It’s the Little French Things Thursday, Jan 10 2013 

When traveling in a different culture, sometimes it’s the little things one doesn’t know that end up being the most surprising…and occasionally unnerving. In France, driving tends to be a breeze since the French conduisent (drive) on the right as we do, but there other situations or characteristics of French life that can be the opposite of American culture. I have pulled together a short list of these small cultural pièges (traps) that can make or break your time in France. Or simply knowing about them can make you more comfortable in the French environment. Read on to make sure you’re super savvy about these aspects of la culture française.

New Year’s cards – The French prefer to send New Year’s cards over Christmas cards. They like to wish their friends and family members bonne année et bonne santé (happy new year and good health) each year. So if you didn’t get a Christmas card from your French friends, not to worry. Hopefully that New Year’s card is on the way!

Numbers – You may have noticed that the French generally use commas rather than decimal points in their numbers. For example, when you see prices on restaurant menus, shop items and market goods, the ‘cents’ will be what follows the comma. This French bistro menu has les escargots at 7,50 euros for a half dozen or 11,50 euros for a dozen – garlic butter included!


Also worth noting when you get to big numbers in the thousands and millions, the French indicate this with spaces while we use commas. In France, two million or 2,000,000 would be written as 2 000 000.

One other note, the French tend to cross their sevens so as to distinguish them from the number one. These big bouquets of luscious ranunculus were selling for 7,60 euros each.


Phone Numbers – In France, French phone numbers have 10 digits. The ‘area code’ consists of the first two numbers and the number pairs can be set off by periods or spaces. The French often write and say the numbers in groups of two, whereas Americans reel off their numbers in groups of 3, 3 and 4 – the area code, then the two parts of the 7-digit number. This sign at the legendary Château Margaux in the Bordeaux region indicates that tours of the winery are available by appointment only with the contact phone number provided.


And French rose expert Elsie de Raedt opens her Loire Valley manor house and gardens to visitors, again by appointment only.


Abbreviations – The French have an interesting habit when it comes to abbreviations. If a shortened word contains the ending letters of the word, then no period is included. Alternatively, if the abbreviation cuts off the ending letters of the word, then a period shows up. Take a look at Madame, which is abbreviated Mme, versus Monsieur which ends up M. in its abbreviated form.

Bread – The French consider bread a true staple of life and eats LOTS of it. This is why there is a boulangerie (bakery) on nearly every street corner in France. On the other hand, Americans tend to equate bread with instant weight gain. I notice that Americans don’t touch the bread basket at restaurants, much to the consternation of the French wait staff.

Cafe 5 compressed

Coffee – At the end of French lunches and dinners, coffee – that would be expresso since the French put milk in their coffee only at breakfast – is served AFTER dessert. It’s almost like its own final course to the meal. So when the coffee you ordered does not arrive with your dessert, ne paniquez pas! It will come once you’ve finished your mousse au chocolat.


Tipping – In French restaurants, a tip of about 18% is built in to the price of items on the menu. So there is no need to tip another 15 to 20% at the end of the meal. In point of fact, when paying your restaurant bill by credit card, the French credit card slip usually will not include a space for tips. However, in return for good service, the French leave a good will gesture of some pocket change or small bills on the table – the rule of thumb is no more than 5% extra.

Books – Besides the language factor, French books differ from their American counterparts in two visible ways. First the titles on the spine (as the book cover is facing you) read from the bottom to the top in France; in the U.S., book titles read from the top to the bottom. So when you put French books on your bookshelf you have to decide if you want the front cover or the spine to align with the rest of your books?! Second, French books often have the table of contents at the end of the book rather than at the beginning. I am seeing more French books place it at the front nowadays but if you’re curious what’s in a book in France and can’t find the list of contents, check the back of the book.

Notebooks - Graph paper is de rigueur (essential) in French spiral and bound notebooks. Both French school kids and adults like the orderly ambiance graph paper provides – perhaps this is the key to their wonderful handwriting skills? Or maybe it’s the fountain pens everyone uses in France? In any case, Rhodia is the brand of choice when it comes to these graphic works of art.

Clocks and Time – Last but not least, the French regularly use the 24-hour or military clock to avoid any scheduling snafus – and the need to use AM or PM. Train schedules, airline flights, shop hours, restaurant reservations all function on the 24-hour clock. For example, shops in Paris tend to be open from 10h00 à 19h00 (10AM to 7PM).

And while on the subject of time, it’s very helpful to remember that in the U.S. daylight savings time starts earlier in the spring and changes back later in the fall as compared to France and the rest of Europe. So there is a two to three week period each season where the standard time differences between the U.S. and France are off by an hour. Good to note for your French travel schedule when time is of the essence!


Step into French time with the big clock windows at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay


Travel to France in 2013! Thursday, Jan 3 2013 

It is the new year – Bonne année to all! – and the perfect moment to put France on the calendar. I invite you to join me and Garden Specialist Jane Holahan for this year’s very special trip to the Loire Valley and Paris from June 7 to 14, 2013. It is one of French Affaires’ most spectacular sojourns in France and includes exclusive visits and inside tours of fabulous gardens, châteaux, manor houses and more.


We’ll take in the beautiful architecture of châteaux such as Chenonceau known for its soaring arches over the River Cher. We also will be treated to guided visits of well-known gardens such as Villandry—notably the most magnificent and inventive garden in all of France—and lesser-known private gardens not usually accessible to the public. Our stay in the Loire Valley will be made all the more special by our lovely accommodations in château hotels in the region and gourmet meals with wine. Other trip highlights include two days based in Paris with guided visits to the King’s Vegetable gardens of the Château de Versailles and the exquisite Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne.

