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 mÃ©tro or other places are probably going to or back from work and may be tired and thus will react very coldly to tourists babbling at the top of their lungs. If you listen to the locals talk, you will notice that they talk rather softly.
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.
Dress codes are fast disappearing, but if you want to avoid looking like a tourist, then avoid white sneakers, baseball caps, tracksuit pants, shorts and flip-flops except at the beach. Generally speaking, business casual dress code is sufficient in cities and in all but the most formal occasions.
Usual courtesy applies 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. You may 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 undressed. 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.
Breastfeeding in public is very rare but nobody will mind if you do.
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.
The Minitel is a mostly 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 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" are 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 are 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 they are very rare.
Toilets are available in restaurants, cafÃ©s; 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.
Internet cafes: Internet access is available in cyber cafes all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around â¬4 per hour.
Residential broadband: In all major cities, there are multiple companies offering residential broadband service. Typical prices are â¬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.
Wifi: You'll also find wifi access in Paris in a lot of cafÃ©s 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 Centre. 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.
L'anglais et les FranÃ§ais
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. If you really must speak English, be sure to begin the conversation in French and ask if the person can speak English, as assuming someone can speak a foreign language is considered very rude. 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 franÃ§ais 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", but you will often hear the slang form "ouais", said "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 ProvenÃ§al. 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, ProvenÃ§al 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 after all, French invented this system!.
The French are generally attached to politeness some might say excessively 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-COO-zay-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM
"S'il vous plaÃ®t Monsieur/Madame" : Please SEEL-voo-PLAY
"Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you mare-SEE
"Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye Ore-vwar
Avoid "Salut" Hi; it is reserved for friends and relatives, and to use it with people you are not acquainted with is considered quite impolite.
Some travel phrases:
OÃ¹ est l'hÃ´tel? - Where is the hotel?
OÃ¹ sont les toilettes? - Where can I find a restroom?
OÃ¹ est la gare? Where is the train station
Parlez-vous FranÃ§ais? Do you speak French
Parlez-vous Anglais? Do you speak English
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 blasÃ© 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. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even Romanian are comprehensible to a French speaker to a reasonably wide extent, as they are all mutually intelligible through most words and come from the same family tree, but you should stick to French unless you're in a large city.
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 like 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 unless you look much younger than 18. However, causing problems due to public drunkenness is a misdemeanor and may result in a night in a police station. 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 tramps clochards.
Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgences.
The following numbers are toll-free:
17Law enforcement emergencies for e.g. reporting a crime
112European 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 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 cafÃ©s unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. There was an exception for restaurants and cafÃ©s, but since the 1st January 2008, the smoking ban law is also enforced there. You may face a fine of â¬68 if you are found smoking in these places.
Smoking is banned in mÃ©tro 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 18 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID.
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 a very low-crime area, and is one of the safest countries in the world, but large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against tourists or strangers is very rare, but there is 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.
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 do so only in certain circumstances, it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; it is 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 e.g. dÃ©lit de sale gueule = literally "crime of a dirty face" but perhaps equivalent to the American "driving while black."
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.
The health care in France is of a very high standard.
Pharmacies in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. They sell medicines, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products though these can be very expensive. Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and 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 prÃ©servatifs and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical item. Condom machines are often found 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 mÃ©decine gÃ©nÃ©rale is general practitioner. The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is â¬23, 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 have travel insurance covering medical costs.