Mistakes can happen to even the most experienced travellers to France. I made many during my first few trips to France (and still make some now but I am improving!) Have a read and see which ones are new to you! I’ve got a list of 10 costly and embarrassing travel mistakes to avoid in France.
[You can check out my post about the 10 Dos and Don’ts When In France as the more common mistakes that tourists make are listed. Two French language mistakes in that post have to do with not using “bonjour” when you enter a store and using “Vous” and “Tu” (you) incorrectly.]
Let’s start with the funniest mistakes you can make in France—those French mistakes that can be embarrassing not just for you, but for the person you’re speaking to.
A. Embarrassing Travel Mistakes To Avoid In France
In the French language, there are many double meanings. The following 4 mistakes have sexual connotations, so when you are in France, watch what you say. It might come across the wrong way!
Mistake #1: You Didn’t Mean To Say It Sexually!
If you want to speak French, you really should check the proper way of saying phrases that you usually use in English. It can be incredibly embarrassing if you think you know what you’re saying and instead say something entirely inappropriate. What comes to mind? The sentence, “I was excited…(ie. excited to see you, perhaps?)”.
Do not use the phrase, “Je suis excité(e)” (to be excited). It’s not what you think it means. Yes, there’s a sexual connotation.
Mistake #2: Were You Hot or Horny?
Here’s another phrase you should not say. Let’s say it’s summer and it’s 95 degrees in Paris. Yes, you are (temperature) hot. You should say, “J’ai chaud” (I am hot) just as you would say “J’ai soif” (I am thirsty) or “J’ai faim” (I am hungry).
Do NOT say, “Je suis chaud”. It basically means, “I am horny”.
Mistake #3: You’re Good….In Bed?
I know you want to congratulate someone by saying, “Tu es bonne” (“You’re good”), but unfortunately, this means “You’re good in bed” (well, actually something worse than that). Instead, say, “Tu chante bien” (You sing well)—say what the person is good at.
Mistake #4: “To Kiss”
Don’t use the word “baiser” as a verb (to kiss) as it can also be a vulgar slang term when used alone and depending on the context. If you are not careful, you might say, “Il m’a baisée” which means “He f____ed me” even though you thought you were saying, “He kissed me”.
It’s better to say, “Il m’a embrassée”, “faire une bise”, or “faire une bisou” to mean to give a kiss on the cheek.
How To Kiss In French
If you are interested in kissing someone the “French way”, here’s what you should know:
Don’t kiss the wrong number of times. You’ve seen it in the movies: two people greet each other and kiss each other on the cheek. It really isn’t a “kiss” but a coming together of the cheeks. The kiss is “la bise”. Kisses are given on each cheek by men and women to the same and opposite sex. But did you know that different regions have a different number of kisses? Here’s the rule:
- 2 bises (one on each cheek) is for Paris
- 3 bises are often used in the south of France
- 4 bises are often used in the north of France
B. Costly Mistakes To Avoid In France
When it comes to making mistakes in France that end up costing you (me) more money, it usually has to do with not paying attention, which is weird because I’m a detail person; however, I think that when you’re travelling and trying to figure out where to go and trying to keep your eye on your luggage, your purse, and your safety at the same time, it becomes overwhelming. New environments can cause you to make mistakes. Here are just a few costly mistakes I’ve made in France.
Mistake #5: Paris Metro (or Tram And Bus) Violations
The Paris RAPT (Metro/Tram/Bus) system has many rules and when you don’t follow them, you can be fined. They are on the trains all the time and they even have credit card machines with them. Violations will be enforced on the spot. Even with a Navigo Easy pass, I’ve been stopped and my pass has been scanned to make sure it had been validated.
The inspectors encounter thousands of riders who break the rules, so they’ve become unsympathetic and tone-deaf to those who complain. Don’t try the “But I’m a tourist” line. It doesn’t matter and they don’t care.
Here are just a few of the ways that you can be fined:
- if you don’t have your Metro ticket on you before you leave the station (“Sans titre de transport”)
- if you haven’t validated your ticket (“Non validation d’un abonnement”)
- if you have put your feet on the seat (the Infraction is called “Pied banquette”)
- if you’ve been caught being disorderly, smoking, etc. (“Trouble de la tranquillité”, “Violation de l’interdiction de fumer”, etc.)
- On the RATP website, they list the violations and fines:
- Violations and fines
- PDF with more information
Mistake #6: Not Carefully Checking Which Train To Board
I have never made this mistake again because it was a major mistake (and a costly mistake to boot). When I arrived at the train station, I checked the departures board and located what platform (voie) my train was to be on. I headed there and lord knows why I thought my train was on the right. I was so focussed on getting into the correct car (coach) and finding my seat that I didn’t check if it was my train!
Checked With Other Passengers
As the train started leaving exactly on time, the announcer listed the towns. Hmmmm, Some students told me I was going to Perpignan, which is on the way to Barcelona. I asked another passenger if this was the train going to Barcelona. She said yes. So at least I was going in the right direction: south; but, I was on the entirely wrong train!
As time went on I started to get worried. Something didn’t feel right. I got up to check if I was in car number 11. No, I wasn’t. Maybe I was just in the wrong car. I walked through the train and discovered there were only 8 cars. No car number 11!
Checked With Train Personnel
I spoke to a train personnel who said I was on the wrong train and should get off at the next stop in Nimes. I could then make my way to Barcelona. There was a train leaving 5 hours later and I had to buy a new ( $175) ticket in first class as everything was sold out in second class. There was nothing else I could do.
To Avoid Making The Mistake I Did
- check the train number, coach, and seat number on your ticket
- on the departures board, check what “voie” (platform) your train will be on
- when you get to the platform there will often be trains on either side. Both could be heading in the same direction (ie. south) but it’s important to look carefully at your ticket and see what the train number is.
- check the digital board on the platform to confirm what side your train will be on and where you should board the train. Your coach will correspond to a place on the platform (ie. A, B, C, etc). For example: coach 11 lines up with letter “G”.
- double-check with train personnel to be sure you’re on the correct platform and correct side.
Mistake #7: Not Paying Attention To Speed Limits And Parking Signs
As I wrote in this post “Trip Advice: Traffic Tickets In France”,
I got 2 speeding tickets and a parking ticket all during one trip, simply because I was not paying attention. France has more and more photo radar machines in operation, so I am now especially cautious when driving and parking.
This post discusses how I found out about my infractions and how I paid the 3 tickets.
Mistake #8: Not Reading The Details About Checking In
A few years ago, I booked an apartment in Biarritz with a beautiful view of the ocean. I arrived on a Sunday at 5 pm and no one was at reception.
The place I rented was located in an apartment building with a front desk; however, I was not careful enough to check that reception was only open in the morning, so I had no accommodation for that night. Fortunately, it was mid-September, and I was able to get a reasonably-priced hotel room just 2 minutes away. Had it been high season…..lord knows what I would have done or how much more it would have cost me! That was a costly mistake.
Mistake #9: Falling For Scams
I do not sign petitions, buy Eiffel Tower keychains from guys on the street, or take tuk-tuk rides. What you think is a good deed or cheap will end up costing you more than you think. Do your research on where to buy souvenirs and who to take tours from.
Also, don’t go with a taxi driver who approaches you. Join the taxi line and, if after getting in, the driver says he’ll only take cash and he can take you to an atm machine, get out. S/he is either not a legitimate taxi driver or the driver simply doesn’t want to pay the credit card fees and taxes. You should be able to pay with a credit card. And going from the airport to Paris, there is a fixed rate price that varies depending if you’re going to the left or right bank. Check out this post to see the various ways you can get from the airport to central Paris.
Mistake #10: Tipping After A Meal
You don’t need to give a tip after you finish your meal. Most meals are “Service Compris” which means the service/tip is included in the bill. If you feel the service went above and beyond, was “over the top”, and deserves special recognition, then leave a few Euros.
Now that you’re aware of some mistakes you could make when you travel in France, be sure to check out these Top 10 Helpful Hints.
Are there any travel mistakes in France that you’ve seen other tourists make (or you’ve made) that you’d like to share?
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JudySeptember 26, 2015 at 8:25 am
Now I have to return to France….
