Beaches, Alps, wine, cheese and the city of love – where else but France? France is home to a huge variety of landscapes: from the lush agricultural countryside of Normandy and Brittany in the north-west, or the rolling prairies of Champagne in the north, to Alpine peaks and northern spruce forests of Provence in the south-east or the steppe-like plateaux of the Les Causses in the center of France and not to mention a varied coastline. France has sandy beaches and sand dunes by the North Sea with a few areas of chalk cliffs and a very rocky cost around Brittany. There are mostly sandy beaches and the highest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat, along the Atlantic coastline and also the Mediterranean coast. It is divided into two very different parts- west of the Rhone delta (Languedoc) is very sandy with warm water and many tourists though still spacious, whereas east of the Rhone, the French Riviera, has beaches made of fine pebbles; but is the region with the most famous of French seaside resorts – Saint Tropez, Juan les Pins, Saint Raphael, Cannes, Nice and others.

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French history is rich and fascinating. The first people migrated to France between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago and left evidence of their presence in cave art. In the 8th century many territories were consolidated under the Frankish King Charlemagne and after his death were divided by his three grandsons into territories corresponding roughly to France, Germany, and Italy. By 1328 and the accession of Philip VI, France boasted the highest achievements of medieval European culture and was the most powerful nation in Europe, with a population of 15 million. When Louis XIV (1643–1715), the Sun King, was in reign, many ambitious projects and military campaigns led to chronic financial problems and thus the famous French Revolution (1789–94) took place. In the 20th century France moved away from the authoritarian, elitist French system of governance. Nowadays France is approximately 544 thousand square kilometers of size and has borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain in Europe and some other borders from their colonies. France’s 22 administrative regions each have a directly elected regional council, primarily responsible for stimulating economic and social activity.

The population of the country is over 65 million as of 2015. Besides celebrating well-known holidays like Easter and Christmas, French people have an array of other celebrations. Since 1947, the Fête du Travail, on 1st May, has been a paid public holiday in France which remains an international day of workers demands, resulting in protests. Then on the 8th of May French people have a public holiday in memory of the end of Second World War. 14th July commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and is accompanied by fireworks and publics dances in towns throughout the whole of France. One more important cultural event is the Festival of Music taking place on the 21st June; it’s a popular and free event for one night open to both amateurs and professionals.

There are plenty of places worth a visit and many things to do while in France. The roof of Western Europe, rising to 4,810m, Mont Blanc is the world’s third most-visited natural sight. There is a huge choice of outdoor activities offered at Mont Blacn and four panoramic terraces accessible to visitors. Tourists can also take a boat trip on Canal du Midi, which is a connection between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and offers many picturesque sceneries. Le Mont-Saint-Michel is an island that attracts many with its’ monastery and rich history. As tides go down, it is possible to go on a tour on the bay and admire the scenery but an experienced guide is a must as tides come back ‘at the pace of a galloping horse’. Lyon’s futuristic Musée des Confluences is an important attraction which inherited over two million pieces that relate to paleontology, mineralogy, zoology, entomology, and ethnography. There are exhibitions on origins of universe, biodiversity, social structures and perceptions of death in different cultures. Keep an eye out for the Tour De France during the summer months, the most world famous cycle race. France has also many other hidden and exciting places with varying landscapes and impressive histories on offer, take your time to explore the wonders and cuisine of France; you won’t be disappointed! [/wptab]

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Sex Tourism

Prostitution is legal in France and taxes must be paid for it, but there are laws against soliciting in public places. The country’s estimated 18,000 prostitutes can only be fined if their activities disturb the peace. Brothels and pimping are illegal but “sex tourism” is booming and the police commonly find illegal groups that use trafficked women, men and children to profit in various ways. Organized “sex tours” are seen as a relatively new form of prostitution. These are called as such because women are constantly moved around French cities for a short period of time while serving numerous clients, before going back to their native country. Police found one such group from Romania but this kind of tactic of changing cities makes it harder for police to investigate and catch the illegal activity.

Foreign victims from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, as well as North Africa and South America, are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Sex trafficking networks controlled by Bulgarians, Nigerians, Romanians, Chinese, and French citizens force women into prostitution through debt bondage, physical force, and psychological coercion, including the invocation of voodoo. The Government of France estimates the majority of the 20,000 people in France’s commercial sex trade, about 90 percent of whom are foreigners, are likely trafficking victims.

Many wealthy tourists continue to come to France and support the sex tourism trade. Visitors create the demand for prostitution which is also supporting human trafficking and organized “sex tours”. Children are particularly vulnerable and the international organization ECPAT campaigns to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation. HIV infection rates are also sometimes attributed to tourism. Tourists bring infection to remote places; infection rates flourishes alongside sex tourism. 

Paris & Stereotypical Rudeness:

Tourism accounts for more than 7 per cent of France’s gross domestic product (GDP), however statistics show that visitors spent more than double on a trip to the USA than they did in France in 2012, despite the fact that France welcomed 20 per cent more tourists. One problem is that regional councils don’t work in partnership to promote tourism in alternative areas of the country’ many travellers simply visit Paris and the regional economy does not profit as much as it could.

Furthermore, having millions of tourists come to one city creates problems; swarms of pickpockets operate in places like Louvre. Parisians get tired of crowds and tourist behavior and thus are ruder which makes the tourists not want to spend money. Also the country has long prided itself on not doing anything as gauche as catering to visitors. “The problem is that in France we don’t value jobs in tourism,” says Didier Arino, a director of the consultancy Protourisme. Some signs that visitors’ comfort is ignored are a lack of rubbish bins in popular places; most shops close on Sundays; lunch is 12-2pm while dinner is served 8-10pm, which makes it difficult to find food at any hour and restaurants also hide in unlikely places. Rudeness to customers exists for a number of other reasons too. Shopkeepers expect visitors to say Bonjour when entering the shop and at least try speaking French, or it is held rude and as if the visitor holds himself superior to the shopkeeper. Also it is believed that the “customer is always right” had gone too far.

Richard Dupupet, director of French restaurant Le Bistro Beaumartin, believes that special deals made travelling to France more affordable and thus for some reason more people come and think it is OK to treat service staff, such as waiters, like servants and think that being rude and demanding things is the right way to be. All these reasons and more make French people be known world-wide for their rudeness. So in desperation to change this, the Paris Tourist Board issued service industry workers a “politeness manual” and even employed “smile ambassadors” to be friendly to tourists at the city’s big attractions. A guide called Do You Speak Touriste? was also created and the advice was simple- most tourists are looking for a good service.

As a visitor to France, ensure you visit Paris along with exploring the stunning rural regions of the country. If you make an effort to speak a few French words, the locals will appreciate your effort and will be more likely to accommodate you!

gail (1)Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of the friendly people of France is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities. 

Bullfighting

Bullfighting is still practiced in 10% of the French national territory. It is mostly in the south near the Spanish border and exists in the 21st century because it is held as a part of local tradition. Some believe that these events and the bulls themselves attract tourists to the regions and cities like Arles. The Camargue cattle breed is native to the Camargue marshlands of the delta of the River Rhone in southern France. The cattle are black in color with upward sweeping horns. They are hardy animals thriving on the marshes where they live semi-wild, tended by the mounted herders called gardians who ride the famous Camargue horses which live in the same area. This breed is regarded as a tourist attraction.

Others believe that events, including bullfighting, around the time of Easter in cities like Arles bring the most tourists and thus revenue to the region. But a lifelong advocate for basic animal welfare, Carole Raphaelle Davis says that if American tourists were told that bullfighting still exists, they would be appalled. So Friends of Animals launched a boycott to hit the pro-bullfighting towns where it hurts the most: tourism dollars. They hope that if tourists are educated about what’s happening, they will avoid going to the cities and events that include bullfighting. But for such boycott to work, loss of tourism dollars would have to outweigh the revenue generated from fights themselves. So tourism has a very important role to play in the future of bullfighting. 

