Margie Rynn answered your questions about France on June 22, 2005
There are a lot of unknowns for the visitor to France this summer: Will the Euro keep going up? Will it be boiling hot? Do the French really hate Americans? One thing is for sure--centuries worth of cultural, architectural, and gustatory pleasures will be yours for the asking. The painful exchange rate may make you think twice about a serious shopping spree or a suite at the Ritz, but it certainly won't stop you from basking in the glory of the streets of Paris or gazing at fields of lavender of Provence. If you poke around, you might find that discovering a good neighborhood Mom-and-Pop café is actually a lot more fun than agonizing over the prices at Taillevent. The tourism slump has spawned endless airline promotions, and with a little research you can still find reasonably-priced accommodations. Chances are, you won't melt in your hotel room--the shock of last year's heat wave has provoked a huge investment in air-conditioning. As for Franco-American relations, don't believe the hype. Politics aside, most French people have no gripe with your average American. As long as you don't add Coca-cola to your glass of Bordeaux, or start singing Yankee Doodle Dandy during mass at Notre Dame, you should be fine. So come on over.
Margie answered your questions Tuesday, June 22, at noon EST.
Read the transcript below.
Margie Rynn has been living in France since 2000 and is currently based in Avignon. In addition to her contributions to Budget Travel (including this month's "Secret Hotels of Provence"), she has also written for Time Out New York, The Amicus Journal, Flair, and Yoga Journal. Co-author of the 2002 edition of Frommer's Paris from $80 a Day, her eclectic resume also includes editing publications for the United Nations Environmental Program and acting in a Broadway show.
Margie Rynn: Hellow there and greetings from Avignon. I'm here to answer your questions.
Atlanta, Georgia: Is the anti-American attitude I've heard about in Paris still pervasive?; When I transited through Paris (Charles DeGaulle) in 2002, I got the distinct impression that I was more than merely an inconvenience, that I wasn't wanted there.
Margie Rynn: Don't worry, pretty much everyone feels like that at Charles de Gaulle. Remember, even French people want to tear their hair out when they come up against anything or anyone official. I think anti-Americanism has died down considerably-a-- the beginning of the war in Iraq it was palpable, but now most people blame politics on the politicians and not on the people. Also, the weak dollar is hitting the tourist industry very hard over here and those in the biz really miss their American clients. Paris will always seem snotty to outsiders (it even seems that way to French people who don't live there) but I've found that a lot of it has to do with a certain French formalism...if you use a lot of Bonjour/s'il vous plait/merci and behave respectfully, they usually calm down and may even smile a bit.
Houston, Texas: I will be in the Avignon area this fall. Can you recommend any affordable flea/antique markets in the area?; How can I find about any auctions going on while I'm there and what's the best/cheapest way to get smaller stuff home?; Can you recommend any container services?;
Margie Rynn: Saturday morning there is a great flea market in the Monfavet area just outside the city walls, but get there early (like 7:30 or 8:00) to get the good stuff. Contact the Avignon tourist office for specifics: avignon.fr/. Also, there are periodic antiques/flea market events in Avignon - the tourist office should know if one is happening while you're here. The nearby town of Ile sur la Sorge has an antiques market every weekend-it w--nds all the way through the town. The town itself is worth a visit if you like wandering around little streets-the --own is laced with canals and cute little bridges. As for getting stuff home, you could try La Poste, the French postal service-it m--ght not be as expensive as you think (.laposte.fr/). I'm sorry to say I don't know of any container services...I've had a bit of trouble that way myself...
Morristown, NJ: How can I look stylish (but be comfortable) traveling in France this summer?;
Margie Rynn: Well, I'm no style maven, but I'll do my best! I don't know if you are a man or a woman, but in general, a well-fitting pair of jeans will do, as long as you put it together with some hip accoutrements. For women, the tighter the better. If you can handle it, the big rage here is low cut hip-hugger jeans with very tight t-shirts and low heeled sandles. You can get around the shoe issue by wearing some version of hip running shoes. I think the main thing to keep in mind is to think comfortable, but not sloppy. Shorts are pretty much out except in natural areas.
Redmond, Wa: How easy is it to rent a car and drive from Paris to Normandy when you don't have very good command of the French language?; We are considering doing this next February and wonder how realistic it is when we don't speak the language very well.
