Sidewalks double as parking places.

How to not feel like a complete idiot in France

Let’s face it: traveling can be hard on the ego sometimes. You’re in a new setting, with new norms and rules and etiquettes, and it’s easy to feel like you’re out of place or messing up. As much as I am an advocate for doing your own thing, I noticed I felt really self-conscious when I first arrived in France. Actually, I still do sometimes, but I’m learning to feel more confident. Here are 3 things that I learned that have helped me feel less like an outsider in Marseille:

Eat your heart out.

France is known for its appreciation of fine cuisine, and long restaurant meals. But things that you might take for granted elsewhere just don’t cut it here. Substitutions, doggy bags and free refills are most often “pas possible”. So be sure to clean your plate and sip your drink slowly! I have also noticed a resistance to ordering items that are not on a standard French menu, like plain hot water or drip coffee or extra milk on the side. And forget about ordering coffee before or with your meal – it’s served at the end, no matter what.

Jump around.

Although there are two lanes of traffic in most parts of town, Marseille lacks parking – and order – so the right-hand lane is often used as a permanent parking spot, scooter and motorcycle speedway, drop-off/pick-up area, and emergency lane all at once. Sometimes, the sidewalk is taken up by parked cars, too. And the streets are already narrow. So where’s a girl to stroll? (France is, after all, the country that invented the art of wandering aimlessly, or flâner). Take a cue from the locals, and have confidence in walking anywhere you want. Sidewalk, road, gutter – it’s all up for grabs, and aggressive cars are accustomed to equally aggressive pedestrians. You’ll never be able to cross the road if you wait for the drivers to be polite. Just watch out for the dog poop, and you’re good to go.

Party all the time.

A typical French apéro...and this just starts the night.
A typical French apéro…and this just starts the night.

The epic late-night parties I dreamed of in college turn out to be a weekly occurrence for many Frenchmen. It isn’t unusual to make a dinner reservation for nine at night, to go out around midnight or one, and to come home around three or four. I’ve come to rely on a strong coffee (and, if possible, a nap) before dinner to make it through the night in one piece. The south of France is also incredibly smitten with the apéro, short for apéritif, the classic after-work cocktail that actually takes place anytime between late afternoon and just before dinner. What should you order? In Marseille, you can’t go wrong with a glass of rosé, a pastis or a beer. I’ve also discovered variations on beer, such as bière pêche (peach beer), tango (beer with grenadine), monaco (beer with lemonade and grenadine), panaché (beer with lemonade), which (I think) are usually for children, but I order them anyway because they taste so good.

With these basics under my belt, I am finding my feet in French everyday life. Do you have any tips on everyday life abroad?

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