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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 Merranean 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 one of the most popular destinations for travellers in Continental Europe, boasting dozens of major tourist attractions. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.
France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into 7 main "cultural regions", which share common points.
The world-famous Loire Valley - best known for its wines and chateaux - extends across two regions in west and central France.
The French Republic also includes several overseas departments namely:
French overseas territories include:
The following overseas territories are remote possessions kept as natural reservations:
A very limited form of tourism is available in the TAAF islands.
Cities with the largest number of visible Roman monuments:
Cities with an outstanding Gothic cathedral :
Cities with an outstanding castle :
Fontainebleau - Vaux le Vicomte near Melun - la Malmaison in Rueil-Malmaison - the Loire Valley with Azay le Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Chenonceaux
Towns of Interest
A lot of variety, but temperate. Cool winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Merranean and in the south west. Mild winters 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.
Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south west, Vosges and Alps in east, Massif Central in the south center.
Rise and fall of the Roman empire
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 where established in Spain. The vikkings 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 warior who was later painted as a national hero.
Starting with Charlemange, a new society starts to settle, based on the personnal 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 devlopments (Music and poems of the Troubadours and Trouveres, building of the Romantic, 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. Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, 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 heroin, is Joan of Arc.
The making of a modern state nation
That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole serie of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England and Spain over the control of North America.
1789 saw the start of the French Revolution which led 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 English 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.
XXth and XXIst centuries
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 twelve European countries.
In 2004, France is a Republic with a President elected for a 5-year term. One of the main issue is the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, the defense etc.
Passport and Visa
France is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in France too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or France have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of France.
Also, there are hardly any border controls between France and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated. However, sometimes cars and buses are stopped at borders or at the first toll-booth after entering the country.
Malaysian citizen visiting France for holiday will not need a Visa.
The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) near Paris, is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for practically all international 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.
Tranfers to another flight in France : AF operates a few national flights from CDG, but mostly out of 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 TGV's (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is located in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For tranfer to Paris see Paris.
Other airports have international destinations : Paris - Orly, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to a few 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 easyJet, 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.
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 (http://www.raileurope.com) a subsidiary of the SNCF. The Eurostar (http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/eurostar/index.htm) service uses high-speed to connect Lille and Paris with London, the later via the Calais-Dover channel tunnel. The Thalys (http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/thalys/index.htm) service uses high-speed TGV trains (http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/tgv/index.htm) to connect Paris to Brussels and onward to cities in the Netherlands and Germany.
Driving in and out of France from neighbouring European countries is straightforward, as border controls have been eliminated with most (the exceptions being Switzerland and Andorra). The main toll highways follow, offering the fastest access to France - other roads can, of course, be used but with greater expenditure of time:
Eurolines (http://www.eurolines.com) connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of the continent, including Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow.
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 cr cards but you can use the automatic booth only if your card is equipped with a chip.
Policemen sometimes read your ticket at the toll station to see how long you took since joining the autoroute: (as of 2004) they are not allowed to use that info to give you a speeding ticket. On the other hand, be aware that there is a new (as of 2004) automatic photo-radar system that is being implemented throughout France. For the moment, this system is most commonly found along major highways, and near major cities. Large brown rectangular signs warn when you are entering an automatic photo-radar area.
A few tips about photo-radar area:
When not otherwise specified, the speed limit is 130 km/h on turnpikes (motorways), 110 on divided highways, 90 km/h otherwise and 50 km/h in city areas. In wet conditions, these limits are reduced to, respectively, 110 km/h, 100 km/h, 80 km/h and 50 km/h. In case of snowy/icy conditions, or under heavy fog, the speed is limited to 50 km/h on all roads.
As of october 2005, the typical fines for speeding are:
Drink driving is a very serious offense. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood, being above this limit is thus illegal and can entitle you a fine up to 750? and 6 demerit points. If you are found above 0.80g/L, or if you refuse to pass the test, the fine may reach 4500? followed by an immediate withdrawal of your driving licence.
All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat (fine 135? per persons not wearing a seat belt, 1 demerit point if the offender is the conductor)
Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare.
Signposts used in France are patterned according to EU recommandations and use mostly pictograms (not text). The following signs are essentials for finding your way on a map and avoid tickets.
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 the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). You can get schedules and book a ticket online at http://www.voyages-sncf.com, or http://www.sncf.com/indexe.htm. 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.
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 about 50? but last a year and generally give a 50% reduction on ticket prices.
If you've booked online, you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train 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, but you can pick any seat on other trains. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train car number ("voiture No"). As you go down the track, the car number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors. If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will be lined up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can go stand by the letter corresponding with your car number and wait to board the train closest to your car number.
Beware: to avoid any form of fraud, your ticket MUST be punched by an automatic machine ("composteur", older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray) situated at the entrance of all platforms to be valid. Failure to do so may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on 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 is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words.
In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a kind of German, called "Alsacian", is spoken. In the south, some people 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 Roman 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 very different from French. It is close to Welsh, spoken in Wales. In parts of Aquitaine they speak Basque, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken. 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.
