Traveling to Paris, France can be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. It can also be daunting. Here are some tips to make your first trip to Paris and France smoother.

When in France, do as the French do.  
Photo by cyril mazarin at
When in France, do as the French do.
Photo by cyril mazarin at

Paris, France – A French City in France

My dad told me a story during his younger days in France.  He was at a hotel restaurant in Paris, sitting in earshot of an American customer wanting pancakes.

The French waiter explained in broken English that the hotel restaurant did not have pancakes but that the restaurant had crepes, which he assured the customer were French pancakes.The customer agreed and then made a bigger fuss about the French restaurant not having Vermont maple syrup to accompany her pancakes.  

I laughed every time he told me this story.  Crepes are not pancakes, but then again Paris is in France and not America.  The old adage is true, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’  Easier to go with the flow than to go against it.  Nowhere does that ring more true than France.  

France is a country that prides itself on being French. It has an identity that it likes to it embraces those who like it back and rejects those who don’t. 

Know Before You Travel to France

I love France even though every time I go I make an egregious mistake that winds with me having a mild panic attack and learning a valuable lesson for traveling in France.

  1. Many things in France are unmanned and automated.  I made the mistake of buying a ticket to the wrong station.  After I disembarked the train and went to exit the turnstile, I found myself stuck with nowhere to go and no one to help.  I had to climb over it.  I am also sure I am not the first or last to have this experience in France, but maybe you can avoid it.
  2. Compost your ticket in France. Much of the travel in France and Europe is by train, and many still use paper tickets.  You must activate them by getting a timestamp at a machine that looks a lot like an egg.  Apparently, it’s a large fine that luckily I have not had to pay while in France.
  3. Driving in France is simple, especially in the country.  In Paris or in traffic, you quickly realize the roads are narrow. French roads are skinnier, so there isn’t as much wiggle room.  Be on your A-game and if you get pulled over by the French police, pay the ticket then.  No French court, no French mail, just pay the fine.
  4. Planning a bit will help you adjust in France.  If you are headed to the French countryside for a Sunday picnic and plan to bring a packed lunch, almost all of France is closed on Sunday and past 6pm most shops are closed in the city centers on weekdays.
  5. French cafe tables and French restaurant reservations are simple. Once you have been seated at a table, it is yours for the day.  No one will bother you and your family if you just watch the world go by after you eat your meal.  
  6. Last but not least, at least in Paris and the bigger cities, most of the French speak English.  The trick to getting English spoken to you is to try to speak French to them.  Once they hear how bad your French is, they will gladly move on to English.
Travel to the the Seine River in Paris, France.  
Photo by skeeze at
Travel to the the Seine River in Paris, France.
Photo by Skeeze at

I was sitting outside in a Cafe on the Seine River across from Notre Dame in Paris.  I think it was my second trip to France.  An American was trying to order by playing charades with the French waiter, not willing to play.  She stormed in a huff.  The waiter then redirected his attention to me and I greeted him in French and he responded in English, leaving us both laughing for a minute.

Maybe the tenet should be changed to ‘When in France, do as the French do.’   It has worked for me during many subsequent trips to France, and the same principle has worked across many lands around the world.  Try to fit in and let the host help you instead of demanding Vermont maple syrup in Paris, France.

What else would you like to know about France? Have you ever thought of these on your French adventures? Travel to France and let us know in the comments below!

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