Included here is the trip itinerary with gorgeous images to tempt you. The Fall 2012 version of this trip sold out quickly, and our June 2013 offering will be our last Loire Valley and Paris trip for some time. If you have never been to the Loire Valley or feel your previous visit didn’t do it justice, then consider joining our once-in-a-lifetime trip. This region is one of the top 10 places to see in all of France – and the gorgeous gardens are a MUST in June!

Great Châteaux & Gardens of the Loire Valley, Plus Versailles & Paris

Day 1: Friday, June 7 – Depart your home city for Paris. Dinner & breakfast en route.

Day 2:  Saturday, June 8 – Arrival in Paris, Group pickup the Loire Valley.

Morning arrival in Paris! Gather your bags & take your TGV train from CDG airport to the Tours St. Pierre des Corps train station. Your trip hosts Elizabeth Seitz & Jane Holahan will meet you upon arrival in Tours. Pre-arranged transport to our hotel for the next two nights, the magnificent Château d’Artigny. This sumptuous château was built by the famous perfumer François Coty in 18th century style. Late afternoon guided visit to the Château de Villandry, a marvel of Renaissance architecture with superb gardens. NOTE: The French family who owns Villandry will give us a personal tour of their home – both the castle interior & the exterior grounds. Return to our hotel for a welcome aperitif followed by gourmet three-course dinner with wine. Turn in & get a good night’s sleep! (D)

Day 3:  Sunday, June 9Gardens of La Chatonnière, Château du Rivau & Elsie De Raedt

This morning, we will enjoy a guided tour of the lovely gardens of  La Chatonnière followed by an elegant picnic lunch with wine under the chestnut trees. After lunch, we’ll visit the 15th century Château du Rivau in its extraordinary setting. In the past 20 years, the château has been completely restored & its gardens recreated in the spirit of the Middle Ages. The collection of over 400 scented roses mingle with fruit trees, iris, lavender & lilies. Our visit will include a tour led by the owners. Later that afternoon, we will drive through the forest of Chinon to visit the special gardens of the charming Elsie de Raedt, writer & expert on old roses. We’ll then enjoy “afternoon tea” of a rose kir & local “tarte aux vignerons” at her home before returning to our hotel for a wonderful gourmet dinner with wine. (B, L, afternoon tea, D)


Day 4:  Monday, June 10 – International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire & Town of Amboise

After breakfast, we check out from our hotel. Then we head to the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire. In its 22nd year, this International Garden Festival celebrates a different theme annually and includes creative & whimsical gardens of every style. Lunch as a group at Chaumont’s Festival Restaurant, Le Grand Velum. Next, we’ll make the short drive to our next château hotel, the marvelous Hôtel le Choiseul in the picturesque town of Amboise. Free time to explore the sights in Amboise including Leonardo da Vinci’s house & final resting place. Good shopping in town as well with lots of charming boutiques. Dinner on your own in Amboise, plenty of suggestions provided. (B, L)

Day 5: Tuesday, June 11Fairytale Chenonceau & the gardens of Château de Valmer

After breakfast, it is only a short drive to the magnificent Château de Chenonceau on the River Cher & the fabulous gardens of Catherine de Medici & Diane de Poitiers. After a guided tour of the château – including the amazing kitchens! – & grounds, we’ll buy a picnic lunch & enjoy it on site. That afternoon, we continue to Chançay, northeast of Tours, to visit the 16th & 17th century gardens at Château de Valmer. French owner & Countess Alix de Saint Venant, an acclaimed landscape designer & specialist in heirloom vegetables will be our guide. Madame de Saint Venant is wonderfully personable and welcoming – you will love meeting her and having her show us around her centuries-old gardens. We’ll also be treated to a wine-tasting of the delicious wines made and bottled at Valmer. Return to the Hôtel le Choiseul for our gourmet dinner with wine. (B, D) 

Day 6:  Wednesday, June 12Travel to Paris & Free Afternoon

After breakfast and hotel checkout, we will depart for Paris and the last two days of our France adventure. Check in at the casually elegant Hôtel Duc de St. Simon on the Left Bank. Free afternoon to explore & shop. Dinner on your own, plenty of good suggestions provided. (B)

Day 7: Thursday, June 13 – Gardens of the Château de Versailles, Parc de Bagatelle & Final Celebration Dinner

This morning, we’ll visit the inspiring & breathtaking gardens at the Château de Versailles, with a special tour of the Potager du Roi which began with Louis XIV & today produces over 50 tons of fruits & vegetables!  We’ll purchase lunch on site at Versailles & enjoy a picnic in the gardens. Then, we’ll return to Paris to visit the rose gardens of the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. This garden of Marie Antoinette now displays 1200 varieties of roses & will be resplendent during our June tour. Late afternoon return to Paris. Free time to shop or sightsee as desired. This evening, our group will gather for a farewell celebration dinner with wine at a local Parisian bistrot. (B, D)

Day 8:  Friday, June 14Departure for the U.S.

After breakfast, check out of our hotel. Pre-arranged transport to Charles de Gaulle airport for flights back to the U.S. Lunch & snack en route.

For the "Great Châteaux and Gardens of the Loire Valley, plus Paris" registration form and further trip details, please email me at . The trip cost is $4450 per person double occupancy and includes our first-class hotels, all breakfasts, most lunches and dinners with wine, cultural excursions, airport /train station transfers, guides and transport. Single supplement additional. Our trip size is small for an outstandingly personal experience. Feel free to call me with questions at 214-232-5344 - I’d be happy to discuss the trip details with you!

To see more about the special places on our Loire Valley and Paris itinerary, please browse the list of web sites below:


La Chatonniere:


Elsie de Raedt:





Parc de Bagatelle: