So You Want to Go to France

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of meandering through the streets of la Ville Lumière while nibbling on a baguette, people watching while I sipped tea in an outdoor café in rural France, and meeting the love of my life in the Musée d’Orsay in front of a Van Gogh painting. While my dream as a child was a bit far-fetched in some aspects, I certainly got to live out parts of it on my trip to Paris and Marseille this spring. I wanted my trip to France to be perfect, so I went overboard on researching tips on enjoying the country. To hopefully save you from the hours I put into it, I rounded up some of the best tips that really helped me live out my An American in Paris fantasy.

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Didn’t meet the love of my life, but I did see Van Gogh’s self portrait.
  • SSHH! – The French are not loud people and tend to keep to themselves. You may have heard the stereotype that they’re rude, but this isn’t the case. Everyone I approached was pleasant and willing to help me out. If you’re getting death glares from someone on the Metro, it’s likely that you need to lower your voice because the entire car can hear your conversation.
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Yes, I did walk up all of these stairs.
  • Your Wardrobe Matters – If you want to blend in – and trust me, you do – be mindful of your clothing. Most people I saw in France wore neutral or dark colors, sometimes with a small pop of color. You’ll probably look cute in your bright yellow raincoat, but everyone will be able to see that you’re a tourist from a mile away. I made this mistake and barely even 2 minutes after leaving my hostel in Paris to walk through the street market outside, I started getting shouts from the vendors. “Madame, manteau magnifique!” “Très jaune, mademoiselle!” Whether they were compliments or sarcastic remarks, I’ll never know.
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The infamous yellow coat really did look cute in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
  • Know Where You Need to Go – Before you attempt to ride the Metro, know which stop you need! You can figure out everything else afterwards, just know which stop you need. There are maps all over the stations, naming each line and where you can switch, but these aren’t helpful if you don’t know where you’re going. Also, pay attention to the maps. Double checking the signs before charging off to the train never hurt anyone.
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Do you love your city enough to vandalize a subway car?
  • Bring Your Student ID – If you’re studying at a university within the EU, your student ID will save you precious Euros on museum and attraction entrance fees.
  • Learn Some French – While this should be common sense for anyone travelling abroad, it’s always helpful and polite to learn some common words and phrases in the local language. The words I used most often, in order, were “thank you,” “excuse me,” “please,” and “sorry.” Bonus points if you can even say a few sentences in French! When buying a few groceries at the supermarket in Marseille, the cashier and I attempted a small conversation about the pain au chocolat in my basket. I wasn’t great, but he appreciated the effort and I was proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and trying.
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The aforementioned pain au chocolat, aka my favorite desert of all time.

I hope you find these tips as useful as I did. On your next trip to France, have a crêpe for me! À plus!

 

 

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