Categories: First Time in Paris, France How To
[00:00:16] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 421, quatre cent vingt-et-un.
[00:00:23] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and I am happy to bring you a tiny bit of France right into your ears.
[00:00:31] Today on the podcast
[00:00:31] Annie Sargent: Today, an episode with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about rookie mistakes visitors make in France.
[00:00:39] Annie Sargent: Elyse and I talk to a lot of visitors, we meet a lot of people, and if there are pain points, they usually tell us about it.
[00:00:48] Annie Sargent: We keep it light and fun, but we want you not to make those mistakes, and if you don’t, I guarantee that you’ll have a much better time on your vacation in France. And for those of you who are not rookies, I wonder how many of these mistakes you made in the past, perhaps long ago, but I bet you fell for many of those things because most people seem to, unless that is, they’ve been warned.
[00:01:14] No news this week
[00:01:14] Annie Sargent: Because this episode is getting released on Christmas Day 2022, I will keep it short and I will not share news or anything else after my chat with Elyse, same with next week’s episode, which will be released on New Year’s Day. How about that? Christmas and New Year’s are both on a Sunday this year.
[00:01:32] Annie Sargent: But the news will be back soon. My husband and I are about to take off for Strasbourg and Colmar to spend a few days in the capital of Christmas in France. It’s a busy time of the year, but in a good way.
[00:01:45] Podcast supporters
[00:01:45] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app.
[00:01:59] And you can browse all of that either on the VoiceMap app, or at my boutique JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique.
[00:02:08] Annie Sargent: And let me thank one new patron today, I am grateful for all my patrons. Some have been supporting this podcast for a long time, and they are amazing people.
[00:02:17] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to my new patron, Debbie. She’s shy, she did not give a last name. Many thanks also to Gary Swindlehurst for sending in a one-time donation by using the green button on any page on JoinUsinFrance.Com that says, Tip your guide.
[00:02:37] Annie Sargent: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, wishing you a wonderful time wherever you are listening from, and if you are new to the podcast, welcome to you! And do take a look at the show notes for more tips for people visiting France and Paris for the first time. Joyeux Noël to all of you!
[00:03:06] Annie and Elyse
[00:03:06] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.
[00:03:08] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.
[00:03:09] Annie Sargent: Today we have an interesting episode, I’m sure we’re going to discuss lots of things that we might agree on, might not agree on, we’ll see.
[00:03:17] 32 Rookie Mistakes
[00:03:17] Annie Sargent: 32 rookie mistakes visitors make when they first come to France.
[00:03:23] This is a question I asked on the Facebook group and we had a lot of participation. I think there was 180 responses, so lots of people chimed in and I decided to select most of the things.
[00:03:36] Annie Sargent: I’m not going to give credit to the names because it’s just too many people, but you’ll recognize some of the things you wrote in there.
[00:03:43] 1. Don’t Overschedule your day
[00:03:43] Annie Sargent: Okay. So the number one is, don’t over schedule your days. In other words, travel should be fun and not a manic episode.
[00:03:55] Elyse Rivin: I absolutely agree with you, and I know that sometimes when people write to me and say they’re coming to Toulouse and they give me an idea of where they have been the few days before or what they’re doing the few days after, I am exhausted just reading the list, you know. I think that it’s much easier to appreciate everything if you slow down and take the time to really take things in and not look at your watch and say, well, in two hours we have to be here, in two hours we have to be there.
[00:04:26] Annie Sargent: Yeah, because if you rush it, it’s not going to be pleasant. And perhaps one thing you could do is have more on your list than you can reasonably do, but then order things in a way that makes sense. So order them by area, first of all, so that you don’t run all over the place for no reason. And also order them by importance.
[00:04:48] What is most significant to you? And if you think it’s going to take two hours and it ends up taking four, fine, remove something at the end of your list. It’s not that difficult. But don’t overschedule, that’s a rookie mistake that people make and I understand they think they might never come back to France, but probably you will.
[00:05:06] Annie Sargent: If you like it well enough, you will, because Americans tend to travel a fair bit, especially when they start. Just take it easy on yourself and on other people.
[00:05:16] And I just would like to add too, and this is I think a personal observation, but I think it’s probably true for many people. If you are really enjoying something, a place you’re visiting, whatever it is you’re doing, I don’t know exactly, but instead of shortening this day, because on your schedule, you plan to do something else, stay with it because that is the memory that you will keep with you. It will not be a good memory if you do so many things in a day. After a while, you have no idea what you did during that day. I’d much rather have some good memories than go, oh my gosh, I just spent a week here. What did I do?
[00:05:50] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes. I don’t remember any of it.
[00:05:52] Elyse Rivin: I don’t remember any of it. It all blurs together.
[00:05:55] 2. Self-cleaning toilets
[00:05:55] Annie Sargent: Okay. This one is silly good. That is so close to the top of the list, but I’ll do it anyway. Not waiting for self-cleaning toilets to shut and clean. Okay, I’ll explain this again. I’ve explained it a million times, but there we go again.
[00:06:11] We have self-cleaning toilets in France. They’re called, Sanisette and they are mostly free, most cities have made them free. It used to be you had to put a coin in there, mostly you don’t anymore. What happens is, when a person exits, the door is going to close again and it will do a self-cleaning cycle, and then the button to open it will turn green again, and you can push it and go in.
[00:06:37] Annie Sargent: Do not go in right after another person because it needs to go through the cycle. Voila.
[00:06:43] Elyse Rivin: Voila. And I must say I have used a few, and I think I was originally reluctant thinking, well, you know, I live here, I know where I can go and stuff like that. But, they’re really quite useful.
