American Express -- The Paris office is at 11 rue Scribe (tel. 01-47-77-79-28). It operates as a travel agency, a tour operator, and a mail pickup service every Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 6:30pm, Saturday 9am to 5:30pm. Its banking section, for issues involving American Express credit cards, transfers of funds, and credit-related issues, is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6:30pm. In Marseille there's an office at 39 bd. de la Canebiére (tel. 04-91-13-71-26); it's open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to noon and 2 to 5:30pm.
Area Code -- All French telephone numbers consist of 10 digits, the first two of which are like an area code. If you're calling anywhere in France from within France, just dial all 10 digits -- no additional codes are needed. If you're calling from the United States, drop the initial 0 (zero).
Business Hours -- Business hours in France can be erratic. Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Many, particularly in small towns, take a long lunch break. Hours are usually posted on the door. Most museums close 1 day a week (often Tues), and they’re generally closed on national holidays. Usual hours are from 9:30am to 5pm. In Paris or other big French cities, stores are open from around 10am to 6 or 7pm, with or without a lunch break (up to 2 hr.). Some shops, delis, cafes, and newsstands open at 8am and close at 8 or 9pm; restaurants often have two seatings, one for lunch and a second for dinner, and close in between. Beware seasonal closings for many businesses in regions dependent on seasonal tourism, such as the coastal resorts and Alpine ski areas.
Customs & Etiquette -- French value pleasantries and take manners seriously: Say “Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur” when entering an establishment and “Au revoir” when you depart. Always say “Pardon” when you accidentally bump into someone. With strangers, people who are older than you and professional contacts use vous rather than tu (vous is the polite form of the pronoun you).
Doctors -- Doctors are listed in Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages; www.pagesjaunes.fr) under “Médecins: Médecins généralistes.” The minimum fee for a consultation is about 23€—for this rate, look for a doctor who is described as “secteur 1.” The higher the “secteur,” the higher the fee. SOS Médecins (www.sosmedecins.fr; tel. 36-24) can make house calls.
Drinking Laws -- As well as bars and restaurants, supermarkets and cafes sell alcoholic beverages. The legal drinking age is 18, but persons under that age can be served alcohol if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Drinking and driving is illegal, and incurs a heavy fine. You can drink in public, but you cannot be drunk in public. Local laws may prohibit drinking at certain times or in certain places.
Drugstores/Pharmacies -- Spot French pharmacies by the green neon cross above the door. If your local pharmacy is closed, there should be a sign on the door indicating the nearest one open. Alternatively, Pharmacies de Garde (www.pharmaciesdegarde.com or www.3237.fr; tel. 32-37) can direct you to the nearest open pharmacy.
Electricity -- Electricity in France runs on 220 volts AC (60 cycles). Adapters or transformers are needed to fit sockets, which you can buy in branches of Darty or FNAC.
Embassies & Consulates -- If you have a passport, immigration, legal, or other problem, contact your consulate. Many are open Monday to Friday, approximately 10am to 5pm. However, call or check online before you visit to confirm. The following offices are all in Paris.
Australian Embassy: 4 rue Jean-Rey, 15e (www.france.embassy.gov.au; tel. 01-40-59-33-00; Métro: Bir Hakeim).
Canadian Embassy: 35 av. Montaigne, 8e (www.amb-canada.fr; tel. 01-44-43-29-00; Métro: Franklin-D-Roosevelt or Alma-Marceau).
Irish Embassy: 4 rue Rude, 16e (www.embassyofireland.fr; tel. 01-44-17-67-00; Métro: Argentine).
New Zealand Embassy: 7ter rue Léonard de Vinci, 16e (www.nzembassy.com/france; tel. 01-45-01-43-43; Métro: Victor Hugo).
UK/British Embassy: 35 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e (http://ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk; tel. 01-44-51-34-00; Métro: Concorde or Madeleine).
United States Embassy: 2 av. Gabriel, 8e (http://france.usembassy.gov; tel. 01-43-12-22-22; Métro: Concorde).
Emergencies -- In an emergency while at a hotel, contact the front desk. If the emergency involves theft, go to the police station in person. Otherwise, call [tel] 112 from a cellphone. The fire brigade can be reached at tel. 18. For an ambulance, call tel. 15. For the police, call tel. 17. SOS Help is a hotline for English-speaking callers in crisis tel. 01-46-21-46-46 (www.soshelpline.org). Open 3 to 11pm daily.
Holidays -- Major holidays are New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Easter Sunday and Monday (late Mar/Apr), Labor Day (May 1), VE Day (May 8), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), Pentecost/Whit Sunday and Whit Monday (seventh Sun/Mon after Easter), Bastille Day (July 14), Assumption Day (Aug 15), All Saints’ Day (Nov 1), Armistice Day (Nov 11), and Christmas Day (Dec 25).
Hospitals -- Dial tel. 15 for medical emergencies. In Paris, the American Hospital, 63 bd. Victor-Hugo, in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine (www.american-hospital.org; [tel] 01-46-41-25-25; Métro: Pont-de-Levallois), operates a 24-hour, bilingual emergency service. For hospitals in other major French cities, see individual chapters.
Hotlines -- SOS Help is a hotline for English-speaking callers in crisis tel. 01-46-21-46-46 (www.soshelpline.org). Open 3 to 11pm daily.
Legal Aid -- If you get into any legal troubles, contact your consulate.
Lost & Found -- To speed the process of replacing your personal documents if they're lost or stolen, make a photocopy of the first few pages of your passport and write down your credit card numbers (and the serial numbers of your traveler's checks, if you're using them). Leave this information with someone at home -- to be faxed to you in an emergency -- and swap it with your traveling companion. Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss.
