Difference between revisions of "France"
Revision as of 09:36, 8 January 2011
France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom).
France has been the world's most popular tourist destination for over twenty years (81.9 million in 2007) and it's geographically one of the most diverse countries in Europe. Its cities contain some of the greatest treasures in Europe, its countryside is prosperous and well tended and it boasts dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, the French Riviera, the Atlantic beaches, the winter sport resorts of the French Alps, the castles of the Loire Valley, Brittany and Normandy. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.
A lot of variety, but temperate winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the southwest (the latter has lots of rain in winter). Mild winters (with lots of rain) and cool summers in the northwest (Brittany). Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhône Valley, occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral. Cold winters with lots of the snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne.
France has been populated since the Neolithic period. The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others are temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux.
Rise and fall of the Roman empire
Written History began in France with the invasion of the territory by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC. Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls (name given to local Celts by the Romans), who lived there before Roman invasions, became accultured "Gallo-romans".
With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between gallo-romans and "barbaric" easterners (Mainly the Franks, but also other tribes like the "burgondes").
The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organisation of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp (especially Paris). The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time
Clovis, who died in 511, is considered as the first French king although his realm was not much more than the area of the present Ile de France, around Paris. Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, was the first strong ruler. He united under his rule territories which extend today in Belgium, Germany and Italy. His capital was Aix-la-Chapelle (now in Germany, known as Aachen).
The country was under attack by the Vikings who came from the north and navigated upstream the rivers to plunder the cities and abbeys, it was also under attack from the south by the Muslim Saracens who were established in Spain. The Vikings were given a part of the territory (today's Normandy) in 911 and melted fast in the Feudal system. The Saracens were stopped in 732 in Poitiers by Charles Martel, grand father of Charlemagne, a rather rough warrior who was later painted as a national hero.
Starting with Charlemange, a new society starts to settle, based on the personal links of feudalism. This era is named middle age. Although generally seen as an era of stagnation, it can more be described as a very complex mix of periods of economic and cultural developments (Music and poems of the Troubadours and Trouveres, building of the Romanantic, then Gothic cathedrals), and recessions due to pandemic disease and wars.
In 987, Hughes Capet was crowned as king of France ; he is the root of the royal families who later governed France. In 1154 much of the western part of France went under English rule with the wedding of Alienor d'Aquitaine to Henry II (Count of Anjou, born in the town of Le Mans). Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, and his father Henry II, who lies in the Abbaye de Fontevraud. The struggle between the English and French kings between 1337 and 1435 is known as the Hundred Years War and the most famous figure, considered as a national heroine, is Joan of Arc.
The beginning of the XVIth century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with its border relatively close to the present ones (Alsace, Corsica, Savoy, the Nice region weren't yet French). Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 (72 years) was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. French influence extended deep in western Europe, its language was used in the European courts and its culture was exported all over Europe.
That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole series of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England (later Britain) and Spain over the control of North America.
The French Revolution started in 1789, leading to the creation of the Republic. Although this period was also fertile in bloody excesses it was, and still is, a reference for many other liberation struggles.
Napoléon reunited the country but his militaristic ambition which, at first, made him the ruler of most of western Europe were finally his downfall. In 1815 he was defeated in Waterloo (Belgium) by an alliance of British and Prussian forces. He is still revered in some Eastern European countries as its armies and its government brought with them the thinkings of the French philosophers.
France went back to monarchy and another revolution in 1848 which allowed a nephew of Napoleon to be elected president and then become emperor under the name of Napoléon III. The end of the XIX century was the start of the industrialization of the country, the development of the railways but also the start of the bitter wars with Prussia and later Germany.
20th and 21st centuries
1905 saw the separation of the Church from the State. This was a traumatic process, especially in rural areas. The French state carefully avoids any religious recognition. Under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy the law forbids French students and civil servants from displaying any sign explicitly showing their religion. This policy applies to wearing Christian crosses, and has recently been applied to the Muslim hijab (and has been copied in countries like Tunisia and Turkey). In the early 21st century, statistics for Church going and belief in God are among the lowest in Europe.
World War I (1914 -18) was a disaster for France, even though the country was ultimately a victor. A significant part of the male workforce had been killed and disabled and a large part of the country and industry destroyed. World War II (1939 - 45) also destroyed a number of areas.
Since the end of WWII France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity came back with the development of industry. France and Germany were at the start of the Treaties which eventually became the European Union. One of the most visible consequence being the introduction in 2002 of the Euro (€), the common currency of sixteen European countries.
In 2010, France is a republic with a President elected for a 5-year term. Some current main issues are the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, defense, and so on.
France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into seven cultural regions:
Each administrative region is divided into a number of departments. Each department is allocated a 2 digit number. This number forms the first 2 digits of the 5 digit French postcode.
The following overseas territories are remote possessions kept as natural reservations:
A very limited form of tourism is available in the TAAF islands.
France has numerous cities of interest to travelers, below is a list of nine of the most notable:
Passport and Visa
France is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) , is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for most intercontinental flights. AF and the companies forming the SkyTeam Alliance (Dutch KLM, AeroMexico, Alitalia, US Continental, NorthWest and Delta Airlines, Korean Air) use Terminal 2 while most other foreign airlines use Terminal 1. A third terminal is used for charter flights. If transferring through CDG (especially between the various terminals) it is important to leave substantial time between flights. Ensure you have no less than one hour between transfers. Add more if you have to change terminals as you will need to clear through security.