[00:06:56] Yeah.It’s not the end of the world. If you need them, use them. Most of the time they are good enough. It’s not a lavish experience.
[00:07:03] Elyse Rivin: No, but it’s fine.
[00:07:05] Annie Sargent: So long as you don’t get lavé yourself.
[00:07:08] Annie Sargent: Ha Ha Ha.
[00:07:10] 3. Good Manners
[00:07:10] Annie Sargent: Okay, number three. French people appreciate good manners and it is impossible for me to overstate this. French people really want you to be courteous. And here we have a very specific idea of what being courteous means. It means saying, Bonjour before you say anything else.
[00:07:34] Elyse Rivin: Anything else.
[00:07:35] Annie Sargent: Yes. Just say, Bonjour first, okay? And then you’re fine, and then you’ll be fine.
[00:07:40] Elyse Rivin: I’m just going to give an example. Now, this isn’t necessarily what a typical rookie tourist would be doing, but after all my years of living in France, sometimes in the middle of shopping in a big supermarket, which I do in general a lot, I see a shelf that does not have something I want.
[00:07:58] Elyse Rivin: And there will be a bleep in my brain and I see somebody stocking things, and before I know it, I’ve asked, is such and such available to have? And the person who is stocking will turn around and look at me and say, Bonjour, I have been reprimanded because I didn’t say, Bonjour before I asked the question.
[00:08:19] Annie Sargent: That’s right. Yeah. Just say, Bonjour first. Also, if you speak some French, you can use it, obviously, but if you don’t, just say Pardon, je ne parle pas bien le français, or something of that sort. Just use a simple phrase just to say, I don’t speak French, and, but if you say Bonjour, pardon, je parle pas le français,they will be absolutely charmed, absolutely happy to help you. But if you just go up to them and say, I’m sorry, I’m a foreigner and, in English, it’s not going to be a good experience, it’s just not.
[00:08:53] Elyse Rivin: Even worse than that, and this is a personal experience I had as a witness a couple of weeks ago, a couple who I would bet have been in France before, but maybe I’m wrong, came to sit next to me, not because they were coming to see me, but they sat down at the table next to me in an outdoor cafe here in Toulouse. And when the young waiter came over, they said nothing polite. They didn’t say hello, they didn’t say pardon, they didn’t say anything. They immediately went into a whole order of food in English without any kind of preamble, and it was so rude that I was absolutely embarrassed for them.
[00:09:32] Annie Sargent: Yeah, perhaps Americans value efficiency better than politeness in a restaurant situation. But here, forget the efficiency, just be polite, make contact like this is another human being that you’re greeting like a normal human being, and then they will take good care of you. Don’t try to just rattle off whatever it is that you want to say.
[00:09:56] 4. Comfortable shoes
[00:09:56] Annie Sargent: Number four. Choosing fashionable shoes, especially over comfortable shoes. This is a rookie mistake people make when visiting anywhere in the world, not just France. And it is very important. Wear comfortable shoes because you’re going to be walking a lot more than you do at home. So bring your best walking shoes.
[00:10:18] I’ve noticed a lot of the comments on Facebook in the group where there are still people who write and ask, how classy they have to dress when they come to France, when they have to walk around Paris and everything.
[00:10:30] Elyse Rivin: And I’ve seen finally a few people writing back saying, forget it, you can wear the same things you wear in the United States or in Australia, and nobody’s going to look at you if you’re wearing comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes.
[00:10:43] Annie Sargent: Right. Yeah, nobody cares. And we’ll get back to that in a second.
[00:10:47] 5. Buy it if you want it
[00:10:47] Annie Sargent: Number five, if you really want to buy an item that you see in a store, don’t think, I’ll come back and get it later because you probably won’t find it again.If you want it, get it. Okay? That’s really simple. Like, just get it when you see it. Or if you walk away, that means, well, it’s okay, I might like it, but I’m not sure. And that’s fine. In that case, walk away. But if you really want it, get it right away. That’s a rookie mistake, because back at home perhaps you are used to doing, you know, looking around at the stores and going back again and going back again. You’re not going to do that here.
[00:11:21] Annie Sargent: You can’t do that here. You’re visiting.
[00:11:23] 6. Eat at French standard time
[00:11:23] Annie Sargent: Number six. Thinking that restaurants will serve you lunch or dinner because they are open. This is a big rookie mistake because in France, they serve full meals at set times. And very often, the restaurant will stay open. They will just continue serving drinks the rest of the afternoon and they won’t have a cook at all in the kitchen.
[00:11:49] Annie Sargent: This happened to me last weekend, I was in Aigues-Mortes, and Aigues-Mortes is a quite touristy place. We were trying to find a place that will serve us lunch. It was around 1:30 and everybody said, the cook’s gone.
[00:12:06] Elyse Rivin: By 1:30?
[00:12:07] Annie Sargent: By 1:30. So really, you need to eat at French Standard Time, otherwise, what we had to do is we went to a place that specifically, the reviews online said that they served non-stop and it looked like they would, because they had bread and quiche and things like that, which you can warm up easily. You don’t need a chef to do that. I think it’s also important for people who have never really been to France or who really may have not paid attention, to note that there is a difference. Because if a place says it is a restaurant, it means it has fixed meal times.
[00:12:39] Elyse Rivin: If a place is a brasserie, it generally is open all day. And cafes do or do not serve food. Some cafes do and some cafes don’t. But if you go to a place that has, as part of its name “restaurant”, you can be sure it has fixed meal times.
