5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to France

It‘s not leading the pack in regards to Adventure Travel or Voluntourism, but if you‘re looking for an unparalleled experience into the arts, food or a general appreciation for quality of life, France is not to be missed.

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Depending on you who talk to, Paris is either the "City of Light" or something, well, not quite as passionately enthusiastic. Any way you cut it, there‘s nowhere in the world quite like it.

Unfortunately, we‘ve received plenty of pleas to take caution with your personal goods, as pick-pocketing is seemingly moving beyond petty theft to a national pastime, but we still feel privileged to bring you five (and a half) pieces of Parisian travel advice from those in the know.

Want to know more about France? Head to our Stories section to delve a little deeper.

Un. Compliment the French

Compliment the French on the way they look, on the food, on the way they look, on the glass of wine you're drinking, and on the way they look. Otherwise, they will curse at you. They love to hear wonderful things about their country.
Conversation Corps, Randy LeGrant

Our tip: If you're unfamiliar with the language the set lunch menu is a great way to order. But watch out for the prix fixe faux pas that could leave you out of pocket.

Deux. Don't Leave Valuables in Your Rental Car in France

Visiting the countryside: If you're traveling by rental car, never leave valuables in plain sight when parking in tourist sites and villages. Aix en Provence, for example, is a must see but also one of the worst for petty theft by criminals preying on rental cars. The best advice is to just take all valuables from a rental car, don‘t leave anything important inside. So, leave luggage at the hotel first before visiting!
Discover France, Loren Siekman

Our tip: Sadly being a tourist makes you a target not just in lovely Aix en Provence. Find out where the other crime hot spots are in France, and stay clear of the crooks.

Trois. "The Ring Trick" in France

As you're walking around enjoying the sights, someone passes you and appears to pick up a gold ring off the floor. They ask if it's yours, and say, "It must be your lucky day," as they give you the ring. Only then do they ask you for money, and their ‘family‘ may also appear at this time to pressure you into paying. The ‘gold‘ ring is nothing more than a piece of brass or copper is totally worthless. You only realize this, of course, once you‘ve handed over your cash.
Matador Travel, Matt Scott

Our tip: There are variations of this mean-spirited scheme, find out how to avoid falling for one of them here.

Quatre. When in France, Say Bonjour!

When in France, I wish I'd known French. The French typically do not like speaking English – even if they can. Respect this and learn some basic French beforehand.
Travellerspoint, Samuel Daams

Our tip: You can get a free French Lesson with our Language Guides.

Cinq. French Transport Tips

Take the train. It's the safest (not to mention quickest and cheapest) way to travel in France. Services run until very late and are often manned by security guards. We'd think nothing of eating out and getting a train home at midnight - Vive la France!
Footprint Guidebooks, Tristan Rutherford and Kathryn Tomasetti

Except maybe if you are arriving at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport...

Cinq et demi. Train Crime in France

There are several ways to get into the city, the last choice we would advise is on the RER train. The RER is great for Parisians who know their way around, or experienced repeat travelers, but not at all great for arriving tourists from overnight flights. Tired and disoriented tourists are easy targets for baggage theft and pickpockets on that line. If you take it, always keep an eye on luggage at every stop all the way into the city.
Discover France, Loren Siekman

Well, at least now you‘re equipped with a few tidbits of cautionary advice, and the ability to count to five (and a half) in French. In short, the best way to enjoy France is to keep your eyes on its cultural wonders, a croissant in one hand, and your wallet in the other.

What did you learn in France or wish you knew before you went?

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35 Comments

  • Colt Stacer said

    six) Check out staying in apartments! Less the deposit which has always been returned to myself, the cost is often a few hundred US dollars less for a week (assuming you aren't going for luxury) than staying in a hotel but note you will pay extra for arriving or departing on the weekend. An apartment allows you to fully experience the markets because you have a place to prepare and store food!

    sept) Don't rent a car; the metro is all you need and a week pass can include your transportation to and from the airport. Purchase ahead of time and have it shipped to your house (convenient and ensures you have it ready when you get off the plane). It will become active starting the day you first use it.

    huit) My last one, purchase a museum pass, it is cost effective and can be valid for multiple days. Also you can buy it ahead of time and either have it delivered to you at your hotel/apartment, or shipped to your home. Valid based on the day you select at time of purchase.

    Enjoy!

