The results are in and it’s going to be Marine Le Pen against Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the French Presidential Election. But never mind this election! How much do you know about French elections generally? Here are 15 items that I bet most of you don’t know.

French elections, voting "papers"

  1. In France we always vote on a Sunday (easy one, you probably knew that).
  2. We only vote for one thing at a time. Vote for President today, go back to vote for Parliament a few weeks later.
  3. The new French President will take office no later than on May 15th, 2017, but our Constitution does not mandate a day.
  4. French Presidents are not sworn in at all. There are a lot of events surrounding the “investiture” of the new President, including firing canons on the Place des Invalides, but things happen a little differently and with a lot of panache each time. (I found out today, so don’t lie, you didn’t know that!)
  5. French people will vote again for the Parliament (our House of Representatives) in two rounds to be held on June 11th, 2017 and June 18th, 2017. We always hold a vote for Parliament one month after the Presidential election. That’s mandated by law.
  6. French people register to vote in the city where they live by going to city hall aka La Mairie. Alternatively, they could register to vote on-line using a government portal. There are no voter registration drives in France! (And yet most people manage to register to vote. Oh, that was a snarky comment, should I cut it out?)
  7. Once a French person is registered to vote, renewal is automatic, unless they move to a different city and wish to vote somewhere else. But if you don’t mind going back to vote in your old precinct, nobody cares.
  8. French voters are NOT asked to indicate a party preference when registering to vote. We think our party preference (if any) is nobody’s business.
  9. French campaigns are much shorter than in America. The campaign for President starts around January and the vote is held in April/May. (French people think 4 months is much too long and complain about it. If they only knew!)
  10. When you go to vote in France, you pick up two or more pieces of paper on which the names of the candidates are printed, you go to the “isoloir” (voting booth) and put the paper with the name you want inside of an envelope. These envelopes are opened and counted by humans, under supervision from other humans. People who put more than one paper in the envelope or write anything on the paper automatically nullify their vote.
  11. Voting boxes are transparent and all the same all over the country. These same transparent boxes are used when holding every election starting with 1st grade class president, so even children are familiar with how this works.(We hate surprises).
  12. Since the system is simple, we always know the result of the election at 8PM on Election Day. No press organization is allowed to announce results before 8 PM on Election Day. No piecemeal announcement of results or polls throughout the day.
  13. French territories in different time zones vote on a different day so they are not influenced by main-land results.
  14. There is a mandatory “electoral silence” between midnight the Friday before the election and Sunday 8 PM on Election Day.  That means that journalists and candidates are asked not to release any new polling results or partial counts and candidates may not engage in campaigning during that time.
  15. Despite having to go to the polls so many times, participation in elections is generally pretty good. This week for instance, 77% of eligible voters participated in the first round of the Presidential Election (58% only for the last General Election in the US this last time around).

So, there you have it! 15 things you probably didn’t know about French elections. OK, you probably knew some of them, right?

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Duck breast served rare, How would you like your meat done?
Duck breast is generally served rare in France, but you can ask for it any way you like.

How Would You Like Your Meat Done?

I love French restaurants, don’t you? But sometimes they ask difficult questions, such as: “How would you like your meat done?” (which is French is: “la cuisson de votre viande s’il vous plaît ?”)

How should you answer that question?

How to Order Your Meat in French

First, basic terminology:

  • Bien cuit = Well-done
  • À point = Medium
  • Saignant = Rare
  • Bleu = VERY rare

Secondly, you have to know that most French people prefer their beef prepared rare. What looks “medium” to a French chef may look scary rare to you. Be a great consumer: know what you want, and speak up immediately if you are not happy. French restaurateurs will not mind giving your meat a few more minutes on the grill, so long as you don’t wait 10 minutes to say something. Be decisive and fast!

So, when the waiter asks “How would you like your meat done?” make sure they understand what you mean. Write it down and show them if you have to! And when they bring the food, if you’re not happy how they cooked your meat, be direct and speak up as soon as you are served.