[00:12:55] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And fixed meals are, they will start seating people around 12:30. They’ll start bringing food around 12:30 as well, and they’ll end 1:30, perhaps a little later. But you know, it’s a really small window. In Paris, you can find restaurants that will serve you non-stop. And some places actually say, Non-stop service. And they usually say it in English. Those are fine, but you won’t find them most places in France. In Paris you will, most places you want. And you know, if they turn your way, you know, c’est la vie, I came too late, they don’t have a cook oh, well. Don’t get angry, like, you know, oh, stinking French people won’t serve me food, discrimination, blah, blah, blah, blah. They don’t like Americans and blah, blah, blah. No, it’s got nothing to do with that.
[00:13:41] Elyse Rivin: It’s just French stomachs are tuned to eating lunch between 12 and 2. So you have to get your stomach to agree. That’s all.
[00:13:50] Annie Sargent: That’s right, that’s right.
[00:13:51] 7 Avoid the crowds
[00:13:51] Annie Sargent: Number seven. Somebody said, Try walking away from the busy thoroughfare if you’d like non-touristy restaurants. And this is really good advice. If you’re on the main thoroughfare, there’s lots of people everywhere, lots of restaurants. Perhaps if you just walk a block away from that street, you’ll find lots of other restaurants that are not as busy, where it’s going to be more comfortable to sit down. So try that, try not to follow the crowd too much.
[00:14:21] Elyse Rivin: You can also, besides looking up the names of places to eat on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp and places like that, if you walk away from the tourist areas and see places that have people sitting in the restaurants who are not tourists, you can be sure that it’s a place that has decent food. So you can try it, you don’t always have to go just by the names of places that are listed on these sites.
[00:14:47] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that’s something that’s hard to train out of people. They’re so used to looking at their phone and looking at recommendations on their phone rather than trusting their own eyes, that I give up.
[00:15:00] Elyse Rivin: Well, I can understand that if somebody arrives in a country they’ve never been in before, they may be nervous about that.
[00:15:06] Elyse Rivin: But you know, when you walk past places, especially since many, many places now have terraces outside everywhere, you can kind of look at the food and get an idea. And if you see that people look happy eating there, then it looks like a good place to eat.
[00:15:21] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. Yep. Very, very much so.
[00:15:24] 8. Andouillette is not a small American andouille sausage
[00:15:24] Annie Sargent: Okay, number eight. This one is funny. Andouillette is not a small American andouille sausage.
[00:15:32] Annie Sargent: It’s completely different, and most Americans will not eat Andouillette at all. We discussed this, we posted an episode long ago, was episode 193, it was called A Cornucopia of Bizarre French Foods. And we list not just that one, but many others that are surprising French foods, let’s put it that way. But this one has the double whammy that it’s also the same name as something you’re used to in the US, but it’s not the same product at all, so.
[00:16:02] Notice that Annie is not telling you what it is. Just go and look it up. But believe us when we tell you that it is a strange food and you are probably not interested in eating it.
[00:16:14] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes.
[00:16:16] 9. Don’t expect busy Parisians to stop and chat
[00:16:16] Annie Sargent: Number nine. Chat with people when appropriate, but don’t expect busy Parisians to listen to your long story about whatever it is. I mean, I’m sure you have delightful anecdotes to share with people, but if you’re in Paris, even if they’re being nice and talking to you, don’t keep them for more than a minute or two, because people are busy and it’s the same in New York, right? Now, if you are sitting on a park bench or you are waiting in line and people are just sitting there, that’s a perfect opportunity to chat as long as you’d like. Okay. But it’s just especially waiters, they really don’t have time to listen to your whole experience with your allergies and your this, and your that.
[00:17:02] Annie Sargent: You know, just tell them, I don’t want nuts or whatever it is. That’s one where you should be direct, I think, and just get it over with, especially in Paris.
[00:17:12] 10. Don’t presume the waiter will bring you the bill as soon as you’re done eating
[00:17:12] Annie Sargent: Number 10. Don’t presume the waiter will bring you the bill as soon as you’re done eating. You have to ask for “L’addition, s’il vous plaît” because they’re not going to bring you the bill until you ask for it. Okay?
[00:17:25] Annie Sargent: And if it’s taking too long, if you would like to get your waiter’s attention, but they are avoiding your eyes, and waiters are very good at doing that, just get up and go to the cash register and pay. Okay? You don’t need to wait for half an hour and get frustrated. You can get up and go pay. It’s done all the time.
[00:17:45] Elyse Rivin: Just to reiterate in a different way, Americans, even in very good restaurants, are used to eating quickly and getting out quickly. That is not the way the French conceive of eating, and so they assume you’re going to sit and take your time.
[00:18:02] Elyse Rivin: And what that is really, besides the fact that they’re usually very busy, that is usually one of the reasons that a waiter, a waitress, does not immediately come over, slap down the bill and leave it for you to pay. It is a different concept of what you’re supposed to do when you eat.
[00:18:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah, absolutely. And again, it’s perfectly fine if you’re in a hurry, to get up and go pay at the cash register. You don’t need to wait for them to bring you the bill. They have this covered at the cash register as well.
[00:18:31] 11. Bonjour or Bonsoir after 6PM
[00:18:31] Annie Sargent: Number 11. Okay. This is a funny one because I’m including it because I don’t agree with it.
[00:18:36] Somebody wrote, don’t say, Bonjour after 6:00 PM, it’s Bonsoir, that’s like a big mistake if you say, Bonjour when it should be, Bonsoir.
[00:18:45] Annie Sargent: Okay. Nobody cares. Not a soul in France cares. I do not care if your French teacher told you that. I do not care if you heard it from the Pope. French people say Bonjour, Bonsoir, whatever.
