Greek is the national official language and is the native tongue of the vast majority of the population, but the English speaking visitor will encounter no significant language problem. English is the most widely studied and understood of foreign languages in Greece, followed by French, Italian, and German. Basic knowledge of English can be expected from almost all personnel in the tourism industry and public transport services, as well as most Greeks under the age of 40. However, learning a few Greek terms, such as "hello" and "thank you" will be warmly received.
The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets were derived from the the Greek alphabet and about half of Greek letters look like their Latin counterparts, and most Greek letters resembles its Cyrillic counterparts. With a bit of study it's not too hard to decipher written names, and common terms such as "hotel", "cafeteria", etc. And you'll find that place names on road signs throughout the country are often transliterated into Latin letters (some signs, especially on the newer roads, are even outright translated into English).
Greece's official currency is the Euro (€), which replaced the drachma in January 2002.
Currency exchanges are common particularly in larger cities and in any touristed area. In addition to hard currency, they also accept traveler's checks. There are also automated currency exchange machines in some areas of the country, particularly at Athens airport. Most banks will also exchange euros for some currencies -such as the US Dollar and British Pound- often times at better rates than currency exchanges. Banks' commission fees for these exchanges are usually structured so that it's more economical to change larger sums than smaller. Usually, only the larger, international-standard hotels will exchange money for their guests.
As of this writing, branches of the Greek bank Alphabank will exchange US$ American Express Travelers Checks into Euros at their usual bank rates without fee or commission, which can result in a significant savings.
When changing money in large amounts at a bank or currency exchange, it's a good idea to ask for mostly smaller notes, and nothing larger than a € 50. Many businesses are reluctant to accept notes of larger than € 50, partly because of a scarcity of change, partly because larger notes have a history of being counterfeited.
You may get better exchange rates by using credit and ATM cards. Mastercard, Visa, and Eurocard are widely accepted across the country in retail stores, hotels, and travel/transportation agencies (including ferry, airline, and car rental agencies), but are not accepted at some restaurants. Local souvenir shops usually require a minimum purchase before allowing you to use your card and may not accept it for special sales or deeply discounted items. ATM machines are present almost everywhere, with Mastercard/Cirrus and Visa/Plus being the most widely accepted cards. Many ATM machines may not accept 5-digit pin numbers; ATM card-users with 5-digit pins are advised to change their pin to 4 digits before leaving home.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on most items, usually included in the item's price tag but some shops offer "Tax Free" shopping to non-EU residents. This means that non-EU residents can ask for a VAT refund at their port of exit in the EU. Be sure to ask for your voucher before leaving the store and show that along with your items to the customs officer upon departure from the EU.
Bargaining is only tolerated (and unenthusiastially expected) in touristy souvenir shops and sometimes in family-owned arts and crafts stores. In all other instances, it is ineffective and offensive.
Greek cuisine is a blend of indigenous traditions and foreign influences. Neighboring Italy and Turkey have left a major impact on Greek cuisine, and there are shared dishes with both of these nations. The traditional Greek diet is very Mediterranean, espousing vegetables, herbs, and grains native to the Mediterranean biome. Being a highly maritime nation, the Greeks incorporate plenty of seafood into their diet. The country is also a major producer and consumer of lamb; beef, pork, and especially chicken are also popular. Olive oil is a staple in Greek cooking, and lemon and tomato paste are common ingredients. Bread and wine are always served at the dinner table.
The cuisine in Greece can be radically different from what is offered in Greek restaurants around the world. Greek restaurants abroad tend to cater more to customer expectations rather than offer a truly authentic Greek dining experience. One example is the famous gyros (yee-ros), a common item on Greek menus outside Greece. While it is a popular fast-food item in Greece today, it is actually a relatively recent foreign import (adapted from the Turkish döner kebap) and is considered by Greeks as junk food. It is never served in the home and is generally not found on the menus of non-fast-food restaurants.
Eating out is Greece's national passtime and a rewarding experience for visitors; however, not knowing where to go or what to do can dampen the experience. In the past, restaurants that catered mostly to tourists were generally disappointing. Thankfully, the nation's restaurant industry has grown in sophistication over the past decade, and it is now possible to find excellent restaurants in highly-touristed areas, particularly areas that are popular with Greek tourists as well. Thus, it remains a good idea to dine where Greeks dine. The best restaurants will offer not only authentic traditional Greek cuisine (along with regional specialities) but Greece's latest culinary trends as well.
Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
In Greece, vegetarianism never took off as a trend, and restaurants catering strictly to vegetarians are practically non-existent. However, Greeks traditionally eat less meat per capita than northern Europeans and North Americans, and there are countless vegetarian dishes in Greek cuisine. Greeks are meat and dairy eaters, but because such a large percentage of their diet consists of pulses, vegetables, greens and fruits, a vegan or vegetarian visitor will not have any difficulty in finding a huge variety of vegetarian food all over Greece. The Porto Club  travel agency offers a number of tours designed for vegetarians and vegans.
Popular local dishes
The traditional fast foods are gyros (γύρος, "GHEER-ohs", not "JIE-rohs" as in "gyroscope"), roast pork or chicken (and rarely beef) and fixings wrapped in a fried pita; souvlaki (σουβλάκι, "soov-LAH-kee"), grilled meat on a skewer; Greek dips such as tzatziki (τζατζίκι), made of strained yoghurt, olive oil, garlic and finely chopped cucumbers and dill or mint; and skordhalia (σκορδαλιά), a garlic mashed potato dip which is usually served with deep fried salted cod.
With its extensive coastline and islands, Greece has excellent seafood. Try the grilled octopus and the achinosalata (sea-urchin eggs in lemon and olive oil). By law, frozen seafood must be marked as such on the menu. Some fresh fish, sold by the kilo, can be very expensive; if you're watching your budget, be sure to ask how much your particular portion will cost before ordering it.
Greek salad (called "country salad" locally, "HorIAtiki"), a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and onion – all sliced – plus some olives, and occasionally green bell pepper or other vegetables, usually garnished with oregano. Traditionally it is dressed only with olive oil; vinegrette or lettuce are added only in the most tourist-oriented restaurants.
- moussaka, a rich oven-baked dish of eggplant, minced meat, tomato and white sauce
- pastitsio, a variety of lasagna
- stifado, pieces of meat and onion in a wine and cinnamon stew
- spetzofai, braised sausage with pepper and tomatoes, a hearty dish originally from the Mt. Pelion region
- saganaki, fried semi-hard cheese
- paidakia, grilled lamb chops, are also popular. They tend to have a gamier taste and chewier texture than North American lamb chops, which you may or may not like
Fried potatoes (often listed on menus as chips) are a naturalized Greek dish, found almost everywhere. They can be very good when freshly made and served still hot. Tzatziki is usually a good dip for them, though they are still good on their own.
For dessert, ask for baklava, tissue-thin layers of pastry with honey and chopped nuts; or galaktobouriko, a custard pie similar to mille feuille. Other pastries are also worth tasting. Another must-try is yogort with honey: yoghurts in Greece are really different from what you used to see at Dannon stores. Fruit such as watermelon is also a common summertime treat.
For breakfast, head to local bakeries (fourno) and try fresh tiropita, cheese pie; spanakopita, spinach pie; or bougatsa, custard filled pie, or even a ""horiatiko psomi", a traditional, crusty village type bread that is a household staple, and very tasty on its own too. All are delicious and popular among Greeks for quick breakfast eats. Each bakery does own rendition and you are never disappointed. Have this with a Greek coffee to be local.
A popular drink is a frappe made with instant Nescafe, water, sugar , and sometimes milk. It is frothed and served over ice.
It's common to charge cover fee in cafes officially (i.e. stating it in a receipt), such as €0.4 to €2.0 per person.
For things such as bread and fresh orange juice, the just-in-time principle is often used: bread or oranges are purchased by the cafe right after the first order is taken. So don't be surprised if your waiter returns to the cafe with a bag of oranges after accepting your order. And this is how fresh bread is guaranteed in most places.
McDonald's and Pizza Hut have made a significant presence in Greece over the past 15 years. However, they face strong competition from the popular local chains.
Goody'sis the most popular fast-food chain in the country, offering a large variety of fast food meals, with numerous outlets throughout the country. A more recent chain is Everest which specializes in hand-held snacks. Flocafé is gaining popularity through its coffee and dessert items. There are also many independently-owned fast food businesses that offer typical fast food items, such as gyros. Many of these small businesses tend to be open late at night, and are popular with younger crowds on their way home from a night out.