Transfers to another flight in France: AF operates domestic flights from CDG too, but a lot of domestic flights, and also some internal European flights, use Orly, the second Paris airport. For transfers within CDG you can use the free bus shuttle linking all terminals, train station, parking lots and hotels on the platform. For transfers to Orly there is a (free for AF passengers) bus link operated by AF. The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF has agreements with the SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGVs (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For transfer to Paris see Paris.
Other airports have international destinations: Paris - Orly, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to cities in western Europe and North-Africa; those airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.
Some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80 km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites.
Ryanair flies direct from the UK to Montpellier, Perpignan, Nimes, Carcassonne and Béziers in Languedoc Roussillon.
Shuttle service in Paris: Paris Star Shuttle 
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  a subsidiary of the SNCF.
France has several Eurolines-hubs. Check http://www.eurolines.fr .
Several weekends each year in France its Black Saturday (Samedi noir) because of the start or end of school holidays and the coinciding traffic jams on the French roads. When possible it is wise to avoid these black days. See for the actual forecast the website of the French traffic service .
See Driving in France.
The following carriers offer domestic flights within France:
See also: Driving in France
France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards although may not accept foreign credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.
Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centers tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
France drives on the right.
A French driver flashing headlights is asserting right of way and warning you of intentions and presence. Do not use it to mean thanks. Flashing headlights can also mean, "Watch out as there's a police speed-check ahead of you!"
Renting a car
Once you land in France you may need to use car hire services and most of the leading companies operate from French airports. There is good merit in booking car hire in advance but it is a regular experience at smaller french airports to not get the type of car you booked online but an alternative model. Sometimes the alternative model is quite different but do not be afraid to stand your ground.
It is a good tip when travelling in numbers to get one member of the party with hand luggage to go straight through to the car hire desk ahead of everybody else, this will avoid the crush once the main luggage is picked up from the conveyor.
France is a good country for hitchhiking. Be patient, prepare yourself for a long wait or walk and in the meantime enjoy the landscape. A ride will come along. People who stop are usually friendly and not dangerous. They will like you more if you speak a little French. They never expect any money for the ride.
Remember that getting out of Paris by thumb is almost impossible. You can try your luck at the portes, but heavy traffic and limited areas for stopping will try your patience. It's a good idea to take the local train to a nearby suburb as your chance of being picked up will increase dramatically.
Outside Paris, it's advisable to try your luck after roundabouts. As it's illegal to hitchhike on the motorways (autoroutes) and they are well observed by the police, you may try on a motorway entry. The greatest chance is at toll plazas (stations de péage), some of which require all cars to stop and are thus great places to catch a lift. Some tollbooths are really good, some not so good. If you've been waiting for a while with an indication of where to go, drop it and try with your thumb only. And also, you can try to get a ride to the next good spot in the wrong direction.
Note, though, that hitching from a péage, while a common practice, isn't legal and French police or highway security, who are normally very tolerant of hitchhikers, may stop and force you to leave. You can get free maps in the toll offices - these also indicate where you can find the "all-stop-Péage".
Instead of hitching a ride on the road you can also hitch a ride online, on for example http://www.covoiturage.fr/ with many national rides or http://covoiturage.pouce-pouce.com (covers the whole France area and is translated into several languages).
Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Train). Reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
The French national railway network is managed by Réseaux Ferrés de France, and most of the trains are run by the SNCF  (Société nationale des chemins de fer français). For interregional trains you can get schedules and book tickets online at voyages-sncf.com . For regional trains, schedules can be found at ter-sncf.com  (choose your region, then "Carte and horaires" for maps and timetables). Booking is available in two classes: première classe (first class) is less crowded and more comfortable but can also be about 50% more expensive than deuxième classe (second class). Note that if your TGV is fully booked, step aboard seconds before the doors close, and look for the guard ("contrôleur"). He will find you a seat somewhere.
There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
If you'll be doing more than about 2 return journeys in France and are younger than 26, getting a "Carte 12-25" will save you money. They cost €49, last a year, and generally give a 50% reduction on ticket prices.
Booking tickets online can be quite a confusing process as it is possible to book the same journey through a number of different websites (in different languages and currencies). The fares are not always consistent so it pays to check the same trip on a number of sites.
Both TGV-Europe and Voyages-SNCF frequently report errors in booking attempts; one of the workarounds is to call SNCF to book over the phone (00.33.8220.127.116.11 "from outside France" per ). The most attractive internet-only rates are not available there, but still it secures you a seat, and likely cheaper than if you buy in ticket office upon arrival.
If you've booked online on Voyages SNCF , you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train station. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, this web site allows you to order even if you live in the US; it is not concerned where you live, but where you will pick up the tickets or have them sent; thus if you wish to pick up the tickets at a SNCF train station or office, answer "France". When at the station, just go to the counter ("Guichet") and ask to have your ticket issued ("retirer votre billet"). You can ask "Je voudrais retirer mon billet, s'il vous plait", or 'zhe voo dray ruh teer ay mon bee yay, sill voo play' and then hand them the paper with the reference number.
To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track ("Voie") number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains. On other long-distance trains, you can optionally make reservations (at least one day in advance); if you do not have one you may use any unused seat not marked as reserved. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train coach number ("Voit. No"). Pay attention to the possible confusion between track number (Voie) and coach (voiture) number (abbreviated Voit) As you go down the track, the coach number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors.
