools (in hotels) are used for getting a tan. Taking off your bra will not usually create a stir if you don't mind a bevy of oglers. Taking off the bottom part is reserved to designated nude beaches. People on beaches are usually not offended by a young boy or girl dressed or undressed without covering. Most resort cities insist on your wearing a shirt when leaving the beach area. Many pools will not allow baggy or "board" swim trunks insisting on snug fitting speedo type trunks.

Breast feeding in public is very rare but nobody will mind or call the police if you do.

Talking to people

If you try to use your French to address people be careful about the use of "tu" (informal, friendly, and called tutoyer; which is a verb, to call someone "tu") and "vous" (formal, respectful, and called vouvoyer; vb. to call someone vous) forms. Using tu can be demeaning to people, since this is the form normally used for addressing children or close friends.

People who do not know each other well seldom use their first name to introduce themselves. Refrain from using someone's first name unless you are invited to do so or if you are with people used to dealing with foreigners. Actually French people will use the "tu" and the "vous", "first name" or "surname" depending on their relationship and the code is not easy to learn.

If that's confusing (or not confusing enough) the key is that it's all about distance. For example a bartender is vous up until the moment that he or she gives you a complementary drink, at which point tu becomes more appropriate, and the use of vous would be a bit off-putting.

For foreigners, the best way to deal with the "tu" and "vous" problem is to address people using "vous" until invited to say "tu", or until addressed by the first name. Doing so will look perhaps a shade old fashioned, but always respectful, while doing otherwise can be pretty rude and embarrassing in some situations. Always use the "vous" form to a law enforcement officer (or other person of authority), even if he may (though he ought not) use the "tu" form to talk to you.

Simplified: Use vous unless:

  • the person is genuinely your friend;
  • the person is under 16; or
  • you've been explicitly told to use "tu"

Sensitive topics

France is not exactly the same country that one sees portrayed on American television. Its people have a wide variety of opinions about many subjects. Unless you really follow French news closely, you should probably steer clear of discussing internal French politics, especially sensitive issues such as immigration - you probably don't know much about them and will come across as judgmental and uninformed. Reading French newspapers to get a feel for the wide spectrum of political opinions in France – from the revolutionary left to the nationalistic right – would help.

The French seldom advertise their religious feelings, however, and expect you to do so as well. Doing so would make people quite not at ease. It is also generally considered nosey to inquire about religious or other personal issues. You should also avoid presenting yourself through what you own (house, car...). Do not mention how much you are making in your job until being clearly asked about it, it would otherwise be considered obscene. Instead express your enthusiasm about how great are the responsibilities, or how lucky you were to get there.

Jokes about alleged French military cowardice will be reacted to very coolly. France lost a tremendous amount of soldiers during the First World War in order to defend itself. Not only such jokes will not make anybody laugh, but also you will be considered arrogant and ignorant. These jokes are also far off the truth when one looks at the number of wars France has waged during the 20th century.

Anti-French feelings, especially popular amongst the British and Americans, can be fueled by the inadvertent reduction of France to Paris, that is, that all French people act like Parisians, when this is quite far from the truth. Many rural people say that France is a blessed country, the inference drawn that it is cursed by Paris (or the Government. This also included the Germans, but is rare since the 50s). Paris is a fairly unusual city by French standards and life there is, in some respects, closer to life in London or New York City than in the rest of France. A traveler's experiences with French culture in Paris should be treated as one would treat an experience in the traveler's own country's largest cities; that is, the locals are hurried and "have seen it all". No doubt an American would not consider a trip to New York City as a typical American experience. Reserve judgement until having traveled far afield of Paris.

Contact

Phones

Country code : +33

All french numbers have 10 digits. The first two digits are:

  • 01 for Parisian region
  • 02 for Northwest
  • 03 for Northeast
  • 04 for Southeast
  • 05 for Southwest
  • 06 for the cellphones
  • 07 will be affected for the cellphones during 2010.
  • 08 have special prices (from free to very costly) (Skype numbers start with 08).
  • 09 if they are attached to Voice over IP telephones connected to DSL modems from French DSL providers that integrate such functions.

See this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_numbers_in_France

You cannot drop the first two digits even if your call remains within the same area. The initial '0' may be replaced by some other digit or longer code indicating a choice of long-distance operator. Don't use this unless explicitly told to.

When speaking phone numbers, people will usually group the digits by sets of two. For example, 02 47 66 41 18 will be said as "zero-two forty-seven sixty-six forty-one eighteen" (but in French, of course). The two-digit pair 00 is said as "zero zero", not "double zero". for example if your phone number is 02 47 66 41 18 in france it would be an would be said as zéro deux/quarante-sept/soixante-six/quarante et un/dix-huit.

You can to visit this site to find instructions about the nationals and internationals calls: [31]

To enjoy cheap international calls from France travelers can get a local France Sim Card [32] online before they leave or use low-cost dial-around services such as appellemonde [33] or allo2556 [34]. Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in France. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services allows you to call USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at local rate (tarif local) so you can easily save on your phone bill. They also work from payphones, though the first minute is surcharged by France Telecom. To know how to order a landline (ligne fixe) in France you can click on landline providers in France [35]. Another method, if you stay long, is to use VoIP over DSL, such as the Livebox or Freebox service (free long distance calls within France and to a number of countries).