Those wishing to partake of alcoholic beverages in Greece would be well advised to stick to the traditional domestic Greek products discussed below, which are freely available, mostly cheap by European standards, and usually of good quality. Any imported (i.e. non-Greek) alcoholic beverages are likely to be very expensive if genuine, and if cheap may well be "bomba," a locally distilled alcohol with flavorings which sometimes, especially in island bars catering to young people, masquerades as whiskey, gin, etc. If you drink it, you'll be very sorry.
To be able to purchase alcohol in Greece you must be 17, but there is no legal drinking age.
Greece, an ancient wine producing country, offer a wide variety of local wines, from indigenous and imported grape varieties, including fortified and even sparkling wines. Greek wines are generally not available on the international market, as production is relatively small, costs are quite high and little remains for export. However, in the past decade Greek wines have won many international prizes, with the rise of a new generation of wineries. Exports are rising as well.
Wine is most Greeks' drink of choice, "Krasi" (inos: οίνος) and traditional spirits like ouzo, tsipouro, raki and tsikoudia (produced in Crete, similar to the Italian grappa). Retsina is a "resinated wine" with a strong, distinctive taste that can take some getting used to; the flavor comes from pine resin, which was once employed as a sealant for wine flasks and bottles. The most well-known and cheap-n-dirty is "Kourtaki Retsina".
Local producers include:
Boutari  (regions: Peloponnese, Crete, Goumenissa, Santorini, Naoussa).
Skouras  (region of Peloponnese). Good selection found in several tourist shops in Nafplion.
Gentilini  (region of Cephalonia). Recommended by Dorling Kindesley's Eyewitness Travel Guides: Greek Islands, 2001;
- Canava Argyros.
- Volcan Wines . Also, a Volcan Wine Museum.
- Santo Wines.
- region of Crete:
- Peza Union
- Sitia Agricultural Cooperatives Union
- Creta Olympias Winery
- Minos Wines.
- Lyrarakis Wines
- Douloufakis Wines
- Michalakis Winery
Many tavernas have "barrel wine," usually local, which is usually of good quality and a bargain. Bottled wines have gotten increasingly more expensive; some that the beginner may find worth trying are whites from Santorini and reds from Naoussa and Drama.
Beer (bira: μπύρα) is consumed all around the country. Excellent local varieties like Mythos and Alpha, as well as Northern European beers produced under license in Greece like Heineken and Amstel, are readily available mostly everywhere. (North American beers generally are not.) Heineken is affectionally known as "green"; order it by saying "Mia Prasini." On the quality front, there is also a microbrewery/restaurant called Craft (2 litre jug also available in large supermarkets), and new organic beer producers like Piraiki Zythopoiia.
The most famous indigenous Greek liquor is ouzo (ούζο), an anise-flavored strong spirit (40%), which is transparent by itself but turns milky white when mixed with water. As a rule, only tourists drink it with ice. A 200 mL bottle can be under €2 in supermarkets and rarely goes above €8 even in expensive restaurants. Mytilene (Lesbos) is particularly famous for its ouzo. A few to try are "Mini" and "Number 12," two of the most popular made in a middle-of-the-road style, "Sans Rival," one of the most strongly anise-flavored ones, "Arvanitis," much lighter, and the potent "Barba Yianni" and "Aphrodite," more expensive and much appreciated by connoisseurs.
Raki or tsikoudia is the Greek equivalent of the Italian grappa, produced by boiling the remainings of the grapes after the wine has been squeezed off. It is quite strong (35-40% of alcohol) and in the summer months it is served cold. It costs very little when one buys it in supermarkets or village stores. The raki producing process has become a male event, as usually men are gathering to produce the raki and get drunk by constantly trying the raki as it comes out warm from the distillery. One raki distillery in working order is exhibited in Ippikos Omilos Irakleiou in Heraklion, but they can be found in most large villages. In northern Greece it is also called tsipouro (τσίπουρο). In Crete, raki is traditionally considered an after-dinner drink and is often served with fruit as dessert.
Coffee (kafes: καφές) is an important part of Greek culture.
The country is littered with kafetéries (kafetéria singular) which are cafes that serve as popular hangouts for Greeks, especially among the under-35s. They tend to be pretty trendy -yet relaxed- and serve a variety of beverages from coffee, to wine, beer, spirits, as well as snacks, desserts, and ice cream. In the pleasant months of spring, summer, and fall, all kafetéries provide outdoor tables/seating and they are busiest with customers in the late afternoon and evening hours. Several kafetéries also double as bars.