Margie Rynn: Don't let language keep you from taking your trip! More and more French people are speaking English these days...sure you can count on people speaking English in small villages, but it's amazing how far smiles and sign language can get you...as for renting the car, you'll get the best deals if you book your car from the States, so language shouldn't be a problem. Check the internet - BT ass0ciate editor Reid Bramblett has a hugely informative site that handles the subject at beyondhotels.net. It would also be a good idea to try to find a good listing/translation of French/European road signs. They are almost all symbols, not words, but if you are not familiar with them you might find yourself scratching your head...your car rental agency should have some tips.
St Louis, MO: My daughter is studying in France this fall leaving in September. My wife and I plan on visiting her when she gets her feet on the ground. When would you suggest is the best time to go and how can we fly the most economical?;
Margie Rynn: You didn't specify where exactly your daughter is studying, but in general, I'd say early Fall and lateish Spring are good bets...try to work your dates around the beginning of the high season - this should cut your airline fare drastically. Comparison shopping on the Internet usually yields great deals if you book more than a month in advance. Try Travelocity, Orbitz and Cheap Tickets for starters. Also try the Air France site-they hav-- lots of promotions to and from the US these days...The north of France tends to be pretty rainy any time of year, but in the south Fall and Spring bring beautiful weather and it's great to be here to enjoy it before the crowds roll in!
Austin Texas: Does Giverny truly "shut down" the first of November?; Could we just drive around the town, and walk the town and gardens to get an overview. I understand the museums might be closed. Are Restaurants and hotels open, or it better to stay in Vernon?;
Margie Rynn: It really shuts down. You won't be able to get into the gardens--not only--that, the flowers won't be in bloom. If it's a short trip from Paris you are looking for, I'd try for a non-weather/season related site like Versailles or Chartres-or ventur-- further afield towards Normandy or the Valley of the Loire.
Cleveland, Minnesota: Bonjour, I'm going to Paris end of October beginning of Nov and want to stop in London. Do you recommend stopping there first and then taking tunnel or a flight to Paris?; I'm a budget traveler but want to see and experience everything I can.
Margie Rynn: Flights from the US to London tend to be cheaper than those to the continent-I'd fly to--London and then try to catch one of those new cheap airlines to get to Paris. Ryanair and Easyjet have some ridiculously cheap fares from London to Paris, but you need to book at least a month in advance to get the really low prices. Check their sites at http://www.ryanair.com/ aww.easyjet.com/.
Warrenville, IL: My friend and I would like to stay in Provence. Of the cities you mention in the July/August issue of your magazine regarding the charming hotels of Provence - which city would be the best based city for taking day trips by railway and/or buses.
Margie Rynn: The best rail/bus connections are in Nimes, Arles, and Aix en Provence. Avignon is also very well connected to Paris with the TGV buzzing you there in 2 hours 40 minutes (so you could stay in at L'Atelier in Villeneuve). Nimes is a little less central to the Provence hotspots.
Medford, Oregon: We are coming over to see the finish of the Tour de France. We are staying in Paris, but do not have a car. In your opinion, is it "safe" to ride the trains or should we plan on getting a car when we get there?;
Thanks, S. Fox
Margie Rynn: Yes it is safe to ride the trains and don't even think about renting a car in Paris-you'll spend --ou're whole trip stuck in traffic! The Paris metro might get a little dicey if you are travelling late at night to the suburbs, but otherwise it's fine-just use comm--n sense and try not to look too much like a tourist.
Jackson, MS: I am interested in honeymooning in France..How does the general population treat minorities, specifically african-americans?;
Margie Rynn: As far as I can tell, african americans (or africans for that matter) are treated pretty decently here. There are many mixed race couples here in Avignon and nobody bats an eyelash. There is a large African community in Paris (check out the 20th arrondisement) and they seem not to suffer too much from racism. The French seem to save their rancor for the North African arabs. Of course, if you are out in the sticks, you are bound to get some stares...actually, there is an African American community in Paris - if you have the time, contact Patricia Laplante Collins and ask about her soirees: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org;
Wellington, Florida: I will be traveling to France next month and then on to Switzerland. Where is it cheaper to buy a rail pass: here or in France?;
Margie Rynn: You are better off buying a France pass in the States-but if you can'-- manage it, don't despair, there are deals to be had over here. Check http://www.sncf.fr/.
