Why Foreign Tourists Love France

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An article I read recently in the weekend T.V. supplement of the daily regional  newspaper Le Progrès reveals some of the reasons so many of the 83 million annual foreign visitors fall head over heels in love with France. But when we fall in love we tend to turn a blind eye to everyday reality. My italicized comments are intended to bring things back nearer to earth . French Parks. Aynur, 48, a nurse from Turkey.                                                Jardin publique Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI’ve noticed that French towns have well-maintained parks with statues and fountains. They’re so clean that you can sit on the grass – so convenient for people who don’t  have a garden. Watch out all the same, Aynur. Generally speaking, the French are an undisciplined lot, and tend to let their dogs do it anywhere … so I’d advise you to look carefully before placing your bottom on that beautiful, clean grass. French Calm. Maika, 27, a sales assistant and Rachel, 27, a web editor from Spain.                                                                                                                Terrace de café Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWe find the French aren’t as noisy as the Spanish. It’s very pleasant when you’re sitting in a café or restaurant. At home people talk much more loudly – especially in the evening over an apéritif. Sometimes you can’t even hear yourself speak.                                                                                         In my own experience, when it comes to hearing ‘em before you see ‘em, there’s nothing much in it between the French and Spanish. Personally, when it comes to loudmouths, I find Italians are the worst of the lot. French Cheeses. Urszula, 25, a museum curator from Poland.                     Fromages Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceHow lucky you are to have such a great choice. At home there are only a few cheeses, and they’re all a bit bland. The family I was an au pair girl with in Lyon introduced me to goat’s cheese, Comté and Roquefort Blue. Yum! Yum! I also like your ritual of all dining together. At home people eat alone in their little corner.                                                                                                                     Yes, Urszula, I would agree with you about French cheeses. But the downside is that, as General de Gaulle found out to his cost, how do you govern a country which has two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese? And I didn’t realize you Poles were such an unsociable lot. Provence. Paolo, 55, a department head, and Stefanie, 53, a housewife from Italy.                                                                                                      Champ de lavande 300x103 Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWe were enchanted by this region. The villages are charming and the countryside is unbelievable. And the lavender fields are just magic. France is really a very romantic country – even more so than Italy!                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Yes, yes, Paolo and Stefanie. You make it sound like two teenagers falling in love for the very first time. But aren’t you both old enough to know that once you’ve lived together for a while the charm can begin to wear thin? French Bookshops. Kuang, 22, a student from China.                                  Librairie Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI’m really impressed by the number of small bookshops in France. There’s a lot of choice at all prices. I really love books on art, illustrated by numerous photos. My suitcase is already full of them. Hurry up, Kuang, because all those bookshops are fast disappearing. More and more French people are buying them on Internet. Apparently, it’s much cheaper. French Confectionary. Katherine, 19, a student from the U.S.A.                   Patisserie Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI worship French cakes and sweets, especially eclairs and macaroons – they’re so delicious. What I find astonishing is that they’re so refined and light without being too sweet. It makes a change from cheese cakes. Go easy on that sugar and cream all the same, Katherine. We don’t want you getting as overweight as most of  your compatriots.   French People. All, 39, a doctor from Australia.                                      Commercant Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceSome friends told me the French never stop moaning. Personally, I find it’s the opposite. We’ve visited several towns in France, and each time people offered to help us when they saw we were a bit lost. And the shopkeepers are really so pleasant. Perhaps you’ve been lucky so far, mate. As a general rule, the French are not always noted for being over-helpful to bewildered foreigners, or being convinced believers in the principle that ‘ the customer is always right’. And they do love protesting. Look at all those street demonstrations. French Weather. Nigel-Mohammed, 41, a Managing Director from Trinidad and Tobago.                                                                                               Ciel et nuages Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceHere the sky changes from one day to the next. You also have as many hot days as cold with rain and wind. It’s so varied! At home we have a tropical climate with a temperature of 30° C all the year round. Mind you, the tourists love it. Come off it, Nige! If you’d had to endure the kind of summer we’ve just had you’d be glad to get back to that horribly monotonous 30° C temperature you get all the year round back home! French Bread. James, 29, a school manager from England.                      Baguettes Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWhat a delicious smell you get when you walk past a bread shop! It really makes you want to step inside and buy everything. The person who invented the baguette was a genius: it’s delicious – even though there’s nothing inside. The bread you get in England has no taste to it. It’s true the baguette has a light and airy crumb, but you seem to be saying that the ‘nothing inside’ tastes delicious. Or is it just the crust you like? And James, not all English bread is as tasteless as you’re trying to make out. Small bakers do exist. Why not try a nice, crusty, home-baked country loaf? Old French Buildings. Amelia, 36, an interior designer from Singapore.     Vieux batiment Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceAt home the buildings are mostly modern skyscrapers which have far less charm. In France you have the impression you’re travelling back in time, and each town has its own style. The other thing I love is blanquette de veau. Hey Amelia, you might not know it, but not all the French are still living in the Middle Ages. They do have modern skyscrapers, too! I agree with you about the blanquette de veau, though – provided the calf hasn’t received too many growth hormone injections. Believe it or not, a friend of mine once bought a joint of veal from his local supermarket, only to find a syringe embedded in it!

