On 1st January 2002, along with 11 other Member States of the European Union, France adopted the euro currency. These notes and coins can therefore be used in any country belonging to the euro zone: France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Since 1 January 2007, Slovenia has been the 13th member state to introduce the euro.
Even though you may find some banks who will accept your currency in exchange for euros, you are more likely to come across exchange bureau, which specialize in this type of transaction. Make sure you have some ID with you.
Your credit card will enable you to withdraw cash in euros 24 hours a day at the hundreds of automatic cash points in the city. They often give you the choice of instructions in French, English or other languages. The majority of international cards are accepted by cash dispensers at the principal French and foreign banks. However, not all banks provide a currency exchange service.
Banks and exchange bureau, such as the CCF, fix their rates according to the market which fluctuates from day to day. All rates should be displayed outside the agency. The exchange rate is correct if the difference between buying and selling rates is approximately 5%.
Most post offices are opened from 8am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, and from 8am to midday on Saturday. They are closed on public holidays.
In most of the town, bakeries shop et alimentation shop open early in the morning and close around 19 or 20 pm (later in Paris). Generally they are generally closed on Sunday afternoon, during public holidays afternoon and one day per week.
The majority of shops are open all day from 9am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday. Some smaller shops may close over lunchtime between midday and 2pm, or all day on Monday. Sundays and public holidays are the usual closing days, although there are some exceptions… During the week, the department stores all have one late-night opening day, known as a “nocturne” until 9pm. Supermarkets are open at different times depending on the neighborhood, every day except Sunday, until 8, 9 or 10pm.
During the sales or in December just before the holidays, most stores, both large and small, may also open on Sundays. In Paris, during the remainder of the year, take a stroll through the Marais or along the Champs-Elysées, where shopping is on the menu 365 days a year, sometimes even until midnight. In other districts more and more shops are opening on Sundays and holidays.
It’s worth knowing that a good many smaller shops close for their annual holidays from mid-July to end-August.
National holidays and public holidays
It corresponds to some big national manifestation or to major events of the Christian calendar. We have 10 public holidays in France : January 1st (New Year), May 1st (labor day) and May 8th (2nd world war armistice celebration), Monday Pasques (Jesus Christ’s resurrection celebration), the Thursday Ascension day (celebration of the Christ Ascension to God), July 14th (National holiday), August 15th (assumption), November 1st (Toussaint) and November 11th (armistice) and the December 25th (Christmas). Those days, most of administrations, banks, shops are closed.
New Year: 1 January Spend New Year’s Eve with friends, at home, in the cafés or restaurants that organize special celebrations. Before midnight arrives, everyone gets together on the Champs-Elysées or at the Eiffel Tower with bottles of champagne, to await the twelve strokes of midnight and the inevitable New Year kisses, to exchange wishes for health and happiness.
“Fête des Rois” (Epiphany): 1st Sunday after New Year On this Sunday, bakeries sell tasty “galettes”: round, flat pastries filled with buttery almond paste. A small figurine (“fève”) is baked inside the pastry and if you find it in your portion, you’ll be crowned king or queen.
Valentine’s Day: 14 February The day for lovers. Red hearts and roses fill the shop windows. In Paris, the electronic information boards display the sweetest words of love sent in by net surfers.
Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday): 24 February This is a day for masked balls and fancy dress. It marks the start of Lent (or fasting) in the Christian calendar so it is often the moment to treat yourselves!
Easter: between 22 March and 25 April High point of the Christian calendar. Traditionally at this time, the window displays of cake shops and chocolate makers fill with eggs and other chocolate shapes for children to search for in the garden… or in their homes.
“Fête du Travail” (Labour Day): 1 May Also the day chosen for major union events. On this day too, sprigs of lily of the valley, found on sale in the streets and in florists, are given or received as gifts for good luck
“Fête de la Musique”: 21 June Free concerts throughout the city. Music of all kinds, from classical to techno, rock to world music, can be heard at every street corner. Parisians who sing or play music go down into the streets…
Days of Heritage: 3rd weekend in September A unique opportunity to discover, free of charge, marvels that are inaccessible during the rest of the year, in Paris and throughout France. Major private or official buildings open their doors to the public. An event to be made the most of, because it only takes place 2 days a year, the 3rd weekend in September, to round off the summer beautifully. The Days of Heritage were first created in 1984 by the Ministry for Arts. The huge wealth of French heritage justifies the success of this event which draws each year millions of intrigued visitors and lovers of art and history. Volunteer guides are happy to talk to you about masterpieces of civil or religious architecture, parks and gardens, archaeological sites and even industrial heritage.