To call a french number from abroad, dial: international prefix + 33 + local number without the leading 0. For example: ++33 247 664 118

There are few companies which provide toll-free numbers (starting with 08 00) but many have numbers starting with 081, for which you pay the cost of a local call regardless of where you are in the country.

Numbers starting with 089 are (heavily) surtaxed. They provide service to some legitimate businesses but the ones you see advertised all over the country are usually for adult services.

Emergency numbers are 15 (medical aid), 17 (police station) and 18 (fire/rescue). You can also use the European emergency number 112 (perhaps a better choice if you don't speak French). These calls are free, and are accessible from virtually any phone, including locked cellphones. In case of a serious emergency, if you find a code-protected cellphone, enter a random code three times: the phone will lock, but you will be able to dial emergency numbers.

Phone booths are available in train or subway stations, bus stops, near tourist attractions etc. There is at least one phone booth in every village (look on the main plaza). Due to the widespread use of mobile phones there are now fewer booths than a few years ago. Most use a card (no coins). France Télécom public phones accept CB/Visa/Mastercard cards, but almost always only these with a microchip. Otherwise, post offices, café-tabacs (recognizable by a red sign hanging outside), and stores that sell magazines sell phone cards. Ask for a "carte telephonique"; these come with differing units of credit, so you may want to specify "petit" if you just want to make a short local call or two. If you get the kind with a computer chip in it, you just have to slide it into the phone, listen for the dial tone, and dial. The US-style cards require you to dial a number and then enter a code (but with spoken instructions in French).

France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in most of the world outside of the U.S. There are several companies (Orange, SFR/simpleo, Virgin Mobile, and Bouygues Telecom) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered but you may have difficulties using your mobile phone in rural or mountainous areas. However, for emergency numbers, the three companies are required by law to accept your call if they technically can, even if you are not one of their customers, thus maximizing your chance of being helped even in areas with spotty service.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 Mhz bands. Then incoming calls are free. You can get it from most mobile service provider (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom), but they have a very short validity of the card, if you don't recharge it.

Minitel

The Minitel is a now obsolete system of text terminals that were deployed in French households from the 1980s. Their main use was the phone directory (thus relieving the need for bulky collections of paper directories), but it also allowed online retailing (extension of mail order), ticket bookings etc., and was also popular for games, chat rooms... and sex-focused services.

This system still exists, companies will list their Minitel code as 36 15 (the dial-up number to get a connection) + the name of the service (to be typed in on the Minitel keyboard).

Posters advertising sex chat services ("3615 Ulla") were a common sight in French streets and shop windows, and certainly a puzzlement to the visitors unacquainted with the existence of a device which had found its place in the nation's everyday life.

The main advantages of Minitel over the Internet were simplicity (no need for a costly, difficult to operate personal computer) as well as safety (no "phishing" or fears about transmitting sensitive data such as credit cards numbers).

A few Minitels may still be found in some post offices (great for looking free of charge in the White or Yellow Pages), and a few phone booths are still equipped with one - but no, now this is totally unlikely.

Internet

Internet access is available in cyber cafes all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around €4 per hour.

In all major cities, there are multiple companies offering residential broadband service. Typical prices are €30 a month for unmetered ADSL (in speeds up to 24 megabits per second), digital HDTV over DSL and free unlimited voice-over-IP phone calls to land lines within France and about twenty other countries (EU,US,...) with external SIP access too (the price includes a modem/routeur/switch with integrated WiFi MiMo access point). Broadband services are very common in France, all over the country.

You'll also find wifi access (in Paris) in a lot of cafés usually those labelled a bit "trendy". There will be a sign on the door or on the wall. Also look for the @ symbol prominently displayed, which indicates internet availability. However, with most homes now wired for the internet, cyber cafes are increasingly hard to find, especially outside the major cities. In Paris, one popular WIFI free spot is the Pompidou Center. There is talk that the city intends to become the first major European capital providing free WIFI coverage for the whole city. Public parks and libraries in Paris are also covered.

Post

Post offices are found in all cities and villages but their time of operation vary. In the main cities the downtown office may be open during lunchtime, typically 09:00 to 18:00. Most offices are only open on Saturday morning and there is only one office in Paris which is open 24 hours and 365 days (in rue du Louvre).

Letter boxes are colored in yellow.

Parcels

International delivery services like FedEx, UPS, are available in cities, however you generally have to call them for them to come to you as they have very few physical locations.

Another option is to simply use La Poste with a wide network around the country and the same services as its competitors.

Electricity, water, etc.

Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V 50Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE 7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and most of Europe) outlets.

Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and other countries using 230V 50Hz which use different plugs simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in France. Plug adaptors for plugs from the US and UK are available from electrical and "do-it-yourself" stores such as Bricorama.

Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110V 60Hz may need a voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can accept either 110V or 230V so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.

Tap water (Eau du robinet) is drinkable, except in rare cases such as rural rest areas and sinks in train bathrooms, in which case it will be clearly signposted as Eau non potable. Eau potable is drinkable water. (You may, however, not like the taste which may be chlorinated or so, and prefer bottled water.)

Toilets are available in restaurants, cafés; there are also public facilities, which generally charge a fee. Note that American euphemisms such as "restroom", "washroom" etc. will often not be understood; ask for "toilets". In older public facilities, particularly those that do not charge or isolated rest areas, you may encounter squat toilets.

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