Tourist Litter Trail:

Many tourists to Paris notice the amount of litter lying on the streets. In a 2012 Tripadvisor survey travellers gave Paris poor marks for its cleanliness. The problem of littering is nowhere more acute than in the trendy Canal St Martin district, where residents have grown exasperated by revellers who leave the contents of their picnics along the picturesque canal. Also each year 4,900 City of Paris employees collect 350 tonnes of cigarette butts on the city’s 2,900km of sidewalks and 1,600km of roads, the City of Paris said in a statement. So in order to make the city more appealing to tourists and Parisians themselves, new fines started on the 1st October, 2015. 68 euro fine goes to anyone caught littering or urinating in public and also for not picking up their pets’ poo. 30,000 new litter bins equipped with cigarette extinguishers were put in place and some 15,000 pocket ashtrays, which can carry up to five stubs, were handed out in Paris by a hotel and restaurant union. 

Useful Information

France has four broad climatic zones. The Atlantic ocean influences the west coast and thus the climate is mild with temperatures averaging 11°C in winter and up to 27°C in summer. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year. Here with the days fresh and possibly damp in the spring and often sunny in the autumn, the climate is one of the most important factors behind Bordeaux’s high quality wine it produces. A different climatic zone is near the Mediterranean coast where summers are quite hot and dry while winters are mild. No noticeable rain in spring and autumn, plenty of sunshine in summer months and refreshing sea breezes attract tourists all year round.

The there is a semi-continental zone with cold winters and hot summers in Alsace-Lorraine, along the rhodanian corridor and in the mountainous massifs (Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central). The northern Alps are subject to oceanic influences resulting in abundant precipitation year round with low temperatures, and cold winters with sometimes heavy snowfall. And then there is and intermediate zone with cold winters and hot summers in the North, the Paris region and the central region. 

The northern part of the country are lowlands covered by glacial remains, while the center, the Massif Central, is mainly of volcanic origin. There are numerous volcanoes that are more or less inactive. France has 10 national parks and 50 regional parks, covering altogether 15% of the country, quite a sizeable proportion; but hunting is a big issue. The number of hunters is close to 2 million and they are very attached to the right to hunt. Ecologists support restrictions to hunt migrating birds or endangered animals as there are very few left of these. The remaining endangered animals are a handful of big bears in the Pyrenees mountains, a few bobcats in the Vosges mountains and wolves that are recolonizing the whole country after having been protected in the Alps.

France derives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, due to a long-standing policy based on energy security. This share is to be reduced to 50% by 2025. The country is the largest electricity exporter, gaining over €3 billion per year and also discharges 3 times less CO2 per inhabitant than the USA due to: nuclear power plants; low gas consumption by cars; less waste of energy in housing; better public transport and energy efficient urban development. France is ranked high for environmental policy. It taxes potentially polluting products like cars, packaging, electronic devices and even paper plates and plastic glasses. In December 2015 the country housed the COP21, a meeting where countries tried to agree on decisions to slow the climate change. 

French people greet one another with a Bonjour while shaking hands, but if they bump into friends, they greet with 2 kisses on the cheeks in Paris or 3 pecks if in other parts of France. A woman is addressed as Madame, unless she attends school which is Mademoiselle, while men are Monsieur. Until instructed otherwise, first names are not used for greeting and the tu form of verbs is not used either. It is different with students as they can greet other students by first name and kiss cheeks 4 times. But French people don’t hug and are uncomfortable with hugs. There isn’t even a French word for hug! They also don’t make eye contact with people on the street that they don’t know and rarely smile at strangers. French people maintain their personal space. They rarely talk to strangers in cafes unless introduced to them by the barman. It is a good idea to keep your voice down as no French person wants to listen to other’s conversation. Also a tourist should never snap his finger at anyone as it is considered rude. It is a sure recipe for being ignored by taxi drivers and to be the last served in a restaurant.

When invited into a French house for dinner, it is important to arrive just on time or phone if going to be late. It is also important to dress well and send flowers in the morning of the occasion if the dinner party is large. Flowers should be given in odd numbers but not 13 and some flowers are prohibited by old traditions. White lilies or chrysanthemums are not to be given as are used at funerals, red carnations symbolize bad will and any white flowers are not given as are used at weddings. If you decide you want to give wine, make sure it is of highest quality you can afford. When going to a restaurant it is important to understand that French people go there to socialize and it is not allowed to take one dish thus lunch or dinner takes a couple of hours. It is rude to bring loud children to a restaurant as the French want to enjoy good food in good company and not to be disturbed. Milk, soft drinks and coffee are not to be taken with good food and it is rude to leave food on plate or ask for a doggy bag home. Lastly, it is not classy to share the bill and count “who had what” as it is accepted to split the bill by how many people were eating. 