Christmas: 25 December celebrating the birth of Christ. This is when you’ll find Christmas markets, ice rinks, decorated windows displays at the department stores, illuminations along the main avenues, such as the Champs-Elysées or the Boulevard Haussmann, nativity scenes and midnight mass. It is above all a family celebration around the tree and over a good meal: here oysters, turkey, foie gras and Christmas log are on the menu… while presents are exchanged.
Security advices To spend a calm and safe stay, don’t tempt fate or pickpockets! Have your wits about you in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises: don’t keep wallets in your back trouser pocket, keep bags safely closed, make sure you don’t leave your mobile phones lying around. Be wary if you are approached by individuals offering their services, choose instead to visit the official sales point. Find here all safety advice, the list of police stations and the “Prefecture de Police”.
For your security, it is highly recommended to only across the street on some and only upon the indication of signalisation fire.
Vigipirate Installed by the Paris city council to increase security against terrorism, the Vigipirate plan requires the participation of all citizens, in particular to report any abandoned luggage or package. Unidentified packages may be destroyed by the police.
When the Vigipirate plan is announced, public litter containers are sealed, left-luggage services in stations and airports are unavailable, checks at the entrance of public buildings and tourist sites are reinforced, and cloakrooms and lockers in museums and monuments may be closed.
In case of emergency, lost, quarrel or assault
Should you be a witness or the victim of an accident, you may require medical treatment that cannot wait until the following day. These are the emergency services to contact:
In case of emergency
SAMU (Medicals Urgencies) : dial 15
Police rescue : dial 17
Fireman: dial 18
Each “commissariat” or police station is responsible for the security of their arrondissement. Victims of a break-in or an attack, police headquarters are at your disposal 24hrs a day, 7 days a week to provide assistance. Local police units open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm are responsible for community policing.
In case of quarrel with a hotel, a restaurant, a seller, we advice you to contact our travel agency at the earliest.
Embassy and consulate of your country
You can contact your country authorities through your consulate or your Embassy in France.
Everywhere in France, you will find “superloos”, and lavatories. These public toilets are free and clean themselves automatically after each visitor.
While cafés do not always welcome us using their toilet facilities without having a drink there, department stores offer free facilities. Shopping centers and arcades also usually have toilets, some free, some not. You have to pay to go to the toilets in railway stations (€1), but they are free at the airports.
You will also find supervised toilets in most of the large parks and gardens in the city.
In France the norm is 220 volts, with a frequency of 50 Hz, while in the United States or Canada, for example, it is 110 volts for 60 Hz. Voltage and sockets vary from country to country and so an adapter and also a transformer will be necessary… Make sure you bring these with you, or else you might risk kissing your favourite electric razor or hairdryer goodbye, not to mention blowing the electricity in the whole hotel! If you’ve forgotten to bring these important accessories, you’ll be able to find them in electrical goods and DIY stores or hypermarkets. Most major hotels can also provide them. For information, French plugs are equipped with two round pins.
Dial the international code 00 followed by 33 for France, then the number without the first 0. Example for a Paris number: 00 33 1 40 00 00 00.
All French numbers have 10 digits and begin with 0. Mobile numbers start with 06. Telephone calls are generally cheaper between 9pm and 9am.
How to call from France to another country: Dial the international code 00, the code of the country, then the number without the first 0.
With the “France Télécom” Direct service, you can obtain an operator in your own country free of charge. If you wish, he can establish reverse-charge calls for you (where the person called pays for the communication). For this service, dial 0 800 99 00 \ country code.
