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This is Join Us in France Episode 213. Bonjour, I’m Annie and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, its many quirks, its history, its language, and of course, itineraries and destinations in France you want to learn about because, hopefully, you’ll be visiting soon.
On today’s episode, 10 tips for people who are traveling to Europe or France for the first time. I was in Germany and England recently and noticed a few things that would surprise anyone who hasn’t visited Europe before or maybe you’ve been a long time since your last visit? Size of hotel room, power converter, plug adapters, that sort of detail stuff that can become a pain if you don’t know about it. I’ll also answer a listener question about cutting in line in France.
Join Us in France is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the small group tour company for people who want to enjoy France to the fullest with zero stress. Check out our upcoming tour to the Dordogne in Sept 2019 on AddictedtoFrance.com. This tour is only going to be up for sale for a few more weeks, if you’d like to join Elyse and I in the Dordogne, make your move soon.
First time in Europe Show Notes
#1. Hotel Beds Won’t Have a Top Sheet.
Most hotels provide you with a duvet or comforter but no separate top sheet. It used to be that beds were made with a bottom sheet, a top sheet, blankets and a decorative bed spread. Most hotels don’t make beds that way anymore. Instead they give you a comforter wrapped in a duvet cover. But sometimes it’s too warm to sleep under the comforter, but you still want something light to cover you. It’s you’re staying at a hotel that’s 3 stars and up, they’ll probably be able to give you a top sheet. But some hotels don’t even have top sheets any more. This isn’t just in France, it’s true in England and Germany also where I’ve been recently. If that matters to you, bring a top sheet!
#2. There Will Be No Toiletries in Budget Hotels
Not even a stick of soap! Even 3 stars hotels sometimes provide you with next to nothing as far as toiletries. So, you might want to bring some! Nothing like finally getting into your hotel room, using the bathroom and realizing that you can’t wash your hands properly because there is no soap anywhere! Even if you’re just traveling with a carry-on, get the little travel size toiletries.
#3. No Wash Cloths in Hotels
This is really distressing to me, I need a wash cloth! If you do too, bring one. I do all the time now. In France we used to have these washcloths that look like an oversized mitten. I haven’t seen one of those at a hotel in years. In American hotels they still give you a tiny towel thing you can use to wash, you won’t find that in France or England or Germany. Bring one if that matters to you!
#4. Hotel Rooms in Large European Cities Are Small
, sometimes so tiny that you can’t walk all around the bed. You know what French people always say about America? They say everything is so big in America! The cars are big, streets are wide, hotel rooms are big, bathrooms are big, it feels like everything is over-sized. Even in a big city like New York, things are bigger than they are in Paris. When you get to France dear visitor from North America everything will look small to you.
Shower stalls are small, beds are small, chairs are small. When you look at hotels, if you decide to book one of the cheapest ones, be sure everything there will be small because they are packing as many rooms as possible into a small space. If you spend more you’ll get wider halls, wider stair cases, bigger bathroom, etc. When you tour America, say you’re making a stop in Tennessee, a basic room comes standard with two queen beds or a king bed with a sitting area. I’ve never been anywhere in Europe where a basic room was that big.
#5. Hotel Rooms in Europe Have Some Oddities
In England there’s usually a switch that turns on plugs. You plug in your iPhone and it doesn’t charge. That’s because you need to turn on the plug using the switch that’s next to it! In France you often need to insert your hotel magnetic key into a card reader near the door before anything electrical will work. The typical person who arrives in France for the first time gets their hotel room open and can’t turn on any lights. They think my room is defective. No, it’s not! Power is expensive in France, to make sure everything turns off when nobody is in the room, there’s the master power switch that you slide your magnetic card into.
#6. Hotel Ventilation
In France, Italy and Spain you can usually open hotel room windows for ventilation. But there isn’t necessarily mechanical ventilation. Open your windows folks!
#7. No Carpet in Hotel Rooms
Even if your hotel room has carpet, it won’t be plush. Right or wrong, Europeans think carpets are full of germs. You’ll find tile, wood and linoleum a lot more often. Short commercial carpet in England. Bring slippers maybe? That’s what I do if I’m going to be away from home for a few days. Or walk in your socks.
#8. Security Lines
There will be security searches everywhere you go. Even to enter a cathedral a big library, a museum, anywhere that draw lots of people. Travel light!
#9. Will You Need a Power Converter?
You need to understand the difference between a power converter and a plug adapter. The converter is used to convert power from 110V to 220v in Europe. Depending on what you bring to Europe, you may or may not need a power converter. For example, laptops, smart phones, tablets and camera chargers typically take any power. Look at your charger with a magnifying glass to see if it says 110-240. If that’s the case, you’re good to go, you don’t need a power converter. If it says 110, you need a power converter.
#10. You Will Need Travel Plug Adapters
What you will need for sure is a travel plug adapter because every country has differently shaped plugs. The travel plug adapter is a plastic and metal thingy that turns your US plug into one that will fit into and English plug or into a French plug or Italian plug. You’d think that all plugs would be the same all over Europe, but no. England has very different plugs than France. Spain, Italy, Germany look somewhat similar, but not exactly. You should get a travel plug adapter for each person in your party so you’re not all fighting over the one plug that works! Some of these adapters are also power converters. Ask yourself if you just need to change the shape of the plug or if you need to also change the voltage.
