| Daily Life
Students enjoy special privileges in France. An extensive system of discounts, assistance, and special facilities allows students to stretch a relatively modest budget to cover basic needs—and to enjoy life in France. Benefits include a network of student restaurants, university housing, rent subsidies, health insurance, student clubs and associations, and discounts on public transportation, movies, museums, libraries, and cultural or sporting events. Student status also makes it easy to stay active in sports through discounted access to athletic facilities. Rare is the campus that does not host a wide range of athletic clubs, associations, and leagues. Many universities and schools are located in city centers, offering easy access to the rich social and cultural life of France’s lively cities. Museums, bookstores, theaters, and cafés are never very far away.
The majority of ISEP students are housed in French university dormitories with French and international students. Dormitories are a good place to meet other students and practice speaking French. Most dormitories offer single rooms, often with a sink in the room. Either maids may clean the room a few times a month, or students may be expected to do their own housekeeping. Communal bathrooms with showers are available on each floor of the dormitory and are usually co-ed.
Dormitories may offer cooking facilities, which can range from an electric hot plate to a full kitchen with an oven and refrigerator. Many dormitories in France now require a code for entry in the evening. Others are not locked and have a receptionist at the entry. Students should keep their own rooms locked at all times and contact their host coordinator if any safety issue arises.
University restaurants - restau-u's - are administered by C.R.O.U.S. As a student with a C.R.O.U.S. Card, you are entitled to a subsidized rate of about 3 Euro. A typical meal consists of an hors-d'oeuvre, a plate of meat or fish with vegetables, a salad, and cheese or a sweet. Drinks are served at a moderate price. Students should note that some restau-u's close on weekends so they should expect to cook in their dormitory or find a restau-u that is open, which may be farther away. Should you want to venture away from the cafeteria food, there are restaurants everywhere offering a wide variety of fare at a wide range of prices.
If your residence has cooking facilities, you should explore the food stores in your area. You'll find small neighborhood shops, supermarkets, and open-air markets. And no matter where you live in France, you won't be far from a bakery where you can buy baguettes and croissants.
Centre Régional des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires (C.R.O.U.S.)
At every French university there is a C.R.O.U.S. office. Each C.R.O.U.S. is directly or indirectly responsible for the housing, cultural, and sports facilities generally located on campus; it also supplies information on all cultural and sports activities in the area by means of circulars, monthly bulletins and posters in the university restaurants and dormitories.
Besides providing these services, C.R.O.U.S. has a valuable travel service that supplies Billet BIGE/Trans-alpino tickets. To obtain a C.R.O.U.S. card, be sure to have three or four photos available. A C.R.O.U.S. card gives access to all C.R.O.U.S. services. C.R.O.U.S. also manages the university restaurants.
Maisons d'Activités Culturelles (M.A.C.)
The M.A.C. propose a variety of activities such as cinéclubs, theaters, lectures, debates and various group activities. They charge low prices for their cultural events. They endeavor to go beyond the strict bounds of artistic activity, such as orchestras or theater companies, by presenting exhibitions and films of scientific and social interest as well.
Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture (M.J.C.)
Students should also take advantage of the services provided by the M.J.C., which serves as a meeting place for students and provides various social or educational activities.
Many university residences provide linens with the room. Washing and drying facilities are usually not provided in French dorms. Students will be able to find laundromats, however they can be expensive, so be prepared to do a lot of hand washing. Dry cleaning is even more expensive, so avoid bringing non-washable clothing.
The primary cause of death and serious injury to travelers under the age of thirty-five is road traffic accidents. While hazards are greatest in developing countries, many developed countries also have death and serious accident rates higher than those in the United States. Even in countries with low accident rates, you may be at risk if you are not familiar with local traffic rules. Be sure you familiarize yourself with traffic rules and road safety issues in your host country and other countries to which you may be traveling.
French business hours are regulated by the 35 hour-week work limit. Shop hours are usually 9am or 9.30am to 7pm or 8pm, often with a midday break from noon or 1pm to 2pm or 3pm. The midday break is uncommon in Paris. French law requires that most businesses close on Sunday; exceptions include grocery stores, boulangeries, cake shops, florists and businesses catering exclusively to the tourist trade. Many close one weekday too, often Monday.
Banks usually open 8am or 9am to 11.30am or 1pm and then 1.30pm or 2pm to 4.30pm or 5pm, Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday. Exchange services may end half an hour before closing time.
Post offices generally open from 8.30am or 9am to 5pm or 6pm on weekdays (perhaps with a midday break) and Saturday morning from 8am to noon.
Supermarkets open Monday to Saturday usually from about 9am or 9.30am to 7pm or 8pm (plus a midday break in smaller towns); some open on Sunday morning. Small food shops may shut on Monday also, so Saturday morning may be your last chance to stock up on provisions until Tuesday. Open-air markets start at about 6am and finish at 1pm or 1.30pm. Many service stations have small groceries open 24 hours a day.