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Today is Feb 2nd, the blessed day when French people are supposed to eat crepes! I am not a rule-breaker, so if you could smell the crepes in my little French kitchen today, I think you’d decide to make some of you own. Like most cooking adventures, you need a little know-how, but it is not rocket science. Give it a try! Make sure to read the tips below the recipe card before you start cooking.

Crepe recipe
Click for larger size
  • Use a proper pan. You don’t need a crepe pan, but if you have it, it will make your life easier. Any good quality non-stick pan will do. Do NOT use cast iron, the pan must be non-stick or you will hate life. You don’t need a “crepe maker” electrical appliance just to make crepes. This is the crepe pan I use and recommend.
  • Sweet crepes: You can fill your crepes with anything you like, but we definitely have our “classics” in France: lemon juice and granulated sugar, Nutella, Chestnut puree and whipped cream are my 3 favorites.
  • We also love savory crepes in France. We call them “galette” or “crepe au sarrasin” (buckwheat) and we put savory foods inside:cheese, bacon, mushrooms. Anything that can go on a pizza will work nicely inside of a savory crepe. Tonight at my house, we will enjoy Galette-saucisse (also a great Superbowl food BTW), but variations are endless!
  • If you make too much, cover your leftover crepe stack with cling wrap and put in the fridge. To warm them up again, place the ceramic plate over a pot of boiling water (low boil) with another ceramic plate on top. Leave over the heat for 5 minutes.
  • In French, the name we we use for Feb, 2nd is “la chandeleur” (“candlemas” in English). This name refers to the Catholic origins of this celebration, and we still use it, but most people are not aware that there is a religious significance to this occasion.
Galette-saucisse, savory crepe with sausage inside
Galette-saucisse
Galette with ham and eggs
Galette garnie
*Just so you know, there are an affiliate links on this page where a commission is earned, you pay the same price whether you use this link or not.

 

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Highlights

You NEED a reservation or you may get turned away

Don’t reserve too soon

Share your contact info



It Should Be Easy, Right?French Waiter with frowny face

One of the major reasons people travel to France is to enjoy the great food. But when visitors arrive in France they are sometimes baffled by the way restaurants work. Did you know that it is common to be turned away at a French restaurant?

You read a review or heard about a great restaurant on the podcast, decide this sounds amazing, you go there, and they tell you they’re full tonight, come back another day. If that’s happened to you, you know how frustrating this is.

As a result, most tourists give up on choosing restaurants based on reviews and choose to have their next meal wherever has empty tables. Sometimes they get lucky and have an amazing meal. But, if you’re like me and you want to pick some restaurants ahead of time and look forward to the experience, you need to learn how to reserve a table in France.

Taking Reservations Is Risky for the Restaurateur

As you know, leisurely meals are a big thing in France.  At a French restaurant, the table is yours for 2+ hours. This is great, but it creates a catch 22 when it comes to restaurant reservations. If you don’t show up at the appointed time what do they do? Do they fill your table with someone else or wait? How long should they wait? Given that most French restaurants are not physically big, they don’t have lots of tables to play with. And French restaurants usually don’t serve all-day, but only at meal times.

Restaurants that accept reservations need to trust that the customers will actually show up, but visitors are famously fickle. Maybe they changed their minds, maybe they got lost, maybe they cancelled their vacation and forgot to cancel the restaurant. No matter what happened, it’s a risk for the restaurateur. Given all that, here are the secrets that will make it easy for you to reserve a table at a French restaurant. Read on!