The reserved seat rules are lax; you are allowed if you switch seats or use another seat (of the same class of course) if it is empty because the TGV is not fully booked or the other person agrees to switch with you. The only requirement is not to continue using a reserved seat if the person holding the reservation claims it.
On the main lines, TGVs often run in twos. There are two possibilities: either the two TGVs are considered as one train with one train number (in this case each coach has a different number); or the two TGVs are considered as separate trains which run together during a part of their journey, with two different train numbers (in this case, the two trains may have two close numbers such as 1527 and 1537), and each train will have its own coach numbering. So be sure you are in the right train (the train number is shown on the LCD screen, with the coach number).
If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will line up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can stand by the letter corresponding with your coach number and wait to board the train closest to your coach. You can easily go from one coach to another, so if you are very late, jump in any coach of the same class before the train starts, wait until most people are seated, then walk to your coach and seat number.
Beware: To avoid any form of fraud, your ticket must be punched by an automatic machine ("composteur") to be valid. Older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray. The machines are situated at the entrance of all platforms. Failure to punch the ticket may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on how the conductor feels. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket, you must find the conductor ("contrôleur") and tell him about your situation before he finds you.
French information booths, especially in larger train stations, can be quite unhelpful, especially if you do not understand much French. If something does not seem to make sense, just say "excusez-moi" and they should repeat it.
Night train services also exist. These include couchettes second class (6 bunk beds in a compartment), first class (4 bunks) and Reclining seats. wagon-lits (a compartment with 2 real beds) were totally withdrawn from French overnight trains. However, you can ask for a "private room" (in first class). Night trains have occasionally been targeted by criminals, though this is not a widespread problem.
Troc des trains
As in France it is cheaper to book train tickets in advance, there is a relatively lively trading of non-exchangeable and non-reimburseable train tickets on the Internet. See http://www.trocdestrains.com/recherche-billet-train.html and http://www.kelbillet.com/billet-de-train-pas-cher/
There is no single national bus service. Furthermore, buses are limited to local mass transit or departmental/regional service. You must therefore check for the peculiarities of bus service in the actual region you are in. However, bus tickets in the region of Île De France generally cost 1.60€ (10 centimes more if purchased from bus driver).
French (Français) is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words. For example, throughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we", but you will often hear the slang form "ouais", said "waay." It's similar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes".
In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a dialect of German called "Alsatian", which is almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard High German, is spoken. In the south, some still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc (because the word for "yes" is oc): Languedocien, Limousin, Auvergnat, or Provençal. Langue d'Oc is a Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan. In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French. In parts of Aquitaine, Basque is spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken.In Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera. In Paris, the ethnic Chinese community in Chinatown also speaks Teochew.
However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever come across regional languages, except in order to give a "folkloric" flair to things.
Hardly anybody understands imperial units such as gallons or Fahrenheit. Stick to metric units (after all, French invented this sytem!).
The French are generally attached to politeness (some might say excessively) and will react coolly to strangers that forget it. You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos/goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes. It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "bonjour". For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases, or some equivalent polite form in English, goes a long way to convince them to try and help you.
Avoid "Salut" (Hi); it is reserved for friends and relatives, and to use it with people you are not acquainted with is considered quite impolite.
Some travel phrases:
Note that French spoken with an hard English accent or an American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand. In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say. But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated. A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English (If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in the more tourist-orientated areas, especially in Paris).
Please note that some parts of France (such as Paris) are at times overrun by tourists. The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping for the umpteenth time foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city. Be courteous and understanding.
As France is a very multicultural society, many African languages, Arabic, Chinese dialects, Vietnamese or Cambodian could be spoken.
Many of the French take their vacations in August. As a result, outside of touristic areas, many of the smaller stores (butcher shops, bakeries...) will be closed in parts of August. This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians. Obviously, in touristy areas, stores will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August. In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during Easter week-end.
Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the touristic season.
Mountain areas tend to have two touristic seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking.
France has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside (note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum).
Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard. American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Check with your bank for applicable fees (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee).
French CB cards (and CB/Visa and CB/Mastercard cards) have a "smart chip" on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions. This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer British cards are compatible. Some automatic retail machines (such as those vending tickets) may be compatible only with cards with the microchip. In addition, cashiers unaccustomed to foreign cards possibly do not know that foreign Visa or Mastercard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don't sign the transactions.
There is (practically) no way to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France.
Automatic teller machines (ATM) are by far the best way to get money in France. They all take CB, Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France. They may accept other kinds of card; check for the logos on the ATM and on your card (on the back, generally) if at least one matches. It is possible that some machines do not handle 6-digit PIN codes (only 4-digit ones), or that they do not offer the choice between different accounts (defaulting on the checking account). Check with your bank about applicable fees, which may vary greatly (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee; because of the fixed fee it is generally better to withdraw money in big chunks rather than €20 at a time). Also, check about applicable maximal withdrawal limits.
Traveller's cheques are difficult to use — most merchants will not accept them, and exchanging them may involve finding a bank that accepts to exchange them and possibly paying a fee.
Note that the postal service doubles as a bank, so often post offices will have an ATM. As a result, even minor towns will have ATMs usable with foreign cards.
