France uses the 24hr system, i.e., 7 pm is 19:00. The time is one hour ahead of GMT time, six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and nine hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. Europe uses daylight savings time(DST) as well but this is always a matter of consternation because the EU jumps forward one hour on the the last weekend in March and falls back one hour on the last weekend in October. North America generally makes their move three weeks earlier. Always verify this when you are traveling in and around March and the end of October.
France and Anglo-Saxon cultures have differing perspectives on time and the pace of French life depends on the region. Life in Paris is fast and urban while life in the country or “la France profonde” (the deep heartland) is much slower. People are generally on time yet the further south you go in the country, the more flexible time becomes.
Taking your time is important to the French, and anything worth doing should be done well so when in stores, bakeries or restaurants, etiquette dictates that you let others take their time and they will grant you the same courtesy.
This topic can be a minefield for most as the French are fashion-conscious people and their idea of casual is not as relaxed as in Anglo-Saxons countries. In general the French dress more formally than Americans.
When in France, dressing with a little care will be appreciated. When they are clean, crisp and pressed, jeans can be fine as long as they are dressed up, i.e., a bit more formally accessorized. Shoes should be discreet and unfortunately in France sneakers (les baskets) are generally looked upon as low class. All this being said, you will find varying levels of ‘chicness’ throughout France, so don’t be surprised to see French people in torn jeans, baskets and logo tee shirts too!
France is the last bastion of the theory that Sunday is a day of rest. Hence unless in a rare tourist zone, all stores will be closed on Sunday, food markets being the exception, which can be open until 13h00. Shops are open Monday through Saturday from 9h00 or 10h00 to 19h00 or 20h00. In rural France and some smaller cities, closing times are closely adhered to and some shops even close at 13h on Saturday.
220-240V, 50-cylcle AC power is standard. US visitors wishing to use 110V appliances need an adapter (adapateur) and a transformer (transformateur). UK visitors wishing to use 240V British appliances need an adaptor for their plug.
France’s plugs look nothing like the prongs you see on your power cord’s plugs, so you will need to buy a plug adapter. Don’t waste your money on those international adapters meant for use around the globe (unless you really need them), as they are large and more expensive. One that converts to French plugs alone is fine, and France’s plugs are the same as most of Europe.
In food establishments, a service charge (le service) is added into your bill. It is customary; however, to leave small change additionally if your wait staff provided good service.
Customer service is not the same as it is in the United States and generally a salesclerk will ignore you until you signal that you want their service. Also as a general rule, just like the US and the UK, someone dressed nicely will get more respect and better treatment than those dressed in sweats and a t-shirt.
In food markets when shopping for fruit and vegetables, or other open produce, a general rule is that if you touch it-you buy it.
The Country code for France is 33. All French phones have ten digits with the first two indicating the region. Paris is 01 and the rest of France divided into four zones 02, 03 04 & 05. Numbers beginning with 08 can only be reached inside France and are generally toll free. When dialling inside France, use the entire ten digits. When dial to France from abroad, from the US use 011 33 and from the EU use 00 33, leaving off the 0 from the ten digit number.
Public phone uses télécartes (phone cards) which can be purchased in post offices and tabacs (tobacconists) and are in denomination of 50 units around €7.50 and 120 units around € 15.
Like all European and many other countries, France operates on a GSM network. This means that if your current phone is GSM-compatible, it will probably work in France. If you are coming from North America or some parts of Asia you will probably have a CDMA phone, which will not work in France so you may have to purchase a cheap GSM phone with a local pay as you go SIM card. If you have a GSM-compatible phone and want to use it in France, you have two options:
Keep your current service provider from your home country: Check with your provider that you can use the phone in France (roaming) – it is unlikely you will not be able to, but you may have to specifically ask your provider to enable your account to do this. This is not a cheap solution as you pay for all of the calls you receive at international rates (for the leg of the call between your home country and France), in addition to being on expensive tariffs for calls from France. You do receive the benefit that calls you make to French numbers when in France are not international calls, but billed as national.
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) French SIM cards: A simple solution that can be bought in the UK or from networks stores in France such as Orange and SFR. These cost around £35 and come with a small amount of starter credit.
A SIM from a French network like Orange Fr will fit in the majority of mobile handsets but you may need to unlock the handset to enable a new SIM to be used. Like all national mobile networks, coverage is good for about 95% + of the country but is never guaranteed.
With a PAYG, you have a new French mobile number to circulate before you leave and they can be topped up locally in France by purchasing top up vouchers at post offices as well as thousands of local retailers like tabacs, supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. They offer savings over roaming charges and all incoming calls are free to receive, but you need to be aware that the French top-ups have strict credit expiry periods so you need to make sure you familiarise yourself with these.
More information for North Americans:
More information on buying a GSM phone and SIM cards:
For the technologically advanced:
- WiFi phones with GSM & Sype
- Comparision of international WiFi providers
- Prepaid international broadband
French Mobile Phone Service providers:
- Orange – A subsidiary of France Telecom, the French website is mostly in French, but there is a small section with some basic information in English (go to ‘Welcome to France’ in the navigation bar).
- SFR – This is a joint subsidiary of Cegetel and Vodafone and they have a good website for foreigners coming to France. The website is available in 6 languages (French, English, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian) and gives a brief introduction on using mobile phones in France and the main SFR services.
- Bouygues Telecom – The ‘third’ operator – today only affects some limited areas.
E-mail is the cheapest and most hassle-free way of staying in touch with home while in France. In the regions we will be travelling, internet connectivity is not always to be relied upon. Some of hotels will have internet services, some will not and getting connected can be a frustrating experience.
If you bring your laptop, make sure that it can convert to 220- 240 volts of current in France. If not, you have to find an adapter. To find out if your laptop can convert to the new current, look at the box on your power cord. If it has small print stating, “110 -240v” or something similar showing a range, you are OK. Your laptop should also have a dial-up number in France but most new computers can detect Wi-Fi hot spots automatically. Websites like WiFi Hot Spot List can help you find them before you go. Links : For purchasing mobile internet connectivity before you leave, try Mobility Pass.
Bureaux de poste (post office) are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 19:00 and on Saturday from 8:00 to 12:00. All have machines that will weigh your letter, print out the stamp and give change to save you queuing. Stamps can also be purchased from a tabac (tobacconist).
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