Oh, France. Whether or not they've been, France is one of those places that everyone seems to think they know about.
There's always someone telling you how beautiful Paris is, how you have to try the wine, or how the people will refuse to speak English to you (yeah, learn French you lazy bastard), but you really shouldn't listen to any of them until you see it for yourself (however, you may listen to me in lieu of seeing, I am unwavering in my commitment to objectivity and accurate interpretation).
QUICK FRANCE FACTS
- Capital: Paris
- Language: French
- Currency: Euro / € / EUR
- Population: 66,600,000
- Time Zone: UTC+2 / UTC+1 (DST)
- Calling Code: +33
- Drives On: Right
- Drinking Age: None for consumption, 18 to buy
- Drinking In Public: Legal
- Drinking Tap Water: Okay
- Flushing Toilet Paper: Okay
- Vaccinations Required: CDC
- Credit Cards: Visa/MC widely accepted
- Tipping: Not expected
- Emergency Number: 112
- Outlets: Europlug Types C & F with two round prongs
- Visa Requirements: External Link!
- LANGUAGE | For non-native speakers, French can be incredibly difficult to learn, and the reality is: most French people don't speak English. Even if you can manage just a little French, the French will (typically) be understanding and will offer up a lot more patience during your failing attempts at communication. If you are familiar with another romance language you've got a head start, if not, good luck.
- GETTING AROUND | France's railway system is decent, and is currently operated by the SNCF. The drawback is that prices are high, but booking in advance in a good way to get your money's worth. Also, France has some deregulation plans in the works that will affect the country's bus systems (which will (hopefully) result in cheaper fares). Finally, you can check the carpooling websites which are a good medium to meet people while traveling cheap (check here or here).
- BUDGET TRAVEL | Like everywhere, you'll find it if you look for it. Paris is, just like many big cities, incredibly expensive (relative to the rest of the country). Millions of people crammed into a small geographic area results in outrageous rents and creates high prices for basically everything. Remember that Paris is not all that is France! Get out of the cities and explore what else the country has to offer.
- THINGS TO DO | France offers a large range of things to discover from beaches in the south to the mountains of the Pyreneese and Alps (including Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe). French cuisine is steeped in tradition and there will always be some delicious drink to accompany your meal. Meet the locals, learn the history, and avoid the tourist traps. During summer, southwest France goes crazy during traditional celebrations called ferias.
- WHEN TO GO | It really depends. Do you want to chill on the beaches and test the surf or would you prefer to go skiing? If you aren't picky, the off-season will allow you to get good deals (basically anytime between November and March).
WHAT TO EAT
French cuisine is impossible to narrow down to one traditional dish (yes, we know they eat snails). Every region has its own specialties and it really comes down to the quality of the products used when deciding what's best. That being said, here are some examples of what you might find:
- FOIE GRAS | Literally: fat liver. So where does it come from? Well, we start with a regular duck or goose. Then, we force feed a carbohydrate-rich diet it until its liver becomes swollen (up to ten times the size of a normal liver). Next, we kill the animal to put it out of its misery. Finally, we cut out the liver and eat it. Simple as that. The technique is horrible but the result is exquisite. It's traditionally eaten around Christmas. Try it before you knock it.
- WINE | Is there really anything to say about French wine that hasn't already been said by some snobbish wannabe sommelier at a party to a group of disinterested friends? Well, for one thing, French wine in France is a hell of a lot cheaper than outside the country (shocking). Bordeaux (in southwest France) is particularly famous (around the world even) for the quality of its wines. Should you find yourself there, don't forget to stop in at one of the area's many wine bars (you classy bitch, you).
- BREAD | Bread and more specifically baguettes. You can find these delicious sticks of phallic bread practically anywhere, but should you fancy yourself a connoisseur, then make sure to try your luck at the local bakery (as opposed to the market, which will have inferior bags of ette). You can usually score one for under a euro, and they make great (and incredibly healthy) meal substitutes for when you're short on monetary instruments.
- CHEESE | France has about 400 different types of cheese. They're all delicious. They even have cheese that is illegal in the US (the French are some bad motherfuckers). What should you have to complement your classy wine tasting? Some cheese. Your fourth baguette of the day? Some cheese. Your liver from a cruelly treated waterfowl? Cheese. Your cheese? Some cheese.
I would like to thank the good Mr. Indie for helping me put this post together. A Frenchman since birth, Indie has traveled the world, impressing the masses with his stunning good looks and genuine kindheartedness. Recently, he made the pilgrimage from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and he has now returned to France to search for his next great adventure. Check out Indie's posts here.
So basically, if you've got a problem with anything here, take it up with him.
FRANCE TIPS & TRICKS
- HITCHHIKING | I found hitchhiking in France to be relatively difficult compared to places like Sweden or Germany. When I didn't have a Frenchman with me, things got even more difficult. France is crisscrossed by autoroutes, many of which require tolls and therefore provide good (albeit illegal) places to attempt hitches. Once on a highway, there are plenty of rest stops that provide nice waypoints for hitchers. If you are going to try hitching in France, try to speak some French.
- SUNDAYS | Many places will be closed on Sundays; not so much because of that religious mumbo-jumbo, but instead because of labor legislation. However, this does not mean that you won't be able to find anything open as staying open through the week is becoming more common (you can always find a place for food, coffee or a drink in decent size towns). Still, go buy your TP on Saturday (or just steal it from a restaurant like a normal person).
- CABS | Don't take cabs in France (unless you care for wasting money). Most larger cities have all night bus services to take over when the subway or tramways stop. Take advantage of this to take your belligerent (or classy wine-tasting self) back to wherever it is you plan on resting your head for the night.
- TIME ZONES | This won't help you in your travels through France (like any of this will?), but it may help you in a future bout of trivia: France has the most time zones of any country, twelve. But how? Because empire is how. France has territories all over the globe and many of these territories are treated as if they were mainland France: the citizens are French, they speak French, they use euros, and they vote in French elections. Crazy stuff.