  • Dalma said

    "The French typically do not like speaking English, even if they can. "

    Totally wrong I'd say. but you can be sure I never answer to someone who suddenly pat my shoulder shouting "WHERE IS THE EIFFEL TOWER??". So my advice would be : don't think that locals are your personal servants.

  • FrenchParisian said

    Yes, you are right. If you come to Paris for the first time you have to take care in the RER, cause it's not safe sometimes... But, as french people I want to say that I hope you will have a good time in my city. And be sure that you are welcome in France, dear friend, even if a lot of us don't speack very well English. Just accept be yourself, accept it, and enjoy the city, the country and people you meet, because you are WELCOME !

  • FrenchParisian said

    Yes, you are right. If you come to Paris for the first time you have to take care in the RER, cause it's not safe sometimes... But, as french people I want to say that I hope you will have a good time in my city. And be sure that you are welcome in France, dear friend, even if a lot of us don't speack very well English. Just accept be yourself, accept it, and enjoy the city, the country and people you meet, because you are WELCOME !

  • Jeremie said

    "the prix fixe faux pas" does not mean anything in French.

    Your article is somehow valid for Paris, but I doubt you'll find trains running at midnight somewhere else...

    Look like you've never been there

  • Tiramisu said

    wew, it's good tips

  • Katell said

    Enough is enough of this so easy french bashing made by stupid and totally ignorant people ! Wherever you travel 1st things to do is to learn a minimum of local words,phrases, cultural manners, it is call " To be polite" Do not expect everybody to have to speak your own language or to have to understand right away your personal demand... Be humble at once, please ! Travelling is all about been humble, curious ans generous, stop judging, the world does'nt belong to you ! We all are differerent and everybody deserve a minimum of respect wherever you shall go ... or just stay home then ! By the way you forgot to mentionned that none of pickpockets are french but they are mostly comming from eastern countries ...Ignorant I said ..

  • robert said

    Further to the "say bonjour" comment. One thing I learned many years ago is that, in France, ANY encounter or transaction begins with "bonjour". Supermarket checkout, ordering at a café or bar, whatever. I'm pleased to note that it seems to be catching on a bit in the UK, too. Well, not "bonjour", but at least "hello". Also, when you meet with someone for the first time each day, shake hands.

  • Jeanie said

    I have visited a few times now, getting ready for another trip. (My partner works with Disney and built Disney Paris). I always have a good experience, have never had any negative encounters with the locals in Paris, or any other European city for that matter. The key is be humble and polite. Arrogance, being loud is not getting along as a visitor. I am always so amazed with the beauty and the culture and love to soak it up. People who live in such beautiful places are usually very gracious and appreciate the beauty as well. They appear to want to share it with the world. I have experienced the "gypsies" at Notre Dame with the ring trick. I had read about it prior, and was amused really when it was played out for real right in front of me. I was confident and walked on saying no thank you. I also experienced the trick with women offering some bouquets of lavender and wanting money. A very diverse population, and you witness survival. Often I have seen families who exploit their children on the train to get the passengers to give money for the music they are playing. Locals will ignore but there are some who give money. I do not get involved and try to ignore. Not being fluent in French puts you at a particular disadvantage in these circumstances and it is best to avoid these encounters. You can continue to ride the RER just be aware and look the other way.

  • ibe nnanyereugo said

    france is my drean country.i promise to come to france for a holiday.if is ok for me i will settle down in france.

  • Jenny said

    There's pretty much nothing in this article that doesn't apply to visiting any country: pay compliments, learn a bit of the language, be polite, secure your possessions, beware of scams. Shouldn't we all do this all the time? Another I'd add to the list is: definitely DO hire a car. Get out of the cities and into the villages. Find the local markets. Meet the local people. Participate in the community - with or without language skills. Some of our best conversations have been using charades. The image of my husband trying to buy a corkscrew is priceless.

  • Neil said

    France, America, Barbados, U.K., Germany, Hong Kong, Canada, you name it. If you don't know how to be polite and act as if you are somehow important; don't learn how to say please, thank you, and good day, in the local language, then you will probably find people won't think much of you and rightly so.

  • Alexes said

    Thanks so much that is cool and fun.!!!

  • Mat Brady said

    I want to hire a car and travel through the French country-side, and my only real valuable will be my mobile phone- so I'm wanting to travel light.