49 for Germany 44 for UK 39 for Italy 34 for Spain 11 (AT&T) or 19 (MCII) for US 16 for Canada (0 800 99 30 16 AT&T Canada)
You will find plenty of telephone booths in the street, in metro stations, railway stations and other public places. To use them, you will need a telephone card, obtainable from “France Télécom” agencies, the Post Office, the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, tobacconists and newspaper kiosks. The price varies from €8 to €15 depending on the number of units.
Public phone booths no longer take coins, but you can also use your credit card to make phone calls. You will be given credit for calls up to €15. You will only be charged for the amount of your call indicated on the screen. When the amount reaches €15, the communication will come to an end.
Two kinds of telephone cards are available: smart cards, which simply need to be inserted, and code cards which do not need to be inserted in the telephone, just follow the instructions on the back of the card.
If you wish to call abroad, international code cards offer competitive prices. These cards can also be used for calls within France.
France is well covered by the 3 mobile phone operators.
Contact your mobile phone operator who will confirm whether or not your mobile is compatible with the French network and also explain how you will be charged for calls received from your own country or that you make while abroad (local and international calls).
Adapter: Don’t forget that you’ll probably need a plug adapter in order to be able to charge up your mobile phone.
Internet Go to a cyber café or a cyber-space to check and send your e-mails. Often open late, they are usually reasonably-priced. Some offer student tariffs.
Post Office You need to send a postcard or a letter? You can post them in one of the yellow letter boxes found on most street corners. Stamps can be bought in post offices or tobacconists. A letter weighing up to 20g costs €0.53 for France and EU countries, €1 for the US, Asia and Australia.
The concierge services of the larger hotels can also post stamped mail for you.
Since January 1st 2008, it is totally forbidden to smoke in restaurants, nightclub, casions and bars.
Where can you buy cigarettes?
In tobacconists (“bureaux de tabac”) which are recognizable by their red diamond-shaped signs. The average price of a packet of cigarettes is €5. In other places (restaurants, bars, clubs), a packet will cost you a bit more.
In Province, many pleasures should offer to you. Flâner le long des ruelles, dream in front of luxury shops, discover local specialities on market, tasting local wines.
Le centre des villes de province est souvent investi par de nombreux magasins de vêtements qui n’ont rien à envier à ceux de Paris. Certaines villes comptent parmi leurs commerces des fripiers très bon marchés ou des magasins très branchés.
Chaque ville ou village de province a également son marché hebdomadaire ; vous y trouverez beaucoup de produits régionaux, tout en profitant d’une ambiance très différente de celle de la capitale.
Tax free shopping
You come from a country outside the European Union, you’re over 15 years of age and you have spent a minimum of €175 in the same store within the last 3 months? Then enjoy duty free!
For a VAT refund, ask for a Tax free Shopping France invoice when you shop in any major store or “Tax free for tourists” boutique. The amount to be refunded is shown under the heading “montant de la détaxe”. You should have your invoices stamped at airport customs on leaving the EU and return the validated pink copies within three months using the stamped addressed envelope given to you at the time you made your purchases.
In order to receive your tax refund, it’s important to know that Paris train stations, unlike airports, do not have a customs office.
Keep the cities clean
Many waste containers are at your disposal, in the streets and in the metro. To ignore them means risking a fine, because it is prohibited to throw rubbish on the public highway. Make sure you don’t throw your chewing gum on the floor either – it holds no appeal for the soles of your shoes and ruins the paving stones. Public waste containers are green. When the Vigipirate security measures are activated, they are sealed and replaced by large translucent bags.
It may be that certain symbolic districts highly-frequented by tourists, such as the Champs-Elysées, don’t have any waste bins in sight for reasons of security and so need constant upkeep. In this case, please hold on to your rubbish until you come across the nearest dustbin. All over the cities, an army of municipal employees with their modern machines are kept busy every day making towns a cleaner, more pleasant place for you to visit. Don’t be surprised if you find all the city waste bins sealed or quite simply removed, it’ll be for security reasons.
Selective sorting of waste is in place in city housing. You’ll come across large green containers for the recycling of glass. Dog-owners are required to clean up after their canines or risk a fine (up to € 450).
Making cities clean … reality or fantasy? It’s up to you. A clean city depends above all on each and every one of us, so let’s do the right thing.