Volunteer in France
What to Know Before Volunteering in France
France is a land of contrasts
It is the most visited country in the world. It boasts 2 seas, 1 ocean, 7 mountain ranges, a handful of
overseas territories and over 5500 km of coastline. It is the second biggest country in Europe and is
home to various landscapes, regions, cultures and sites as different one from another as they are
connected. Its 9 neighbouring countries add a bit of their culture to the bordering regions, which
contributes to the diversity. People from all over the world come to France whether to study, work or
It’s a vibrant country renown for its history, architecture, culture, art and cuisine. From the beach of the
French Riviera, the crazy Parisian nights, the vineyards in Burgundy and the French alps, you will find
what you are after. Paris is obviously the most famous spot in France but the beauty of France resides in
its countryside and other major cities like Marseilles, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg or Rennes. There is a wealth
of culture and history to see throughout the country. Traditions are still very present in the every day
provincial life. Outdoors activities, festivals, food and drinks are a major part of our life.
With a normal level of common sense, France is a super safe country to travel. Avoid the housing estates
in the suburbs of all major cities and you will be all good. If you are wondering why, watch Divines, a
French movie from 2016 which showcase these places where police is not allowed. As everywhere else
in Europe, 112 is the number to dial in case of emergency.
The official currency is Euros. You can easily change at any harbour/airport and all main land borders
have at least one currency exchange office on each side. All neighbouring countries (apart from
Switzerland) use Euros. In regions bordering Switzerland, some shops and supermarkets accept Swiss
Francs as it is common for people on each side of the border to come and go for shopping. You can
change currency in every major cities but our banks only change for their customers, you want to look
for an exchange office.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere, AMEX more randomly.
Every city and town got 24 hours ATM, in some very remote villages you might want to take some cash
before just in case. Cash out is available in most supermarkets.
As surprising as it may seems, French people do know some basic English. It is taught (very badly) in
school from 11yo onwards. When people say that they cannot speak English, most of the time they do,
but they are very self conscious of their language ability. They were shamed at school when making
mistakes so it is somehow culturally ingrained that one master a language before claiming to know it.
However, being in the number one tourist destination in the world, you are sure to find someone who
can master English enough to help you out. Paris is very multicultural and you are very unlikely to be
addressing a Parisian. Even though business is usually held in French, in all big cities you’ll meet plenty of
people who speak English. Every touristic region live thanks to tourists, so anyone in their early 20s to
late 40s can help you out. One major tip for you though, the harder you will try to communicate in
French, the more willingly they will try to answer in English, even when they pretend not to know it.
In the regions bordering Germany, Italy and Spain, you are more likely to meet people speaking the
language of the closest country.
I am not really sure how the covid will affect the following content.
France is a melting pot of nationalities. Allegedly the country of human rights, with “Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity” as a national motto, it seems very attractive when hoping for better days.
French people are described as rude. It is really not in their intention and just has to do with cultural
differences. Children are raised saying “Bonjour” to everyone before anything else (I can’t recall how
many time I’ve been punished for not doing so). However, smiling to everyone is quite uncommon,
people might think you are high. Start by saying “Bonjour” and “parlez vous anglais?” and your
experience might change. Moreover, French people don’t do small talk, we are polite and friendly but
have a formal culture. We won’t talk to you as we will do with a friend if we have just met. We have an
idiom “we haven’t raised the pigs together” which means “we hardly know each other”. So give us some
time and we will give you the world.
Then it is just a question of luck! Like everywhere in the world, you will find some true awful people and
some absolute legends. But again, surprise them by using some French and showing interest and you
will most certainly be rewarded.
Since 1905, religion and the state have been separated by law. In addition to being a secular state,
France is one of the less religious country in Europe.
The biggest one is Christianity (catholic for most) mainly among the oldest generation and few are the
one who really practice it. The second biggest part of the population has no belief (atheist/agnostic
mixed), this is mostly the case of people in their 20s-30s. Then come Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Other religions are also represented but not as much.
I like to compare France, where no religion is recognised by the state, to Singapore, where all of them
are. Astonishingly, you will only find Christian bank holiday in France, no other religion has one,
whereas in Singapore, all of them have their
It could be described by 2 sentences “expect the unexpected” and “there is no bad weather, just wrong
Spitting image of the country, the weather in France is very diversified. To simplify it the most, the
western part has an oceanic climate with cool summer and cool winter and doesn’t have much time with
no rain. The centre and east has a continental to alpine climate with hot summer and cold winter. The
South has a Mediterranean climate with dry and hot summer and mild, wet winter.