Kafeneia (coffee houses) are ubiquitous, found even in the smallest village, where they traditionally served a function similar to that of the village pub in Ireland. Their clientele tends to be overwhelmingly men over 50, however everyone is welcome, male or female, young or old, Greek or foreigner; and you will be treated extremely courteously. However, if you're not interested in cultural immersion to this extent, you may find the kafeneia pretty boring.
Traditionally, coffee is prepared with the grounds left in. It is actually a somewhat lighter version of Turkish coffee but in Greece it's only known as Greek coffee - "ellinikós kafés" or simply "ellinikós." Despite being slightly lighter than the original Turkish coffe, it remains a thick, strong black coffee, served in a small cup either sweetened or unsweetened. If you don't specfy, the coffee is usually served moderately sweet. Greek coffee traditionally was made by boiling the grounds and water on a stove in a special small pot called a "briki." More and more now days it's made by simply shooting steam from an espresso machine into the water/coffee mixture in the briki, resulting in an inferior drink. If you find a place that still actually uses a stove burner to make their coffee, you can be sure it's a traditional cafe.
During the hot summer months, the most popular coffee at the kafetéries is frappé (φραπέ): shaken iced instant coffee. This is actually an original Greek coffee and can be really refreshing, ordered with or without milk, sweetened or unsweetened.
Coffee can also be made espresso-style, French press (mainly at hotels), and with modern filter technology. The latter is sometimes known as Γαλλικός: gallikos ("French") which can lead to some confusion with the press method. It is best to ask for φίλτρου: filtrou, which refers unambiguously to filter coffee. It is best not to ask for black coffee, as it is unlikely that anyone will understand what you are asking for.
Espresso or cappuccino fredo are also gaining popularity. Espresso fredo is simply espresso + ice (no milk or foam); cappuccino fredo may be served from mousse containers, not prepared just-in-time; be careful to check.
In mass-sector taverns and cafe, iced tea typically means instant; ask twice if you prefer real brewed ice tea.
A glass of water is normally served with any drink you order; one glass for each drink. Some cafes which cater to tourists charge extra for water, especially if it's served in a bottle, even if you didn't ask for it. This is not included in the cover charge, which is normally a separate line item. Tap water in most places a traveler would go today is drinkable; if in doubt, ask your hotel. But often though technically drinkable it doesn't taste very good, especially on some small islands, and many travelers, like many Greeks, prefer to stick to bottled water.
France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom).
France is the world's most popular tourist destination (78 million in 2006) boasting dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera), the Atlantic beaches, the winter sport resorts of the Alps, the Castles of Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy: Mont Saint Michel. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.
France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into 7 main "cultural regions", which share common points.
The Ile de France is the region surrounding the French capital, Paris.
Northern France is one region where the world wars have left many scars. It includes Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardie, and Haute-Normandie.
Northeast France is a region where wider European culture (and especially German culture) has merged with the French, giving interesting results. It includes Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comté.
The Great West is an oceanic region, with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples. It includes Brittany (French: Bretagne), Basse-Normandie, and Pays de la Loire.
Central France is a largely agricultural and vinicultural region, featuring river valleys, chateaux and historic towns. It includes Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy (French: Bourgogne), Limousin, and Auvergne.
Southwestern France is a region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic ocean, as well as young, high mountains close to Spain. It includes Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees.
Southeastern France is the primary tourist region of the country outside of Paris, with a warm climate and azure sea, contrasting with the mountainous French Alps. It includes Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean island of Corsica (French: Corse).
The world-famous Loire Valley - best known for its wines and chateaux - extends across two regions in west and central France.
Corsica is a large French island located to the south-east of mainland France in the west Mediterranean Sea (close to Nice on one side and Livorno, Italy).
- French Guiana (Guyane Française)
- French Polynesia (Tahiti)
- New Caledonia (Nouvelle Caledonie)
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (Saint Pierre et Miquelon)
- Wallis and Futuna
The following overseas territories are remote possessions kept as natural reservations:
- French Southern and Antarctic territories (Terres Antarctiques et Australes Françaises, or TAAF), consisting of Terre Adélie in Antarctica and some islands in the Indian Ocean
- Scattered Islands of the Indian Ocean (Iles Eparses): Europa Island, Bassas da India, Juan de Nova Island, Glorioso Islands (Glorieuses)
- Clipperton Island
A very limited form of tourism is available in the TAAF islands.
France has numerous cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:
- Paris -- the "City of Light", the capital of France
- Bordeaux - city of wine, capital of South-West
- Bourges -- a middle aged city, capital of central France.
