When you think of France, what comes to mind? The Eiffel Tower, croissants, berets, gourmet cuisine, wine, and fashion are likely a few of your first thoughts. But France is also a major competitive global economy. France has always been an active participant in trade, with both European neighbors and nations across the world. Key industries for the economy of France include: tourism, chemicals, technology, fashion, agriculture, and defense. Historically and culturally, France has been one of the most important influences in the Western world.
Today, the population of France is about 67 million. France shares borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain, and Andorra. The capital is Paris; other major cities include Marseille, Nice, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, and Lyon. France also has five overseas entities: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Reunion. Around the world, France is recognized as a modern nation that makes significant contributions to the economy while preserving its treasured cultural traditions.
The French do not obey lines or queues. Relationships often supersede regulation, especially in situations where the decision maker has control over the outcome. Store hours are typically not designated around customer convenience.
The French dress formally regardless of the occasion. The French’s idea of formal is expressed in thoughtfulness and attentiveness to their wardrobe and the event. Good taste is everything and should be reflected in the clothes you wear.
Avoid asking personal questions such as occupation, family, or money in casual conversation. Chewing gum in public and smoking or drinking while walking are considered an indication of poor taste.
In the last century, French was the global language of convenience, diplomacy, art, science, and business. The French have difficulty with individuals who do not at least attempt to speak French. Therefore, any attempt to speak the language will go a long way.
Discussions between strangers are usually polite and restrained, but can quickly become loud and boisterous. At meals, wine is a staple and conversation is an art. The French tend to speak quickly and loudly when passionate about a topic.
The handshake is a common greeting. Body gestures are not appreciated during first introductions between strangers. Eye contact is often intense, and as long as the individual is addressing you, you should maintain serious eye contact.
Silence is a rarity in France, except occasionally in group discussions. When speaking with your French counterparts never speak with your hands in your pockets, don’t chew gum, and try not to slouch. You will find that the French delight in the exposition of logic and clear thinking. It is always admired if you can remain unruffled, formal and respectful when conversing with the French.
The French can be very direct. For example, they may zero in on and directly question proposal details that are not clear or that they feel require further explanation. The French will respect someone who comes to them with already established knowledge and experience. No detail is unimportant, and a carefully proposed and logically organized proposal is key. The first meeting is usually very formal, with the French sizing up you and your organization. The meeting will likely be conducted in the office.
Team management occurs in a formal and sometimes rigid hierarchical structure, which means that time, deadlines, and efficiency are second to attention to detail, rigorous logic, and perfection of form. All team members are expected to deliver exactly what is expected of them.
The most expensive housing is found either in Paris or along the coasts of France. The luxury housing market is competitive and renters generally find residences through agencies. In cities, flats are common. In the country or suburbs, houses are available. For an in-depth analysis of the French property market, click here.
Eating well is a hallmark of French cuisine, and the food and the approach to food varies throughout the country. Paris is the pinnacle of fine French cuisine. Lyon is known for family-style food with heavy meats. The freshest seafood can be had along the coast of Normandy and Brittany. As you move down through the countryside, fine cheeses, meats, breads, and vegetables influence local cuisine.
While enjoying this delicious food, it is important to pay attention to table etiquette and manners. Europeans use the continental style of eating. There will be separate glasses for water, white, and red wine. After-dinner drink glasses will be presented after the meal.
Here are a few famous French foods to try during your time in France:
- Steak frites- steak served with fried potatoes
- Coq au vin- braised chicken with wine
- Salade nicoise- a salad with eggs, tuna, green beans, and olives
- Pate- a meat spread with spices
- Escargot- snails served with butter and garlic
- Quiche- a baked egg dish that may include cheese, meat, and vegetables
- Éclair- a puffed pastry filled with cream
- Crepes- thin pancakes with sweet or savory fillings folded within
The French educational system is centralized and organized with many subdivisions. It is divided into the three stages of enseignement primaire (primary education), enseignement secondaire (secondary education), and enseignement supérieur (higher education).
Education is a serious and rigorous experience for most French students. The highest work positions in France are reserved for graduates of Les Grandes Ecoles, an elite group of schools preparing individuals for positions in government, business, finance, and the sciences.
Students attend nursery school from ages 3-6. After nursery school, students attend primary school (ages 6-11), then secondary school (ages 11-14; also known as junior high), and then students (ages 15-18) go on to high school (post-secondary school). After post-secondary, students may decide to attend university domestically or internationally. Higher education in France is organized in three levels which correspond to those of other European countries, facilitating international mobility: the Licence and Licence Professionnelle (bachelor's degrees), and the Master's and Doctorat degrees.
If you are driving in France, study the rules and signs before getting behind the wheel. Driving is done on the right side of the road, but people quickly pass on the left. Vehicles entering circular intersections have the right-of-way.
The metro system is convenient but does shut down between midnight and 1:00 in the morning. Taxis or ride-sharing apps are often a good alternative. Make sure to bring food and water on commuter trains, as they may not have a café. The airports with the highest traffic in France are Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG), Paris Orly (ORY), and Nice (NCE).
Attractions: Museums and Nature
Some of the top attractions in France are:
- The Louvre
- Notre-Dame de Paris
- Palace of Versailles
- French Riviera (the cities of Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Nice)
- Mont Saint-Michel
- Loire Valley Chateaux
- Lascaux Cave Paintings
- Pont du Gard
Some of the most beautiful natural features of France include:
- Verdon Gorge
- Mont Blanc
- Lake Annecy
- Dune of Pyla
- Pyrenees National Park
Make multiple copies of your documentation and keep these materials in a safe place. These documents should include the location of your nearest home country embassy in case of emergency. When you travel, always be sure to provide at least one other person with your itinerary. Keep your belongings close to you, as pick pocketing is common throughout Europe. Bag snatching and scams are also threats for travelers.
As in every country, there are places that are dangerous to go to if you are unfamiliar with the area. Ask the locals where they do not go, and try to avoid travelling alone and at night. Whenever you travel to a new place, remember that it is best to avoid large crowds when possible. Always trust your instinct; if something feels wrong to you, leave the area immediately. Allow extra time to travel, especially across borders.
There have been threats and terrorists attacks in France recently. Travelers and newcomers should always be vigilant. Police presence has increased greatly. Be prepared to have your bag and belongings examined before entering most public buildings, especially in Paris. If you are unable to pass through metal detecting machines due to health concerns, carry the appropriate paperwork with you and provide a French translation if possible.
France has a “good Samaritan” law. It is a criminal offence if you do not attempt to help someone in need, at the least by calling for assistance.
Facts about France
- France was the first country to implement a food waste ban; Since February 2016, supermarkets are required to donate excess perishable foods to charity.
- The metric system was invented in France. We can also thank France for the pasteurization process, the concept of taxis, camouflage, the manual pencil sharpener, and dry cleaning, among hundreds of other contributions to society.
- France is the world’s most visited country. Paris is the most visited city in the world.
- The national flower of France is the iris, and it appears in the fleur-de-lis symbol.
- There are over 400 varieties of cheese made in France.
- France is sometimes referred to as “L’Hexagone” or “L’Hex” because of its roughly six-sided shape.
- France is the largest country in the European Union at around 550,000 km2 .
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