France is in the northern hemisphere which means you want to head South to find the warmer weather.
It has 4 distinctive seasons and when you get in the mountain areas in winter, you will experience
Food is life. Charles de Gaulle, probably the most famous French politician, said “How can you govern a
country that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”. Cheese is also life, and we have
it for desert (and starter, and main).
Eating is a very important part of the day and usually meals (specifically dinner) are eaten together.
Meals at family gathering can last for hours. Each part of France got it’s own specialty based on local
resources. Anything for seafood to game, cassoulet to choucroute, there is absolutely no way to sum up
French cuisine, based on traditions, influenced by the neighbouring countries and developed through
Mainland France time is GMT +1 (we observe daylight saving)
The week starts on Monday.
Main shops in main cities are open from 9am to 8pm or later. In smaller town, they might close earlier.
Shops that are not located in malls will most probably close for lunch (food is life, remember?) from
12pm to 1:30/2pm.
On Sundays, only some shops are allowed to be open. All grocery stores and bakery are open at least in
the morning and some shops in big cities might also be. Other shops will be closed on Sundays and most
probably on Mondays as well. Yes, we have a 35 hours workweek, some call us lazy, I would go for
smart, who wants to live to work?
On Tuesdays, most museum close.
In most traditional restaurants, you can have lunch from 12pm to 2pm and dinner from 7pm to 10pm.
Bars will close around 2am and nightclubs around 7am. These timing are defined independently by each
In France, if a public holiday is on a Saturday or a Sunday, there is no compensation with the following
Monday. However, we are very fond of doing “bridges”. If a public holiday is on a Tuesday, we won’t
work on Monday, if it is on Thursday, we won’t work on Friday. If it’s on Wednesday, better take the
week off 😉
There is a quite good public transportation in big cities and between each of them. It is however more or
less inexistent in the countryside.
Being really centrally located, major European cities are really well served by train, buses and flights.
Weird things in France
No way not to mention “La bise” when 2 women or 1 man and 1 woman say hello, they kiss each others’
cheeks. That’s a tradition and we do so when we leave as well. 2 men will shake hands unless they are
very good friends. Then, to make it a bit more confusing, the number of kisses you give depends on the
region where you are, 2 is the safest bet.
When meeting someone for the first time in another context than a friend introducing you to other
friends, stick to the hand shake. We are very formal in greetings people we don’t know (and who are not
introduced by friends). “Salut” which means “hi” is very impolite, “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur” is the
formal way to greet. And don’t forget to shake hands again when departing.
If you choose to drive, be prepared for loads of roundabouts and speed bumps, and bad drivers. If you
find yourself on a mountain road, please let the crazy locals overtake when you can, they are always
racing and accidents are very common.
If you are listening to the radio, you will most probably hear a lot of time the same French song, we have
quotas (35% of French music), and because our artists are not into much commercial music, DJ keep
playing the same over and over. In most TV shows and movies people are constantly yelling at each
others, it’s our national pastime.
If you need some help from French bureaucracy you will end up fluent in patience, honestly, run away
from it. It is said that we have more bureaucracy than any other country in Europe, it’s in our mother
tongue and we don’t bother, if you have no other solution, get a French to help you out, you can’t win
this battle alone.
If you end up in a bar/cafe with a group of friends, it is very uncommon to split the bill. Usually one pays
for all. In the case you are out to have couple of rounds of drinks, it is expected that everyone pays his
round of drinks. The more you are, the more you’ll drink. We are not champion of punctuality, therefore
the first couple of rounds are usually the cheapest. This doesn’t apply to restaurants where splitting is
L’apéro (stands for apéritif) is a national sport. It refers to the drink (one or couple of drinks) before a
meal (lunch or dinner, but if you are keen on drinking before breakfast as well, be my guest!). It usually
comes with nibbles. If you are invited for l’apéro, you might end up spending the whole evening just
drinking, nibbling and talking. Probably the french thing I miss the most!
French people don’t dance much. We prefer to drink and talk than dance. If we want to dance, we go in
clubs. This is very strange for many people who find it weird, I agree, just get a bit involved and ask
around, not all of us are boring and some really cool places host the party you are after.
There is absolutely everything in France. It might be sometimes hard to find a place that host you (safety
rules and French bureaucracy, remember?). However there are plenty of organisations you can help.
The country is beautiful, it really is amazing to witness that many different cultures and sceneries, just
taking your car and driving a hundred miles will take you to a complete different place. Be careful,
France is expensive, volunteering is a great way to help out and enjoy this awesome place without
“having to sell a kidney” (French way to say that you are spending your lifetime savings).