Exchange offices (bureaux de change) are now rarer with the advent of the Euro - they will in general only be found in towns with a significant foreign tourist presence, such as Paris. Some banks exchange money, often with high fees. The Bank of France no longer does foreign exchange.
Do's Put money into your checking account, carry an ATM card with a Cirrus or Plus logo on it and a 4-digit pin and withdraw cash from ATMs. Pay larger transactions (hotel, restaurants...) with Visa or Mastercard. Always carry some € cash for emergencies.
Don't's Carry foreign currency ($, £...) or traveller's cheques, and exchange them on the go, or expect them to be accepted by shops.
Inside city centers, you will find smaller stores, chain grocery stores (Casino) as well as, occasionally, department stores and small shopping malls. Residential areas will often have small supermarkets (Champion, Intermarché). Large supermarkets (hypermarchés such as Géant Casino or Carrefour) are mostly located on the outskirts of towns and are probably not useful unless you have a car.
With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important - try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.
There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardised menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. There are also specific local restaurants, like "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons, "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris), etc.
Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or "traiteurs" (fast-food). They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities. Many places have "Italian" restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors. You will also find North African (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) as well as Greek and Lebanese food. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) are also available; note that McDonalds is more upmarket in France than in the US.
In France, taxes (19.6 per cent of the total) and service (usually 15 per cent) are always included in the bill ; so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service.
Menu fixed price seldom include beverages. If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water (Évian, Thonon) or fizzy water (Badoit, Perrier), at a premium; ask for a carafe d'eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink. Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested (and water with ice may not be available).
As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages. Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket.
Ordering is made either from fixed price menus (prix fixe) or à la carte. A typical fixed price menu will comprise:
Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of three steps, at a reduced price.
Coffee is always served as a final step (though it may be followed by liquors). A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange.
Not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner, nor are they open all year around. It is therefore advisable to check carefully the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner begins at around 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in the downtown area. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas.
In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity. For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations in order to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you're considering is specially advised in guide books.
A lunch or dinner for two on the "menu" including wine and coffee will cost you (as of 2004) €70 to €100 in a listed restaurant in Paris. The same with beer in a local "bistro" or a "crêperie" around €50. A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as €8 if one looks carefully.
Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will include a fourth course, usually cheese. As everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy travelled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember in your plate.
All white bread variants keep for only a short time - must be eaten the same day. Hence bakers bake at least twice a day!
Pastries are a large part of French cooking. Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines (pieces of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat, not dissimilar to a chocolate filled croissant (but square rather than crescent shaped).
Pastries can be found in a pâtisserie but also in most boulangeries.
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):
Cooking and drinking is a notable part of the French culture, take time to eat and discover new dishes...
Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead.
Let us also cite:
France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaulle was quoted as saying "How can you govern a country which has 365 varieties of cheese?".
Here is a far from exhaustive list of what one can find:
Vegetarianism is not as uncommon as it used to be, especially in larger cities. Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus if you ask for something vegetarian the only things they may have available are salad and vegetable side dishes.
There may still be confusions between vegetarianism and pesce/pollotarianism. Vegetarian/organic food restaurants are starting to appear. However, "traditional" French restaurants may not have anything vegetarian on the menu, so you may have to pick something "à la carte", which is usually more expensive. Veganism is still very uncommon and it may be difficult to find vegan eateries.
Breakfast in France isn't the most important meal of the day and is usually very light. The most typical breakfast consists of a coffee and a croissant or some other "viennoiserie", but since it implies going to the baker's store early in the morning to buy fresh croissant, it's typically reserved for somewhat special occasions. On normal days most people have a beverage (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice) and either toasts ("tartines" made of baguette or toast bread with butter and jam/honey/Nutella) that can be dipped in the hot beverage, or cereals with milk. People who eat healthy may go for fruits and yoghurt. As a general rule, the french breakfast is mostly sweet, but everything changes and you can have salty breakfasts everywhere today.
Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire Valley... France is the home of wine. It can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Beer (lager) is also extremely popular, in particular in northern France, where "Biere de Garde" can be found. The alcohol purchase age was recently raised to 18 for all drinks, but this is not always strictly enforced; however, laws against drunk driving are strictly enforced, with stiff penalties.
Wine and liquors may be purchased from supermarkets, or from specialized stores such as the Nicolas chain. Nicolas offers good advice on what to buy (specify the kind of wine and the price range you desire). In general, only French wines are available unless a foreign wine is a "specialty" with no equivalent in France (such as port), and they are classified by region of origin, not by grape.
Never drink alcoholic beverages (especially red wine or strong alcohol such as cognac) directly from a 75 cl bottle. Such behaviour is generally associated with bums and drunkards. Drinking beer from a 25 to 50cl can or bottle is ok.
Café prices depend heavily on location. Remember, you're not paying so much for the beverage as for the table spot; and accordingly, in general, it is cheaper to drink at the bar than seated at a table. Cafés in touristic areas, especially in Paris, are very expensive. If your intent is simply to have a drink, you'll be better off buying beverages from a grocery store and drinking them in a park.
There are a couple of mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearby francophone countries.
Tap water is safe to drink apart from exceptional cases (remote farms, remote rest areas), in which case it will be labeled eau non potable. Tap water may be obtained in restaurants by asking for a carafe d'eau; it will not come with ice. In some cities, it may have a taste such as that of chlorine.