While most people in France under the age of 60 have actually studied English, they are often unable or unwilling to give it a try. In most cases this is due to lack of practice or fear of sounding ridiculous — for most people, English is a highschool topic that they have long left behind. Please note that British English, spoken with the "received pronunciation", is what is generally taught in France; thus, other accents (such as Scottish or Southern US 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.
The French are generally attached to politeness and will react coolly to strangers that forget it. For instance, it is, for the French, very impolite, to start off a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "hello". 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. Note that this holds also true with many people in the service — and even tourism industries — although these are much more likely to have a co-worker who speaks good English.
Note that French spoken in the English way is hardly understandable for the average French person. Do not be surprised if people do not understand you. In such circumstances, it is best to write down what you want.
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.
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 ununderstandable language and ask for directions in the other side of the city. Be courteous and understanding.
See also: French phrasebook
As a general rule, one should be cautious when discussing the political or social conditions of the country in which one is travelling. Remember that the press in your country gives only a cursory, and possibly biased, view of the country you are visiting — thus bold remarks will come across as ignorant, arrogant, schematic and prejudiced. This is true about France as elsewhere, and you should not assume you truly understand French political or social issues just because you have read a few articles about them.
There exist a wide spectrum of political opinions and notable political parties in France, from the revolutionary Communist left to the nationalistic right. Many issues are hotly debated.
The French seldom advertise their religious feelings and consider it nosey to inquire about them (unless in special circumstances), or to try to prozelytize or evangelize others.
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.
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.
Automatic teller machines (ATM) all take CB, Visa and Mastercard and are plentyful throughout France. 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). They are by far the best way to get money in France.
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.
With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be truly magnificent. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing. 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 consisent 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. Ethnic food is available throughout France, Chinese restaurants and takeaways (actually most of them are Vietnamese) are everywhere, and large cities have North African, Greek, Italian (pizzerias) restaurants and eateries. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) is also available.
Lunch and dinner in a restaurant is "à la carte" (item by item) or on the "menu". The latter offers usually a 3-course meal ("hors d'oeuvre + plat + dessert") at a set price. Service is included but most of the time beverages are not. In the large cities, especially for lunch, restaurants are offering a "formule" which is a 2-course (either "hors d'oeuvre + plat" or "plat + dessert") meal.
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.
All restaurants are not 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 is served between 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. Unfortunately those places often think that the view will distract you from what's in your plate. In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if there are unbooked empty tables. For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations, especially if you plan to eat outside of tourist areas in order to avoid disappointment.
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. 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.
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. Try the pain au chocolat, a chocolate filled puff pastry. (Most locals seldom eat croissants, and nowadays many tend to eat breakfast cereals.)
Pastries can be found in a patisserie.
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):
Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or often having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead.
Let us also cite:
France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Here is a far from exhaustive list of what one can find:
Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire...France is the home of wine, and it can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Note that you must be 18 to buy alcohol, but this is rarely enforced.
There are a couple of mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearby francophone countries.
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. 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 euros (cheap) and 110 euros (expensive) for a double without breakfast.
All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). 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. The 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. Along the highways, at the entrance of cities, you find US-like motels ; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using cr cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room. 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.
Etap Hotel (http://www.etaphotel.com/etaphotel/gb/cartographie/index.shtml) Rooms designed for 1,2 or 3 people, with a shower, toilet, and satellite TV (from 35? to 60?). Formule 1 (http://www.hotelformule1.com/formule1/gb/accueil/index.shtml) Rooms offer functional accommodation for 1, 2 or 3 persons and have a sink with mirror and a TV. (From 25? to 50?). You can also have a look at B&B hotel (http://www.hotel-bb.com)
B & B's and Gites
In rural areas you can find B & B's and gîtes. These are not the same. B&B's are known in French as "Chambres d'hôtes", and are generally available on a nightly basis; 'gites' or 'gites ruraux' are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit, 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.
Individual listings should be found in the article for the nearest city or village.
Gîtes de France
Though the Official Gites de France (http://www.gites-de-france.fr/eng/) site has thousands of properties listed, there is no obligation to register with this organisation, There are now thousands of gites in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, offering facilities for booking and payment in sterling or in the Netherlands; it is probably true to say that most of these are not registered with Gites de France, To find them you can visit English-language sites such as Gitelink France (http://gitelink.bravepages.com/) or Gite.com (http://gite.com/), which provide links to or details of lots of properties with English-speaking owners. See videos of gites Here. (http://www.a-place-in-the-sun.com/video-tour/search-videos.php)
At the Official Gites de France site you can make reservations at 8500 B&B's and many self catering gites. The average B&B price for two including breakfast is ?46.
The "Gites de France" rating system uses wheat stalks (instead of stars).
There are also 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.
Camping is very common in France with a large proportion of campers at any site being French. Most campsite are a little way out of the city centre but most have places for not just tents but Camper Vans/Caravans also. Some campsites have additional facitities to Shower/toilet blocks, such as self-service laundries or bicycle hire for example.
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:
For European people coming from an EU country, working in France is allowed without problem, and working in many French cities is possible. 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 10%.
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.
