After spending a fantastic year in Besançon, Franche-Comté I am going to be the first person to defend this diverse country against any common stereotypes. However, before I arrived I can hold my hands up and admit I was intrigued to discover whether any of them were true.
1)France = Paris
= WRONG. Ok, slight exaggeration but the main point is that this varied country has so much more to offer than its capital (or the south of France or the Alps for that matter). Eastern France, in particular, is teemed with undiscovered, non touristy, not-an-Irish-pub-in-sight kind of places which are perfect for nature, food and wine lovers alike. So if you’re going to be spending a decent amount of time in L’Hexagone (France!) then I recommend making the most of travelling. This leads me to my second myth...
2)...France is expensive.
Again, wrong. The transport system in France can be very cheap if you know what you’re doing! If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time in France and are lucky enough to be under 25, I would without a doubt invest in a SNCF carte 12-25 for much cheaper rail fare when booking in advance. For your day to day transport check out your local transport office and have a look at the most cost effective method. For example buy metro/bus tickets in a carnet (booklet) or buy a monthly/annual bus pass. A ‘greener’ method to look out for is the bike sharing system where you can hire bikes for free! Finally, if you’re missing a few home comforts it is worth regularly checking various airlines back to the UK for some surprisingly cheap deals (£7.99 inc. tax one way was the cheapest I found!)
3)Frogs legs and snails for dinner every night (what else?)
Take the stereotype of a beret-wearing, moustache-bearing, stripey-top sporting, garlic round the neck, baguette under the arm, bicycle wheeling image out of your head right now. Thanks. Phew! The French are known for their love of wine and cheese (this is true); however, a lot of regions pride themselves on old local favourites. E.g. Cote d’Azur for its bouillabaisse, Alsace for its Germanic flavours such as sauerkraut and pork sausages, Franche-Comté for its cancoillotte cheese etc etc. In short, French cuisine varies massively from one side to the next. Having said that, France is not immune to Western culture, you’ll be sure to find McDonald’s and Starbucks in the bigger cities.
4) France is expensive (still)
Any visitor to France could easily be fooled by restaurant and bar prices into thinking that France is expensive. One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary costs involves a bit of role-play. Pretend you’re a local. Shop where the French shop. Unfortunately for the quaint delis, (they’re lovely to browse though!) your cheapest food shopping option is to head for the large supermarkets (slightly overwhelming but worth it) such as Carrefour or Auchan often on the outskirts of town. You’ll probably be asked if you have a ‘carte de fidélité’ (it’s like a reward card) make sure you get one of these too! If you are venturing out for dinner on a budget then look out for ‘menu à prix fixe’ for a fixed rate which often serve the most popular dish anyway!
5) The people are snooty
Huge generalisation alert! So this is how the story goes: 1) the French are cultural snobs who hark back to the days of Molière, Racine and Sartre. 2) The waiters are rude. 3) The French hate tourists. Wrong, wrong and wrong again! Between any rivalling countries (perhaps the UK and France in particular) there will always be petty insults but these really should be taken with a pinch of salt and a slice of cheese! The French ‘attitude’ really isn’t any different from the stiff upper lip behaviour that is attributed to the British. However, what IS appreciated on French territory is an attempt to speak the language (even if it is just a little ‘Merci’ and ‘s'il vous plaît’ here and there!)
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