Dec 212010

(by Young Reader from Vietnam and the US)

Ok, I guess it’s the season, so I’m treating you with new entries. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to post regularly (like I used to do), I’m still busy with other stuff and all, but let’s give it a shot.
Let’s start (again) with a very long e-mail from Young Reader, a Vietnamese girl that has been living in the US for a while. First of all, thanks for the e-mail, I won’t copy all of it here, just the parts that require an answer here.
First off, I want to let you know that I really like your blog and your down-to-earth sarcastic humor.
Well, thanks.
I’d like to go to France (…) If I do go, here are some of my concerns. First concern is language, should not be “un gros problème” as I speak some French.
However, I heard that in France, especially in Paris, French people are hostile to foreigners. So I want to confirm this with you, and maybe you can tell me what to expect, a general mistake that foreigners make, or maybe how to behave so not to appear ignorant?

So, first of all, no, French people do not hate foreigners and are not hostile to them for the simple fact that they’re foreigners. I don’t know where this belief comes from but I know it’s somewhat engrained in many countries to the extent that some people are concerned about it when they go to France. A shame.
However French people strongly believe that when in Rome… 
So they will have little to no tolerance for tourists who behave as if they were at home or worse ,who confuse France with Disneyland.
It includes – but is not limited to:
  1. Americans that are loud in a store or in the subway.
  2. Americans that think money can buy everything and because they paid they have every right on Earth.
  3. Chinese people who think that Notre-Dame is an amusement park (yeah, American people: tired of having the reputation to be the worst tourists in France? Rejoice, the Chinese are coming!).
  4. English speakers that assume the whole world speaks English.
  5. Spanish speakers that will speak to you in Spanish and be confused/upset when you don’t help them because you didn’t understand a word they said (I can comprehend that English speakers mistakenly believe the whole world speaks English, but Spanish speakers? Really? I encountered the same behavior in the US at times… Spanish speakers thinking they don’t need to bother speaking the local language or the one everyone in the assembly understands, and not understanding what the problem was… Very odd… Not mentioning disrespectful)
  6. and so on…
  7. (all of those being things I witnessed first hand)
(yeah, I know, ironically, French tourists abroad are not always the best behaved either, but that’s another topic)
All in all, it’s ok to be ignorant about the rules of a country; to consider that you don’t need to learn those rules and that they don’t apply to you is what will create tensions with the locals. 
In doubt: politely ask.
People will see that as a mark of respect and will be more than pleased to explain you the proper behavior to have in that particular situation.
Second, it’s about financing. As a college students I don’t have lots of money, but I aim to earn and save more with the goal of visiting France in mind but I do would like to know a general amount. Let’s say I will spend one month in France, pretty sure I don’t have to worry about where to stay, but I do want to bring back some souvenirs, not to mention transportation expenses, food, plane tickets etc. Would 2,000 USD a decent goal to aim? (You can even give me a rough idea of, say, how much you spent on your last visit to France for example)
Well, that’s a tough question to answer as it all depends on your lifestyle (whether you are a big shopper or not, if you plan to travel a lot or not) and those sorts of things.
Just keep in mind that Paris is much more expensive than the rest of France, that tourist areas are more expensive than places where the locals go (things in Paris and in touristy areas can cost as much as double compared to other places, so you can imagine in Parisian tourist areas).
Plane ticket prices can vary greatly according to many factors, etc, etc.
Sorry, I can’t really help you there (also I live in France, so my personal experience can’t help), but I advise you to definitely check those things ahead.
I’d say that $2,000 is more than enough to spend a month in France especially if you’re staying at somebody’s but then again, I always travel on a budget, I don’t really shop when I travel and I avoid luxury and touristy areas as much as I can.
In any case, enjoy your trip to France (although this answer is so late that you may have already came and went.

More Questions Answered:

  5 Responses to “Two questions about traveling to France”

  1. Hey young reader from Vietnam, I personally went to Paris a few weeks ago and though experiences are different maybe my experience might help you out. First of all I´m 21 and a young student too from the Netherlands. Secondly, I´m Capeverdian which means I´m a creool. And as black young woman I didn´t feel bother at all in Paris I do think that it is as our Frenchman said earlier, when in Rome act like Romans. So I basically read up alot about the customs there and observed how Parisians interacted with each other, it isn´t brain surgery simple common sense will do. I noticed you do need to be polite and patient. A simple ´thank you´ will get you far en an occasional grateful smile helps a lot. Besides that I travelled as much on my own with my friends between the Parisians which I think is the best way to learn about them. We had giant touristbusses but I refused to be shipped like cattle from one touristic place to another it´s so embarassing and obvious. I took the metro as much as I could and it was amazing. I´m from Rotterdam city and we use the metro ALWAYS so I´m a metro lover so I´m biased in that because I love to observe people in the subway. I also presented myself in a respectful way not attracting too much attention to me by talking loud Dutch or pointing at stuff or people(big no no). I also dressed to impress but this is not mandatory it's well…I like clothes and shoes and it was Paris so it was an excuse for me to walk in my finest clothes. Which as shallow as it might sound actually got me into conversations with alot of older Parisian women who spoke with me about fashion and art so I was blown away by that. But again maybe it was all a coincidence. People are to what I experienced very serious and focused on their daily taskes which might be mistaken as rude but it's really not it's a big city mentality and if you're from a big city you'll understand this by instinct. I did have a dispute once with a waiter because the poor man was overworked and waiting a whole restaurant on his own so he kind of reacted it off on me which was a bit too much for me but hey, he had a crappy day I was crabby it happens. It's not like you're going to be traumatised by it because the moment you walk outside you're bound to see something of your interest making you forget about it instantly. I do think that the people in Paris specially the men (french or foreign living there) have an elegant style of dressing that I can appreciate alot (this is opinion not fact I repeat opinion). And they all have a certain charming way of acting unconsciously or consciously (if they want to get in your pants). I noticed the difference when I came back home sadly (lol). Overall if you dont act like a dumbass they wont treat you like one (most of them) and if you carry yourself with dignity and respect they will acknowledge it most of the time.
    I hope my mini-blog helped you out a bit. If it didn't atleast I got to have an excuse to rant about my latest trip .