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 McDonalds 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 tuition, taking care of young children or many other things...check out the university buildings, they often have a lot of advertisements.
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.
France is not a high crime area but large cities are plagued with the usual woes.
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 it is better to avoid. The outer ring of most cities and especially suburbs are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing. The subject is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones.
If you are traveling alone, especially if you are a woman, you should avoid using public transportation at late hours 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 compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, foreigners should, at all times, 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 your being taken to a police station for further checks. Again the subject is touchy as the police has been often accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity : délit de sale gueule = "odd face misdemeanor".
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.
Due to the terrorist factor police, with the help of military units, is 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. This presence of police is a 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.
France has a liberal policy with respect to alcohol; there are 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.
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 products. Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even for non-prescription medicines.
In addition, supermarkets sell condoms (and also often personal lubricant), bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical helps.
Dress codes are fast disappearing all over the country but very few French people will wear short pants in the city. 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, 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.
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) and "vous" (formal, respectful, and called vouvoyer) forms. People who do not know each other well seldom use their first name to introduce themselves. Refrain from using somebody'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. As an example, ladies will often call each other by their first names but use the "vous" form. On the other hand, boys in schools call each other by their surnames and use the "tu" form.
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 "comps" you a drink, at which point tu becomes more appropriate, and the use of vous 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 policeman (or other person of authority), even if he may (though he ought not) use the "tu" form to talk to you.
Country code : 33
Dialing within France : all numbers have 10 digits. The first two are 01 for the Paris area, 02, 03, 04, 05 for the other regions (respectively northwest, northeast, southeast and southwest). Numbers starting with 06 are cellphones. You cannot drop the first two digits even if your call remains within the same area.
When spelling phone numbers, people will usually group the digits by sets of two (02 47 66 41 18 will be spelled as zero-two forty-seven sixty-six forty-one eighteen). The two-number-digit '00' is spelled 'zero zero' and not 'double zero'. Dialing from France abroad : 00 + country code + number Dialing France from abroad : international prefix + 33 + number without the first 0
There are very few companies which provide an 800 number (actually starting with 08 followed by 00) but a lot have numbers starting with 08 followed by 2 which are reduced rate calls. You pay the cost of a local call wherever you are located.
Numbers starting with 089 are (heavily) surtaxed. They provide service to some legitimate businesses but the one you see advertised all over the country are usually for porn services.
Emergency numbers are 15 (Medical aid), 17 (Police station) and 18 (Fire brigade and rescue). You can also use the european emergency number 112 (better if you don't speak french). These calls are free, and are accessible from virtualy any phone. Especially, they are accessible from a locked cellphone. In case of a real emergency, and if you find a cellphone that is not belonging to you, just enter three times the wrong PIN code: the phone will be locked but you will be able to dial any emergency number.
Phone booth are available in the usual locations (train or subway stations, bus stops, near tourist attractions etc.) There is at least one phone booth in every village (look on the main plazza). Due to the widespread use of mobile phones there are now fewer booths than a few years ago. Most phones use a card (no coins). You can first try to see if your visa card will work, but probably not every phone will accept foreign cards. Otherwise, go in post offices and in café-tabac (tobacco and cigarettes are only sold in special places, most often coupled with a café, and recognizable by a red lozenge hanging outside. You must be 16 to buy tabacco), or stores that sell magazines. Ask for a phone card <<carte telephonique>>, or 'kart telephone eek'. The easiest kind to use will be the kind with a computer chip in it, so ask for a 'kart telephone eek ah poose' (or <<carte telephonique a puces>>). The cost of calling from a pay phone is calculated in "units", that is you pay one set price which gives you several minutes of talking if you are calling within France or just a few seconds if you call abroad. They will want to know how many units, or how much you want to spend, so just make a sign for little (the smallest amount), and/or say "puh teet". If you get the card with the chip in it, you just have to slide it into the phone, listen for the dial tone, and then dial. If they don't have any cards with the chips, they might give you one where you have to dial a number and then enter a code. This works the same way as the phone cards in the US, but you might have to follow instructions in french.
France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (in 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands), that is, the standard that the majority of the world outside of the US uses. There are 3 companies (Orange, SFR 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 (15, 17, 18 and 112), 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 difficult areas.
The French invented Internet in the early 70's ! Well, almost.
Actually the idea was to equip every house with a screen which could be connected to a server through phone lines. Since the Minitel had no processor the connection was very slow and initially limited to text. The use was long limited to a few companies (train and plane bookings...) until the early 80's when it was used for games and connection with escort services. This dinosaur still exists, companies will list their Minitel code as 36 15 + 4 letters. Its main advantage over the Internet is that you pay for services through your phone bill (delayed) or your phone card (instant) so there is no risk like the one associated with sending your cr card number on Internet.
Minitels are found in all post offices (great for looking free of charge in the White or Yellow Pages), and a few phone booths are equipped.
Internet access is available in cyber cafes all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around 5 euro 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 16 megabits per second), digital TV and free unlimited voice-over-IP phone calls to land lines within France.
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.
International delivery services like FedEx 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.