Let’s be honest, we’ve all wished we were French at least once in our lives. From their carefree living to their effortless style, the French way of life is envied across the world. How do they become such wine buffs? How do they casually slip literary and philosophical references into everyday conversation? And most importantly, how on earth do they stay so slim despite all the croissants, bread and cheese? Here are seven quick ways to French up your life when traveling in France.
Look ridiculously chic
First off, the French are renowned for their fabulous fashion sense – and let's be real, no other nation comes even close to contending. The home of Chanel, Dior, Hermès and Louis Vuitton – to name but a few – is undoubtedly the fashion capital of the world. Forget short-lived trends, bright colors and over-accessorizing, French fashionistas invest in timeless classics, opt for neutrals and live by the golden rule of less is more.
To channel your inner fashion goddess, splash out in one (or several) of the traditional fashion houses along possibly the chicest street in Paris, Avenue Montaigne. For those looking to nab some vintage haute couture, head to Les Trois Marches de Catherine B. Or if you’re looking for something a bit more edgy, head to the French capital’s latest concept shopping sensation, Merci.
Wander around an outdoor market
The French seriously love their food, meaning there's usually several markets in every town and city selling fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods and dairy products. Paris is not short of markets, but you’ve got to wander around Marché d’Aligre for a truly local experience. Once home to the famous Parisian barricades, it’s one of the oldest markets in the French capital. From exotic fruit and spices to cheese and tapenade, you’ll find pretty much everything in this vibrant, bustling market street.
France’s gastronomic capital Lyon also has some pretty cool markets – Marché Quai Saint-Antoine is particularly lively at the weekend, while the hillside Croix-Rousse market has a soulful village feel. If you’re further south, Marseille’s Vieux Port holds an artisan market with local Provence products in the summer, and Marché du Prado is home to a super colorful flower market.
Sip coffee on a terrace
Nothing is more Parisian than sipping a coffee, cigarette in hand, on a terrace. Complete the look with some sort of intellectual-looking book, and you’re good to go. You’ll find the French braving it outdoors even in winter – though a lot of terraces now have heating (phew). And café culture doesn’t stop at coffee: the French also like to enjoy a tipple of wine on a terrace – accompanied by a cheese board, of course. If you’re in Paris, discover where French café culture began at the historic Café de Flore or Deux Magots.
Munch on a baguette in the street
Ah, du pain. No body does bread quite like the French. We’ve all fantasized about buying a warm baguette, breaking off the crust and munching it in ecstasy in the street. I kid you not, this is not a cliché – you will genuinely see French people walking the street with a baguette in hand, often tearing off the end as they get peckish.
In London and New York you can’t walk for more than two minutes without seeing a Starbucks – well in Paris it’s a bakery. The French capital even holds an annual best baguette competition, which is a really big deal. Pretty much any baguette in France will make you wonder what on earth you’ve been using to make your sandwiches back home, but if you want to taste the best of the best, head to this year’s winner La Parisienne or previous title holders Le Grenier a Pain.
Buy your wine from a caviste
Time to move away from food and on to wine, obviously. Everyone loves wine, but the French take their national tipple very seriously. Rule number one: wines are labelled by region in France, so you better start swotting up on the difference between your Bordeaux and Beaujolais. Several aisles are devoted to wine in French supermarkets, but if you want to become a real wine buff (or are completely clueless and need some help), go to a caviste (wine cellar). Not only will the staff help you out, but you can taste the wine before you buy it.
If you’re in Paris visit Ici Même or La P’tite Cave. If you’re further south, then you literally have to do a wine tour around Bordeaux, one of France’s largest wine producing regions. You’ll have to fight over who’s doing the driving though.
Party hard on Bastille Day
To put it simply, Bastille Day is France’s Fourth of July. The national holiday marks a key event in the French Revolution, when angry Parisians stormed a prison and essentially forced the start of modern democracy. Pretty badass, right? So every 14 July, France celebrates all things French – from the tricolore to singing the Marseillaise. There’s also a traditional military parade on the famous Champs-Elysées. But it’s in the evening that the party really gets started. As the sun sets crowds armed with food and drink gather to watch some pretty spectacular firework displays across France and continue festivities into the night.
If you’re in Paris, the best viewing spots are Parc de Belleville or Parc Champ-de-Mars. If you want a slightly less claustrophobic experience, try Nice, Cannes, Avignon, Nîmes or Versailles. Another popular Parisian tradition is partying at the Fireman’s Ball – that’s right, fire stations open their doors to the public so they drink and dance way into the early hours. Gotta love French traditions.
Celebrate that famous joie de vivre
The French certainly know how to live life to the max. Firstly, pretty much nobody works in August. Paris is literally deserted – businesses shut up shop, bars and restaurants are boarded up and even bakeries are closed as locals flee to the south and the city enjoys a casual month-long siesta. If you’ve got a toothache, chances are you’ll have to suffer until your dentist gets back from sunning in the Riviera. So why not join the crowd and get your tan on?
When it comes to chilling on a Sunday, the French have also got their priorities right – food, family and friends. Traditionally the French spend the day sitting around the table with their family, but young Parisians have now adopted brunch as their Sunday scene. Where else is better suited for long, indulgent weekend meals washed down with coffee, Bloody Marys and a generous dose of people-watching than the French capital? Tryout Chez Prune, Café Oberkampf or Le Poutch and you’ll agree Paris has definitely got this tradition on point.