La Vie en France #29: What Does not Work in France



In 2017 the Webmaster had a tremendous experience:  He spent six months living in France and working as a freelance battlefield tour guide.  Travel abroad can produce both positive and negative experiences.  In spite of an overall wonderful experience there are cultural differences that drove him crazy from time to time.  In this “La Vie en France” he highlights some of the more negative memories of that six month period.  They are in no particular order.


12h00 – 14h00–Almost Everything Closes

Just about all government and commercial establishments close mid-day for a two-hour lunch break.  The only exception being places that serve food and beverages.  The webmaster pulled into one cheese factory with an outlet store at 12h05, but it was too late.  Everything was closed for lunch.  There were only two options:  Wait it out in town until 14h00, or continue with the rest of the tour.  The clients chose the latter.

Travel tip:  Presumably because they serve food, Cora and the other large hypermarkets are able to stay open during those two hours.  Just about every other enterprise in Verdun is closed.


Hard to Get a Meal Outside of Certain Restaurant Hours

Restaurants generally serve lunch from 12h00 – 14h30 and they serve dinner beginning around 18h00 or 18h30.  Except for McDonalds, those golden arches of culture, one should not expect to get a meal at other times.  One can buy drinks, and maybe ice cream or crepes at certain restaurants; but it is almost impossible to buy a meal outside of traditional meal hours.


Businesses are Almost Always Closed on Sunday

It is very difficult to find businesses open on Sunday.  Sometimes the local boulangerie and supermarket will be open on Sunday morning; but even they close by 12h00.  One should not expect to shop for non-food items on Sunday.


And Many are Also Closed on Mondays

The Webmaster found that many mom & pop stores close on Monday too.  Thus, a shopping trip to Verdun on Monday can be almost as useless as a shopping trip on Sunday.


Bathrooms (WCs) are Hard to Find in Rural France

Legally, the only businesses that have to offer restrooms to customers are those that serve food.  As a result, there are significantly fewer restroom alternatives available; and this can make life a bit difficult for female clients.  The Webmaster talked about this is “La Vie en France #10.”


Gone are the Days When One Could Convert Currency at Banks

In the old days one could easily convert dollars at local banks.  No longer.  Banks have gotten out of the FX business after the introduction of the Euro, i.e. fewer currencies, and ATM machines.  The only place the Webmaster could find to exchange dollars was the Post Office in Verdun; and even they would not exchange $100 bills for fear of counterfeits.


Gas Prices are Very High

Depending on FX rates, gas prices, etc. a gallon of gas costs more than $5.50 – $6.00.  Please see “La Vie en France #9” for more on this topic.


The French Love Tourists, not Immigrants

Having obtained a “Card of Competence and Talents” visa from the Consulate in NYC, the Webmaster found French bureaucracy at the local level the most challenging thing to deal with during his stay.  This included the process to obtain the carte de sejour from the local (i.e. Department of the Meuse) Prefecture in Bar-le-Duc.  (More in a future article.)  It also included the reluctance of the local Credit Agricole branch to open a bank account for the Webmaster.

To be fair, immigrants to the U.S. likely face an equal amount of bureaucracy; but American citizens rarely have to deal with this bureaucracy.


Even Those French who can Speak English Almost Never do

The French expect foreigners to make an effort to speak French.  If visitors make the effort, the French are amazingly patient with terrible accents and grammar.  That is a positive trait.

However, many French who speak English well continue to speak only French even when their speaking partner is struggling with French.  Such was the case when the Webmaster toured a historic house in the region.  He probably understood about 30% of what was said in the tour.  Finally, in the last few minutes, the owner of the house broke into English and mentioned that he had a relative who lived in Minnesota.  Frustration!!!

The Webmaster believes this hesitancy to speak English stems from the fact that the speakers do not believe they speak English well.


The Webmaster welcomes comments from readers regarding what they found frustrating during their visits to France.  (“La Vie en France #28” already dealt with what works in France.)