France Travel Tips

France Travel Tips
If you are planning a trip to France--a country overflowing with cheese, wine, fashion and history--it can be easy to overlook some of the cultural differences you may encounter during your stay. Here are some tips to help you culturally navigate the country of freedom, equality and brotherhood ("liberté, équalité, fraternité").


Though it's common to add a 15 percent to 20 percent tip to your food bill when dining out in the United States, tipping in France is a different story. French restaurants and cafes will add, almost without fail (it's the law!), a 15 percent service charge to your food bill, so you are not obligated or even expected to tip an additional amount. Of course, a small tip of 3 percent to 5 percent is always appreciated, and if the service is stellar--your server makes a great meal recommendation, for example--or if you simply feel inclined to leave a tip, 10 percent is more than sufficient.

If you are ever in doubt, look for "service compris" on your bill, which means the service charge already has been added to your bill. Occasionally (at casual cafes where you can order items à la carte, for example), you may see "service non compris," which means a service fee has not been added and that it is up to you to decide what you would like to leave. In this case, a 15 percent tip is customary.

Grocery Stores

Though France is famous for its vibrant farmers' markets, if you are staying in France for more than a few days and have the opportunity to cook, a good grocery store can be essential. One of the first things you will notice upon entering a French grocery store is the grocery carts are strung together by short chains, each requiring a Euro coin to release. Don't worry, though: You will get your coin back after you return your cart to the line.

Additionally, shoppers are required to weigh their own produce at most French supermarkets. If you need an item in the produce section, look for a number next to the item you want. Then look for a large scale with buttons on it, place your produce on the scale and press the number that corresponds to the number you saw next to the item. A sticker will pop out with the price, which you can then place on a produce bag.

Finally, the majority of grocery stores in France are closed on Sundays (aside from a small percentage of grocery stores, such as those at large train stations and airports, that are occasionally open on Sunday mornings). Some of the larger French supermarket chains, such as Carrefour and Champion, may have a few stores that are open on Sunday mornings, although usually only in large cities and tourist hubs.


It's difficult to travel in France for long without walking by a pharmacy, indicated by a ubiquitous green-and-white neon cross. Unlike many pharmacies in the United States, where it's common to obtain items such as ibuprofen and aspirin over the counter, pharmacies in France are more likely to keep such items tucked away behind the counter, in the hands of pharmacists.

So, if you are feeling unwell and can only find cough drops and foot-care products in the pharmacy's display cases, simply walk up to the pharmacist and explain your ailment (in larger tourist towns, most pharmacists speak English) and she will give you a list of medication options and prices from which to choose.

Bouldering at Fontainebleau

It's hard to travel to France without stopping by Paris, the famed "City of Lights." With must-see attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, it's not hard to understand why Paris is such a popular tourist destination. But fewer people are aware of Fontainebleau, a world-renowned but tucked-away bouldering destination 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Paris. So, if you have seen your fair share of museums, are itching to boulder or are simply looking to get away from the bustle of the city, a trip to Fontainebleau may be just what you are looking for. The Fontainebleau area, accessible by train or car, boasts numerous camping sites and bouldering areas. Keep in mind bouldering is an inherently dangerous sport and should be approached and practiced with caution.

Article Written By Susan Heller

Susan Heller is a Seattle-based freelance writer who has been writing outdoor-related articles for five years. Her work has appeared in "University Week," the "Ballard News-Tribune," and In 2004 she was named a Mary Gates Scholar, and in 2005 she received her Bachelor of Arts in Comparative History of Ideas and Comparative Religion from the University of Washington.

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