[00:18:59] Annie Sargent: The important thing is that you say something. Doesn’t have to be, I mean, I’ve said Bonjour when it’s nighttime already, nobody cares. So if you would like to feel a little bit pompous and, oh here, so I’m very aware that, you know, after 6:00 PM it’s supposed to be Bonsoir, go ahead.
[00:19:19] Annie Sargent: But nobody cares.
[00:19:22] Most people won’t even remember what you said.
[00:19:24] Yeah, nobody cares. It doesn’t matter. It’s a non-issue. Don’t worry about it.
[00:19:29] 12. Don’t get angry if there are transportation problems
[00:19:29] Annie Sargent: Number 12, don’t get angry if there are transportation problems, especially if you’ve overscheduled yourself. Transportation problems happen in France.
[00:19:40] There are strikes, there are difficulties with bus scheduling. I once took an hour and a half to get from Montmartre to the other side of the river in Paris. If you are on public transportation, you have to assume that you give yourself leeway in the time to get from one place to the other.
[00:19:59] Annie Sargent: Right. And right now we have a strike for the refineries, petroleum refineries. People are freaking out on the Facebook group saying, yeah, I need to get somewhere, my reservations, my this, my that.
[00:20:14] Annie Sargent: It happens, it happens. Just don’t get angry, you could try to make a different plan, but I mean, those refinery problems are very unusual.
[00:20:26] What’s more habitual is train strike or some sort of breakdown of a train somewhere, whatever. But just take it in stride, be prepared that there are going to be transportation delays no matter where you are in France. It’s going to happen at least once, I can guarantee that.
[00:20:44] 13. Do not say “Tu” to a stranger if that person is not clearly under 10
[00:20:44] Annie Sargent: Rookie mistake number 13. Do not say “Tu” to a stranger if that person is not clearly under 10. Apparently Duolingo is letting people say, they tell you it’s correct, whether you say tu or vous.
[00:21:02] Elyse Rivin: Oh, really? And so people are getting so used to saying, answering whichever one comes first and not being corrected.
[00:21:09] Annie Sargent: This is why you should really take lessons with a real French person, with a French teacher and not with an app, you know, it would help.
[00:21:17] Elyse Rivin: Oh, this is one, this is very interesting to me because I’m extremely aware of and sensitive to the tu and vous thing. And of course, I’ve lived here for a long time and I understand that sometimes it can be confusing.
[00:21:30] Elyse Rivin: But if you are with people you do not consider part of your family or good friends and you do not know them very well, or they are not children, you do not use tu.
[00:21:41] Annie Sargent: Right, and this is changing somewhat in the professional arena, where peers within a company tend to go to tu all the time, but you’re not coming to France to work for IBM. You’re coming to France to visit places, and you’re going to be dealing with hotel personnel, with people at museums. Do not say tu to them unless they’re under 10 years old.
[00:22:08] Annie Sargent: This is really simple. I don’t know why. The other one, and this is one that gets to me a little bit because people do it all the time to me. You should not say Salut instead of Bonjour.
[00:22:19] Elyse Rivin: Salut is what kids say to each other. That’s what they do in the school yard. Salut, is when you’re talking to your buddies. Salut is a really informal slang kind of way of saying hello. So definitely not to be used under other circumstances.
[00:22:36] Annie Sargent: Right. So people write to me and they say, Salut, I love your podcast, blah, blah, blah. It’s fine. I understand. Your French sucks. But don’t do it.
[00:22:47] Elyse Rivin: Say Bonjour or just Hi.
[00:22:50] Annie Sargent: I mean immediately, if you say Salut in the wrong circumstance, everybody knows that your French sucks. Do you want that?I’m not in a very good mood today, am I?
[00:23:00] Elyse Rivin: Well, no, I think it’s just that these are things that are a little abrasive, but I think that these things can be annoying and I think that sometimes people don’t understand that they can be annoying. I mean, I was, to go back to one of the ones we talked about before, I was traumatized by this rude American couple in the cafe a couple of weeks ago.
[00:23:19] Elyse Rivin: I was mortified. It wasn’t me that did it, you see? But I thought that by now, people coming to a foreign country would understand that there are some basic things that you do in forms of politeness, just so that you don’t grate on people so that people are nice to you. I mean, you get something in exchange for being polite and for being nice, and you don’t get very much back when you are impolite.
[00:23:47] 14. Visit Paris first
[00:23:47] Very true, very true. Oh, somebody said, and I thought that was cute because I agree with it and at the same time, it’s not a rule set in stone. Somebody said it’s a rookie mistake to only go to Paris. Okay. Yes, I would love for people to do, to visit more of France than Paris, obviously.
[00:24:06] But Paris is wonderful, and that’s a good place to start.
[00:24:10] Annie Sargent: Right. If you are going to come back again and again, oh, there’s lots more to explore. If it’s your first time, you probably should spend some time in Paris because it is a very unusually beautiful city.
[00:24:24] Elyse Rivin: Yes, and I think if you have a short stay, you really do want to concentrate on being in Paris. If you are lucky enough to have eight, nine days, then you can take a day trip out or two, to get an idea of what it’s like outside of the city. But I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with your first visit being Paris. There is so much to see.
[00:24:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s actually much easier because if you just go to Paris your first visit, then you’re going to get a good taste of the city and the people, the country. I’m not saying that people are the same everywhere. Obviously, we’re pretty different in Toulouse than people are in Paris.
[00:25:02] Annie Sargent: But it’s a really good place to start and a very easy place to start because there’s so much to do, you’re never going to run out of things to do. I had the case of a person I was doing an itinerary planning session with, and she was coming with teenage kids and you know how teenagers are, and sometimes they cooperate and sometimes they don’t.