  2. I have visited about 20 countries in Europe and I can honestly say that, without a doubt, France is absolutely one of the most beautiful (okay, fine: I've only seen Paris, so my experience is limited).

    Additionally, although I braced myself beforehand about being treated rudely because I also read and heard about the French people's allegedly not-so-nice attitude towards foreigners/tourists, I really didn't encounter anything that can even be remotely considered as rude, mean or unkind. In fact, my experience was almost exactly the opposite: the people were just perfectly nice!

    I am not saying and I can't say, of course, that my experience is similar to most visitors. I think that the mainstream stereotyping of French locals is just another manifestation of racism, which my online friend — that Korean stud, TK (of Ask A Korean! fame) — discussed at length in his blog, is a heuristic (check it out!).

    In my experience with Europeans in general, they see Americans (who number about 5x the French) quite weirdly too: They see/hear of a few Hollywood folks and they conclude Americans are shallow; they see/hear of a few Wall Street folks and they conclude Americans are greedy; they see/hear a few Southern folks and they conclude Americans are religious bigots; they see/hear of a few Silicon Valley types and they conclude Americans are nerds who have no life. Conclusion, Americans are shallow, greedy, bigoted and nerds who have no life! But since they're talking to me and I'm their friend, they sort of give me the "friend" exception.

    In closing, I want to end with a remark by the guy in the picture of my blog ( which is the Philippines' national hero:

    "I fancy that men in search of truth are like students in a drawing class sketching a statue around which they sit, some nearer than others, others farther off, these from a certain height, those others at its very foot, all seeing it in a different way….Now, then who would judge the sketches made by others by comparing them with his own? He would have to place himself where those others were, and judge from their own points of view…and do not tell me, your Reverence, that truth, seen from all angles must always appear the same; that would be true only for him who is present everywhere."

  3. I concur with everything said so far. I would add,however, that getting out and mingling with Parisians is the best way to experience Paris. Go to Belleville and walk around. It is so much fun and an area rich in cultural and artistic diversity.

    I made it a rule to eat almost exclusively in local restaurants in neighborhoods where locals ate. This will not only cut your expenses, but you'll be much more likely to meet French people. And unless you are wanting to spend big bucks for food or other luxuries, $2000.00 USD sounds reasonable.

    Book your flight far in advance and/or look for student discounts if you are still in school. Also, paying a little more for your ticket and flying direct,non-stop to Paris is well worth it. If you are traveling alone,especially, you want to arrive rested and with your wits about you.

    And do take the Metro. It is relatively clean,safe and usually efficient. If you are staying with people who know the local bus routes, taking a city bus is a great way to get around,too.

    My best advice would be to walk,walk,walk! Find some handsome, comfortable shoes (or boots this time of year) and get out and explore the neighborhoods. Paris provides great maps and is very pedestrian-friendly.Find out from locals what areas to avoid and what hours are safe if you are out alone at night.

    And last but not least, don't walk around with a camera,cell phone or huge purse. You will be pegged immediately as just another tourist. I hid my cell, cash and anything else I needed very carefully and discreetly in various pockets and didn't carry a purse. This freed me up to move easily through the streets without developing shoulder pain or worrying much about thieves.

    Have fun and enjoy! Paris is a fun city,I think, and the French are very forgiving if they see you are making an effort to respect their language and culture.

  4. This is a minor point, but I often see travel advice things telling you not to carry money etc. in a handbag or whatever, and I've never really understood why. I live in France, I carry a (way too huge!) handbag, when I lived elsewhere I carried a handbag, I don't get why I should stop carrying a handbag when I go on a trip. Yep, be smart about carrying lots of cash and valuables around, keep your handbag closed and in front of your body, not behind etc. but if you do that, I really think that's more sensible than having stuff in pockets (that's kinda why they call them pickpockets) or the dreaded flashing tourist light that is the money belt (or, worse, camera case around the neck). Anyway, other than that I agree with the Frenchman. And do try to see a bit of France other than Paris!

  5. I guess this comes from the fact that "travel advice givers" confuse Paris with France and that in Paris (as opposed to France) there are a lot of pickpockets and that they prey exclusively on tourists (or foreigners they'll confuse as tourists) and that tourists from many countries are clueless about those sorts of things.

    Now, most of the behaviors you mention (carrying lots of cash, the stupid money belt, the camera case around the neck) usually belong to those people who mistake "abroad" with "not a real place with real people leading real lives".

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