Louis, Missouri: I am a writer who is longing for a soujourn in Southern France to hole up and do some work. Any advice or resources as to how an American can set up a temporary life (say 6-12 months)?; Are there visa issues?; How did you arrange your situation?;
Margie Rynn: Well, uh..there are, ahem, visa issues, which I ignored for the first six months or so...then I got married. (It was for love, really!) I probably will get in trouble for this, but in my experience, if you have the resources to find a place to whole up and you have an American passport, you should be fine for six months in the visa department. The thing is, they generally don't stamp American passports. So no one knows how you got here. On the other hand, working legally is out of the question without papers.
St. Louis, Missouri: Hi Margie. I will be spending 3 weeks in Southern France in September. How important is it too have every hotel lined up and booked in advance?; I find that often, having an air-tight, pre-booked schedule kills the spontaneity of being able to stay on somewhere I like, or discovering a new gem I wouldn't have known about until I arrived. I like to keep it loose, but don't want to be shut out if this is a time and region where bookings are essential. Thanks.
Margie Rynn: In September you will have missed most of the high season, so you should be OK for the most part winging it. You could try booking a couple of places that you really want to try, just to have something in place, and then keep things open otherwise. For most real budget hotels I've found that if you call a day ahead you can usually get something....just beware of festivals, which really book towns solid. But they should mostly be over by September.
Seattle, Washington: I have heard from several travelers that Paris has a strong odor of urine in the Summer. Is this because of antiquated plumbing/sewage systems or is there a more nefarious reason?; Also two of my friends from Sweden refuse to be seated near French travellers on international flights asserting that the French bathe too infrequently?; Why is that?;
Margie Rynn: I don't know where these folks were walking, but I've never noticed any pervasive unspeakable odors in Paris. As for the French, the mythic stinky Frenchman is pretty much history, although you are bound to come in contact with body odor if you hop on the Paris metro at rush hour.
New York, NY: Hi, I am a student and have the summer off. I am interested in working and traveling at the same time. I would love to work in France and get the opportunity to get to know the culture from a more personal point; I have until September. Are there specific programs or websites that can give me information regarding travel and work?;
Thank you very much.
Margie Rynn: Aghghgh! I know there is a travel magazine for you, called ??? Abroad, and I can't remember the first word. Studying Abroad? Adventures Abroad? There are student programs that allow you to work - students have an easier time of it than other folks when it comes to working papers. Many American companies with offices in France use summer interns. Then there is always the famous wine-picking work in September when the harvest is in. I wish I could give you more specifics...but my time is running out and I want to answer more questions...try the web and see if you can find a very good book called "Living And Working in France."
Saint Louis MO: Need to find a hotel room in the Normandy region. Looks like it might be difficult even for B&B's......in July. ANy suggestions?;
Margie Rynn: Did you try the Gites de France network for B&Bs? They have thousands of properties on their lists and they are very reliable. http://www.gites-de-france.com/.
NY: I will be visiting France at the end of the summer and wanted to know just how important it is to be able to speak at least a little French. I've been told by some not
to worry since everyone there speaks English...is this true?;
Margie Rynn: Not everyone speaks English, but more and more do. The important thing is to make at least a little effort to speak some French. The French person concerned is bound to appreciate it and then immediately try to impress you with their English. People get cranky when Americans assume that everyone speaks English, true or not. Of course you shouldn't let language keep you from your travel dreams-just try to remember th--t language is culture and that French people are proud of their language.
Brooklyn, NY: As a women, how are you treated differently in France vs. the US?;Margie Rynn: Interesting question. On the one hand, being on the far beyond 30 side, I was really happy to land in a country where you are still regarded as a real woman even if you are over 25. Men check women out all the time here, they tend to be fairly discreet - I've noticed much less heckling and rude sexual comments than in the US, actually, especially when you consider that French women dress very very sexy. It's kind of liberating to be able to wear a tight shirt without everyone giving you their opinion about it. On the other hand, it's a much more macho culture...when it comes to romance and marriage (not to mention politics and positions of power in companies), roles are much more traditionally defined. As far as travelling goes, I don't think being a woman should cramp your style here at all.
Margie Rynn: Sheesh --that hour flew by. I'm sorry I didn't get to answer all your questions...there were so many interesting ones! Well, here's to wishing you many wonderful vacations and adventures--Bye