Any citizens of the European Union can enter France without a visa. Find out if your country has signed the Schengen treaty as the airports are divided into Schengen and non-Schengen sections, which are like domestic and international sections around the rest of the world. If you travel within Schengen countries you will still have to show your passport, but there’s no need for a visa. Everyone else will need a visa to work in France.
France’s official language is... French (français). Quel surprise! Like anywhere though, there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words. Learn a bit of school French before embarking on your gap year though and the locals are bound to get the jist of what you’re talking about. The closer your backpacking takes you to the bordering countries of Spain and Germany the more the languages start to get a little mixed up – it can be fun to hear.
By all accounts French people like you to be polite and rumour has it they get angry if you’re not. Get to learn your polite words and flex them at every opportunity.
The currency in France is the euro (EUR, €) along with the other 23 other countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents.
Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels will take Visa and Mastercard, though American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. No worries there for us backpackers then. Remember you may be charged by your card provider to use your card abroad though. And it’s always better to take big chunks of cash out of the ATM at once, rather than little bits here and there.
Traveller's cheques can be difficult to use in France as most merchants won’t accept them. They seem like quite an archaic way to get cash abroad now, with all the security and ease of bank cards.
Being loud in public places in considered very rude in France. Don’t be one of those tourists babbling at the top of their lungs, instead see how the locals do it and talk softly to each other.
The French are well known for being super fashionable - Parisian chic is what they’re all about. Avoid rubbish tourist clothes – sneakers, baseball caps, flip flops – if you plan on fitting in with the locals. Don’t dress sluzzy if you plan on visiting some churches and temples. On the beach feel free to get your baps out, but make sure you’re on a nudist beach if you plan on getting your nether regions out.
If you’re planning on practicing your French while you’re there, make sure you know exactly who you’re talking to and the correct pronoun to use. Some people can get very upset if you address them in the incorrect way. If in doubt, go for the more formal way of speaking. The best way to deal with this is to address people using "vous" until invited to say "tu", or until addressed by the first name. At least it’ll show you’re respectful, if nothing else.