[00:25:25] Annie Sargent: And she was hoping that they could all go in their different directions throughout the day, but she was also hoping not to go to a city.
[00:25:34] Annie Sargent: Well, you know, that’s really difficult, because if you’re in a city, there are lots of options. If you’re in a smaller town, there are fewer options. And so, you know, you have to consider these things and Paris is a very good place to start.
[00:25:50] 16. It’s a mistake not to try the daily special at restaurants
[00:25:50] Annie Sargent: Number 16. It’s a mistake not to try the daily special at restaurants.
[00:25:57] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. Yes.
[00:25:58] Annie Sargent: And so this is especially true if you would like to be served fairly quickly. When you go to a restaurant, they will have usually Le Menu, and we talked about this in a couple of other episodes.
[00:26:10] Annie Sargent: Perhaps we should do another one soon. But Le Menu is the daily special. And usually, they will offer two or possibly three appetizers. They will offer two or three main dishes and two or three desserts. And if you would like to do appetizer plus main meal, it’s one price. You could just take the main meal. That’s another price. You could just take the appetizer. That’s another price. You could take all three. That’s another price again. And you could add wine, and you could add drinks or whatever.
[00:26:42] Annie Sargent: But whatever they have on that daily menu, on that daily special, is something that they are prepared to serve pretty quickly.
[00:26:51] Elyse Rivin: And it is fresh because it means that it’s something when they have daily specials, it’s the chef and his buyers who go out to the markets to see what is available that they can get.
[00:27:04] Elyse Rivin: And so you can always be guaranteed that things out of their daily special are very, very fresh.
[00:27:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah. It’s true, I agreed with that one because you can eat whatever you’d like, but it’s true that the stuff that’s on the daily menu is usually a good choice.
[00:27:19] 17. Understand how trains work
[00:27:19] Annie Sargent: Number 17, not understanding how trains work. And I, on this one, I really think we need to do a special episode on that, Elyse.
[00:27:27] Elyse Rivin: You don’t mean the mechanics, obviously.
[00:27:29] Annie Sargent: No, no, no, not the mechanics, but you know, Americans as a rule never take trains, right? Most Americans have never taken a train anywhere, and so it’s a little bit of a different mindset. Trains are fantastic. They are very ecological. They are very easy, but you have to understand what’s happening, otherwise, you might be quite surprised. So we’ll make an episode about that, because yeah, there’s quite a bit to explain here.
[00:28:00] 18. Not understanding French restaurant etiquette
[00:28:00] Annie Sargent: Number 18, is not understanding French restaurant etiquette. And for that, I would recommend that you listen to episode 91. It was called, Tipping and 10 Things you Did Not Know About France.
[00:28:14] Annie Sargent: And people ask about tipping all of the time, and I think we have another point somewhere in there. Yes, yes, yes, so we’ll get back to that in a second. But French restaurant etiquette is somewhat different, although if you kind of read the room, you’ll get it. It’s not that different.
[00:28:31] 19. It’s a mistake to take a hideous. Package tour rather than organize your own trip
[00:28:31] Annie Sargent: Number 19, somebody wrote, it’s a mistake to take a hideous package tour rather than organize your own trip. And a few people jumped on that because there was a, you know, a fair bit of back and forth about this because, okay, I think tours can be just fine. Organizing your own trip is not for everyone.
[00:28:54] Annie Sargent: There are people who will do fine. And it really depends who you’re touring with, really. I mean, I talk to people on trip reports who go on cruise experiences and very often what they do is, they get my VoiceMap tours because with the cruises, they have tours organized at certain times of the day, but the rest of the time they don’t know what to do.
[00:29:17] Annie Sargent: So they often get my VoiceMap tours, which is, you know, fantastic. There’s even a tour guide recently, she bought a hundred of my tours codes, because she was like, well, I give tours in person, but then people want me all day, and instead of me being there all day, I’ll tell them to take your tour, you know. Because she’s walked them and she’s like, they’re great, I’m using them.
[00:29:38] Elyse Rivin: That’s good. I would also add, having spent quite a number of years doing tours that were with small groups, and when I say small, I mean no more than 12, 13, 14 at the very, very most. I think that tours are very good, but you have to be sure of what kind of a tour is good for you. And if you want individual attention, you don’t go on a tour with a lot of people, you go on a tour that’s really designed for very small groups, and that you look very carefully at the itinerary to see what they’re going to do. I think that there are tours that are probably really just very, very boring and impersonal, but not all of them are. And so it just means that you need to look a little bit more carefully at what you are going to do.
[00:30:25] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s a good mix, you know, sometimes taking a tour, sometimes taking a VoiceMap self-guided tour is also part of the mix. I think it works, and yes, you can do your own thing, some people are more adventurous than others, there’s nothing wrong with people doing their own thing entirely from A to Z. But there’s also nothing wrong with people getting a tour some of the time.
[00:30:46] 20. Have a travel pack in your bag
[00:30:46] Annie Sargent: Number 20 was, have a travel pack in your bag, and this travel pack should include Kleenexes and hand sanitizer.
[00:30:58] Annie Sargent: Yeah, at least. It can happen in France that you go into a bathroom and they don’t have toilet paper, so you should have Kleenexes because yeah. And hand sanitizer is quite common when you enter most establishments, but not everywhere, and sometimes the bottle is empty or whatever.
[00:31:16] Annie Sargent: So, just have your own. And some places have very good bathroom facilities where you can wash your hands with warm water and you have paper towels and all of that, but not every place does. Be prepared for that, it’s really easy to just put hand sanitizer and Kleenexes in your bag and have it with you at all times.
