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Traveling abroad, and nervous.

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Mrs.Confused posted 6/15/2013 12:57 PM

Im so fortunate to be able to spend 2 weeks in France for work however ... Im so nervous because I hardly speak any french. I can not read it or understand it when someone is talking to me, I know just the basic Thank you, Goodbye, Good Evening, Yes, No, and several more words etc.
Words not sentences.

Its not just the language but also the currency, adapters for plugging in electronics and driving. I have a car rented but they only have stick shift which I havent drove in many years but Im sure I can do it again kinda like riding a bike.

I will be staying 1 week in Paris, and 1 week on a Island called lle de Re.

I will be traveling with others but will not be with them the entire time, I will have alot of time alone to explore.

My question is, does anyone have ANY helpful tips they can share? I have looked online at the currency exchange and most of what I read said exchange once Im in France. Personally I would feel more comfortable doing it before I go. I believe I can buy an adapter here somewhere but will it burn my computer, camera, etc I have no clue about electric. I believe things may run slower there but again, not forsure. I would like to think the French speak English although they may frown upon it.
I may look into sometype of device to translate for me, but I do not have a smart phone, maybe there is some type of device like this?

Although Im nervous I really am so excited about taking this trip !!! France here I come, ready or not. Ive always been pretty good about winging it, at least in the USA.

Thank you in advance for ANY info you could pass along.

nowiknow23 posted 6/15/2013 13:45 PM

My advice on exchanging currency is to do a small amount here, so you have a bit of pocket money right when you land, but do the rest there.

Know a couple of helpful phrases such as, "Do you speak English?" and "I'm sorry, I don't speak French."

Enjoy your trip! Excited to hear all about it.

Jrazz posted 6/15/2013 13:51 PM

Get one of those pocket translators with commonly used phrases.

I spoke some French when I went to Paris, but as soon as most people identified me as an English speaker they swapped over to help bridge the gap.

Some super fancy restaurants were rude about it, but I found that most of the people on the streets or in shops were very kind and helpful.

It feels scarier than it is when you think about it. People much less worldly than yourself have gotten through it just fine.

You're going to get where you need to go, you'll be able to eat (some AMAZING food, too) and you'll be in a locale that will take your breath away.

You're going to have a great time!

MovingUpward posted 6/15/2013 14:50 PM

For the electrical questions, the US runs at 115V and Europe has adopted the 230V infrastructure. Many of your small electronics probably run at both. You can check the power rating label (found on everything that runs off of a plug) the rating label will have an input voltage range. If 230V is in the listed range then only a plug adapter is needed.

If you want to be totally safe then buy a converter 230V to 115V. I believe you can find them at electronics stores. I did see plug adapters and voltage converters at radio shack. If you aren't sure then take in the the chargers that you want to use and the electronics staff should know how to decipher them for you.

metamorphisis posted 6/15/2013 15:21 PM

You can buy the adaptors and do the currency exchange at the airport too

I would agree with changing a smaller amount to have on hand for when you land, and doing the rest while you are there.

aLadypilot posted 6/15/2013 15:42 PM

Run to the library and check out the beginning French cd's by Pimsleur. They are unbelievably helpful, and way better than Berlitz or any other program that I've tried. You can listen in your car, and pick it up quickly. You will have much more confidence if you know a few phrases and words.

purplejacket4 posted 6/15/2013 16:12 PM

I agree with exchanging just a bit here at the airport before you leave. The rate once you get there is better especially if you can get off the main tourist areas.

Enough people there speak English that you won't have many problems. Just say something in French and they usually appreciate the gesture and then switch.

I'd be most concerned about the driving. Not because its a stick but because all the signs are in French. "Arret" on a stop sign is one thing but directional signs are something else. I remember my driving around Quebec. Ick, I'm lucky I didn't get hit. Bone up on your French driving signs and symbols.

Otherwise have FUN!!!

cissie posted 6/15/2013 16:22 PM

You can get cash at ATM machines in France using your US card. Just tell your bank you are going, and how long for. That way you don't have to get a lot of Euros you wont need.
Likewise tell your your credit card company. You may have a problem with credit cards as a lot of Europe is on Chip and PIN. The credit card has a silver chip on the front, and you have to put in a pin for a purchase. I have a chip and sign card and that does very well..
The power supplies for laptops are dual voltage so all you will need for that is a socket adapter.
Other appliances such as curling irons and hair dryers are more difficult, you may have to get a dual voltage one or get a transformer plug adapter. Warning, I got one some years ago and it started to get hot and smell really bad. I had to throw it out on the balcony before the smoke detector went off. However, a lot of the hotels supply hair dryers now so you probably wont have a problem.
If you ask for help, most people will be happy to assist you. Parlez vous Anglais is very useful.
Sounds like a great trip. I hope you enjoy it.

hexed posted 6/15/2013 16:46 PM

I've travelled to France numerous times. Contrary to what you hear, I've found the French people I've met to be very friendly and helpful.

I speak a moderate amount of French but have always found that people readily switch to English if I need help. They appreciate the smallest amount of effort so a few French phrases go a long way.

Check with your credit cards and bank to see who does NOT charge a fee for international transactions. Those can add up.

Find a travel store in your town that specializes in travel. Not just a luggage department. Go ask them for tips and they will have all the adapters you need.

Talk to your cell phone company if you're wanting to use your phone. Do it several days in advance. They can often hook you up with a discounted international calling plan and make sure your phone works in France. Turn off your data if you have a smart phone. The second you turn it on it will download all your emails and cost you a fortune.

