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How France Surprised Me

Visiting France was weird. Somehow I’d avoided the country for years despite living in London. I’d visited Spain, Italy and Brussels but always skirted around the country- not for any real reason, it’s just how fate and trip plans worked out. So, although I still haven’t been to Paris (weird, I know) at least now I can say I’ve spent a week and a half in the lovely South of France.

People Were Nice

I’m terrible at people pictures so look at this instead.

It’s a little sad that this surprised me, but after years and years of hearing about the rudeness of French people, I was expecting the worst. After all, I can’t speak any french at all beyond “merci” and “oui.” I was essentially a linguistic idiot in a country that I’d heard did not tolerate that kindly.

Fortunately, I was wrong. In the South of France at least, I found people to be incredibly warm and helpful. Whether we were struggling to order dinner or badly in need of directions, someone always stepped up to help. It was a relief.

It Was Expensive (!)

Someday I’ll write a post about the most surprisingly expensive places I’ve visited (Australia and Argentina I’m looking at you!). France might be one of them. I did know France was expensive- it’s not known for being a bargain. But I was still bowled over by just how very expensive it is. Maybe I’ve just been out of Western Europe for too long.

In France we had a very difficult time eating out, despite our budget savvy knowledge- even the set menu lunches were 16 euros or more. Private rooms in hostels were prohibitively expensive and even dorms were 20 euros or more or a night. I’m told the prices are even steeper in Paris, so that’s fun.

Roman Ruins

Roman Ruins are something I’ve previously associated with Italy and Croatia, but there’s actually quite a few extensive sites in the South of France, in addition to the mega storybook castles. In Arles we visited a pristine Roman amphitheater that was almost a mini-Colosseum, dating all the way back to 90 AD (and still used today for bull fights!).

Amazing Gelato

When I travel I’m a bit of a gelato fanatic. A really good gelato should be creamy, yet flavorful. France totally delivered on this front- I had some of the best gelato ever, from pistachio and blackberry (above) to stratciatella to straight up chocolate. Couldn’t go wrong.

So is it better than Italy? No not quite. Well maybe. I think I’ll need to sample a lot more to make that judgement. You know, for science.

The Smell

The South of France smells amazing! All that lavender I suppose. Almost makes up for all the dog crap on the streets.

I Really Liked It

I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t like France. Maybe because I’m a London girl, and there didn’t seem to be room to enjoy both France and England in most people’s minds. So while I hadn’t been actively avoiding going to France, I hadn’t made it a priority either.

I did really enjoy the South of France though- the warm people, the intense history and jaw dropping coastlines. I wish I could have seen more, more of the coast and more of the country in general. and for that reason I definitely won’t be waiting another 27 years to visit France again.

Special Thanks to Eurail.Com for sponsoring our train travel through France.

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31 Responses to How France Surprised Me

  1. Ashley of Ashley Abroad November 8, 2012 at 9:11 AM #

    I think the people in the south are generally very nice and open… it’s up here in the north where you might find a bit of attitude! And I agree that France is expensive, my eating out plan is to live off of baguettes, cured meat and cheese, or sometimes splurge on salads at bistros for 8 or 9 euros.

  2. Christine November 8, 2012 at 9:32 AM #

    Yay I’m SO happy that you guys liked it! I think so many people go into France with either really high expectations (the food is the going to the best, the museums are the best, etc.) and are super disappointed or expect everyone to be horrible and difficult and are pleasantly surprised. I adore ice cream in France, but I must tell you–I found the best in the world in Australia!

  3. Fiona November 8, 2012 at 10:14 AM #

    I found the people in Paris really friendly too, not sure why they have such a bad reputation! That ice-cream looks delish too!

  4. Dani November 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM #

    It is actually very likely that you as a ‘London girl’ would enjoy France – when I lived in London, the majority of people in my office went on vacation in France every year, and many of our British friends did the same thing. And Paris is just the perfect weekend getaway for anyone living in London, only 2 hours away on the train, with frequent promotions from Eurostar.

  5. Rease November 8, 2012 at 12:33 PM #

    I still have my issues with the idea of France. I definitely think if I went it would have to be southern France where I would have a better chance of meeting nicer people. I also just find French to be an ugly language. I know, blasphemous! I’m not cool with the priciness either. And you are so right about Argentina being surprisingly expensive!

  6. Aggy November 8, 2012 at 3:03 PM #

    France is definitely expensive, agreed on that, though I was living in a rather small city (at least smaller than Paris), I could still feel it was expensive. I also think the gelatos are amazing, they have on in the region Pays de la Loire calle La Fraiserie and it is delicious hmmm. Glad you enjoyed France!

  7. OrchidResorts November 8, 2012 at 3:10 PM #

    I have always had the impression that people from southern part of one country are more friendly to foreigners and more open to help. Maybe because of the warmer weather? I guess…

    And, nice post! Wish I could spare myself a week or so and live like a local there:)

  8. Julika November 8, 2012 at 3:12 PM #

    I’m glad you liked it! Southern France really is incredibly beautiful. But I must admit, though I’ve been to France at least six times, I’ve been forgetting how much I used to like it lately… But after spontaneously revisiting Paris last weekend – after three and a half years without traveling to France – I realized that I really love it there! The language, the art, the culture, the French lifestyle, the food – I’m convinced that all this is worth the money from time to time 🙂

  9. Eurotrip Tips November 8, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

    16 euros for a set menu? This is really expensive, even by French standards. Most ‘menu du jour’ will go for 10 euros, maximum. Luck wasn’t on your side, because it’s easy to eat on a budget in France! You’ll have to come back I guess… what a shame, right? 😉

  10. Christina S. November 8, 2012 at 8:53 PM #

    Wait – Argentina is expensive? Tell me more. I thought Buenos Aires was supposed to be super cheap?

    • Steph November 8, 2012 at 9:00 PM #

      It used to be but now it’s WAY expensive. Same as Spain in my estimation. Email me for details.

  11. ehalvey November 8, 2012 at 11:28 PM #

    Where is that medieval sculpture from? It looks vaguely familiar.

    • Steph November 9, 2012 at 8:17 AM #

      It was on the steps outside of a church in Arles. I thought it was hilariously graphic.

  12. Meg | One Love Meg November 9, 2012 at 12:32 AM #

    We also found the people were really nice as well. It was extremely expensive. We are now in Asia wondering why we didn’t just come here first when we had money to spend. 🙂 Now we are living poor in Asia.

  13. Rachel November 9, 2012 at 8:28 AM #

    Yay! Glad you liked France it’s a wonderful country with an unfair reputation for rudeness. I’ve never found this to be true. I agree French ice cream is amazing but my all time favourite French food is crepes. You’re right that it can be expensive especially in the tourist areas but off the beaten track food gets a bit cheaper. You should definitely go back to explore the other regions such as Burgundy, Brittany and Alsace. All beautiful.

    • Steph November 9, 2012 at 1:07 PM #

      Definitely nursing a crepe addiction now. I like the savory ones best!

  14. Claude November 9, 2012 at 5:29 PM #

    I don’t get why some people think France would be cheaper than the UK. Contrary to what some English and American people think we are not a third world country…

    And if you really think Argentina is expensive then you should try Switzerland, just for the thrill.

    • Steph November 9, 2012 at 8:26 PM #

      Expensive is not an insult, just an observation.

  15. Dana November 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM #

    I haven’t been to France, but I totally agree with you about Australia. I was shocked by how expensive Sydney was!

  16. Tom @ Waegook Tom November 11, 2012 at 8:59 AM #

    This sounds fab, Steph! I’m considering going around the south of France for a couple of weeks next year (around September) and this post is pushing me in that direction. I was surprised with all the Roman ruins I was reading about when researching the area, and I’m glad that the folk in the south aren’t too harsh on those that don’t speak flawless French (I’ve forgotten a lot of the stuff I spent seven years in school learning!)

    Also, I fully support your decision to research which country has better gelato – France or Italy? Maybe you could apply for a research grant for it? You know…because it’s all about the science.

    • Steph November 12, 2012 at 8:59 AM #

      YOU are a visionary.

  17. amelie88 November 14, 2012 at 11:59 PM #

    I’m so glad you liked France on your first visit! The southerners do tend to be friendlier than the Northerners but I find that to be typical of most countries I’ve visited. I also spent time in southern France this past summer–about 2 weeks and I loved every minute of it.

    I’ve visited France more than the average seasoned traveler can ever claim–the first time I went I was only 3 months old so I can’t remember liking it. But out of any country I’ve visited, it will always be my favorite since my father is from there and all my French relatives still live there.

  18. Katherina November 17, 2012 at 6:50 AM #

    I’m not sure why the french often have this reputation of being cold and unfriendly (specially to foreigners)… they’re actually fun loving, nice people! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  19. Lerma of Migration Expert November 23, 2012 at 12:26 AM #

    Now I am craving for gelato because of your post here! Haha.

  20. DanYC December 4, 2012 at 8:47 PM #

    It’s sooooo good to know that my gf and I weren’t’ the only ones who primarily ate baguette, cheese, and pate during our time in France!

  21. Bob March 11, 2013 at 6:19 AM #

    I’m always fascinated by what different people think of France. Expensive? A decent four-course lunch for €11 or €12, including a carafe of wine – not many places offer better value than that.

    We’ve always found the locals friendly here in the Loire valley – and we’re really rural and were absolute beginners with the language when we arrived.

    Speaking some French is obviously an advantage, but people are just people – you get friendly ones and rude ones wherever you go. I’m English, but I’ve lived in France for seven years now. Can’t imagine going back.

  22. Explorista July 29, 2013 at 3:09 PM #

    I love that you loved France. As a Dutch girl I used to spend almost all my summer holidays there, and had french lessons since I was four (sadly, about 95% of that is forgotten). It’s one of my favorite countries in the world, and I have never found the French to be rude. However, you’re right that it’s pricy, especially in the south.

    Now that I think of it: Would it be true everywhere that people in the south are friendlier than in the north ;)? Certainly the case for us Dutchies too..

  23. Mary September 11, 2013 at 6:43 AM #

    People are rude only in Paris as I noticed (people from capital are always so, as from Moscow or from Rome))) I was shocked by waiters in Paris, they were so rude and aggressive…

  24. Matt October 4, 2013 at 10:29 AM #

    I am glad you liked France. As French native, I would add a few explanations… southern France (coastline) is definitely the most expensive part of France with Paris ! Restaurant, bars and shops know there is gonna be loads of visitors, that’s why ! However, I was born and raised in Toulouse, SW of France. If you’re looking to discover and find out what French culture is, come visit ! SW of France is certainly the most beautiful part of the country (and is not that expensive). You have easy access to Mediterranean sea, Atlantic ocean, Pyrénées mountains, Dordogne etc. I confirm that French are usually rude with tourists (something I realized when I left France for the UK. British are amazing people !). Although, southern France is more friendly, open-minded and warm. If you wish to visit France again, please make sure you get in touch ! I’d be happy to help 😉 Best wishes, Matt.

  25. Milena Yordanova June 21, 2014 at 11:06 AM #

    I found the French people to be very helpful and warm, too. I have never tried gelato in France! Next time I won’t miss it.

  26. Serhat October 13, 2016 at 7:25 AM #

    A brief post that inpired me to go France once more. Thank you!

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