How to Reserve at a French Restaurant

Here is the secret sauce of how to get your table and never get turned away by a French restaurant again:

  • Call the restaurant. You’re not comfortable speaking French on the phone? No problem, you probably won’t have to! Say “Allo, bonjour” and then switch to English. Trust me, if you don’t speak French, just hearing your say the magic word “bonjour”, they know you’re not French! Speak English, but speak slowly and ennunciate. If the person who answered the phone can’t do English, they’ll find someone who does.
  • ATTENTION: Call one or two days before you want to eat there. Do NOT call two months in advance! A lot can happen in two months. If it’s a Michelin starred restaurants, try a week or two in advance. Always be willing to give a local phone number where they can reach you (your hotel number) and your last name.
  • If you don’t want to call, stop by the restaurant. You can stop by a restaurant and tell them you’d like to eat there that night or the next day. French people do this all the time, the staff will not be surprised if you show up at 11 AM while they are setting up and ask if you can reserve. If anything, it helps the restaurant trust that you will show up! Again, volunteer to give the details of your hotel and your last name.
  • Ask your hotel to reserve on your behalf. If the hotel calls, they know that you’re in the country and it’s more of a “sure thing”. The person at the hotel desk will know how to convince them that you’re for real.
  • You can reserve with the Michelin website or some other website. Many restaurants do not take on-line reservations yet, but it’s becoming more common.

Conclusion

When in Rome… Plan ahead a little bit, but not too far, and be willing to share contact information so the restaurateur can contact you if needed. Most will never call you, they are too busy running the restaurant, they want your contact information as an insurance policy against flakes. And you’ve got to admit, there are a lot of flakes out there, even if you’re not one of them.



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What is Going to Be Open on May 1st in France?

Highlights

No city public transportation anywhere besides Paris

Most museums will be closed

Most stores will be closed

Some restaurants will be closed



La Fête du TravailLabor Day in France

May 1st is a holiday in France because it is “la Fête du Travail”, a day off for workers to celebrate the 8-hour work day. This is a celebration that originated in the United States on May 1st, 1886 and has since spread all over the world, including France.

But May is a popular travel month, so a common question I get is what happens on May 1st in France? This is an excellent question because you do not want to be caught off-guard and lots of people are surprised how many things are closed on Labor Day in France!

Does Everyone Take May 1st Off?

Yes, pretty much! Most people do not work on May 1st. As a result, here are some things where you will find closed doors:

  • City buses, trams and metros will not run anywhere (except for Paris, see below). No public transportation in Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, etc. No public transportation in smaller French cities either.
  • Paris is the exception to this rule, there are some metros and RER trains, but at much slower frequency. You will have to wait, possibly with lots of other people.
  • Stores will be closed, there will be exceptions, but most stores will be closed!
  • Many restaurants will be closed (especially outside of Paris).
  • Almost all museums will be closed all over France (a few smaller museums stay open in Paris).

What Stays Open in France on May 1st?

  • Hotels
  • Hospitals
  • A few pharmacies (they are called “pharmacie de garde”, google for one near you if you need it)
  • A few restaurants (it will be easier to find a restaurant in Paris than other places)
  • Disneyand Paris will be open and very crowded
  • The Eiffel Tower is normally open on May 1st
  • Bâteaux Mouches and other cruise boats on the River Seine should be open
  • The Sewer Museum in Paris is open on May 1st
  • Airports will stay open (with a reduced number of domestic flights)
  • Trains will run (on a reduced schedule)

What Can I Do as a Visitor on May 1st in France?

If you’re only in France for a short time and want to find something to do, google the venues you have in mind to make sure they are open. Make a plan as to how you will get there.

Please note that if you’re thinking of renting a car to get around Paris for that day, you will find the roads very busy and parking spaces difficult to find.

My strategy is to plan on walking around pleasant places such as public parks and beautiful streets wherever I happen to be. In Paris, I love to walk around the Île de la Cité, followed by a stroll along the Seine River. You could also go visit the Canal Saint-Martin (which thankfully has gotten better since this episode was published).

You could also participate in one of the many “manifestations” taking place all over France. A large one in Paris starts at Place de la Bastille. Google the term “manifestation du 1 mai Paris” to find one that will suit your taste. Be aware that depending on the political climate and possibly terror alert, there may be some rough policing going on.

Most French people will be hanging out with family or practice their favorite sport. It is a day of rest and relaxation. I hope you have a great time in France on May 1st, take it slow and don’t try to make it a typical tourism day where you pack too much in. Sleep-in, enjoy the spring weather, and have a laid-back day like the rest of France.



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