Traveling in France is exciting and fun but does have its challenges. Just for the record, my french is ok for getting around, ordering food and I have my handy translator for those moments the conversation goes over my learning curve.
That being said, the traveling challenges I am referring to are concerning more of the cultural differences than language, which are easily overcome with a little insider information.
Train Travel East Coast travel is as simple as hopping on a train to New York City for the day or for an appointment is commonplace. We can take the train to anywhere pretty much; train it to our international airport then its off to anywhere in the world.
With that in mind, I figured hey, we’ll just hop on the train from Toulouse to Carcassonne, easy! And it was. Until we sat in the wrong seats. Thankfully a very nice French lady showed me on the ticket that were in the correct car but that each ticket had an assigned seat. (unlike the mad free for all that occurs on the NJ transit!)
I humbly apologized, thanked her and we found our seats. Just to make me feel better there was a man sitting across from me and a “not so nice” French lady let him know he was in her seat! She sat down in front of me and we exchanged the universal eye roll of how annoying foreigners are!
So here is my ticket with the car number (voiture 02) I got that part right, and where I should have been sitting, (place assise 46).
Travel Tip#1 Learn to read your ticket!
Lunch Lunch is not an issue, its missing lunch that becomes a problem! The French are nothing if not prompt about their eating times. Shops close for lunch. I mean they promptly shut down at 12 noon or 12:30 and then they hopefully reopen around 2 or 2:30 sometimes 3 and then are open until 7 or 8. OK that sounds like a simple formula, right? Well, by the same token, lunch is only served 12 to 2. At 2:30 you get annoyed looks from the hostess when you approach a restaurant. So if you are in transit, train or car, during the lunch window and get hungry at 2:45…. No lunch for you!
Travel Tip #2 Bring a snack or lunch if you think you will miss the lunch window, because dinner doesn’t start until 8 pm!
Culture and economics play a part in the restaurant world here. On the “economic” front, wait staff or “front of the house” are actually paid a living wage, unlike their counterparts in the US. They are not working for tips and needless to say you don’t tip unless the service is particularly good. All of that out of the way, because they are not working for tips they tend to bring your food then disappear. No check-ins to see how you liked the meal, if you need another beer or whatever. And cannot be found when you are ready for the check.
This is the culture side; it is the French way to linger over meals, no sense of urgency, ever! And part of me loves that and the “used to work in Manhattan” side of me wants to tear my hair out! So, you must learn the very helpful phrase “Pardon, l’addition sil vous plait” which simply means, “pardon, the bill please”. Otherwise they will never bring it and you will never leave!
Travel Tip #3 Set aside a chunk of time for meals out, and learn the above phrase.
More travel tips to come!
a plus tard! (see you later)