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France – The World’s Number One Tourist Destination

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Foreign tourists in France1 France   The Worlds Number One Tourist DestinationSome interesting statistics emerged from a recent survey conducted by the DGCIS (Direction générale en charge des questions de compétitivité), and the Banque de France which revealed that a total of 84.7 million foreign tourists visited France in 2013 (an increase of 2% compared to 2012), thus confirming the Hexagon’s number one position as the most popular tourist country on our planet, well ahead of the U.S.A. and Spain.

As might be expected from a close neighbour, the highest number of visitors came from just the other side of the Rhine. In 2013 German tourists alone represented 15%, or a total of 13 million. Next came the British, some 12.6 million of whom headed for French holiday bliss – an increase of 3.4% over the previous year. And even if there were fewer Belgians, Luxembourgeois, Italians and Spanish than in 2012, the number of tourists from Ireland, Portugal and Greece exceeded levels before the economic crisis. France also attracted more and more tourists from Poland (+18%), and the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Denmark and Sweden (+13.5%). The largest number of non-European visitors were from North America with a 5.8% increase in 2013 compared to a drop of 7.8% in 2012. The highest number of Asian visitors came from China with 1.7 million tourists in 2013 – an increase of 23.4%. Moreover, these latter figures are in constant progression as the number of Chinese visitors doubled between 2009 and 2013. On the other hand, the number of Japanese tourists dropped by 6.7% in 2013 compared to the year before, mainly due, it seems, to an unfavourable yen/euro exchange rate.

Statistics also show a tendency for tourists to stay longer. The length of stay increased from an average of 6.9 nights in 2012 to 7.7 in 2013 – a rise of 2.5%. However, the number of nights spent in paying accommodation (hotels, rented accommodation, camping sites, bed and breakfasts, gîtes) increased less than the number of nights spent in non-paying accommodation (at friends’, or as part of accommodation sharing schemes), 3.2% as opposed to 4.6%, and paying accommodation represented 67.1% of the total number of nights spent in France in 2013 compared with 68% in 2012, and 69.6% in 2007.

French amusement park France   The Worlds Number One Tourist DestinationAnother recently published survey, conducted this time by the INSEE (the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies), reveals that the 83 million tourists who holidayed in France in 2012 spent a total of 145 billion euros, two thirds of which came from French tourists, and the rest from foreigners. Most of this money was spent on transport, accommodation and eating in restaurants or snack bars. However, this expenditure was not evenly distributed from a geographical point of view as half was spent in only three regions: the Ile-de-France (Paris and surrounds), the Rhône-Alpes and the South-East (Provence and the Côte d’Azur). This was mainly due to the rich geographical, cultural and historical diversity of these regions as well as the amusement park of the first, combined with the ease of access afforded by airports and motorways.

