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Paris is the capital of France, located on the river Seine in the north of the country. The city and its surrounding suburbs are one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe, and Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world. It has over 30 million visitors come each year. Paris has been known as the “city of light” (la ville lumière) since the 19th century, and it has a reputation for being one of the most romantic cities in the world. It is both an ancient city with a tangible history as well as a vibrantly modern one, and is fascinating on many levels. Paris is the centre of French cultural and economic life, and has worldwide influence in the arts, fashion and cuisine. It is known for unsurpassed museums and art galleries, beautiful architecture and an active nightlife.
Paris usually enjoys a fairly warm spring from April-June, and July is also very pleasant. August tends to be rather hot and sticky, and is when most of the native Parisians escape on holiday. Summer temperatures typically range from 16-28º C (60-83º F). Winters are mild, with average temperatures between 3-10º C (37-50º F). Snow is not uncommon in the winter, but the temperature is rarely below freezing and it usually does not stick. Rainfall is consistent throughout the year, though a bit more rain falls in the spring.
The currency used in France is the Euro. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, € 0.50, € 0.20, € 0.10, € 0.05, € 0.02 and € 0.01.
Parisians speak French in a distinctive manner, very fast and with an accent particular to the city and its environs. Many people in the city speak English, though are not always enthusiastic about doing so.
Catholics make up the largest percentage of France’s religious population, though in Paris there is a greater variety of faiths represented than elsewhere in the country. About 75% of the religious people are Roman Catholic, though Paris is an increasingly secular city and many people do not belong to any religion. There is a significant Muslim population in Paris, and the city is home to the greatest concentration of Jews in France. There is also a fair number of Protestants.
Service charges are included on all restaurant bills at a cost of 10-15%, and these percentages are included in the menu prices. However, it is standard to add a little more if the meal and service have been exceptional. Extra tips typically range from less than a euro for a coffee or snack to 1-5 euros for a meal. Tipping for taxis is not compulsory but it is nice to tip drivers about 5-10% of the fare. It is also common practice to give a small tip to Parisian porters, doormen, room service staff and ushers in cinemas and theatres. These tips range from 50 cents to a euro or two.
Sales tax in Paris is quite high at 18.6%, and is included in the shop prices. This tax can be refunded to tourists from outside of the EU whenever €175 or more is spent in the same shop. Most retailers will present you with a form to fill out in these cases, to give to customs officials at the airport. In other situations, however, tourists have to pay special taxes. As of 2004, Paris has had a “tourist tax,” which is added onto bills at hotels and other accomodations at rates ranging from €0.20 - €1.50 per day. The money goes to promoting tourism in the city and maintaining tourist attractions.
Public telephone boxes are widely available in France, but it is a good idea to buy a France Telecom telécarte at Métro or RER stations, post offices or newsagents rather than relying on cash. These phone cards are available in 50-unit and 120-unit versions. Many phone boxes don't take coins, but some now accept credit cards. It is possible to rent a mobile phone during a stay in Paris from a variety of companies, a few of which have offices in the airport.
There are many internet cafés throughout Paris, many of which serve refreshments. Rates are not cheap, and €2 per half hour is typical. Most internet shops are open late, closing around 11 pm or midnight.
Typical opening times for shops and other businesses are Mon-Sat from 9 am – 7 pm. Some shops, usually the smaller ones, close for an hour or two during lunchtime. It is also not uncommon for some shops to be closed on Monday as well as Sunday. Department stores and other large stores have one night a week when they are open late, usually until 9 pm. During busy shopping seasons, such as the month before Christmas, many shops open up on Sundays. Museums are usually open six days a week from 9 or 10 am until 5 or 6 pm. They are open on Sundays, but usually close on either Monday or Tuesday. Office hours are typically 9 am – 6 pm. Banks can be found on almost every corner in Paris and normal business hours are 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday.
On the following days, most shops, banks and musuems will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
1st January, New Year’s Day
Easter Sunday and Monday
30th April, Great Prayer Day
8th May, VE Day
14th July, Bastille Day
15th August, Feast of the Assumption
1st November, All Saints’ Day
11th November, Armistice Day
25th December, Christmas
For police call 17 and for an ambulance call 15.
For SOS Medecins (doctors) call 01 470 77777.
The American Hospital in Paris is at 63 Boulevard Victor Hugo, Neuilly, Tel. 01 46412525.
The Hertford British Hospital/Hopital Franco-Brittanique is at 3 Rue Barbes, Tel. 01 46392222
www.english-doctor-paris.com or www.british-hospital.org
Paris is basically a safe city, though taking some precautions are sensible. Some areas are safer than others, especially late at night. The centre and popular tourist areas tend to be very safe, while other neighbourhoods such as Les Halles and La goutte d’Or are better to avoid when it’s late. These areas are known for being gang and drug hangouts, though better police control is beginning to cut down on this. Pickpockets are not uncommon in Paris, especially in crowded areas and on the metro, so it is important to keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t keep a wallet in a back pocket or another place where it is visible. It’s also a good idea not to carry more money around than necessary, and not to count your money in public after using an ATM machine.
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