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Going to France! I'm a stupid American!

Akilae729Akilae729 Registered User
edited April 2012 in Help / Advice Forum
Any general advice for traveling in France? I'll be in Bordeaux and Paris for 2 weeks for a conference and a little sight seeing. I've never been to Europe, and I speak no French.

My conference is all in English and pre-booked so that shouldn't be a problem. I do have to get myself a train ticket from Bordeaux to Paris on a Friday, but I imagine this will be pretty easy. I've also called up my banks and I have most of the financial stuff squared away.

Anything I need to see? Any advice for not getting screwed over?

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Posts

  • EddEdd Registered User regular
    You say the conference is English, but if you're going to be out and about at all, you really might want to just give yourself a crash course in French vocab and grammar. As in many European countries, you will encounter a good number of people who can speak English; however, it is generally considered good form to make an effort with the language, especially in the little utilitarian capacities like "bathroom" etcetera.

    I have not been to France, but having known many people who have, and having been elsewhere in Europe, it seems pretty common that you will buy some respect by showing deference to local language and custom, even if the guy selling you your coffee ultimately just says "it's alright, I speak English." The reason he makes it easy on you may well be because you made a polite effort not to assume that he better talk to you in your own language.

  • Akilae729Akilae729 Registered User
    Edd wrote: »
    You say the conference is English, but if you're going to be out and about at all, you really might want to just give yourself a crash course in French vocab and grammar. As in many European countries, you will encounter a good number of people who can speak English; however, it is generally considered good form to make an effort with the language, especially in the little utilitarian capacities like "bathroom" etcetera.

    I have not been to France, but having known many people who have, and having been elsewhere in Europe, it seems pretty common that you will buy some respect by showing deference to local language and custom, even if the guy selling you your coffee ultimately just says "it's alright, I speak English." The reason he makes it easy on you may well be because you made a polite effort not to assume that he better talk to you in your own language.

    By no means do I plan on showing up and being rude.

    I've not been in a position where I can adequately prepare for the trip (short notice and intense work situation the past few months) so I'll be doing a crash course in French and bringing the best iPhone phrase book / translator that I can buy.

    I've traveled internationally before in Asia where I could get by with very minimal language skills. I've just heard that France has a reputation for not being friendly to foreign travelers.

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  • EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Spending too much money eating out. That's about it. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited April 2012
    The French have that reputation because people show up and don't pay attention to the local customs. The big one, that helps a lot, is whenever you enter or exit an establishment, say "Salut/Bonjour" when you go in and the same when you leave (well, what you say depends on the time of day). Most people will immediately realize you're American and start speaking English because of your accent. I'm pretty fluent, and when I was there for 5 months, it was a bitch to get them to speak French to me because they all wanted to practice their English.

    Oh, and French service at restaurants (outside of REALLY expensive places) is virtually non-existent. Your order is taken, your food is dropped, and good luck finding your waiter after that. It's nothing at all like the attentiveness we get here in the states. So, realize it's not the waiters being rude, it's just how it is there. And while there's technically not tipping, leave 5-10% on the table. It's customary.

    Esh on
    "At first he thought it might be a natural occurrence - maybe a rabbit. But upon closer inspection, it was clear a knife had been used. And rabbits don't carry knives."

    Final Fantasy XIV:Lilja Sunblade
  • ComahawkComahawk Registered User regular
    Esh wrote: »
    The French have that reputation because people show up and don't pay attention to the local customs. The big one, that helps a lot, is whenever you enter or exit an establishment, say "Salut/Bonjour" when you go in and the same when you leave (well, what you say depends on the time of day). Most people will immediately realize you're American and start speaking English because of your accent. I'm pretty fluent, and when I was there for 5 months, it was a bitch to get them to speak French to me because they all wanted to practice their English.

    Oh, and French service at restaurants (outside of REALLY expensive places) is virtually non-existent. Your order is taken, your food is dropped, and good luck finding your waiter after that. It's nothing at all like the attentiveness we get here in the states. So, realize it's not the waiters being rude, it's just how it is there. And while there's technically not tipping, leave 5-10% on the table. It's customary.

    A little off topic, isn't salut pretty familiar? As in something you would say to friends and not a stranger?

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  • MelinoeMelinoe Registered User regular
    The tip is also included a lot in France. I don't remember the phrase offhand because it's been a while since I've done any French but it will say so on the menu. You can probably find it somewhere online or someone more educated than myself can tell you. They probably won't go out of their way to tell you so you may end up tipping twice if you're not careful. Disclaimer: this is all stuff I learned in French classes, I was too young when I actually visited to need to worry about money, so this may not be exactly correct.

  • EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Spending too much money eating out. That's about it. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited April 2012
    Comahawk wrote: »
    Esh wrote: »
    The French have that reputation because people show up and don't pay attention to the local customs. The big one, that helps a lot, is whenever you enter or exit an establishment, say "Salut/Bonjour" when you go in and the same when you leave (well, what you say depends on the time of day). Most people will immediately realize you're American and start speaking English because of your accent. I'm pretty fluent, and when I was there for 5 months, it was a bitch to get them to speak French to me because they all wanted to practice their English.

    Oh, and French service at restaurants (outside of REALLY expensive places) is virtually non-existent. Your order is taken, your food is dropped, and good luck finding your waiter after that. It's nothing at all like the attentiveness we get here in the states. So, realize it's not the waiters being rude, it's just how it is there. And while there's technically not tipping, leave 5-10% on the table. It's customary.

    A little off topic, isn't salut pretty familiar? As in something you would say to friends and not a stranger?

    Yeah, I guess I got used to using it a lot there because I frequented the same bars/cafes/shops a lot. Stick with "bonjour".
    Melinoe wrote: »
    The tip is also included a lot in France. I don't remember the phrase offhand because it's been a while since I've done any French but it will say so on the menu. You can probably find it somewhere online or someone more educated than myself can tell you. They probably won't go out of their way to tell you so you may end up tipping twice if you're not careful. Disclaimer: this is all stuff I learned in French classes, I was too young when I actually visited to need to worry about money, so this may not be exactly correct.

    It's really only included in most high end places. Most cafes and bars? No. The term you'll see on the check if it is included is "service compris". If you see that, you're in the clear (and you can still toss down a couple of euros if you want), but if you don't? DEFINITELY toss something down.

    Esh on
    "At first he thought it might be a natural occurrence - maybe a rabbit. But upon closer inspection, it was clear a knife had been used. And rabbits don't carry knives."

    Final Fantasy XIV:Lilja Sunblade
  • Natas_XnoybisNatas_Xnoybis Registered User regular
    It has been awhle, but back in the day I made several trips to france.

    The stereotype: French are rude
    My take: No, not at all. But if you spend 4 days bumbling around Paris yelling at people in English.. then yeah, you might not have a great experience. Paris is like any other huge city. Imagine wandering around New York city while speaking Swahili only... the impression you brobably would walk away with is that Americans are rude... /shrug

    As others have suggested make the effort to learn as much french as you can before hand, even with the knowledge that a huge portion of the people you will run into will have pretty good english.

    Get out of town, whether south, north, east, west, there are amazing things to see and I wouldn't spend two weeks just in the region of paris alone (disclaimer, i am not a fan of big cities).

    IMO make a list of things that might interest you, then start researching where those things are. for me a list would be something like:

    See non touristy area of the mediterranean
    spend some time in the french alps
    go wine tasting (which is free, unlike wine tasting in say, napa)
    *hmm re-checked your locations* Bordeaux, never been in that region. Will you have a rental car? or will you be going via Train? If you can swing a car, you could look up Bed and breakfasts, and just putter about...

    Either way, I envy you, as long as you don't waste your time sitting in your hotel room you can't go wrong.

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  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    Since you're going to be in Bordaeux anyway, I would definitely go out and see Normandy, the bocage country and the historical stuff from WW2.

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  • LuianeLuiane Registered User regular
    Bordaeux is quite far from Normandy unless I completely misremember French geography - is not Bordeaux in the southwest while Normandy is in the north of France? Normandy is very well worth visiting, and if you do head north it's worth visiting Mont-Saint-Michel - it's a cloister on a half island, when the tidal water arrives it turns into a full on island. Since the area around it is very flat this process is very quick too and it is rather spectacular. The architecture of the cloister itself is very nice too and it is well worth a visit - although there is little else to do around there once you have seen the cloister.

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  • GnomeTankGnomeTank Registered User regular
    I could have sworn Bordeaux was in Normandy, but my french geography is also terrible. If it's not, you should go there, because Normandy is amazing. One of the top 3 highlights of my trip to Europe.

    Sagroth wrote: »
    Oh c'mon FyreWulff, no one's gonna pay to visit Uranus.
    Steam: Brainling, XBL / PSN: GnomeTank, NintendoID: Brainling, FF14: Zillius Rosh
  • admanbadmanb the bored genie Seattle, WARegistered User regular
    Luiane wrote: »
    Bordaeux is quite far from Normandy unless I completely misremember French geography - is not Bordeaux in the southwest while Normandy is in the north of France?

    This is correct.

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