- Cannes -- host of the annual Cannes Film Festival
- Lille - France's fourth city, capital of the north of France. Dynamic flemish city with nice architecture.
- Lyon - France's second city, with a history from Roman times to the Resistance, restaurants (Beaujolais and delicatessen)
- Marseille - big harbor, heart of Provence
- Nice - a major resort on the French Riviera and the gateway to Monaco.
- Strasbourg -- a historic city on the Ill Rhine and home to, among other institutions, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Ombudsman, the European Parliament
- Nantes -- the "Greenest City", the "Best Place to Live" in Europe
The Canal du Midi
One of the most remarkable inland waterways in the world, The Canal du Midi was built in the 17th century to link the Atlantic with the Mediterranean, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Canal itself, which starts in Toulouse and finishes in the Thau Lagoon near Sète, has 240 km of navigable waterway, making it ideal for boat holidays. The Canal is extremely picturesque, often serene, and shaded for much of its length by trees. There are some impressive engineering feats along its course, including the series of locks at Fonseranes, near Béziers, which was the birthplace of the Canal's founder, Pierre-Paul Riquet.
- Disneyland Paris
- Parc Astérix
Most of the cities in France would have an "Office du tourisme". These can help at making itineraries, getting a map, get information about accommodation, visit chateaux, organise wine testing and so on. Bordeaux for example has Bordeaux Tourisme , Place Libération 33710 Bourg, France. Tel+33 5 57 68 31 76. But also web link:
A lot of variety, but temperate. Cool winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the south west (the latter has lots of rain in winter). Mild winters (with lots of rain) and cool summers in the north west (Brittany). Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhône Valley, occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral. Cold winters with lots of snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne
Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south west, Vosges and Alps in east, Massif Central in the south.
France has been populated since the Neolithic period. the Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others presumed to be temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux.
Rise and fall of the Roman empire
Written History began in France with the invasion of the territory by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC. Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls (name given to local Celts by the Romans), who lived there before Roman invasions, became accultured "Gallo-romans".
With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between gallo-romans and "barbaric" easterners (Mainly the Franks, but also other tribes like the "burgondes").
The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organisation of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp (especially Paris). The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time.
Clovis, who died in 511, is considered as the first French king although his realm was not much more than the area of the present Ile de France, around Paris. Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, was the first strong ruler. He united under his rule territories which extend today in Belgium, Germany and Italy. His capital was Aix-la-Chapelle (now in Germany, known as Aachen).
The country was under attack by the Vikings who came from the north and navigated upstream the rivers to plunder the cities and abbeys, it was also under attack from the south by the Muslim Saracens who were established in Spain. The Vikings were given a part of the territory (today's Normandy) in 911 and melted fast in the Feudal system. The Saracens were stopped in 732 in Poitiers by Charles Martel, grand father of Charlemagne, a rather rough warrior who was later painted as a national hero.
Starting with Charlemange, a new society starts to settle, based on the personal links of feudalism. This era is named middle age. Although generally seen as an era of stagnation, it can more be described as a very complex mix of periods of economic and cultural developments (Music and poems of the Troubadours and Trouveres, building of the Romanantic, then Gothic cathedrals), and recessions due to pandemic disease and wars.
In 987, Hughes Capet was crowned as king of France ; he is the root of the royal families who later governed France. In 1154 much of the western part of France went under English rule with the wedding of Alienor d'Aquitaine to Henry II (Count of Anjou, born in the town of Le Mans). Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, and his father Henry II, who lies in the Abbaye de Fontevraud. The struggle between the English and French kings between 1337 and 1435 is known as the Hundred Years War and the most famous figure, considered as a national heroine, is Joan of Arc.
The making of a modern state nation
The beginning of the XVIth century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with its border relatively close to the present ones (Alsace, Corsica, Savoy, the Nice region weren't yet French). Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 (72 years) was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. French influence extended deep in western Europe, its language was used in the European courts and its culture was exported all over Europe.
That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole series of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England (later Britain) and Spain over the control of North America.
1789 saw the start of the French Revolution which led to the creation of the Republic. Although this period was also fertile in bloody excesses it was, and still is, a reference for many other liberation struggles.
Napoléon reunited the country but his militaristic ambition which, at first, made him the ruler of most of western Europe were finally his downfall. In 1815 he was defeated in Waterloo (Belgium) by an alliance of British and Prussian forces. He is still revered in some Eastern European countries as its armies and its government brought with them the thinkings of the French philosophers.
