Bonjour les amis (hello friends for you non-French speakers like me), and welcome to the 1st guest post in a series about living in France. On the 1st of each month, expats living the life in France will share their experiences to help newbie expats like me (and maybe you?) as well as tourists who plan on taking a trip to the land of cheese and wine.
Liene, an expat since November of 2010 residing in Clermont-Ferrand, mother to two beautiful boys, has been chronicling her life and travels at Femme au Foyer. Liene and I “met” online when I first began blogging about the trials of the expat life in Paris. She has offered plenty of great advice and been supportive of my blog since I started. Without further adieu, Liene:
Reading about the trials Momma Expat faced when recently arriving in France struck a chord in me, as I remembered encountering similar challenges when I first arrived. There is no one-size-fits-all guide to making the transition easier, but often times it is the little things that can make life in the land of wine and cheese just a little easier!
Therefore, I present to you: 10 Things I know now that I wish I had known upon moving to France!
For the parents:
1.) Trains have family cars. In addition to tables that are great for card playing there are sometimes even mini jungle gyms, complete with soft mats, toys and TVs to keep the little conductors occupied. And if your train doesn’t have a family car, it has a café car; soft swivel seats and tables give you some space away from the judging eyes of other passengers.
2.) Public transportation can be a challenge with a stroller. Although most trams and buses have been modernized with wider back doors (you don’t get on by the driver but instead the next door down, then go to pay after putting the brakes on your buggy), subway and train stations are hit or miss with elevators. Travel light, allow extra time to navigate complicated stations and count on having to climb stairs with your stroller. And don’t forget to validate your ticket before boarding the train!
3. Restaurants and stores many times have narrow aisles and no room for your stroller. Umbrella or other types of stroller that can be folded up are extremely handy, especially in older buildings that have tiny elevators.
For the everyday:
4. Vegetables and fruit must be weighed before the checkout line in most supermarkets. The actual procedure may vary slightly from store to store, but the standard process includes placing your bag on a scale, punching in a number and a little sticker with bar code and price is provided for you to affix to your bag. An easy way to avoid the critique of the employee at the checkout and the scowl of the queue behind you as you struggle to find the French for “I’m sorry, between the screaming infant and hyper toddler I completely forgot to weigh the bananas” is to always check your produce while placing it on the conveyor belt.
5. Always carry €1 coins on your person. You’ll need one for some public toilets, parking meters and even most shopping carts. The same shopping carts that have 4 instead of 2 swiveling wheels that make steering near-impossible and drifting with your cart a reality in supermarkets. Helpful hint: In case of imminent collision it can be easier to run to the front of the cart and steer from there.
6. Look down when you walk. The stereotype that French cities are covered in dog poop is true, and the time when you forget to mind your step because you are in a hurry to a business meeting will be a nasty reminder for the rest of the day (if not month!)
7. In most cases you don’t tip in restaurants. The wait staff are paid competitive salaries based on their experience and the quality of establishment, and this has already been factored in the price. However, it is polite to round-up (up to 5%) if the service was good, helpful and friendly. And while on the topic of eating, restaurants have menus posted outside with prices listed. A menu is called a carte and a menu is a fixed-price meal complete with appetizer, entrée and dessert (which is usually a better deal). There is also a sliding scale in cafes; a coffee at a table outside will cost more than one indoors which is more expensive than standing at a counter. Oh, and if you don’t want to pay for mineral water order une carafe d’eau.
8. For fresh produce try a marché instead of the supermarket. But watch and imitate the locals, usually you tell the vendor how much you want and when you will eat it, and they select and weight the fruit. It can be a big faux pas to touch the food yourself.
9. Stores and restaurants are often closed on Sundays and Mondays. Museums are closed on Tuesdays. Some stores close for lunch which is served in restaurants only from noon to 2pm, but dinner can not be had before 7:30pm. Breakfast consists of croissants and jams, and your coffee may be served in a bowl, but at lunch and dinner the coffee is consumed after the meal to help with digestion, never before. There are quite a few rules, especially when it comes to food! When traveling play it safe and always carry food and water with so you don’t get stuck hungry between mealtimes.
10. The key to France: remember to say hello, please and thank you. Upon entering the store, the waiting room at the doctor’s office, the restaurant or office, look around and give a bonjour or bonsoir (good evening) to anyone within earshot. S’il vous plait (please) can take you far, especially accompanied with pointing. And a merci never hurt anyone.