France attracts almost 100 million visitors each year. The majority of those making the trip will visit Paris. However, with other regions offering everything from great food and wine to ancient artefacts and idyllic countryside views, it’s hardly surprising that France is a top tourist destination. Packing your bags, jumping on the first available flight, and taking things as they come is great. Surprises can be fun, particularly when you’re exploring a new country. However, the richest experiences we have are often backed by a little bit of prior knowledge.
That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in foreign cultures. But, if you’re going to get the most out of a trip, it’s worth being informed. That’s what this guide is for. The following five tips will not only make you more culturally aware but will help you get the most from a trip to France. So, if you’re ready to discover why the French hold the phrase Vive la France close to their hearts, here are five things you should do before you visit the land of art, culture, and fine wine.
1. Learn the Language of Love
The best way to unlock any foreign culture is to learn the local language. Becoming well versed in another language isn’t easy but, thanks to the power of the internet, you’ve got access to a wealth of resources via your desktop or mobile. Flicking through endless lists of words and phrases can be effective. However, there’s nothing quite like a conversation with someone who knows the language like the back of their hand.
When it comes to French, you can take one-on-one classes via Preply. The network of tutors not only provide standard hourly lessons but grammatical tips, pronunciation pointers, and advice on how to comply with conversational norms. Basically, a tutor offers what a book can’t. They provide an interactive experience which, when it comes down to it, is what language is all about. When you go to France, you’ll be in two-way conversations. This is why learning a language with an online tutor is not only more efficient but the best way to become more proficient at it.
2. Cleanse Your Palate
France is a place where food takes a central role in life. From cheese to frog’s legs, there’s a literal smorgasbord of options when you go to France. Therefore, the best thing you can do is cleanse your palate. In other words, you need to prepare yourself for new taste sensations. Don’t let your prejudices or standard tastes dictate your decisions. Be open to new experiences, even if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone.
The French take cooking seriously, regardless of whether it’s a high-end restaurant or a backstreet bistro with beautiful furniture from Arhaus. Therefore, almost anything you try is going to be cooked well and have a depth of flavor. Will you like everything? Probably not. However, you’re going to France for a reason. You’re going to experience new things and food always reflects the culture. That means you need to sample dishes you might not have seen before. Some popular delicacies you should try are snails, frog’s legs, soup de poisson (fish soup), coq au vin, and even horse meat.
3. Mind Your Manners
The French, like all nations, value politeness and manners. A smile and a friendly hello go a long way. According to Nadine Maffre’s guide to France, saying bonjour or bonsoir (hello/good evening) is crucial. This simple greeting is said before almost any initial exchange. From waiters to taxi drivers, ticket sellers to random strangers, every exchange starts with a simple hello.
Maffre notes that it’s actually considered rude not to start a conversation with bonjour/bonsoir, and it’s often the reason for an apparent negative attitude towards foreigners. In reality, the French are extremely polite and courteous. However, problems occur when visitors don’t follow social norms. Therefore, if you’re travelling to France and you can only master one word, make sure it’s bonjour.
4. Kiss or Shake: Learn When and How
It might sound cliche, but kissing people on the cheek is a French custom. It’s known locally at la bise and there are certain times to do it and certain times where a handshake is more appropriate. The general rule is that there are no set guidelines. However, cheek kissing is usually reserved for family and friends. There may be occasions where you can greet acquaintances or friends of friends with a kiss, but these will be less common.
For people in official positions, such as bus drivers or bank managers, a simple bonjour will suffice. If they extend a hand, go for a handshake. Otherwise, just keep it formal but friendly. Indeed, if you go back to our previous point, bonjour is the most important word in the French dictionary. Therefore, if you’re meeting strangers, go for a hello and handshake. If you’re meeting people you know on a personal level, go for cheek kisses.
5. Search for the Secret Hotspots
The final thing to do before your trip is to research the best places to visit. Everyone knows the major attractions. However, you should endeavor to find the hidden gems. For example, Monet’s Garden in Giverny, Normandy, is a landscaping masterpiece. It’s an hour’s drive from Paris but it feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of a city. When a garden inspires an artist like Monet to paint Les Nymphéas, you know it’s worth a visit.
France is full of hidden gems like Monet’s Garden, you just have to know where you’re going. This is where the research comes in. By reading travel guides and visiting French message boards, you’ll get a sense of where to go. With this in mind, here are some places to get you started: visit the village of Conques (the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast), swim in the Calanques of Marseille, and go to the fortified French town of Carcassonne in Aude. These are just some starting points. If you can combine these with our other top tips, you’ll get the most out of your trip to France.
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