France went back to monarchy and another revolution in 1848 which allowed a nephew of Napoleon to be elected president and then become emperor under the name of Napoléon III. The end of the XIX century was the start of the industrialization of the country, the development of the railways but also the start of the bitter wars with Prussia and later Germany.
XXth and XXIst centuries
1905 saw the separation of the Church from the State, a traumatic process specially in rural areas. The French state carefully avoids any religious recognition. Under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy it is forbidden for French students and civil servants to display any sign showing explicitely their religion. This policy applies famously to the Muslim veil (and has been copied in countries like Tunisia and Turkey) but, for instance, to the Christian cross as well. In the early XXIst century, statistics for Church going and belief in God are among the lowest in Europe.
World War I (1914 -18) was a disaster for France, even though the country was ultimately a victor. A significant part of the male workforce had been killed and disabled and a large part of the country and industry destroyed. World War II (1939 - 45) also destroyed a number of areas.
Since the end of WWII France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity came back with the development of industry. France and Germany were at the start of the Treaties which eventually became the European Union. One of the most visible consequence being the introduction in 2002 of the Euro (€), the common currency of twelve European countries.
In 2004, France is a republic with a President elected for a 5-year term. Some current main issues are the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, defense, and so on.
Passport and Visa
France is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schlengen Agreement is valid in France too.(in most cases) No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or France have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of France.
Also, there are hardly any border controls between France and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated. However, sometimes cars and buses are stopped at borders or at the first toll-booth after entering the country.
Australian, Malaysian or Indonesian citizens visiting France for holiday will not need a Visa.
The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) , is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for most intercontinental flights. AF and the companies forming the SkyTeam Alliance (Dutch KLM, AeroMexico, Alitalia, US Continental, NorthWest and Delta Airlines, Korean Air) use Terminal 2 while most other foreign airlines use Terminal 1. A third terminal is used for charter flights. If transferring through CDG (especially between the various terminals) it is important to leave substantial time between flights. Ensure you have no less than one hour between transfers. Add more if you have to change terminals as you will need to clear through security.
Transfers to another flight in France: AF operates domestic flights from CDG too, but a lot of domestic flights, and also some internal European flights, use Orly, the second Paris airport. For transfers within CDG you can use the free bus shuttle linking all terminals, train station, parking lots and hotels on the platform. For transfers to Orly there is a (free for AF passengers) bus link operated by AF. The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF has agreements with the SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGVs (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is located in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For transfer to Paris see Paris.
Other airports have international destinations: Paris - Orly, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to cities in western Europe and North-Africa; those airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.
Some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80 km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites.
Ryanair flies direct from the UK to Montpellier, Perpignan, Nimes, Carcassonne and Béziers in Languedoc Roussillon.
Shuttle service in Paris: Paris Star Shuttle
The French rail company, SNCF, provides direct service from most European countries using regular trains. French train tickets can be purchased directly in the US from RailEurope a subsidiary of the SNCF. The Eurostar service uses high-speed to connect Lille and Paris with London, the later via the Calais-Dover channel tunnel. The Thalys service uses high-speed TGV trains to connect Paris to Brussels and onward to cities in the Netherlands and Germany.
- There is no single national bus service. Furthermore, buses are limited to local mass transit or departmental/regional service. You must therefore check for the peculiarities of bus service in the actual region you are in. However, bus tickets in the region of Ile De France generally cost about 1.40€.
- Eurolines is a private bus service that connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of the continent and Morocco. Eurolines allows traveling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow.