There is a variety of bottled water, including:
Short term rentals
Travelers should definitely consider short term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodations options. Short term can be as few as several days up to months at a stretch. Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only (July & August). This type accommodation belongs to a private party, and can range from basic to luxurious. A particular advantage, aside from competitive prices, is that the accommodations come with fully fitted kitchens.
Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short term rentals on behalf of the owner, and can guide you into finding the best property, at the best price in the most suitable location for you. An internet search for the location and type of property you're looking for will usually return the names of several listing sites, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of properties for you to choose from. There are plenty of sites in both English and French, and the rental properties may be owned by people of any nationality.
France is a diverse and colourful country, and you'll find everything from stunning log chalets in the Alps, Chateaux in the countryside and beach front villas on the Riviera...plus everything in between!
Hotels come in 4 categories from 1 to 4 stars. This is the official rating given by the Ministry of Tourism, and it is posted at the entrance on a blue shield. Stars are awarded according to objective yet somewhat outdated administrative criteria (area of the reception hall, percentage of rooms with ensuite bathroom...).
Rates vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.
As of 2004, the rate for a *** hotel listed in a reliable guidebook falls between €70 (cheap) and €110 (expensive) for a double without breakfast.
All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). Note that these are maximal rates: a hotel can always propose a lower rate in order to fill up its rooms. Bargaining is not the norm but you can always ask for a discount.
Hotels located in city centers or near train stations are often very small (15 to 30 rooms) which means that you should book ahead. Many newer hotels, business oriented, are found in the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger structures (100 rooms or more); they may not be easy to reach with public transportation. The newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and have high standards. Many older hotels are now part of chains and provide standardized service but they retain their own atmosphere.
When visiting Paris, it is essential to stay in the city; there are cheaper tourism hotels in the suburbs, but these cater to groups in motor coaches; they will be hard to reach by public transportation.
Along the highways, at the entrance of cities, you find US-like motels ; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels (e.g. Formule 1) have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using credit cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room.
B & B's and Gîtes
Throughout France, mainly in rural areas but also in towns and cities, you can find B&Bs and gîtes.
B&B's are known in French as "Chambres d'hôtes" and are generally available on a nightly basis. By law, breakfast MUST be included in the advertised price for a "chambre d'hôte". Bear this in mind when comparing prices with hotels, where breakfast is NOT included in the room price.
Gites or gites ruraux are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit including a kitchen, mostly on a weekly basis. There are very few near or in the cities. Finding them requires buying a guide or, for greater choice, using the internet, as you will not find a lot of signposts on the road.
Traditionally, gites provided basic good value accommodation, typically adjacent to the owners household or in a nearby outbuilding. More recently the term has been extended, and can now be used to describe most country-based self-catering accommodation in France. Hence it includes accommodation as varied as small cottages villas with private swimming pools.
During peak summer months the best self-catering gites require booking several months in advance.
There are thousands of B&Bs and gites in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, and these tend to be listed, sometimes exclusively, with English-language or international organisations and websites that can be found by keying the words "chambres d'hotes", "gites" or "gites de france" into any of the major search engines.
There is a large number of organisations and websites offering "gites". Literally the French word gite just means a place to spend the night; however it now largely used to describe rental cottages or self-catering holiday homes, usually in rural parts of France.
Gîtes de France
A France-wide cooperative organisation, Gites de France regroups on a voluntary basis more than 50,000 rural accommodations and was the first in France to offer a consistent rating system with comprehensive descriptions.
Despite the name, Gites de France offers B&B as well as holiday rental (gite) accommodation.
The "Gites de France" rating system uses wheat stalks called Epis (equivalent to stars), based on amenities rather than quality - though generally the two go together.
Through its website, bookings can be done directly with owners or through the local Gîtes de France booking agency (no extra fee for the traveler). Although an English language version is available for many of the website pages, for some departments the pages giving details of an individual gite are only in French.
The advantages of booking through this agency are that it is often possible to book on-line, payments can by made by credit/debit card and there will be someone who can be contacted by phone or e-mail who speaks English. Some French language skills might be necessary if you are dealing directly with the owner. Prices are usually competitive since they are initially geared to the local market. A 25% non refundable payment is standard policy at the time of booking.
After making a gite booking you will receive, by post, a contract to sign (gites only). Sign and return one copy. When signing write the words "Read and approved", and the name of your home town, before signing and dating the contract. The remaining 75% of the hire charge will be required one month before the start of your holiday. When you arrive at the gite a security deposit, specified in the contact, should be given to the owner in cash. This will be returned at the end of your stay, less any fuel charges and breakages. In case of dispute with the owner the organisation will mediate since its rating system is at stake.
Another possibility is gîtes d'étape. These are more like overnight stays for hikers, like a mountain hut. They are mostly cheaper than the Gîtes de France but also much more basic.
Camping is very common in France. Most campsite are a little way out of the city centre and virtually all cater not just for tents but for Camper Vans/Caravans also. While all campsites have the basic facilities of Shower/toilet blocks, larger sites tend to offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service laundries, swimming pools or bicycle hire. All campsites except for very small "farm camping" establishments must be registered with the authorities, and are officially graded using a system of stars.
In coastal areas, three-star and four-star campgrounds must generally be booked in advance during the months of July and August, and many people book from one year to the next. In rural areas, outside of popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to show up unannounced, and find a place; this is particularly true with the municipal campsites that can be found in most small towns; though even then it may be advisable to ring up or email in advance to make sure. There are always exceptions.