Thank You Patrons!
Thank you Leighton Smith for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week! And my thanks also to all the other patrons who support the show month after month, thank you for giving back! To support the show on Patreon, go to PATREON.COM/JOINUS!
I’m at 143 patrons this week, one more than last week. Hey, progress, thank you! I’ve been working on two new patreon rewards for Nov 2018, they’ll be out soon.
Annie’s Personal Update
For my personal update, I must say that Thanksgiving preparations took a lot of my time because Thanksgiving is the one holiday that I host in my home every year. I used to throw a Halloween Party every year. I don’t do that any more because my daughter is 20 and she hangs out with her friends away from home on Halloween. My sister-in-law always hosts the whole family for Christmas. So, what’s left for me? Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is not a holiday French people celebrate, but you know what, when I tell my French family come on over, we’ll have a big meal, some drinks and gather around the piano, they’re all good with that! I hope you had a peaceful Thanksgiving celebration yourself.
I’m going to spend a few days in Paris next week, just for me, not a tour. My husband bought us tickets to a Paul McCartney concert at La Défense next week, I love Sir Paul, I look forward to that! Then our daughter has to renew her American passport in person in Paris because this will be her first 10-year passport and that’s the rule. When you go from a kid 5-year passport to an adult passport you have to show up at the American Consulate in person. So, we’re going to do that too. And I’ll stay a few days longer to visit a few more places in Paris I haven’t been to yet. I’ll also test a few restaurants with my cousins. It’ll be fun! I’m hoping for not too wet, but you never know late November in Paris could be wet and cold. We shall see.
Personal Space Is Smaller in France
A listener sent in a question that I wanted to answer on the show. She wrote:
“Annie, in one of your podcasts you mentioned that French people are used to cut in in lines. If that happens to us, what phrases should we say to the person who does it? And to stop it from happening? Something like “excuse me, I was here first”? Merci Annie.
French people don’t elbow one another out of the way generally speaking, but it’s true that someone may cut in line in front of you. What should you say? Nothing. A few people will do that because they’re jerks.
But if French people cut the line in front of you, it’s most likely because they misread your intention. You’re leaving so much space between you and the person in front of you that they didn’t realize you were in line! Personal space is a lot bigger in North America. I told you that everything is smaller in France, well, that includes personal space!
It’s not unusual for French people who are lining up to be a few inches from one another. If you’re used to keeping a distance of 3 or 4 feet between you and the person in front of you, they may misunderstand your intentions and go right in front of you because they think you’re keeping so much distance you must not be in line. Are some people willingly misreading the situation? Maybe they are, but all you have to do is step closer and it won’t happen again.
I got so used to American personal space that when I first moved home to France I often had people step in front of me in line. Sometimes I wanted to ask “what else would I be doing here if I’m not in line?” but it was just a body language misunderstanding. Nothing more.
In that case, I recommend you don’t say anything, step closer to the person in front of you, that will signal that you’re in line. When you do that nobody will cut the line in front of you, unless they’re a jerk, and you don’t want to pick a fight with a jerk in a foreign language, do you?
Some countries have a queueing system that everybody in that country understands. We don’t in France.
Years ago, when I lived in London I was shocked the first time I saw Londoners queue in a long line under the rain. French people would all try to fit under the bus shelter without a care for who was first. And when the bus arrives, they’d all try to be the first person on the bus because, after all, it’s raining!
They have this habit in Spain that I love. They always ask who is the last person in line. You’re waiting for your turn in front of a food vendor for example and someone will say out loud: “ultima”? That means “who’s the last person in line?” I must admit, I’ve grown to love that habit.
But as a French person I didn’t know I was supposed to do that. Spanish people had to teach me. Some kind person saw that I joined the queue without saying anything and told me “I’m the last person in line”. Ah good to know I thought. But it would never have occurred to me as a French person to ask out loud “who’s last?” to make sure everyone who was first went first. It’s not that I was trying to be rude, but that’s not something French people do.
Sometimes there’s a line at my village bakery. It’s a small space, but so long as I don’t leave 2 or 3 feet of space between me and the person in front of me it’s clear who goes next, it won’t be a problem.
So, reduce your personal space and problem solved!
Also, if you need to ask how to rebuke someone for jumping the line in French, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Don’t say anything but reduce your personal space and it shouldn’t happen again.
Giving Specific Recommendations
There was a conversation on the Facebook group this week that I found particularly interesting. Rachel was reporting that they had dinner on Thanksgiving night at a place called La Jacobine and it was full of Americans. She reported that the food was good, but she might not go back because the experience lacked “frenchness”.
I loved this conversation because this is something I wonder about. Should I or should I not give specific recommendations? My take so far has been that it’s better to teach you how to fish for a great restaurant than give you the fish. If you listen to the podcast you’ll “get” how I and other French people think and you’ll find the gems without being given the address. But I must admit that if I were visiting a city I’ve never been to I would appreciate specific recommendations.
What do you think listeners?
Do you look to me for specific recommendations or should I keep it general and explain how I choose a restaurant? I’d love to read your thoughts on joinusinfrance.com/213 or by calling 1-801-806-1015