Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Mom's first trip to Europe ... tips?

So, my mother and father have booked plane tickets to come and see me in France. I'm incredibly excited to show them where I've been living. I also want to make sure they're as well prepared as they can be so that they'll love it here and will want to come back and visit again.

My father has been here a number of times, but my mom, an artist who loves architecture, great (and to me, sometimes bizarre) food, and interesting landscapes, has never flown across the ocean before. So, to make her landing easier, I've decided to try and remember some of the things that either scared me, confused me or were just plain unfamiliar when I first arrived.

This posting is going to be a guide for my mom -- full of must-know European tips. Anyone who wishes to contribute from their experience or knowledge is welcome; I'm sure I've still got quite a lot to learn about living in Europe, too.

When I first made my leap to France, a number of people who had read my column sent me little cheat notes. Sometimes I read these in laughter, sometimes in mid cry. But wow, those tips were appreciated.

So, here it goes...

Mom's amazing must-know list of odd European info:

1) The running man on the green signs is not running toward the bathroom. He is either running to some stairs or to an exit. The sign that says "toilettes" is what you want. Follow the arrow.

2) There is a button that you have to push on the door of a train or bus in order to get out or to open the doors between cars. If you're too slow, grumpy people will think you're an idiot. But ... who cares. You're getting off anyway.

3) Buses will not stop for you unless you wave them down as you would a taxi in North America. If you wave too soon, they might not see you. If you wave too late, they might just shrug their shoulders and keep going. For me, so far, this has been like a show-down. I wave when I see the whites of their eyes.

4) If you can't figure out how to turn on the sink, you probably have to step on a button on the floor. If you can't see a button, step on the round thing that looks like a piece of rubber tire.


  1. I spent longer than I'd like to admit searching for the way to turn on a sink in a bathroom in Monaco. Yes, it was a button on the floor.

  2. Ha! I'm glad I'm not the only one. If you think of any other French oddities that struck you when you first got here... let me know. I'm beginning to forget them (or have at least gotten used to some of them)!

  3. Hope that helps?

    - be prepared to have coins with you when you go hunt for the toilette! Seriously, we have to pay to get to the washroom in Europe?!

    - most French restaurants (as you probably know) are notoriously slow in serving patrons with the bill unless you really have to rush them!

    - the metro – the first time I just let others to open the door because I didn’t know how!

    - even getting on the bus – you pay and then you have to put the billet in the machine?! At first I didn’t know how to operate that machine (in France)!

    I'm sure there are more....


  4. Oh. I forgot about trying to take the buses and trams! Those tickets took me forever to figure out!

  5. On the washroom theme, if on the road, expect the hole-in-the-ground toilets. At least they're free...?

  6. Oh, yes! And some of the washrooms are self-cleaning, which means they just get sprayed down after you exit. (Before the 20-minute time limit is up, I hope!)

    Another one is that the guys in Paris who ask if they've found your ring on the ground aren't really trying to help you out. And, they're not very good at the magic ring-appearing trick anyway.

  7. Oooh, how about the pregnant lady with three kids in Paris asking you if you have change/food/speak English? I've perfected the "eff-off, I'm busy" look.

  8. Those are such odd situations... and can apparently also be all about the pick pockets. Pick pockets are jerks.

    What else...?

    Tips are way smaller than they are back in Canada. Sometimes people just leave a few small coins.

    Ah! And watch out for dog poop on the sidewalks (in Ottawa, they have little machines that comes and wash the streets down).

    And... shoot. I can't think of anymore. I'll have to leave the apartment, interact with someone, and then come back and write down what I did wrong (or what clever French technique saved me).

  9. LOL! Too funny.
    How about flagging down the bus or it won't stop? Is that just a Nice thing?
    Water: with or without gas? Plus the selection in the stores.
    That's all I have for now.
    Loving the blue site by the way!

  10. Thanks, Tanya. That picture was from our wedding day. A beautiful day, wasn't it?

    I took the train yesterday ... what about eye contact? I know that when I moved to Toronto from Ottawa, I had to adapt from my small town attitude, but people seem a little more committed to that here.

    I'm trying to perfect my stone-faced mysterious French woman look (when it comes to being around strangers, they're wonderfully animated around friends), but I think that while I was sitting on the train, staring out the window, I might have just looked like a bitch. Oops!

  11. Okay, I didn't really look like a bitch. I just looked as though I was WAY too interested in examining the spots of dirt on the window of the train. I was just trying to make everyone else more comfortable. I sometimes freak people out when I smile at them here -- as though I've known them for years. Canadian way or crazy? Dunno.

    I just thought of another one. Power bar. When I first came here, I brought a Canadian hairdryer and a surge-protected power bar. The power bar blew all the fuses in our section of the hotel:(

    On a similar topic, cell-phone car chargers seem to charge the same everywhere.

  12. LOL! We went through two printers that way. Our power bar/converter thing didn't work and paf! Lots of smoke in the apartment. We had to buy a new printer as a result.

    Yeah, I've learned not to smile at people on the metro (specifically in Paris).

    As for the blue/your wedding day, it looks like it was a beauty of a day. I thought of you that day...

  13. Tanya: Smoke? Oh dear...

    Metro riding... if someone bumps you, someone else might be trying to get your wallet.

    In Nice... sunblock is necessary (even if you don't think it is).

    When you order a "coffee" you'll get a little one unless you ask for a special kind.

    I'm running low on info here for some reason --although I know there are so many other aspects that surprised me. I guess my mom will just have to discover some on her own when she gets here!