In France it's forbidden to camp:
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:
Citizens of EU countries (save from some Eastern European countries, for a temporary period) can work in France without having to secure a work permit. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit - check with the French Embassy in your country. Depending on your qualifications, you can find a lot of different jobs. Do not forget though that the unemployment rate is around 10% (2009).
Note that if you are not from the EU, you cannot work legally in France without a proper work visa or employment permit. Doing so otherwise makes you an illegal alien, potentially subject to possible arrest, prosecution, expulsion, and prohibition from reentering France and the Schengen area.
If you want to earn money to continue traveling, Interim agencies (e.g. Adecco, Manpower) are a good source of temporary jobs. You can also consider working in bars, restaurants, and/or nightclubs (they are often looking for English-speaking workers, particularly those restaurants in tourist areas - fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's and Quick are also always looking for people).
A lot of "student jobs", if you happen to be in a big city, are also available for younger travelers, and foreigners are often very welcome. Such jobs include, for example, giving private English lessons, taking care of young children or many other things...check out the university buildings, they often have a lot of advertisements. An easy way to find job offers in France is to use Trovit.fr , search engine for job offers in France.
Don't forget that being an English speaker is a big advantage when you're looking for a job - French employers really have a problem finding English-speaking workers. Do note, however, that it will be much easier for you if you know a bit of French, for the same reason (your colleagues are not likely to speak English). However, don't overestimate your chances of finding work; in March 2005 unemployment is back at 10%, and a whopping 22% among under-25's.... many of whom speak or understand English. There are a lot more people looking for jobs than there are jobs - except those unattractive jobs that no-one wants to do.
The French work market tends to operate through personal contacts - if you know someone that works somewhere, you can probably figure out quite an easy way to work at that place too. It always helps to know people living in the area you wish to work.
Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17. Law enforcement forces are the National Police (Police Nationale) in urban area and the Gendarmerie in rural area, though for limited issues such as parking and traffic offenses some towns and villages also have a municipal police.
France is a very low-crime area, and is one of the safest countries in the world, but large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against tourists or strangers is very rare, but there is pickpocketing and purse-snatching.
The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which are better to avoid. Parts of the suburban are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing; however these are almost always far from touristic points and you should have no reason to visit them. Common sense applies: it is very easy to spot derelict areas.
The subject of crime in the poorer suburbs is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones, since many people associate it with working-class youth of North African origin. You should probably not express any opinion on the issue.
While it is not compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, they usually do so. Foreigners should carry some kind of official identity document. Although random checks are not the norm you may be asked for an ID in some kinds of situations, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation; not having one in such cases will result in you being taken to a police station for further checks. Even if you feel that law enforcement officers have no right to check your identity (they can do so only in certain circumstances), it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; it isbetter to put up with it and show ID. Again, the subject is touchy as the police have often been accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity : délit de sale gueule = "odd face misdemeanor".
Due to the terrorist factor, police, with the help of military units, are patrolling monuments, the Paris subway, train stations and airports. Depending on the status of the "Vigipirate" plan (anti terrorist units) it is not uncommon to see armed patrols in those areas. The presence of police is of help for tourists, as it also deters pickpockets and the like. However, suspicious behaviour, public disturbances etc., may result in policemen asking to see an ID.
In France, failing to offer assistance to 'a person in danger' is illegal. This means that if you fail to stop upon witnessing a motor accident, fail to report such an accident to emergency services, or ignore appeals for help or urgent assistance, you may be charged. Penalties include suspended prison sentence and fines. The law does not apply in situations where to answer an appeal for help might endanger your life or the lives of others.
Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude (like the Netherlands) are especially targeted. Police have often been known to stop entire coaches and search every passenger and their bags thouroughly just because they're coming from Amsterdam.
France has a liberal policy with respect to alcohol; there are usually no ID checks for purchasing alcohol (unless you look much younger than 18). However, causing problems due to public drunkenness is a misdemeanor and may result in a night in a police station. Drunk driving is a severe offense and may result in heavy fines and jail sentences.
A little etiquette note: while it is common to drink beer straight from the bottle at informal meetings, doing the same with wine is normally only done by tramps (clochards).
The health care in France is of a very high standard.
Pharmacies in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. They sell medicines, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products (though these can be very expensive). Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and propose you generic drugs.
Since drug brand names vary across countries even though the effective ingredients stay the same, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name. Prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives (aka "the pill"), will only be delivered if a doctor's prescription is shown.
In addition, supermarkets sell condoms (préservatifs) and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical item. Condom machines are often found in bar toilets, etc.
Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed physicians, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists (e.g. gynecologists), and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying Docteur (médecine générale is general practitioner). The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is €23, though some physicians charge more (this is the full price and not a co-payment). Physicians may also do home calls, but these are more expensive.
Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travellers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even if at a public hospital; non-EU travellers should have travel insurance covering medical costs.
Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgences.
The following numbers are toll-free:
Operators at these numbers can transfer requests to other services if needed (e.g. some medical emergencies may be answered by firefighter groups).
Smoking is prohibited by law in all enclosed spaces accessible to the public (this includes train and subway cars, train and subway station enclosures, workplaces, restaurants and cafés) unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. There was an exception for restaurants and cafés, but since the 1st January 2008, the smoking ban law is also enforced there. You may face a fine of €68 if you are found smoking in these places.