Camping site France   The Worlds Number One Tourist Destination‘Tourism is the largest industry on our planet, representing 12% of the world’s GNP and more than 200 million jobs,’ Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister stressed at a recent meeting. He also pointed out that by 2030 the world international tourist sector will have doubled in size. His aim, he added, was to attract more than 100 million foreign tourists to France in the coming years.

Gare du Nord France   The Worlds Number One Tourist DestinationSome of the main measures taken to achieve this include extending Sunday shop and store opening hours in tourist areas, increasing the number and quality of hotels and camping sites, renovating the Gare du Nord in Paris to bring it up to par with London’s Saint-Pancras, improving transport facilities between Paris and Roissy Airport, making it easier for non-EEC citizens to obtain short-stay visas, and creating special police brigades in Paris to ensure tourist security. Monsieur Fabius has also announced his intention to create a Conseil de la Promotion du Tourisme which will work with both the public and private sectors to produce a tourist plan for 2020. The council will meet annually.

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On Holiday With The French

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Stereotyping 300x136 On Holiday With The FrenchAt this time of year when the annual summer holidays cause France to pull its shutters down for a month, the holiday reservation site Travelzoo carried out a survey on how their European subscribers viewed French tourists. The 2,398 people who took part were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the behaviour of French tourists who seem well on their way to being considered the worst in Europe. Criticisms only go to endorse the clichés we frequently hear applied to the French. So, what exactly is it they find so hard to stomach?

For one thing all seemed to agree that the French tourist is extremely hard to please, and never stops belly-aching. The French have a high expectation level with regard to their holidays, so everything must be just right – to the most minute detail. Apparently, one of the favourite occupations of French holidaymakers who’ve just taken possession of their hotel room is to go round looking for the slightest speck of dust. And they’ll even look behind that picture frame above the bed! And if their room doesn’t have a magnificent sea view they won’t hesitate to bounce down to reception and demand that it be changed immediately. What’s more, the present economic crisis has made things even worse. The British tourist, on the other hand, will only complain in the most extreme cases, and as long as there’s plenty of sun and cheap booze available, is perfectly happy.

Arrogance On Holiday With The FrenchThe French are also considered to be an arrogant lot – mainly because, like their English counterparts, they make absolutely no effort to speak a foreign language when abroad. The French are proud of their country, its culture and language, and are inclined to consider themselves slightly superior to others. Not only do they act as if they were still in France, but they expect to be able to find what they’re in the habit of eating at home. Mind you, to be perfectly fair, I don’t think this is a particularly French trait. At the age of 14 I went on a school trip to the South of France. For me it was a paradise on earth, and the food, though certainly different, was for me an absolute delight. But many of my fellow pupils didn’t seem to agree: their main gripe was that there weren’t any fish and chip shops around! And what is more normal with this nation of gastronomes that the French also expect to have not only quality food and cooking available at the lowest possible price, but the high level of service that goes with it. The British tourist on the other hand, as long as he gets a cooked breakfast, is quite happy with a ham sandwich or a mediocre buffet-type meal.

Stinginess 300x160 On Holiday With The FrenchBut even though the French consider holidays to be extremely important, and will only deprive themselves when they have no other choice, they don’t want these holidays to cost them the earth. This explains the growing popularity in France of the all-inclusive type of holiday where you know down to the last euro exactly how much it’s all going to cost you, and where you’re certain that, if you don’t want to, you won’t have to fork out a cent more. But what contributes most to this ‘stingy’ image is when it comes to leaving a tip. The French will only tip when they’re fully satisfied with the service (which is extremely rare), and even then (as, to be quite honest, I’ve personally often been in a position to note), this is far from being a general rule. One of the main justifications for this is that the waiter receives a salary just like them. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons are culturally more inclined to leave a tip – even when the quality of the service leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s also understandable that in this country of haute couture and designer fashion clothes the holidaying French tend to pay more attention to what  they wear.  And even though they tend to dress more casually, there are still certain standards which they rarely abandon. The British and Germans, on the other hand, will stroll nonchalantly round holiday resort shops clad in nothing more elaborate than flip-flops and shorts.

