Travel Tips: Seeking Permission to Enter Property When You Speak no French

Griffin Group Photo AM173-29, Molleville Ferme



In a Garden / On a Farm

As a non-French speaker visiting the battlefields, just getting breakfast at the hotel in the morning can be a daunting task.  Asking a land-owner for permission to walk their property is out of the question!  Before taking French lessons, the Webmaster fell into that category of traveler.  One strategy he used was to have a French co-worker (today Google Translate) write a short introduction letter in French, that can be modified to meet one’s specific needs.  It could read something like this:

“I am an American studying the First World War.  Unfortunately, I speak almost no French, but I am asking permission to walk / drive your property to retrace the fighting that took place here in late 1918…  If this is not your property, can you write down the name and address of the owner…”

The Webmaster always carried it on his person, but he only needed it a few times.  He was never turned down.  In some cases, the individual approached would volunteer information such as:  “There is a bunker over there…”

Of course, the best and most-polite strategy is to ask for permission in advance.  European members of the Facebook Group can potentially assist in that effort.  When that is not possible, presenting the letter to a land owner who shows up should help “diffuse” any situation that arises.  One should also be careful not to damage crops, etc. when on private property.



In the Forest

There are essentially two types of woods in France:  The “Bois Communale,” which supplies the local towns with firewood, and the “Forets Dominale,” which are professionally harvested for lumber and pulp by workers of the ONF (Office National des Forets).  Modern IGN maps generally indicate the category of woods using the terms “Bois” and “Foret,” and the borders are generally marked with a heavy green line.

A knowledgeable friend understands that–in both types of woods–there IS permission to walk the paths; but there is NO permission to go off the path and explore.



A Few Warnings

An upcoming “Travel Tips” blog post will cover exploring in the woods; but enough readers raised concerns to add a few warnings here:

  1. Remember that digging and the use of metal detectors to find things is strictly forbidden.
  2. When in the woods or fields, be VERY AWARE of your surroundings.  Even along the path one still finds:  unexploded ordnance; barbed wire and screw pickets sticking up out of the ground; underground tunnel entrances that could collapse and one could fall into, etc.
  3. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best.
  4. Because of #2 and #3, exploring the woods alone is NOT a wise decision.