Because I have not had the opportunity, which was always a bit surprising now that I think of it, to say I’m horny so kiss me and squeeze me. And in my best French attitude with my head held high, “I’ve course I’m good in bed!” It was probably because of what I was wearing!!!!
BolaSeptember 26, 2015 at 10:01 am
When I return to France I’ll make sure I practice these phrases….hilarious!
Donna JankeOctober 19, 2015 at 4:41 pm
Fun post of French faux pas. Your comments about French language errors point out the dangers of literal translation. Not knowing the “double meaning” can certainly lead to embarrassing moments. There are other parts of Europe where modest dress is expected in churches. When I was Spain, not only were shoulders to be covered, but knees as well.
JanOctober 19, 2015 at 6:29 pm
Thanks so much. I’m sure there are even more things we do wrong without even realizing….in many counties!
The GypsyNestersOctober 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm
Good tips no doubt, but from the looks of it I might be better off just keeping my mouth shut. 😉
JanOctober 19, 2015 at 6:41 pm
Loved your comment. I chuckled!
Billie FrankOctober 19, 2015 at 8:41 pm
Well- at least I know that I won’t make mistake #6 in Paris as they aren’t in my wardrobe- the others, well- entirely possible.
JanOctober 19, 2015 at 8:44 pm
Suzanne StavertOctober 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm
Thank you for the tips. My French is not very good, so I can always use these tips!
JanOctober 19, 2015 at 10:13 pm
You’re welcome. And I know there are so many more things travellers mistakenly do (and say)!
karen escaleraOctober 20, 2015 at 9:07 am
I wish they taught this in French class! Great tips. I particularly liked the part about the number of kisses in different regions of the country. Fascinating.
JanOctober 20, 2015 at 9:12 am
Definitely wouldn’t learn this at Alliance Francaise, but I did learn it at Ecole des Trois Ponts in Roanne, France! Great school.
ShelleyOctober 20, 2015 at 9:56 am
I’m pretty sure I’ve said “Je suis chaud” so I’ll be careful about that next time! I’ve also been reprimanded for touching the strawberries, and corrected for saying “Ou est le toilette” – “Non, ou est LA toilette!” oops! 🙂
JanOctober 20, 2015 at 10:02 am
Yikes! Yes, the French are very good at correcting mistakes we make…..which I don’t mind….or maybe I’m just used to it!
JoelSeptember 25, 2019 at 11:40 pm
Thanks for the good tips on visiting France.
PierreFebruary 22, 2022 at 9:47 am
As someone who lives in France, the one about dressing is just nonsense.
Dressing too casually is no more of a problem than it is the US. People wear jogging bottoms, leggings and sneakers all the time. It’s just not a problem.
Of course, if you’re going to a formal event then you need to make an effort, but that’s the same as everywhere.
PierreFebruary 22, 2022 at 10:00 am
Other than that, good tips. French can be a confusing language, especially for english speakers
Ian WilsonMarch 19, 2023 at 9:19 am
The tips about taking trains are very helpful! I really like they way they number the trains (5 or 6 digit number, iirc). Though there always seems to be confusion on the platform as to where to stand for your carriage. I even had some french people ask me when waiting for a train in Lyon. . (Was on my way to Ecole des 3 Ponts, thanks to your recommendation on Tripadvisor )
JanMarch 19, 2023 at 1:54 pm
Thank you for your comment and kind words.
It’s always a mad rush to get on the train as there seems to be so little time to board.
That’s great that you went to Ecole des Trois Ponts. Hope you had a good time!
Mary RoseMarch 19, 2023 at 12:56 pm
Great tips Janice! I admire how you’ve persevered through the ones you made to get to the other side (knowing what to do and what not to!) Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!
JanMarch 19, 2023 at 1:52 pm
So nice to hear from you and thank you for your comment. When I make mistakes, I try my hardest not to do them again…especially when it will cost me money!
WakoMarch 19, 2023 at 4:03 pm
This is a great reminder for my next trip. Thank you, Jan, always for providing us with great information. Your posts are always so informative, very well organized and structured. I always enjoy reading them.
JanMarch 19, 2023 at 4:33 pm
So nice to hear from you. Thank you for your comment and kind words. I really appreciate your feedback.
I try to provide information that I’ve actually experienced because if it can happen to me….it can happen anyone!