Yes get some cash here to tide you over when you arrive in France. Not too much. Sometimes banks need to order Euros a few days in advance so do it ahead of time. Some hotels exchange with no extra fee so take advantage of that.

Driving and especially parking in Paris is nuts. I don't even bother. There's just no need to have a car there. If you're venturing to the surrounding areas your hotel can help get you there. Just a thought.

RELAX! Its much easier to travel in France than you think. Paris is one of my all time favorite cities and I - A) don't like cities and B) have been lucky to travel to many many places here and that's saying something.

OH - wine - even the table wine they serve by the glass or in a carafe rather than by the bottle at most restaurants is fantastic. You don't have to break the bank to enjoy fabulous wine with your meals.

JustDone posted 6/15/2013 18:30 PM

Don't be nervous, Paris is great, my favorite city, too. Been there 5 times, I think. And my lucky ducky brother lives there!

You can get along without speaking French, so it's all good.

I agree, no need for a car in Paris, but I've never been to lle de Re.

Relax and have fun, you are going to love it.

p.s. and if you like Disney, go to Disney Paris - the rides are all in French.

p.p.s. My favorite Parisian church isn't Notre Dame, but Sacré-Cœur, try it if you like churches and it's in a great quaint neighborhood.

p.p.s.s. Don't skip the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower - fantastique...

bluelady posted 6/15/2013 22:23 PM

Argh!!! So jealous!!! I've been to Paris twice and I LOVE it!

I agree with changing currency while there. You can do it at the ATM, although I was told that most overseas ATMs only accept a 4 digit PIN, so you may want to check that out. Both times I went, I had 150 Euro on me and then got the rest while there.

Don't use a car in Paris. No need. The metro is very easy to use - even for someone like me who didn't grow up in a city with a subway system.

Just a tip - bring a refillable water bottle and refill it at the hotel before you leave for the day (assuming you're staying at a hotel). Buying water is incredibly expensive - wine is cheaper.

English won't be a problem in Paris, although I'm not sure about l'Ile de Re. Most people switched over immediately when they figured out I was a tourist, even though I'm fully bilingual.

Let me know if you want any helpful phrases in French. You're going to have a great time!!!

fallingquickly posted 6/15/2013 23:57 PM

Great advice from hexed, cissie, JustDone, and bluelady.

I've been to Paris many times and speak minimal French. Most French are great and very helpful. I've found if I try French first they always switch to English for me. Their English is always better than my French. LOL

I use the ATM for cash.

You can go to a beauty store, like Ulta, ahead of time for a straightener or hairdryer that is dual voltage if you would like one. If you are staying at one of the nicer hotels they sometimes have a 110 plug alongside the 220 now.

Definitely see Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Such a beautiful area.

The museums. The food. The bread. The cheese. The wine. Oh, I'm jealous. :)
I usually like the food outside of Paris better. It's not as fancy and so very flavorful.

If you want to shop in a huge, beautiful place go to Galeries Lafayette. Some things are reasonably priced but most aren't, but it is spectacular.

[This message edited by fallingquickly at 12:02 AM, June 16th (Sunday)]

Mrs.Confused posted 6/16/2013 11:26 AM

Thank You All !!! I greatly appreciate all of the replies and the great helpful information you have passed along to me.

Each reply I read like the plug adapters, converter, going to the library for beginning french especially the phrases I need to know, the driving signs etc. have been a huge help. Im so looking forward to the amazing food, wine, shopping, churches and museums!!!

I have 4 weeks before I go so I will be able to do all that was recommended to me.. I will skip the car rental in Paris but will keep it for the week in ll de Re.

Thank you again, each and everyone of you your replies have helped me so much. (((HUGS))

[This message edited by Mrs.Confused at 11:36 AM, June 16th (Sunday)]

Crescita posted 6/16/2013 12:36 PM

The airports are usually a better bet if you want to secure an automatic rental car. As an added bonus, you can hop right on the freeway and avoid driving in the city. also has great driving directions that show toll fees and road signs.

Lyonesse posted 6/16/2013 13:12 PM

You can buy adaptors and converters at most large airports, or at an online travel store such as Magellan’s or Rick Steves.

You can get mini translator devices – all the Chinese students at the university seem to have them – but I can never be bothered to dig in my purse for a dictionary or translator – good old international sign language (e.g. “charades”) usually is sufficient! But by all means, if it will make you more confident with driving and asking for directions, look into one of those.

Don’t let your lack of French keep you from trying to communicate. Speak a few phrases badly and with great enthusiasm. Many people speak English, but they are just as anxious about speaking it badly. Make it safe for them by exhibiting your poor French first, and they will probably be glad to join in the communication game and trot out their high school English.

You might look for Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door book, which covers basic travel skills like these – what to expect when driving in Europe (it has a good section on street signs, I think), money basics, etc. He is aimed at getting people to feel confident and relax so they can enjoy the experience.

As for the car, you are right, it will all come back to you. I prefer to drive an automatic due to a hand injury, but every time I need to use a stick shift, it comes naturally. Maybe ask a friend in the US if you can drive around the parking lot in their stick shift car a few times, just to assure yourself it won’t be a problem. Some of the big companies (Avis, Hertz) in the larger cities do keep a few automatic cars for American tourists - Crescita is right that the airport locations are more likely to have these. We always get the manual because it’s cheaper, but then are often offered an upgrade to automatic on arrival.

Half the fun of a trip is the anticipation and planning – get on a few travel fora and see what recommendations other folks have. Have a wonderful time!

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