Studying abroad in France is the opportunity of a lifetime! You get to travel, experience a new culture and meet new people…But there are a few things that people always seem to avoid talking about. Here are the 10 things I wish I had known before studying in France.
1. Paris is the gateway for all travel in France.
If you live in a small town and would like to make a trip to another city or country, you can pretty much count on the fact that you will have to go to Paris first. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, and it’s nice to have a reason to visit the city, until you realize that you spent 50 extra Euros in one weekend just getting to and from Paris.
2. Get a money belt.
I had heard the stories of people getting their bags stolen on the metro or near the Eiffel Tower, but I honestly always assumed that they were being careless. I had gone into a Café to have a quick lunch and in the time it took me to take my backpack off and sit down, someone had picked it up and ran out the door. I lost my credit card, driver’s license and 50 Euros. Money belts seem like a nuisance, but it’s better to deal with it than to have to get a new passport.
3. Don’t smile at people.
I never realized how much Americans smile until I lived in France where it scares people. If you smile at a lady in the street with a cute dog she will think it’s weird. If you smile at a man he will think you want to have sex.
4. It’s hard to make friends.
We’ve all heard the cliché that French people are rude…and they are. Of course there are some that will be interested in you because they want to practice their English, or learn about your culture, maybe even one or two who want to be your friend. For the most part though, French students already have friends, and are not interested in making more.
5. Phone service is cheap!
For a plan with unlimited texting, calling and internet it’s only 20 Euros a month with no contract. Instead of buying a pay as you go phone when you get to France, take an old phone and buy a SIM card when you get there for 10 Euros. It’s super handy to be able to use the internet when you are traveling and you won’t regret it.
6. Host families have turned into landlords.
Hosting students has turned into a business. Most of the families in my program did nothing with their students other than eat breakfast and dinner together. My family actually put a lock on my heater because they did not want to pay a higher electric bill.
7. Train travel is not the best mode of transportation.
Everyone sings praises of the European rail ways, but tickets are insanely expensive. Busses take longer but are usually about half the price of a train ticket, and are usually equipped with wifi and places to charge your phone. Sometimes planes are cheaper as well, not to mention faster. Blabla car is great for shorter trips. It is a service a little like Uber where you can hitch a ride with someone going to the same destination as you.
8. French food… kinda sucks.
I’ve seen ratatouille, so I was expecting some amazing meals with five courses and wine. It was all a lie. While there are some amazing French delicacies, most of your meals will consist of deli sandwiches on baguettes, carrot soup and pasta with no sauce. French dinners are very simple and typically don’t contain much or any meat. Breakfast will probably be a piece of baguette with some jam. Say goodbye to brunch.
9. Plan ahead for shopping and eating out.
You can’t decide that you really want a hamburger at 11 on a Friday night because nothing is open. Most dinner service stops at 9 or 10. Stores close around 6 or 7 and are typically not open at all on Sundays.
10. Open a French bank account.
It’s free to open an account and get a debit card. The one time wire transfer is way cheaper than using your American card to withdraw cash once a week or to use for lunch everyday. Usually your bank at home will charge you a fee, as well as the business in France. Make sure you understand your banks policy on international transactions before you leave.