Meals are an integral part of family life in France and the dining table might be the most important piece of furniture in the French home. Typically 3 meals are eaten a day. Breakfast often consist of a fresh baguette and buttery croissants, sometimes filled with chocolate or almond paste. Fresh fruit and yogurt are also common at breakfast. Lunch- le déjeuner, is the main meal of the day and thus most businesses are closed between 12 noon and 2 pm. Many places open for lunch as from 11.30 a.m., and continue serving new customers until about 1 p.m. Typical lunch consists of: a starter, such as a mixed salad, soup, some terrine or paté; a main course, typically a choice of meat or fish, with potatoes, rice, pasta and/or vegetables; a cheese course and/or a dessert. Tea time takes place at around 4 pm. Dinner is eaten between 7.30 pm and 8.45 pm and most restaurants don’t serve it till 8 pm. It is similar dishes to lunch.

With every meal, bread and water are served and everyone is expected to eat a piece of baguette. Restaurants are more formal than in other countries. Waiters are rarely tipped as a fee for service is added to the bill. Several fast food restaurants are offered such as Quick and Pizza Hut, but finding an Indian or Mexican restaurant might be a long journey.

The regions of France have varying cuisine. In the North-West, crepes (thin pancakes), apple cider and Camembert cheese are most popular. The Alsace region in the East is influenced by German food and pickled cabbage and pork related products are most popular here. In the North-East France champagne is produced and vegetables with cold meats are popular. Burgundy region is well-known for the quality of beef and wines. Dijon mustard hails from the region as thus Boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin recipes. South-West France emphasizes rich foods such as duck, foie gras, prunes, oysters, mushroom and truffles. And of course a nice rich red Bordeaux wine to go with it. Lastly the South of France is influenced by Spanish foods and thus there is a wide range of delicious sausages and a lot of peppers, tomatoes and onions consumed. 

French is ranked the sixth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese (over a billion speakers), English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic. It is a main or official language in parts of Belgium and Switzerland, in Monaco, in parts of Canada – notably but not only in Quebec – as well as being widely spoken in north and west Africa, Lebanon, and parts of south-east Asia, particularly in former French colonies. In France 88% of the population have French as their first language. Minority languages are not given legal recognition. 3% of the population speak German dialects; 0.2% Flemish; 1.7% Italian; 0.1% Basque; 0.4% Catalan; 1.2% Breton; 12% Occitan; 0.3% Corsu and 1.7% Arabic.

Tourists are encouraged to try a couple of French phrases when they visit:

  •  “please” – “S’il vous plait” (see-voo-play)
  • “I am” – “Je suis” (zheu swee)
  • “I want”- “Je veux” (zheu veu)
  • “to buy”- “Acheter” (ash-tay)
  • “to eat” – “Manger” (mon-zhay)
  • “toilet” – “La toilette” (lar twa-lette)
  • “a tea (with milk)”- “Un thé (au lait)” (ern tay olay)
  • “a supermarket”- “Un supermarché “ (ern supair-mar-shay).

Estimates are that between 45-64% of French people are Christian, most of them Catholic. While 35% claimed to have no religion, only 3% proclaimed themselves as Muslims. There are between 2-10 million practicing Catholics, while some ~2 million practicing Muslims. A growing culture of consumerism and a Catholic hierarchy that has been too rigid may have been the reasons for the fail to draw young people into church.

Many French people think you can’t be a citizen and believe in God. In France it’s better if you act civilly with no religious affiliation. It is banned for students to wear headscarves, large crosses or any other religious symbols, while the niqab is banned in public spaces. Still nearly 150 new mosques are currently under construction in France. By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church has built only 20 new churches in France during the past decade, and has formally closed more than 60 churches, many of which are destined to become mosques. Thus a poll was published in center-right Le Figaro newspaper showing that 60% of French people believe that Islam has become “too visible and influential” in France, while 43% consider the presence of Muslim immigrants to be a threat to French national identity. Tension surrounding religion has become increasingly tight after 2015 attacks in Paris. 

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