The following carriers offer domestic flights within France:
- Air France (Ajaccio (Campo Dell Oro Airport), Annecy-Meythet Airport, Avignon-Caum Airport, Bastia (Poretta Airport), Biarritz Parme Airport, Bordeaux Airport, Brest (Guipavas Airport), Caen (Carpiquet Airport), Calvi (Sainte Catherine Airport), Clermont-Ferrand (Aulnat Airport), Figari (Sud Corse Airport), Lannion (Servel Airport), Le Havre (Octeville Airport), Lille (Lesquin Airport), Limoges (Bellegarde Airport), Lorient (Lann Bihoue Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport, Metz/Nancy (Metz-Nancy-Lorraine Airport), Montpellier (Mediterranee Airport), Mulhouse/Basel (EuroAirport French), Nantes Atlantique Airport, Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport), Paris (Charles De Gaulle Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Pau (Uzein Airport), Perpignan (Llabanere Airport), Quimper (Pluguffan Airport), Rennes (St Jacques Airport), Rodez (Marcillac Airport), Rouen (Boos Airport), Strasbourg (Entzheim Airport), Tarbes Ossun Lourdes Airport, Toulon (Hyeres Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
- Airlinair (Aurillac Airport, Bastia (Poretta Airport), Beziers Vias Airport, Bordeaux Airport, Brest (Guipavas Airport), Brive-La-Gaillarde (Laroche Airport), La Rochelle (Laleu Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Mulhouse/Basel (EuroAirport French), Nantes Atlantique Airport, Paris (Orly Field), Poitiers (Biard Airport), Rennes (St Jacques Airport), Saint Nazaire (Montoir Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
- CCM (Ajaccio (Campo Dell Oro Airport), Bastia (Poretta Airport), Calvi (Sainte Catherine Airport), Figari (Sud Corse Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport, Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
- Twin Jet (Cherbourg (Maupertus Airport), Marseille Airport, Metz/Nancy (Metz-Nancy-Lorraine Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Saint Etienne (Boutheon Airport), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
- easyJet (Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport), Paris (Charles De Gaulle Airport), Paris (Orly Field), Toulouse (Blagnac Airport))
- Hex'Air (Le Puy (Loudes Airport), Lyon Satolas Airport, Paris (Orly Field), Rodez (Marcillac Airport))
- Air Austral (Lyon Satolas Airport, Marseille Airport)
- Heli Securite (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
- Nice Helicopteres (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
See also: Driving in France
France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.
Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centers tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
France drives on the right.
France is a good country for hitchhiking. Be patient, prepare yourself for a long wait or walk and in the meantime enjoy the landscape. A ride will come along. People who stop are usually friendly and not dangerous. They will like you more if you speak a little French. They never expect any money for the ride.
Remember that getting out of Paris by thumb is almost impossible. You can try your luck at the portes, but heavy traffic and limited areas for stopping will try your patience. It's a good idea to take the local train to a nearby suburb as your chance of being picked up will increase dramatically.
Outside Paris, it's advisable to try your luck after roundabouts. As it's illegal to hitchhike on the motorways (autoroutes) and they are well observed by the police, you may try on a motorway entry. The greatest chance is at toll plazas (stations de péage), some of which require all cars to stop and are thus great places to catch a lift. Some tollbooths are really good, some not so good. If you've been waiting for a while with an indication of where to go, drop it and try with your thumb only. And also, you can try to get a ride to the next good spot in the wrong direction.
Note, though, that hitching from a péage, while a common practice, isn't legal and French police or highway security, who are normally very tolerant of hitchhikers, may stop and force you to leave. You can get free maps in the toll offices - these also indicate where you can find the "all-stop-Péage".
Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Train). Reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
The French national railway network is managed by Réseaux Ferrés de France, and most of the trains are run by the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). For interregional trains you can get schedules and book tickets online at voyages-sncf.com. For regional trains, schedules can be found at ter-sncf.com (choose your region, then "Carte and horaires" for maps and timetables). Booking is available in two classes: première classe (First Class) is less crowded and more comfortable but can also be about 50% more expensive than deuxième classe (Second Class). Note that if your TGV is fully-booked, step aboard seconds before the doors close, and look for the guard ("contrôleur"). He will find you a seat somewhere.
There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
Corail Intercité. normal day (no special name) operate to and from most cities in France and are usually your best bet for destinations all over France. These are the trains you'll find yourself on if you have a Eurail pass, and don't want to pay extra for reservations.
Corail Téoz. As Corail Intercité but you need a reservation.
Corail Lunéa. night trains (no special name) operate to and from most cities in France and are usually your best bet for destinations all over France. These are the trains you'll find yourself on if you have a Eurail pass, and don't want to pay extra for reservations.
TGV, . The world-famous French high-speed trains (Trains à Grande Vitesse) run several times a day to the Southeast Nice(5-6h), Marseille (3h) and Avignon (2.5 h), the East Geneva (3h) or Lausanne, Switzerland and Dijon (1h15) , the Southwest Bordeaux (3h), the West Rennes (3h) and the North Lille (less than 1h). Eurostar to London (2h15) and Thalys to Brussels (1h20) use almost identical trains.
Thalys, . A high-speed train service running daily to/from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany - it can be a bit expensive compared to normal trains.