    My question is: What type of luggage would you recommend?? And what should I pack in it?

    1. A large hiking pack? or...
    2. A rolling suitcase?

    Advice welcome. :)

  • Stéphane Médina said

    Bonjour !,

    I just read your "story" and I like to apologize in advance for my "bad English".
    I will be brief. On reading these tips for travelers to France, I am shocked by the naivety and the caricature of that write! this is far from the case. You insult our Country! ...
    It is as if I had fun to describe "American" with his boots, his hat and his horse in the streets of New York!
    Come and discover France (like the USA) the diversity of our culture and our landscapes.

    Best regards.
    Stéphane

  • alwoodlands said

    I would like to share something here. Toilets in Paris free. This makes me happy. However, to use them all as well as to control a spaceship! That's why we wrote the article and “How to use outdoor toilets in Paris? ".

  • MIrami Marie said

    I made a few videos about all the things I learned about traveling in Paris! I hope you enjoy it and would be honored if you could check them out.

    Top Travel Hacks for Paris
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5czgZWhIr0Q

    Is it worth it? Best tips for traveling through Paris
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe0gxTZCY1k

  • Julien said

    Totally agree with the RER article.

    This is a total disgrace compared to other airport transfer in the rest of the world,
    which are cleaner, safer and faster!

    Being French, i take RER B when i come from CDG airport, but i really do not like it.
    We all wait for the new RER project.

    I would recommend for international travellers, from day or night, to take uber or a taxi if your budget allows.

    If you arrive in Orly, this is safest, take the Orlybus from Orly to Paris center (Denfert Rochereau).

    To conclude, when it says that french needs to be complimented, do not like to answer to question nor speak in english, i would say it only applies to PARISIANS!!!

    Paris is not France, this is Paris, part of France. Do not hesitate to rent a car, or travel by bus or train and travel our country. This is safe and you will discover true France.

    I am from the country side, based in loire Valley, not far from Sancerre!

    Most welcome!

    Enjoy

    Julien

  • Canada to France said

    I like your article, I agree that Paris really is a separate entity to France. Parisians are different that any other French people you will meet. Try and get to other towns and cities, my experience has been positive having moved from Canada last year we are now here a year and have had such generous, kind and thoughtful encounters with the French that we were surprised at first. People in big tourist cities get annoyed - it's normal, try your best to speak French and they will appreciate it and even help you with words.
    Yes toilets don's have seats in Paris but would you actually sit on one even if it did - rule of thumb is hovering is a skill - learn it you will need it.
    We always love hop on/hop off buses as they provide such valuable information and cover long distances, they are also great for travelling with families because walking can be cumbersome but always pack a toque, mitts and a blankie as they can be quite cold even on nice days!

    Also one last tip is download the offline map of the city from Google Maps before you go, it will be valuable when touring about the city since you can access it without wifi - GENIUS.
    Read our story of leaving the face pace of Canadian life to settle in France and travel.
    www.canadatofrance.com

  • Anne said

    "5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to France" or do you mean: "5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Paris"?

  • Thomas said

    So funny to read some french comments... they are blaming the stereotype of the article about french people, and answer by giving stereotypes about parisians...haha...

    Best way is to come figure out by yourself.

    I'm from Paris and as all my friends our families are from other parts of France. And we love this city, as most of the foreign people we meet.
    Just stay away from jerks, like in everywhere else.

  • Maria said

    Yeah, this article looks good if you want to visit Paris... And only Paris. Which you shouldn't do because you'll miss a big part of what France really is. I agree with the comments on trains, they might run "late" in Paris but in other cities the latest are around 9 pm. Also, I think you missed an important topic, that again may not apply in Paris, but will in other cities: schedules. The French are very punctual on their schedules, for example sometimes banks open from 8 to 12 and from 1 to 5, it could also apply to restaurants and other services. It might be a good idea to check in advance restaurants in the area you'll visit and if possible, make a reservation, some of them tend to be small (6 or 8 tables). Believe me, you don't wanna miss lunch or dinner and wonder around trying to get to some place else.
    About the lenguage, French are also very protective of it, as one should, so if you wanna learn some words that's fine, but don't try to engage in a conversation with anyone if you don't speak fluent French. They'll not appreciate it at all. Language speaking is kind of a sensitive subject to some of them. Although they're plenty of French people who speak 3 languages (or more!) the majority will have flashbacks to their middle school years, having an English teacher yell at them, each time you speak in English.

  • Tanya said

    Hi, after I read the article I look for the comments, can anyone help me? could you please look over my friend's itinerary and see what you think, any advice would be great.

    http://www.wkadventures.com/itineraries/21-day-itinerary-france-under-2200-per-head/

  • Angéline said

    Yeah...No. Paris isn't FRANCE. Even tho those things happen in Paris sometimes, that's not usual at all. Especially about english, if a french person can speak english, he/she will do it to help you ! ;-)

  • Christine Ducos-Restagno said

    I have been living in Paris for about 20 years and find this article very interesting! As many other people commented, Paris is not France and Parisians are not typical French. Nelson Mandela said "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
    Wherever I go, I learn how to say hello, thank you, good bye, etc, and it helps me open so many doors! I suggest you add a language app on your iPhone or Android and try and talk to locals because this will help you get so much more out of your holiday.
    And if you're planning to visit France, here is an article about Top 10 Travel Blogs for France with lots of ideas and tips ;)
    http://vidalingua.com/blog/top-travel-blogs-for-france.php

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  • Xman said

    In the same way New York does not represent the US, Paris is not representative of France.
    Which means most of these recommendation are irrelevant out of Paris.
    Just like any other big cosmopolitan city Paris is a capital city with all the good and not so good.
    FYI, there are several flights going to regional city (Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Bordeaux...). More authentic experience, cheaper and way safer.

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  • Rodolphe said

    Some of the things you say are true ,some not and some may be true everywhere you go on planet earth !
    Paris is not dangerous !
    It might have been many years ago but most of the dangerous places have been made safer !
    Don't mixup the gypsies who come from eastern Europe ( many of them come from Romania/ Roumania or Alabnia and other poor Eastern Europe countries like that ) ,begging on the street , stealing tourists or breaking into people's house to steal them , with French people !
    They are not French for most of them and came to France when the borders were opened to let European people travel freely into Europe !
    The ring trick is one of the tricks used by those Eastern europe gypsies ,to steal tourists money !
    There are some places in France where you might have troubles with some people originary from north Africa whether they are here for several generations or just came recently cause France is really attractive for them because of its health care system and all the help people can get like when they are on the doll or money given to help raise their children ,what they would not get in their country of origin .
    That said, some of them are nice and good people !
    The fact to do not leave valuable items in your car when it is parked , could be true in many countries ,including USA , like in dangerous or poor neighbourhoods , in NY ( are there still poor neighborhood n NY , like Harlem or the Bronx were some time ago ?) , LA or other big cities with that type of neighbourhoods !
    Yes, saying bonjour before anything else is a matter of politness when you meet someone or go in a shop or a restaurant or anywhere but i would have thought it would be like that in every country !
    And yes, French love to be complimented but don't Americans or UK people like it as well ?
    I think Americans are much prouder of their country than french are !!
    For example ,very rare are the french who wave a french flag ,whereas so many Americans have a US flag in their garden, car or anywhere and are very proud of USA , thinking USA is number one for everything !
    In France we are not like that , especialy in Paris, we criticize France really often and many french don't think we are number one for everything ( that's more the contrary , we dont' think France is that great ,except for some things, like food , wine and a few other things ) .
    When staying in Paris, use the metro, it is the easiest way to move in Paris, unless if you have a motorbike or scooter ; forget about the car ,except at night when there is much less traffic jam .
    There is also the suburb train if you need to go to the suburb , or the tramway ,as well as the RER , that can be dangerous mostly if you use it to go to some suburbs that are far from Paris , or sometimes when using it very late at night on some of those lines that go to some suburbs that are far away .
    But when using it in Paris and during the day or between 8am to 9 or 10 pm , it is not dangerous .
    Paris is'really a beautiful city ,even for french and parisian people , it really has a beautiful old architecture full of history and from april to october , it is really pleasant as the temperature is nice ( november to march , the temperature is colder but far from being as cold as it is in NY for example or other north american cities ) .
    Some french speaks English but not everybody but those who do are happy to help US or english speaking tourists when they can as i do !
    I always thought english is an easy language to learn ( easier than German for example or Russian , chinese or other asiatic languages !) and also as we do listen to much US / UK music, it helps getting interested in english language !
    The best friend of my mother is from NY and she looooves to come to Paris regularly every year or every two years !
    USA is a great country as well and there are many nice things and some bad things as well like everywhere but i would say France is much less dangerous than USA for a simple reason , nearly nobody carries some fire arms here except the police ( although i would like we have access to fire arms more easily when some people break in our house to steal !) , so there are much much less murders in France than in USA !

  • Rodolphe said

    Dont' think that there are so many Burglars breaking in people's houses but there are unfortunately ,as in many countries and this is something the government should give a priority , to the police , to resolve cause it is a real rape when people steal you in your own house !
    It never happened to me in a few decades but i found some eastern europe people once in my garden, yrying to break in the house or to go to the neighbour's house through the garden !
    But i have bever been afraid going to Paris ,even late at night and i have never been assaulted or robbed in the street !
    And by the way , i never saw that ring trick you talk about even if i believe it might happen .
    Unlike what the medias might say in UsA , Paris and France in general , is a really safe country and it is quite rare to be assaulted except if you go to some dangerous places and with ostentatious items or clothes, like when going in some housing projects for low incomes people's in some poor and dangerous suburbs , with some expansive clothes or a Rolex watch and you show off your money, like in many countries !
    You wouldn't do that either in some parts of Chi ( cago ) city or hot neighbourhoods in big cities unless you are some kind of dumb person !
    I think , what you should enjoy in France is great food ( although there are some cheap reatsurants that have bad food as everywhere, so don't' get trapped intourists restaurants !) , great wines , nice old architecture , culture and museums , luxury / haute couture clothes for those who can afford it and have some good time going out in nice places with good ambiance !
    If you have the time, take your girlfriend along the Seine banks, le pont neuf, le pont Alexandre III, le pont Mirabeau , le pont de la Concorde , Pont au double, pont au change and the Romantic places, like le pont des arts , le pont de l'archevéché , le pont Marie , l'ile de la cité , l'ile St Louis , Notre Dame ,or la butte Montmartre , l'opéra Garnier , St Germain des près and place St Michel ( although it is a touristic area ) and some places like those :
    https://monparisjoli.com/2016/04/12/10-plus-jolies-places-de-village-de-paris/.
    All in all , the center of Parisis the oldest and the nicest , with nice little streets, like in le Marais ,les Halles , or near Notre Dame .
    Le Louvre Museum, le jardin des Tuileries are obviously nice places to visit and see !
    The 11th disctrict with La Bastille ( and place de la République ,although this is not the nicest place to have a drink or diner in a restaurent) and la rue Oberkampf, are some places where there are many bars and restaurants ( but there are many everywhere ) .
    The 7 first disctrics of Paris are very nice but some others are nice as well , like the 9th disctict , close to Montmartre and Pigalle ( place Pigalle , Place Blanche , in front of the Famous Moulin Rouge ) ,le Champs de Mars , le Trocadero , the 16th and 17th disctricts , the 8th district where are the Champs Élysées and l'Arc de Triomphe , the 14th district and la Tour Eiffel... So many nice places to see, i can't list them all ...

  • Rodolphe said

    There is also a nice place for exhibitions, it is le Grand palais and for those who want to go shopping there are some big malls inthe center of Paris ,in the 9th district ( not far from Pigalle ) , it is Les Galeries Lafayette or Le Printemps and obviously all the luxury shops in the 8th ( and 16th ) district , near the Champs Élysées , in the the perpendicular streets to the Avenue des Champs Élysées ( but obviously , there are many shops everywhere but some districts have more than others ) !
    There are some big multimedia stores named La Fnac in different districts of Paris, where you can find records, videos and lots of multimedia items ( near gare St Lazare in the 9th ditrict, in the 17th district , Av des Ternes , 8th district Avenue des Champs Élysées or in the 14th district near gare Montparnasse ) ...
    Food shops are everywhere but you have to test the best Bakeries and pastries which are a specialty in France ( i think we make the best in the world but it ´s my opinion and i don't think we are the best in the world for everything ! Lol ) .
    Enjoy France and be welcome !

  • Amanda said

    I come to france every year because i have family here and I really like this country even though i haven't grown up here.( i am half dutch, half french) what i find very good is that you can rent a house with a private pool for very reasonable price. Last year we have rented a house with https://moerland.com/fr not far from the sea side surrounded by nature. It was just wonderful.

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