French Travel Tips: Get the Most Out of Your Trip to France


Bordeaux native Marie-Hélène Tourenne is the owner of Petit Paris restaurant and café in Fairfield, Iowa.

I’d like to share some travel tips about visiting France,so that when you go, you have a successful trip.

You have probably heard some travelers returning from France who found the French totally delightful, and others who found them very uncooperative.In general, the way we behave in a foreign country will greatly influence how successfully we interact with the natives. So I’d like to share some helpful tips to make your next trip to France a pleasant experience.

First and foremost, remember that the French will love you if you try to speak their language, no matter how much you butcher it. They will appreciate your humility and the fact that you make an effort to fit in as much as possible.

If you do not speak French, you need to learn a few basic sentences, like “Iam sorry, but I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?” (Jesuis desolé mais je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous anglais?) The French, like everybody else, also appreciate a compliment about their country. Just learn to say: “It is very beautiful” (C’est très beau). This will win you a smile and most likely a helpful attitude from your listener.

On the contrary, if you start with the abrupt: “Do you speak English?” you are unlikely to receive a cordial response. Buy a little French phrase book for $5, study it, and take it along with you. This will be your best investment.

Most everybody who goes to France goes to Paris, and everybody asks me about good restaurants there. Since I spend very little time in Paris when I goto France, I do not have this information firsthand. So I asked some friends for their recommendations.

Café des Lettres, 53 rue Vermeil, 7th arrondissement. Nearest Metro stop: Solférino or RER Musée d’Orsay. On a quiet street, back in a courtyard, beautiful garden terrace. Food is simple and fresh, with a Scandinavian touch. Very good salmon and seafood. Sunday brunch.

Le Rostand, corner of blvd. Saint-Michel and rue de Medicis (acrossfrom Jardin du Luxembourg), 6th arrondissement. Nearest Metro stop: RER Luxembourg.8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Good brasserie with outdoor tables.

La Charlotte en L’Isle, 24 rue de L’Ile. Ile Saint Louis4th arrondissement. Nearest Metro Stop: Pont Marie. A tiny, magical place.Best hot chocolate in Paris. Limited hours.

Le Temps des Cerises, 31 rue de la Cerisaie, 4th arrondissement. (Note address carefully – there are at least two other restaurants in Paris with the same name.) Good place for lunch. Closed in August.

Remember, a vacation is not a race! Take it at a leisurely pace. Your lunch at the restaurant should reflect this—eat slowly, soak up the ambiance,and delight in every bite. You will get better service than if you gobble up your food.

Finally, if you don’t want to be spotted as an American, wear solid colors and avoid Hawaiian shirts and plaid pants.

Bon voyage!