Intercity. Intercity trains leave for all parts of Europe, including overnight trains to San Sebastian in Spain, Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.
Eurostar, . The Eurostar service connects Paris with London directly and Brussels indirectly, as well many other destinations indirectly through the various west European rail services. Travel time between Paris and London St Pancras International currently averages at 2 hours 15 minutes, following the opening of a new rail link in late 2007.
If you'll be doing more than about 2 return journeys in France, and are younger than 26, getting a "Carte 12-25" will save you money. They cost €49, last a year and generally give a 50% reduction on ticket prices.
If you've booked online on Voyages SNCF, you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train station. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, this web site allows you to order even if you live in the US; it is not concerned where you live, but where you will pick up the tickets or have them sent; thus if you wish to pick up the tickets at a SNCF train station or office, answer "France". When at the station, just go to the counter ("Guichet") and ask to have your ticket issued ("retirer votre billet"). You can ask "Je voudrais retirer mon billet, s'il vous plait", or 'zhe voo dray ruh teer ay mon bee yay, sill voo play' and then hand them the paper with the reference number.
To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track ("Voie") number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains. On other long-distance trains, you can optionally make reservations (at least one day in advance); if you do not have one you may use any unused seat not marked as reserved. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train coach number ("Voit. No"). Pay attention to the possible confusion between track number (Voie) and coach (voiture) number (abbreviated Voit) As you go down the track, the coach number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors.
The reserved seat rules are lax; you'll not be fined if you switch seats or use another seat if it is empty because the TGV is not fully booked, or if the other person agrees to switch with you. The only requirement is not to continue using a reserved seat if the person holding the reservation claims it.
On the main lines, TGVs often run in twos. There are two possibilities: either the two TGVs are considered as one train with one train number (in this case each coach has a different number); or the two TGVs are considered as separate trains which run together during a part of their journey, with two different train numbers (in this case, the two trains may have two close numbers such as 1527 and 1537), and each train will have its own coach numbering. So be sure you are in the right train (the train number is shown on the LCD screen, with the coach number).
If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will line up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can stand by the letter corresponding with your coach number and wait to board the train closest to your coach. You can easily go from one coach to another, so if you are very late, jump in any coach of the same class before the train starts, wait until most people are seated, then walk to your coach and seat number.
Beware: To avoid any form of fraud, your ticket must be punched by an automatic machine ("composteur") to be valid. Older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray. The machines are situated at the entrance of all platforms. Failure to punch the ticket may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on how the conductor feels. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket you MUST find the conductor ("contrôleur") and tell him about your situation before he finds you.
French information booths, especially in larger train stations, can be quite unhelpful, especially if you do not understand much French. If something does not seem to make sense, just say "excusez-moi" or ex qu say mwa, and they should repeat it.
Night train services also exist. These include couchettes second class (6 bunk beds in a compartment), first class (4 bunks) and wagon-lit (real bedding with linen; you have to specify your sex when booking or travel as a couple). Night trains have occasionally been targeted by criminals, though this is not a widespread problem.
French is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words. For example, thoughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we" is pronounced "waay." It's similiar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes".
In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a kind of German, called "Alsacian", is spoken. In the south, some still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc (because the word for "yes" is oc): Languedocien, Limousin, Auvergnat, or Provençal. Langue d'Oc is a Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan. In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French. In parts of Aquitaine Basque is spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken.In Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera.
However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever come across regional languages, except in order to give a "folkloric" flair to things.
Hardly anybody understands British or US units such as gallons or degrees Fahrenheit. Stick to metric units.
The French are generally attached to politeness and will react coolly to strangers that forget it. You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos/goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes. It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "bonjour". For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases, or some equivalent polite form in English, goes a long way to convince them to try and help you.
- "Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame": Excuse me (ex-CUE-zeh-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM)
- "S'il vous plait Monsieur/Madame" : Please (SEEL-voo-PLAY)
- "Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you (mare-SEE)
- "Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye (Ore-vwar)
Note that French spoken with an English or American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand. In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say. But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated. A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English (If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in touristy areas, especially in Paris).
Please note that some parts of France (such as Paris) are at times overrun by tourists. The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping for the umpteenth time foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city. Be courteous and understanding.
As France is a very multicultural society, many african languages, Arabic, Chinese dialects, Vietnamese or Cambodian could be spoken. The French tend to think that they can speak and understand Spanish because of the resemblance of the two languages.