[00:31:35] 21. Beware of cyclists and electric scooters
[00:31:35] Annie Sargent: Number 21, beware of cyclists and electric scooters. Watch where you are walking and make sure it’s neither a bike path or a bus lane.
[00:31:48] Elyse Rivin: Now, I have to add that I don’t think this is just a rookie problem. This is now a problem, because for ecological reasons and economic reasons, more and more people, especially since Covid, are using bicycles and electric scooters. But there have been some terrible accidents because these are very silent, and it isn’t very often clear where you should be if you are a pedestrian and where they should be, and they don’t always, I’m putting the onus on them. And they don’t always pay attention to where they should be. So you really do have to keep your eyes open and pay attention.
[00:32:26] Annie Sargent: Right. So before you change directions, look around because you might be stepping in front of a bike or a bus. I mean, in Paris sometimes the bus lanes is right by the sidewalk. Okay? So just be careful. And now that I drive an electric car in the center of the city, I’m totally silent, obviously, especially at low speeds.
[00:32:47] Annie Sargent: You can’t hear me. And so I just take it easy, I wait until people move out of the way. I don’t honk at them, whatever. But I would like to have some sort of little bike bell like, ding, ding, ding, ding, or something. So, because they don’t realize I’m right behind them, you know? And in France, they make the city centers kind of, they smoothed everything over.
[00:33:09] Annie Sargent: So there are places where there’s not a distinct sidewalk, it’s pedestrian-mostly areas.
[00:33:15] Annie Sargent: Right, but cars can still, like in Toulouse, to access the parking lot underneath Le Place du Capitole, you have to drive through this area that’s mostly pedestrian. People don’t expect cars there, but the cars have to be there.
[00:33:29] And the bicycles have a tendency unfortunately, to go both ways, even on a one-way street sometimes, you know. The good side of it, of course, is more people are doing exercise and using bicycles, but we’re not a culture here yet that is used to that kind of form of transportation. And so as a pedestrian, you must be careful. That’s all. You just must be careful.
[00:33:50] Annie Sargent: Yep.
[00:33:51] Annie Sargent: Yep. Keep your wits about you, especially in big cities. But even in small city, like in villages, people can be careless and you never know who’s coming.
[00:33:59] 22. Being worried that you are going to look like a tourist
[00:33:59] Annie Sargent: Number 22, being worried that you are going to look like a tourist is a rookie mistake.
[00:34:07] Annie Sargent: You may look like a tourist because you are a tourist. And no matter what you do, you are going to look like a tourist. Just accept it, roll with it. Some French people like me, can look like tourists. Why? Because I buy a lot of my clothes in the US. I prefer the quality that I get over there. I’m also a bigger person and so I don’t find all the sizes I want here.
[00:34:31] Annie Sargent: So when I go to the US, I can find all these clothes and I buy my clothes in the US. So French people sometimes assume I’m American until I start talking, you know?
[00:34:41] Just don’t worry about it. It’s a rookie mistake to spend too much time thinking that you shouldn’t look like a tourist.
[00:34:48] Elyse Rivin: And honestly, let’s face it, what is the disguise that makes you look like a French person and not like a tourist? Well, obviously, in the old days when there were no smartphones, walking around with two huge cameras around your neck a banana bag around your waist, when you were a dead giveaway from a mile away. But now, just because you walk around looking very carefully at buildings, that doesn’t mean anything, and no one cares.
[00:35:14] Annie Sargent: Exactly. No one cares. Like, it doesn’t matter if you look like a tourist. It’s really not an issue and I think people who don’t travel very much worry about it. And people who’ve taken lots of international trips, they like to look stylish perhaps, they like to pack nice things because they like to look good. But that’s a different question than, I don’t want to look like a tourist. Okay. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen people really, really sticking out because French people sometimes stick out, you know. French kids wear weird stuff.
[00:35:49] Elyse Rivin: Well, not only that, but French people travel around their own country as tourists too.
[00:35:54] Annie Sargent: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
[00:35:56] 23. Don’t over pack.
[00:35:56] Annie Sargent: Something about suitcases, this is number 23. Be prepared to lift your suitcases and walk with it. Don’t over pack is really, really important. I like to say you’re not going to the Kalahari Desert. You are coming to France, and if you really need something, perhaps you can purchase it here. You will find everything you could possibly want in France.
[00:36:22] Annie Sargent: So don’t over pack, don’t take so much that you know, that you can’t lift it. So rolling suitcases are fine, but then you get to Montmartre and it’s cobblestone everywhere, or you get to Mont St Michel, it’s cobblestone everywhere.
[00:36:38] Annie Sargent: You get to…where I was last weekend, it’s cobblestones everywhere.
[00:36:42] Elyse Rivin: And all of the villages in the South of France, and trains do not have valets, and you have to lift them up if you’re traveling by train. And there are lots of things that you will need to do.
[00:36:52] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so don’t over pack if you could, I mean, I was very impressed with Jennifer, who visited me for a few days. She was traveling extremely light with just a tiny backpack.
[00:37:04] Annie Sargent: And I was like, oh, yeah, I can’t go that light, but I do preach it.
[00:37:08] 24. Ice for your drinks
[00:37:08] Annie Sargent: Number 24. This one is for me. Many places will not be able to serve you a bucket of ice with each drink. If you ask for ice and they only bring you one ice cube, don’t take it personally.
[00:37:23] Elyse Rivin: Well, I will second what you’re, listen, listen. I don’t have buckets of ice like you do, but every once in a while, especially in the summertime, I say, please a lot of ice, because there is a tendency in some places to just give you one dinky little ice cube. And I really want two or three, you know. My husband mortifies me sometimes, if we’re going out somewhere and we’re in a cafe in the summer, and before I can open my mouth he says to the waiter, she’s American, give her ice. You know, well, we have to learn to be temperate in our needs, let’s put it that way. French are not used to having oodles of ice in every drink.
