One of my favourite things about travel is being able to immerse yourself in another country’s customs and culture. As much as I love seeing the popular sights (along with every other tourist), I find I enjoy my travels far more if I venture beyond the main attractions and experience life like a local. I don’t know about you, but if I spend the entire holiday in a resort and only see the highlights of a city, I feel like I haven’t really had an authentic cultural experience. I want to shop like the locals, eat like the locals, converse with the locals. I want to experience life like the locals (which is just one of the reasons I love the concept of holiday rentals instead of hotels).
Here is everything you need to know to navigate France like a local.
Talk with the locals
The first step in immersing yourself in the French lifestyle is to talk with the locals. Most French people are happy to share where the best places are to shop, what the best restaurants are, where the good markets are, and what attractions not to miss. The French locals are far more knowledgeable than any travel guide you’ll read. Not only will you get some good advice, but you’ll often make friends along the way.
I know the French often seem a bit prickly when speaking to English tourists, but I’ve found even making the smallest effort to converse in French goes a long way. If you learn the basics like bonjour (hello), s‘il vous plait (please), merci (thank you), parlez-vous anglais? (do you speak English?), and the frequently used (by me, anyway) Je ne comprends pas (I don’t understand), you’ll see a little goes a long way.
Eat like a local
You can’t talk about France without talking about food. From cheese and baguettes to Tarte Tatin, the French are masters at creating and enjoying good food. Every town in France has a market and if you’re staying in a holiday rental you can buy delicious cakes, pastries, and fresh produce from these lively stalls. There are dozens of food markets in Paris, there are wine markets in Bordeaux and fabulous markets for the gastronomes in Perigueux, which have famous French truffles and foie-gras. You can also buy the most delicious freshly made baguettes from pastry shops (just look out for a sign that says boulanger or boulangerie). If you enjoy cooking as I do, once you’ve stocked up on all the essentials you can try your hand at making some French dishes.
I believe one of the best ways to immerse oneself in a culture is to take a cooking class. You get to interact with locals while you learn about the history and traditions of their cuisine…and you get to eat your creations of course. Yum! If you’re in Paris, you can join a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris. There are a great variety of classes held in English and the staff are friendly and helpful. It will be the highlight of your trip to Paris. They also offer food tours of Paris and Versailles.
If you’re prefer to enjoy the cuisine without making it yourself you can always settle on restaurants. While you’re in Paris have a hearty authentic bistro lunch at Bistrotters, or have delicious and romantic dinner at Epicure or Terroir Parisien. If you’re in Lyon don’t miss the opportunity to dine at Le Poivron Bleu Restaurant, and in Marseilles, enjoy the atmosphere and great food at Le Nautica Les Goudes Restaurant.
Shop like a local
The markets in France are not just for food. You’ll also find the most wonderful antiques and collectables, from paintings and ceramics to books and vintage clothing. These markets are such an integral part of French life that you’ll find them in almost every town. Wherever you’re shopping remember that in French culture, politeness reigns supreme and it’s good etiquette to greet the shop keeper with a polite “Bonjour” when you walk in, and “Au Revoir” when you leave. I usually do my grocery shopping once a week, but to truly live like a local in France you’ll need to go to the shops each day and get what you need for the next meal, so that you use only the freshest ingredients.
Venture off the beaten track
While I do believe that every visitor to France should visit iconic attractions like the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre, if you want to really live like a local you should ditch the crowds and venture off the beaten track. Hire a car and head out of the big cities and towns along the great network of minor roads so that you can explore quiet French villages and rural life in France. When you’re in a big city like Paris visit the lesser-known attractions like Musée Albert Kahn, La Pagode historic movie theatre or Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in Paris; or you can walk the historic streets of Le Panier district in Marseilles, where you’ll find quirky galleries like Le Galhia Noir, and charming boutiques like Birdsong. Put on comfy shoes and take a leisurely stroll through the quiet alleys. You’ll be surprised at what treasures you find.
So there are just a few of my tips on how to flaunt like a local French-style.
Do you have any tips on how to live like a local ‘en France’?