Though no smoking rules in cafes and restaurants exist, they are widely flouted. The French have a habit of disregarding 'stupid laws' so if you are particularly sensitive to cigarette smoke ask either for an outside table or sit near an open window. Be warned, in summer when the majority of France is overrun by a heatwave the smell of tobacco becomes stronger and might make eating out unbearable for asthma sufferers.
Smoking is banned in métro and trains, as well as enclosed stations. Subway and train conductors do enforce the law and will fine you for smoking in non-designated places; if you encounter problems with a smoker in train, you may go find the conductor.
As hotels are not considered as public places, some offer smoking vs non-smoking rooms.
Only people over the age 16 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID.
It is considered very rude to be loud in a crowded place, such as a subway car or restaurant. Keep in mind that, though you may be enjoying your holiday, most people around you in the métro or other places are probably going to or back from work and may be tired and thus will react very coldly to tourists babbling at the top of their lungs. If you listen to the locals talk, you will notice that they talk rather softly.
Dress codes are fast disappearing, but if you want to avoid looking like a tourist, then avoid white sneakers, baseball caps, tracksuit pants, shorts and flip-flops (except at the beach). Generally speaking, business casual dress code is sufficient in cities and in all but the most formal occasions.
Usual courtesy apply when entering churches, and although you may not be asked to leave, it is better to avoid short pants and halter tops.
Some restaurants will frown if you come in dressed for trekking but very few will insist upon a jacket and tie. You may be surprised by the number of French twenty-somethings who show up at a grungy bar in jacket and tie, even if obviously from a thrift-shop.
Beaches and swimming pools (in hotels) are used for getting a tan. Taking off your bra will not usually create a stir if you don't mind a bevy of oglers. Taking off the bottom part is reserved to designated nude beaches. People on beaches are usually not offended by a young boy or girl undressed. Most resort cities insist on your wearing a shirt when leaving the beach area. Many pools will not allow baggy or "board" swim trunks insisting on snug fitting speedo type trunks.
Breastfeeding in public is very rare but nobody will mind if you do.
Talking to people
If you try to use your French to address people be careful about the use of "tu" (informal, friendly, and called tutoyer; which is a verb, to call someone "tu") and "vous" (formal, respectful, and called vouvoyer; vb. to call someone vous) forms. Using tu can be demeaning to people, since this is the form normally used for addressing children or close friends.
People who do not know each other well seldom use their first name to introduce themselves. Refrain from using someone's first name unless you are invited to do so or if you are with people used to dealing with foreigners. Actually French people will use the "tu" and the "vous", "first name" or "surname" depending on their relationship and the code is not easy to learn.
If that's confusing (or not confusing enough) the key is that it's all about distance. For example a bartender is vous up until the moment that he or she gives you a complementary drink, at which point tu becomes more appropriate, and the use of vous would be a bit off-putting.
For foreigners, the best way to deal with the "tu" and "vous" problem is to address people using "vous" until invited to say "tu", or until addressed by the first name. Doing so will look perhaps a shade old fashioned, but always respectful, while doing otherwise can be pretty rude and embarrassing in some situations. Always use the "vous" form to a law enforcement officer (or other person of authority), even if he may (though he ought not) use the "tu" form to talk to you.
Simplified: Use vous unless:
French people have a wide variety of opinions about many subjects. Unless you really follow French news closely, you should probably steer clear of discussing internal French politics, especially sensitive issues such as immigration-- you may come across as judgmental and uninformed. Reading French newspapers to get a feel for the wide spectrum of political opinions in France – from the revolutionary left to the nationalistic right – may help.
The French seldom advertise their religious feelings, however, and expect you to avoid doing so as well. Doing so would not make people feel uneasy. It is also generally considered impolite to inquire about religious or other personal issues. You should also avoid presenting yourself through what you own (house, car, etc.). Do not mention how much you are making in your job until being clearly asked about it as it would otherwise be considered obscene. Instead express your enthusiasm about how great are the responsibilities, or how lucky you were to get there.
Don't make the mistake of reducing of France to Paris, or assuming that all French people act like Parisians. Life in Paris can be closer to life in London or New York City than the rest of France.
Country code : +33
All french numbers have 10 digits. The first two digits are:
You cannot drop the first two digits even if your call remains within the same area. The initial '0' may be replaced by some other digit or longer code indicating a choice of long-distance operator. Don't use this unless explicitly told to.
When speaking phone numbers, people will usually group the digits by sets of two. For example, 02 47 66 41 18 will be said as "zero two, forty-seven, sixty-six, forty-one, eighteen" (but in French, of course). The two-digit pair 00 is said as "zero zero", not "double zero". for example if your phone number is 02 47 66 41 18 in France, it would be said as "zéro deux, quarante-sept, soixante-six, quarante et un, dix-huit." If you find it too hard to follow, you may ask the person to say the number digit-by-digit ("chiffre par chiffre"). It would then be "zero, two, four, seven, six, six, four, one, one, eight" ("zéro, deux, quatre, sept, six, six, quatre, un, un, huit").
You can to visit this site to find instructions about the nationals and internationals calls: .