[00:38:00] Annie Sargent: Right. So I use a lot of ice when it’s warm, but if they don’t have it, it’s okay. Like, you know, you can ask for it, but don’t worry too much about it.
[00:38:10] 25 Keep your train tickets
[00:38:10] Annie Sargent: Number 25, don’t discard your train tickets, your metro tickets, your bus ticket, until you have left the train, the bus, the metro.
[00:38:23] Annie Sargent: You need to keep your titre de transport, which is the ticket, your title of transportation. It means that you’ve paid. You need to keep it till you have completely exited the metro or the train station, because you may need to exit and they may also check whether you have paid.
[00:38:44] Annie Sargent: Now, people regularly come to the group and complain that they got a fine because they had thrown out the ticket. So they say, I paid, but I didn’t keep it. Okay. Or they say, I paid, but I didn’t punch it the way I was supposed to.
[00:39:00] Annie Sargent: Read the room. Look at what other people are doing. If everybody is punching the ticket into something, you need to do the same thing. Don’t be oblivious. We cannot explain every situation to you because they’re going to change, the circumstances are going to change. But if everybody’s punching it, punch it. If everybody’s just putting it in their pocket, don’t throw it in the trash. You will need it.
[00:39:24] Annie Sargent: In general, in France, you need to keep your titre de transport until the very end.
[00:39:29] 26 Get the waiter’s attention
[00:39:29] Annie Sargent: Number 26, get the waiter’s attention before sitting down. So when you show up at a cafe, the rule generally is for drinks and things like that, you don’t need to ask for a specific table, but it’s always good to make eye contact with the waiter and you could just point at the table, say, can I sit here?
[00:39:51] Annie Sargent: And they will usually give you the thumbs up or do a sign with their hands, I mean. You know, just, communicate with the waiter in any of the establishments. There is no set rule, you know, can I sit down directly? Whatever. Well, some places you can and some places they don’t want you to. So make eye contact with the server and if they want something in particular, they will let you know.
[00:40:13] In cafes that have terraces, usually if a table is empty, usually you can just go and sit down. But when you go inside to the interior part, and especially if you’re going to eat, it’s very good, as you say Annie, to give eye contact to a server because you may or may not be able to choose your table.
[00:40:33] Annie Sargent: Right. And if they’ve sat the table for a meal, meaning that, you know, there’s utensils and things like that, then obviously, don’t sit there for just drinks. You know, to me that makes sense.
[00:40:44] 27. Trusting the GPS too much
[00:40:44] Annie Sargent: Number 27 is pretty funny, trusting the GPS too much.
[00:40:51] Annie Sargent: You have a story about that Elyse?
[00:40:52] Elyse Rivin: Oh, yes, I do. All right. Sorry, family and friends. I discovered going to Provence this year that it has become a, it’s like an appendage to Americans right now, I think, the idea that they cannot go anywhere without looking at their GPS.
[00:41:12] Elyse Rivin: Now, one of the things you may not realize in France, if you really just walk around looking at your GPS on your phone, is that there are street signs and there are indication signs everywhere.
[00:41:26] Elyse Rivin: There are directional signs everywhere. And it is in fact my experience from this past summer that sometimes the signs are actually far more reliable than the GPS. And not only that, but if you spend all your time with your nose in your phone looking at the GPS, you don’t see where you are, you don’t see what is around you.
[00:41:49] France is a country that has excellent roads and has excellent signs just about everywhere. And it is very strange to me that people will look at a sign, this is a direct personal experience in a car going to a village, on a road where there’s the sign that has the arrow that says, this way to the top of the village, and the GPS says the other way.
[00:42:13] Elyse Rivin: And I said, that’s the sign, there you go. Oh no, the GPS says otherwise. Well, it took us twice as long to get there.
[00:42:21] Annie Sargent: Right, or the GPS will take you a way that makes no sense because it’s too narrow or because it’s a one way or whatever.
[00:42:29] Annie Sargent: So for instance, we were at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc and we were going to stop at Pont du Gard. So I told the GPS to take me to Pont du Gard. So at first, you don’t see any signs for Pont du Gard obviously, right?
[00:42:43] Annie Sargent: But as you approach, when you’re within two, three kilometers, you’re going to start to see city signs that say Pont du Gard this way. At that point, stop looking at your GPS.
[00:42:54] Annie Sargent: Look at the sign, follow the signs. When you’re 50 kilometers away, a hundred kilometers away, of course, you’re not going to see any signs for everything. But as you get close, yeah, look at the sign. Look around a bit. It’s a good thing to do anywhere you are.
[00:43:07] 28. Don’t worry about finding cash
[00:43:07] Annie Sargent: Number 28. Don’t worry about finding cash if you have a debit card. Lots of people ask, how much cash should I bring? Should I order cash from my bank? Should I withdraw cash when I get there?
[00:43:22] Annie Sargent: I think in general, it’s easiest to just show up at the airport or when you first arrive in Paris, near your hotel, there’s probably going to be an ATM. Most ATMs in France are on the street, not inside the bank. There are some of both, but mostly they’re on the street.
[00:43:41] Annie Sargent: It’s okay. You’re not going to get robbed at gunpoint. You can withdraw money on the street. I’ve had someone who would not withdraw any money on the street. She was sure somebody was going to grab her money and run. That never happens, so just find an ATM. And most ATMs these days will ask you if you want big bills or small bills.