Seville tour guide On Holiday With The FrenchNot only do the French want their holidays to bring relaxation and enjoyment, but they also like to come away with the conviction that they’ve added something to their personal culture and knowledge. The guided-tour type of holiday, where you visit different places of cultural or historical interest each day are, therefore, far more popular than with holidaymakers from other countries. So frequently can this be observed that in Seville it has prompted the standing joke that at 4 o’clock on a sweltering summer afternoon only dogs and the French are to be seen in the streets. The English and Germans are more inclined to spend their days soaking up the sun on a lounger round the swimming pool, or just lazing on the beach with the occasional dip in the sea.

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Bilingual Brains Age the Best

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Elderly couple Bilingual Brains Age the BestAt an age when I’m being more and more reminded that my memory isn’t half as good as it was (it’s not that I don’t remember, it just takes me as long as half an hour to recollect some things – especially names – which used to trip instantaneously off my tongue), and when I sometimes have the more than disconcerting impression that my brains are well on the way to assuming the size and appearance of two shrivelled peas, I was considerably reassured by an article I recently read in the Health Supplement of the Figaro newspaper. The article in question concludes that, according to a number of studies, speaking two or more languages can delay by as many as five years the onset of those different types of senile dementia – in particular Alzheimer’s Disease – which, at the age I’ve now reached, are beginning to fill me with dread. One of these studies, conducted by researchers at Edinburgh University in Scotland, and published in the American medical magazine Annals of Neurology, claims that speaking two or more languages helps your grey matter to perform better, regardless of whether the foreign language skill was acquired during childhood or after the age of 18. This more or less lets me in as I started learning French at secondary school at the tender age of eleven, and have never stopped since. What’s more, being multilingual, or even modesty bilingual, has the advantage of giving your brain a dimension which will protect you at all stages of life, says Dr Bernard Croisile, head of the Neuro-Psychology Department at the University Hospital of Lyon. And, according to his study, this has got nothing to do with your sex, your IQ, your educational level, or even your life style.

Research participants were brought up in an English language environment and took a first intelligence test in 1947 at the age of eleven. A comparable intelligence and reading test taken 60 years later, shortly after their 70th birthday, showed that the cognitive performance of the 260 bi or multilingual people taking part was better than that of a similar group whose members could only speak one language. This, apparently, is due to the fact that speaking two languages or more involves the use of several cognitive functions, says researcher Thomas Hak, a specialist in intellectual decline at the University of Edinburgh. So, most of those things which tend to poison an expat Brit’s linguistic life in France – trying not to make your pronunciation of ‘tu’ sound too much like ‘tout’, deciding whether the word ‘silence’ is ‘le’ or ‘la’, racking your brains wondering whether you should be using a subjunctive or not, or worrying yourself to death that ‘Bonjour madame’ would have been far politer than just a breezy ‘Bonjour’ – are, like downing those spoonfuls of cod liver oil when you were a kid, actually good for you.

And even if the mechanism is not yet fully known, the same advantages apply to all stages of life. For as early as 2009 research in Italy based on seven-month-old babies – an age when they can’t yet speak, but are capable of recognizing the language(s) they’ve been hearing since birth – had already shown that speaking two languages develops certain functions, notably the ability to concentrate and adapt to new rules.

I must admit, however, that at the end of the article I was a bit disappointed to learn that speaking a foreign language cannot be considered in itself as a cognitive cure-all.  It’s just one of the factors which can slow down the ageing of the brain and delay that time when you won’t always be able to remember your spouse’s, or even your own name. As Dr Croisile confirms, ‘When practiced at all stages of life, rich and varied intellectual activities, whatever form these may take, are all-important factors when it comes to protecting our brain as we advance in age.’ So I’ll just have to keep on writing my weekly blogs, make an effort to finish those brain-racking French crosswords, and try to delay any numerical decline by doing the odd diabolical Sudoku.

 

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