To enjoy cheap international calls from France travelers can get a local France Sim Card  online before they leave or use low-cost dial-around services such as appellemonde  or allo2556 . Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in France. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services allows you to call USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at local rate (tarif local) so you can easily save on your phone bill. They also work from payphones, though the first minute is surcharged by France Telecom. To know how to order a landline (ligne fixe) in France you can click on landline providers in France . Another method, if you stay long, is to use VoIP over DSL, such as the Livebox or Freebox service (free long distance calls within France and to a number of countries).
To call a French number from abroad, dial: international prefix + 33 + local number without the leading 0. For example: ++33 247 664 118
There are few companies that provide toll-free numbers (starting with 08 00) but many have numbers starting with 081, for which you pay the cost of a local call regardless of where you are in the country.
Numbers starting with 089 are heavily surtaxed. They provide service to some legitimate businesses but the ones you see advertised all over the country are usually for adult services.
Emergency numbers are 15 (medical aid), 17 (police station) and 18 (fire/rescue). You can also use the European emergency number 112 (perhaps a better choice if you don't speak French). These calls are free and accessible from virtually any phone, including locked cellphones. In case of a serious emergency, if you find a code-protected cellphone, enter a random code three times: the phone will lock, but you will be able to dial emergency numbers.
Phone booths are available in train or subway stations, bus stops, near tourist attractions, etc. There is at least one phone booth in every village (look on the main plaza). Due to the widespread use of mobile phones, there are now fewer booths than a few years ago. Most use a card (no coins). France Télécom public phones accept CB/Visa/Mastercard cards but almost always only with a microchip. Otherwise, post offices, café-tabacs (recognizable by a red sign hanging outside), and stores that sell magazines sell phone cards. Ask for a "carte telephonique"; these come with differing units of credit, so you may want to specify "petit" if you just want to make a short local call or two. If you get the kind with a computer chip in it, you just have to slide it into the phone, listen for the dial tone, and dial. The US-style cards require you to dial a number and then enter a code (but with spoken instructions in French).
France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in most of the world outside of the U.S. There are several companies (Orange, SFR/simpleo, Virgin Mobile, and Bouygues Telecom) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered but you may have difficulties using your mobile phone in rural or mountainous areas. However, for emergency numbers, the three companies are required by law to accept your call if they technically can, even if you are not one of their customers, thus maximizing your chance of being helped even in areas with spotty service.
If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 Mhz bands. Then incoming calls are free. You can get it from most mobile service provider (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom), but they have a very short validity for the card if you don't recharge it.
The Minitel is a mostly obsolete system of text terminals that were deployed in French households from the 1980s. Their main use was the phone directory (thus relieving the need for bulky collections of paper directories), but it also allowed online retailing (extension of mail order), ticket bookings and was also popular for games, chat rooms, and sex-focused services.
This system still exists, companies will list their Minitel code as 36 15 (the dial-up number to get a connection) + the name of the service (to be typed in on the Minitel keyboard).
Posters advertising sex chat services ("3615 Ulla") are a common sight in French streets and shop windows, and certainly a puzzlement to the visitors unacquainted with the existence of a device which had found its place in the nation's everyday life.
The main advantages of Minitel over the Internet are simplicity (no need for a costly, difficult-to-operate personal computer) as well as safety (no "phishing" or fears about transmitting sensitive data such as credit cards numbers).
A few Minitels may still be found in some post offices (great for looking free of charge in the White or Yellow Pages), and a few phone booths are still equipped with one but they are very rare.
Internet access is available in cyber cafes all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around €4 per hour.
In all major cities, there are multiple companies offering residential broadband service. Typical prices are €30 a month for unmetered ADSL (in speeds up to 24 megabits per second), digital HDTV over DSL and free unlimited voice-over-IP phone calls to land lines within France and about twenty other countries (EU,US,...) with external SIP access too (the price includes a modem/routeur/switch with integrated WiFi MiMo access point). Broadband services are very common in France, all over the country.
You'll also find wifi access (in Paris) in a lot of cafés usually those labelled a bit "trendy". There will be a sign on the door or on the wall. Also look for the @ symbol prominently displayed, which indicates internet availability. However, with most homes now wired for the internet, cyber cafes are increasingly hard to find, especially outside the major cities. In Paris, one popular WIFI free spot is the Pompidou Center. There is talk that the city intends to become the first major European capital providing free WIFI coverage for the whole city. Public parks and libraries in Paris are also covered.
Post 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, UPS, are available in cities, however you generally have to call them for them to come to you as they have very few physical locations.
Another option is to simply use La Poste with a wide network around the country and the same services as its competitors.
Electricity, water, etc.
Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V 50Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE 7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and most of Europe) outlets.
Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and other countries using 230V 50Hz which use different plugs simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in France. Plug adaptors for plugs from the US and UK are available from electrical and "do-it-yourself" stores such as Bricorama.
Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110V 60Hz may need a voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can accept either 110V or 230V so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.
Tap water (Eau du robinet) is drinkable, except in rare cases such as rural rest areas and sinks in train bathrooms, in which case it will be clearly signposted as Eau non potable. Eau potable is drinkable water. (You may, however, not like the taste which may be chlorinated or so, and prefer bottled water.)
Toilets are available in restaurants, cafés; there are also public facilities, which generally charge a fee. Note that American euphemisms such as "restroom", "washroom" etc. will often not be understood; ask for "toilets". In older public facilities, particularly those that do not charge or isolated rest areas, you may encounter squat toilets.