[00:44:03] Annie Sargent: You should not have any bills that are bigger than 50 because they are hard to use. Hundred Euro bills here are like, nobody will take them, is pretty simple, nobody will take them unless you’re going to buy a purse or something like, you know, big ticket items at a place like that, they would. But if you’re trying to pay your restaurant bill with a hundred Euro bill, they will not take it.
[00:44:23] Elyse Rivin: Well, there are two reasons. One is because there is actually a kind of circuit of counterfeit bills that are mostly hundreds, so very few people do carry them.
[00:44:33] Elyse Rivin: And the other is, if it’s a small amount of money, they don’t want to have to use all their cash to give you back change. And the other thing about ATM machines that people really should know is that you will get the best rate by using the ATM machine. That is a fact. So you should really count on, you might want to have a little bit of cash if you’re really worried about coming with nothing in your pocket, but just use your ATM machines. They’re fine.
[00:44:58] The ATM cards are pretty good. And if you order cash Euros from your bank before you arrive, tell them not to give you hundred Euro bills. There you go, fifties, twenties, tens and fives are what you want.
[00:45:12] 29. Understanding how tipping woks in Francew
[00:45:12] Annie Sargent: Number 29 is not understanding how tipping works in France. Now, episode 91 talked about it and we probably need to do another episode about this at some point.
[00:45:25] Annie Sargent: It’ll be a short episode, but we probably should do that, Elyse, because it seems to be people are always getting their knickers in a knot over tipping.
[00:45:35] Elyse Rivin: Well, maybe we’ll go back and do restaurants all over again. Maybe we need to do a facsimile of Annie and Elyse in a restaurant.
[00:45:43] Annie Sargent: Oh, that would work. That would work quite well. Yeah. We do go to restaurants occasionally, yeah.
[00:45:49] 30. Use Apple Pay or Google Pay
[00:45:49] Number 30, use Apple Pay or Google Pay. This is the best way, because Apple Pay and Google Pay are a lot more secure than just your plastic credit card. Now, if you are of a certain age and you’ve never gone to Apple Pay or Google Pay, maybe you think this is ridiculous, but it’s a fact that once you set up Apple Pay, Google Pay with your smartphone, it assures the vendors that there’s significantly more security than just using a plastic card.
[00:46:20] Annie Sargent: And so they take Apple Pay and Google Pay most places, even places where your American credit card might get rejected. Because any American credit card you have, even if it’s from a podunk credit union nobody’s ever heard of, which is most credit unions, that credit card is not, might not get recognized by a number of machines in France. But if you’ve run that credit card through Apple Pay, Google Pay, you got Apple Pay and Google Pay to accept it, that means it’s going to be a trusted credit card, even in France.
[00:46:55] Annie Sargent: Try it. It’s really not a big deal, and they take it almost everywhere.
[00:47:00] Annie Sargent: Now with Apple Pay, you can actually pay with your watch. You don’t need to, you can also pay with your phone, and most people have an Apple or Google phone. Set it up. It’s really not a big deal, it might take you, you know, 15 minutes to get it set up once, and then use it at home and see if you know, how, how you like it.
[00:47:19] 31. Don’t talk so loud
[00:47:19] Annie Sargent: Number 31 is a big one. Don’t talk so loud. Now, it’s not that French people never talk loud, because even if you’re in a two star restaurant, but that was me not so long ago with a group of people, once people have had 2, 3, 4 drinks, or in that thing where I was, I turned my glass over after one and a half.
[00:47:43] Annie Sargent: But everybody else was drinking. No, there was, there was one lady next to me who wasn’t drinking that much. But most, and once people drink, they will start screaming their head off.
[00:47:56] Annie Sargent: But Americans seem to have an on/off button that is way too loud.
[00:48:00] Annie Sargent: So read the room again. You know, look around if people are being very quiet around you, you should also be very quiet. Okay. And if people are rowdy and having a good time, then it’s fine to be rowdy and have a good time, just, just read the room.
[00:48:17] Elyse Rivin: Exactly. Read the room.
[00:48:18] 32 Don’t underestimate people’s kindness
[00:48:18] Annie Sargent: And number 32, we’ll end on something very sweet that somebody wrote. She said, don’t underestimate the kindness of people, and this is really important. Once you’ve been polite and you’ve made a connection with a French person, if you ask them for help, they will go through extraordinary lengths to help you.
[00:48:39] Annie Sargent: French people, as a rule, are not as selfish as Americans. And I know this because I’ve lived in America a good long time. Americans are just me, me, me. I’m going to take care of me first. French people are also me, me, me. But if they see someone who needs assistance and they ask politely, they will do whatever. I mean, I’ve heard of taxi drivers being told, oh, I forgot my phone in your car. And they will drive, you know, another 10 kilometers to bring back your phone, and then they don’t want to accept a tip.
[00:49:12] That is amazing. That is actually amazing.
[00:49:15] Annie Sargent: So people are really, really, good. But you just, you do have to be polite.
[00:49:18] Elyse Rivin: Let me just add something because there is still this lingering reputation of French people being brute and of people especially in Paris being brisk and unfriendly. It’s not true. It’s just not true. And I don’t know, maybe 50 years ago it was true, maybe it was because people had not gotten used to so many people from other countries coming and everyone was busy, but I’ve rarely had it happened. And yes, it can happen that you’re in a situation where somebody does not have the time to answer you, but it is not true as a general rule.
[00:49:54] Elyse Rivin: And I think people should really get in their minds that French people are polite and nice.
[00:50:00] Annie Sargent: Merci, Elyse and Merry Christmas!
[00:50:03] Elyse Rivin: merci, Annie!
[00:50:03] Annie Sargent: Au revoir.
[00:50:05] Elyse Rivin: Au revoir.
[00:50:12] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2022 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.
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