The bill in restaurants and cafés often includes a 15 percent tip. It is referred to "service compris." However, it is customary to leave small change unless you are dissatisfied. If the service is not included in the price, "service non compris," a 15 percent tip is customary. However, in chic restaurants, leave a generous tip.
Tipping in France is not compulsory but recommended.
For information on voltage and converters needed for various countries please visit: http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm#voltage_table
TRANSPORTATION AND TRAVEL
The French state-owned railroad (S.N.C.F.) is modern and fast. It reaches all but the smallest towns. Students can look into various rail passes if you think you will be traveling a lot. If you don't think you will use trains enough to make a pass worthwhile, youth discounts (Carte 12-25) are available on many trips. S.N.C.F. offers a 20 percent discount on aller-retour (round-trip) tickets for journeys of more than 1500 kilometers (e.g., Paris-Nice). There is also a 50 percent youth discount pass for travel during certain times and days.
The Transalpino/BIGE agency offers reduced-fare tickets, mainly on international trips, to anyone under 26. They have offices in 15 large Western European cities, as well as hundreds of selling agents including the C.R.O.U.S. discussed below under "Student Services and Organizations" section. The savings are 20 to 50 percent off regular second-class fares. Despite certain time limitations and other restrictions, Billet BIGE tickets probably are the best way to travel if you don't have a rail pass. These tickets cannot be bought at the train station.
Buses literally pick up where the trains leave off. The gare routière is frequently located right at or very near the train station. If you don't have a car, these inexpensive buses are the only transport available to carry you to remote towns and villages. You may find that purchasing a monthly pass saves you money on local transportation.
A U.S. driver's license is valid in France, though an International Driving Permit is more easily recognized by the gendarmes. For more information on obtaining an International Driving Permit, see "Documents - Other Considerations" in the Participant Handbook.
The tourist office issues a pamphlet, Motoring in France, which includes a guide to French road signs. To rent a car, the driver must hold a driver's license and credit card and be at least 21 years of age (in the case of Hertz and Avis). Mopeds are also very popular in France. To help you find the most direct or most scenic route, the best maps are Michelin's. Gas stations are easiest to find on the outskirts of towns; gas is very expensive.
Student Travel Agencies
Almost every country in Europe has at least one national organization specializing in the needs of student travelers: discounted transportation, accommodations and sightseeing, ID cards, meeting other students, etc. They are usually good places to get general advice, too, even if you are not a student.
Many towns have a syndicat d'initiative, or tourist office. These vary in helpfulness from town to town, but are usually valuable sources of general information while traveling.
You will have Internet access at your university in France. Wifi may or may not be available in your dorm for free or for an additional monthly fee. It may be several weeks after arrival and registration before the university enrolls you in their system, allowing you access to the computer center. In the interim, there are cyber cafes in most French cities, where you can pay a fee for Internet access.
Don't try to figure out the postage by yourself; to mail letters and parcels, it is best to take them to the post office and have them sent from there. If you do want to purchase stamps, they can be purchased at a local tabac.
Your best bet is to stock up on envelopes with international postage already on them. This is the cheapest option. Between Paris and the U.S. East Coast, airmail averages six days and is fairly dependable, though postal strikes do occur. To speed things up, send your mail from the largest post office near you.
Boxes are available in varying sizes at the post office. Post offices have pre-paid boxes where you can fit as much as you can for a set price. Each post office will vary on the maximum weight for a package shipped overseas. If a package weighs over five kilos, it will most likely need to be shipped via the S.N.C.F. shipping office. Ask at the train station for its location. There are companies that will ship packages home by boat. This is usually much less expensive, but takes 2 to 3 months. Students should inquire at the train station, post office, or from their host coordinator.
Calling France from the US:
- 011 - US exit code; must be dialed first for all international calls made from the USA or Canada
- 33 - country code for France
- phone number - 9 digits
- US to France international dialing format : 011 + 33 + ?? ??? ????
- If the phone number starts with 0, you drop the 0 when calling from the US or Canada. For example if the phone number in France is 03 11 22 33 44 you would dial 011 + 33 + 3 + 11+ 22 + 33 + 44
The first 2-3 numbers of a phone number in France indicate a city code (e.g. a phone number in Paris starts with 01, a phone number in Grenoble starts with 03, etc.); cell phone numbers usually begin with 06. When dialing in France you must dial the 0. Dialing a number in France from France you would dial the number as listed. A typical French phone number is as follows: 03 11 22 33 44
Direct dialing from a pay phone usually requires a télécarte, which is similar to a credit card and may be purchased at tabacs. Pay phones in France do not take change; they only operate with télécartes.
Most students decide to purchase a cell phone during their stay France. There are many providers; you should check with various providers and compare cost and agreement terms. Cell phone plans may require an annual contract. If you do not want to purchase a plan, you can purchase a phone and buy phone cards with pre-paid minutes. You will have to continue to refill minutes on the phone each time you run out. Here are a couple of places to begin your search: