France Travel Guide
Oh France. What can I say about you?
I guess I should be straightforward and honest about our experience there, so, I'll just say it... France was not our thing. It had beautiful architecture, good food and wine, and stunning countrysides. But we are very light-hearted and playful and the French are not. They are serious and severe and we found the people (no offense to anyone) typically quite rude. Of course, we had a handful of great encounters with locals and our Airbnb hosts, but widely, we felt like an unwelcome nuisance.
I'm just being honest! I know lots of people have had perfectly pleasant vacations there, but coming from Iceland (where the locals are super nice) and then following it with Italy (where the locals are funny and jovial), caused us to judge the culture on a slightly skewed scale. We certainly didn't go in expecting to fit in or think they should cater to us - quite the contrary - we were very aware that we didn't fit their culture and were in a constant state of simply trying to not stand out. We were hyper aware of being respectful and apologetic when we made little faux-pas, and still they seemed to refuse to help us or teach us. Below I'll make note of some things we observed, but be aware, there weren't a lot of positives!
Things to note
- The currency of France is the Euro. Cards are widely accepted, but it was helpful to have cash for tolls or other such things.
- The language of France is French. I highly recommend learning several phrases, but I must admit, it was hard to learn, and understanding French is not easy.
- Gas is expensive. We drove from outside Paris to Dijon and up to Beauvais, and it added up.
- Speaking of Beauvais, their airport is horrendous. It's teeny tiny and flights were constantly delayed or we were moved terminals. We had to actually go through security twice because they moved us around so much for one flight.
- Sinks (like much of Europe) had a tendency to be very tiny. As I've never spent time outside the U.S. this was new to me. Bathrooms are marked with a "WC" which stands for Water Closet... and they really mean closet! Some toilets also didn't have seats like American toilets so you had to squat. Just FYI!
- Sidewalks are old and usually quite small. Just an observation - sometimes they're single-file. Very quaint, though!
- Extreme cigarette smoke and heavy perfume. We take fresh air for granted in the U.S. - haha - especially during early pregnancy (I wanted to barf everywhere we went in France and some parts of Italy).
- Tolls are pretty pricey! Just be aware.
- Pretty easy to navigate coming from the U.S.
- If you take the tube in Paris, be prepared to get cozy with everyone - they are extremely crowded! Several times we actually had to wait for the next train because no one could fit.
- Do not even attempt to drive in Paris. We almost rented a car there to leave the city, but once we saw how people drove, quickly moved our car reservation outside the city.
- No one smiles or laughs in public. So don't be surprised when you smile at someone and they dart their eyes the other way. I think it's viewed as flirtatious, but this was so hard for me to remember because "smiling's my favorite!"
- You constantly play chicken with people on the sidewalks. No one moves!
- Ignore the dogs and cute babies. They treat dogs like dogs there, so there is no petting or showing them any attention. Because of this, they have very well-behaved dogs, but it was killing me. Also, looking admiringly at little ones comes across creepy, so just don't.
- They are easy to offend and not very empathetic. I often couldn't finish my meals (thanks nausea) and would try to explain that I was sorry because I was pregnant (if they spoke English), but they usually just snubbed me and didn't respond.
- Never expect them to speak English. We always tried French first, but when we made it clear we spoke English, sometimes they'd just refuse to speak English to us, even if they knew how.
Food & Drinks
- Wine is not cheaper, or as cheap, as water. Why do people say that? Haha.. not true at all.
- You pay for water and you are always given the option of flat or sparkling.
- You don't have to tip.
- It's never very clear if you pay at the table or up at a counter, and if you get it wrong, they get annoyed with you. Just when we thought we had it figured out, we would end up wrong!
- If you order a coffee or food to-go, you have to actually GO. To-go or to-stay is taxed differently and we got scolded when Tom got something to-go, and then decided to sit down with me outside (and it was not busy).
- Also, eating while walking is considered odd. I would often get a piece of fruit (one of the few things I could stomach because #pregnant) and walk and eat it, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I finally looked it up and apparently the French culture just really believes in sitting down to enjoy food.
- Sounds cliche, but people carry baguettes around all the time! Haha we got such a kick out of this.
Where we stayed:
Paris: Hotel District Republique (small, but comfortable)
Dijon: Airbnb (this was our favorite in France - great hosts, very comfortable space)
Chalons-en-Champagne: Airbnb (meh, fine for an overnight)
Beauvais: Airbnb (not bad, not great - awkward layout)
What we saw:
Literally nothing. We were there for 24 hours and were so jet-lagged and nauseous that we ended up just sleeping! We walked around a bit and went to dinner at night, but honestly, I was so sick from the smells, that we missed out on everything. Sad, I know!
I liked Dijon a lot. Old and historic, walkable, not crowded, good food, and very pretty sites. The French made us uncomfortable, so we didn't really go into any shops, but we enjoyed the historic cathedrals, market in the town center, and river-walk area.
Since French food wasn't sounding good, we found this cool little Argentinian place owned by a French guy who lived in Argentina for a couple years and fell in love with it. He spoke Spanish, which I can speak better, and the whole atmosphere was so much more laid back and welcoming. It was definitely a highlight and very tasty! You actually ate with your hands (which you just don't do in France and it was hilarious watching the locals trying to eat their empanadas haha)!
Incredible, massive cathedral near the city center. Very walkable and quaint. Here, we yet again went off the French cuisine and got sushi (with no raw fish for me, of course). We just took in the sights and relaxed and people watched.
Yet again, saw nothing. We were trapped in the airport with all our bags until we could check-in to our Airbnb in the afternoon. We had a few mishaps in planning on our part, so this was one of those wasted days, unfortunately.
We drove through some backroads and took our time between towns, and honestly this was my favorite part of France. They had sunflower fields, and hidden Michelin starred restaurants, and pretty fields of grape vines. The little villages we popped into had much friendlier locals. We even overheard a group of older people speaking English and struck up conversation on the street (because thank goodness - ENGLISH!). They were from the U.K. and so incredibly funny and sweet! The French countryside is where it's AT!