Stay safe & healthy
Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17 or 112 (European emergency telephone number). Law enforcement agencies are the National Police (Police nationale) in urban areas and the Gendarmerie nationale in the countryside, though for minor crimes such as parking and traffic offences some towns and villages also have a municipal police force (Police municipale).
France generally has low crime rates and is one of the safest countries in the world, but large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against visitors is very rare, but there is pickpocketing and purse-snatching in tourist hot-spots. If the usual precautions against this are taken, your valuables and you will be safe.
The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which are better to avoid. Parts of the suburbs are hives of youth gang-related activities and drug dealing; however these are almost always far from tourist areas and you should have no reason to visit them. Common sense applies: it is very easy to spot derelict areas.
The subject of crime in the poorer suburbs is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones, since many people associate it with working-class youth of North African origin. You should probably not express any opinion on the issue, unless you feel comfortable with the person with whom you're talking.
While it is not compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, they usually do so. Foreigners should carry some kind of official identity document. Although random checks are not the norm, you may be asked for ID in some kinds of situations, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation; not having one in such cases will result in you being taken to a police station for further checks. Even if you feel that law enforcement officers have no right to check your identity (they can do so only in certain circumstances), it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; it is better to put up with it and show your ID. Again, the subject is sensitive as the police have often been accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity (e.g. délit de sale gueule = literally "crime of a dirty face" but perhaps equivalent to the American "driving while black.")
Due to the international threat of terrorism, police with the help of military units, often patrol monuments, the Paris Metro, train stations and airports. Depending on the status of the "Vigipirate" plan (anti terrorist units) it is not uncommon to see armed patrols in those areas. The presence of police should be of help to tourists, as it also deters pickpockets and the like. However, suspicious behaviour, public disturbances etc., may attract police officers' attention for the wrong reasons.
In France, failing to offer assistance to 'a person in danger' is a criminal offence in itself. This means that if you fail to stop upon witnessing a motor accident, fail to report such an accident to emergency services, or ignore appeals for help or urgent assistance, you may be charged. Penalties include suspended prison sentence and fines. The law does not apply in situations where answering an appeal for help might endanger your life or the lives of others.
Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude (such as the Netherlands) are especially targeted. Police have often been known to stop entire coaches and search every passenger and their bags thoroughly.
France has a liberal policy with respect to alcohol; there are usually no ID checks for purchasing alcohol (unless you look much younger than 18). However, causing problems due to public drunkenness is a misdemeanor and may result in a night spent in the cells of a police station. Drunk driving is a severe offence and may result in heavy fines and jail sentences.
A little etiquette note: while it is common to drink beer straight from the bottle at informal meetings, doing the same with wine is normally only done by tramps (clochards).
Tap water (eau du robinet) is drinkable, except in rare cases such as in rural rest areas and sinks in railway carriage toilets, in which case it will be clearly signposted as eau non potable. Eau potable is drinkable water (you may, however, not like the taste and prefer bottled water).
Health care in France is of a very high standard.
Pharmacies are denoted by a green cross, usually in flashing neon. They sell medicine, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products (though these can be very expensive). Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and propose you generic drugs.
Since drug brand names vary across countries even though the effective ingredients stay the same, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name. Prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives (aka "the pill"), will only be delivered if a doctor's prescription is shown.
In addition, supermarkets sell condoms (préservatifs) and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical items. Condom machines are often found in bar toilets, etc.
Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed physicians, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists (e.g. gynaecologists), and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying Docteur (médecin généraliste means general practitioner). The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is €23, though some physicians charge more (this is the full price and not a co-payment). Physicians may also do home calls, but these are more expensive.
Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travellers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even when at a public hospital; non-EU travellers should have travel insurance covering medical costs.
Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgences.
The following numbers are toll-free:
- 15 Medical emergencies
- 17 Law enforcement emergencies (for e.g. reporting a crime)
- 18 Firefighters
- 112 European standard emergency number.
Operators at these numbers can transfer requests to other services if needed (e.g. some medical emergencies may be answered by firefighter groups).
Smoking is prohibited by law in all enclosed spaces accessible to the public (this includes train and metro cars, and station enclosures, workplaces, restaurants and cafés) unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. There was an exception for restaurants and cafés, but since the 1st January 2008, the smoking ban is also enforced in those locations. You may face a fine of €68 if you are found smoking in these places.
As well as police officers, metro and train conductors can and do enforce the anti-smoking law and will fine you for smoking in non-designated places; if you encounter problems with a smoker in train, you may go find the conductor.
As hotels are not considered public places, some offer smoking and non-smoking rooms.
Only people over the age of 18 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID. A pack of 20 cigarettes costs around €6.