Use the following numbers in France to report your lost or stolen credit card: American Express (call collect U.S. tel. 336/393-1111); MasterCard (tel. 08-00-90-13-87; www.mastercard.com); Visa tel. 08-00-90-11-79; www.visaeurope.com). Your credit card company may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency card in a day or two.
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com). Travelers Express/MoneyGram is the largest company in the U.S. for money orders. You can transfer funds either online or by phone in about 10 minutes (tel. 800/MONEYGRAM [666-3947]; www.moneygram.com).
Identity theft and fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you lose your driver's license with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (www.equifax.com), Experian (tel. 888/397-3742; www.experian.com), and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289; www.transunion.com).
If you've lost all forms of photo ID, call your airline and explain the situation; your carrier may let you board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you've filed.
Mail -- Most post offices in France are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm and every Saturday from 8am to noon. A 24-hour post office is located in Paris at 52 rue du Louvre 1e (tel. 36-31). Allow 5 to 8 days to send or receive mail from home. Stamps are also sold in tabacs (tobacconists). For more information, see www.laposte.fr.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The most popular French newspapers are “Le Monde” (www.lemonde.fr), “Le Figaro” (www.lefigaro.fr), and left-leaning “Libération” (www.liberation.fr). The “International New York Times” (www.nytimes.com) has a key office in Paris. Published from Monday to Saturday, it is distributed all over France.
Police -- In an emergency, call tel. 17 or 112 from a land-line or mobile phone anywhere in France.
Smoking -- Smoking is banned in all public places in France, including cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs. It’s permitted on outdoor and semi-enclosed terraces.
Student Travel -- Student discounts are less common in France than in other countries, simply because young people under 26 are usually offered reduced rates. Be on the lookout for the Ticket Jeunes Week-end when using the Métro in Paris. It can be used on a Saturday, Sunday, or bank holiday, and provides unlimited travel in zones 1 to 3 for 4.10€. SNCF also offer discounts for under-26-year-olds traveling on national trains (www.oui.sncf).
Taxes -- As a member of the European Union, France routinely imposes a value-added tax (VAT in English; TVA in French) on most goods. The standard VAT is 20%, and prices that include it are often marked TTC (toutes taxes comprises, “all taxes included”). If you’re not an E.U. resident, you can get a VAT refund if you’re spending less than 6 months in France, you purchase goods worth at least 175€ at a single shop on the same day, the goods fit into your luggage, and the shop offers vente en détaxe (duty-free sales or tax-free shopping). Give them your passport and ask for a bordereau de détaxe (export sales invoice). When you leave the country, you need to get all three pages of this invoice validated by France’s Customs officials. They’ll keep one sheet, and you must post the pink one back to the shop. Once the shop receives its stamped copy, it will send you a virement (fund transfer) using the payment method you requested. It may take several months. You can also opt to receive your VAT refund in cash at some airports for an additional fee.
Telephones -- Public phones can still be found in France. All require a phone card (known as a télécarte), which can be purchased at post offices or tabacs.
The country code for France is 33. To make a local or long-distance call within France, dial the person or place’s 10-digit number. If you’re calling from outside of France, drop the initial 0 (zero).
Mobile numbers begin with 06 or 07. Numbers beginning with 0-800, 0-804, 0-805, and 0-809 are free in France; other numbers beginning with 8 are not. Most four-digit numbers starting with 10, 30, and 31 are free of charge.The French use a télécarte, or phone debit card, which you can purchase at rail stations, post offices, and other places. Sold in two versions, it allows you to use either 50 or 120 charge units (depending on the card) by inserting the card into the slot of most public phones. Depending on the type of card you buy, the cost starts at 10€ and goes up from there. You must use this card when making calls within France; coins are no longer accepted. You can use a major credit card in much the same way as a télécarte, but there's a catch: To do so involves a minimum charge of 20€. The phone system gives you 30 days to use up this 20€ credit. If possible, avoid making calls from your hotel; some establishments will double or triple the charges.
Time -- France is on Central European Time, which is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. French daylight saving time lasts from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, when clocks are set 1 hour ahead of the standard time. France uses the 24-hour clock (so 13h is 1pm, 14h15 is 2:15pm, and so on).
Tipping -- By law, all bills in cafes, bars, and restaurants say service compris, which means the service charge is included. However, it is customary to leave 1€ or 2€, depending on the quality of the service; in more upscale restaurants leave 5€ to 10€. Taxi drivers usually expect a 5 percent to 10 percent tip, or for the fare to be rounded up to the next euro. The French tip hairdressers around 15 percent, and if you go to the theater, you’re expected to tip the usher about 2€.
Toilets -- If you’re in dire need, duck into a cafe or brasserie to use the lavatory. It’s customary to make a small purchase if you do so. Paris is full of gray-colored automatic street toilets, some of which are free to use, and are washed and disinfected after each use. France still has some hole-in-the-ground squat toilets. Try not to lose your change down the pan!
Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory (tel. 202/647-5225, staffed 24 hr.); U.S. Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518); U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline (tel. 404/332-4559; www.cdc.gov).
Visas -- E.U. nationals don’t need a visa to enter France. Nor do U.S., Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, or South African citizens for trips of up to 3 months. Nationals of other countries should make inquiries or look online at the nearest French embassy or consulate.
Visitor Information -- Before you go, your best source of information is the French Government Tourist Office (www.francetourism.com).
Water -- Drinking water is generally safe. If you ask for water in a restaurant, it’ll be served bottled (for which you’ll pay), unless you specifically request une carafe d’eau or l’eau du robinet (tap water). Your waiter may ask if you’d like your water avec gas (carbonated) or sans gas (without bubbles).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.