France's climate is generally temperate but varied. Summer and winter is mild across much of the country, particularly in the capital Paris however the Mediterranean regions experience hotter summers while the southwest experiences wetter conditions in winter. Similarly in the northwest, winters are wet and mild however summers tend to be cooler. The Rhone Valley experiences the mistral, a dry, cold, strong north-to-northwesterly wind. The Alsace, along the German border, experiences hot summers and cool winters while the mountain regions such as Auvergne, Pyrenees and the Alps experience cold winters with lots of snow. More about France Weather
Some public telephones are coin-operated, but most require a telephone card, available from post offices and newsstands. To call abroad from a public or private telephone purchase an international phone card, available at main post offices. Mobile phones in France work on the GSM European standard; before leaving home check with your phone provider to make sure you have made the necessary roaming arrangements. Internet cafés are found in larger towns and cities, though small towns usually have at least one Internet point.
Much of the French population owes its heritage to German, Roman and Celtic origins however due to large-scale immigration in more modern times, there are also a mixture of a number of ethnic groups.
A leading industrialised country, France is the seventh largest economy and the world and the second largest economy in Europe. Home to 39 of the 500 biggest companies in the world, France is ranked fourth in the Fortune Global 500. France features a mixed economy that is a combination of government intervention, significant state enterprise and a wide range of private enterprise. In 2009, the World Trade Organisation ranked France as the fourth largest importer and sixth largest exporter of manufactured goods in the world.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. The European plug (with two circular metal pins) is used.
Situated on the western edge of Europe, France is bordered by Andorra, Belgium Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain and Switzerland in the northeast and southwest. A territory of Europe, France is the largest territory in the European Union, covering a total of 547,030 square kilometres (211,209 sq mi). The total population of France is 66,616,416, the majority of which is concentrated in the capital, Paris. France features a diverse range of landscapes including coastal plains, mountain ranges and countryside.
France is home to an excellent range of well-developed road networks and highways, however visitors should note that the majority of the autoroute (freeway) are linked by toll roads. Car hire is available from most airports and offers a convenient way to get around France. There are also a fantastic range of rail networks in France which can take you almost anywhere you want to do. The Train a Grande Vitesse (TVG) is a high-speed train ideal for travelling long distances however the slower train services are a wonderful way to enjoy the landscape and scenery of France on shorter trips.
The official language spoken in France is French (français) however there are a number of regional dialects and local variations in the pronunciation of words. For example, the French word for yes is oui (pronounced we) however you will often hear slang forms like ouais and waay, similar to the way the English language has developed yeah in place of yes.
The correct name for France is the French Republic and the country is a unified, semi-presidential republic where the President is the head of state elected for a 5 year term by the people whereas the government is led by the Prime Minister who is appointed by the President.
A secular country, it is a constitutional right of the French people to enjoy freedom of religion. Under a strict separation of church and state, public life is kept completely separate from the underpinnings of the church. Catholicism is the main religion in France however it is not as widely practised as it once was. 94% of the 47,000 religious buildings in France are actually Roman Catholic. The remaining population are predominately Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish.
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Service charges are included in your restaurant bill, so you are not expected to tip. If service is not included, a 10-15% tip is appropriate. In bars, some people will leave any small change as a tip, but this is not mandatory. Tipping taxi drivers is not necessary, but hotel porters do expect something.
British, Irish and other EU citizens can enter France and stay as long as they like. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States do not need a visa if the visit is less than 3 months. All other nationals should consult the relevant embassy about visa requirements. Foreign nationals who are not exempt from obtaining a visa are legally required to register with the police upon entering France. All travellers must carry a valid passport at all times.
VAT is a value-added tax (approximately 20%) that visitors to Europe may recover upon leaving the country. The easiest way is to buy from a merchant who has enrolled in the Europe Tax-free Shopping (ETS) plan. These businesses display in their windows the "Tax Free for Tourists" sticker. Documentation filled out at the store must be processed at the airport custom counter before you check any luggage and you must be prepared to show the merchandise. Refunds can be credited to your credit card.