Below are some useful terms that will help you get by during frustrating times of unfavorable exchange rates.
1) détaxe (tax refund, reimbursement) [day-tahks]
If you plan on doing any significant shopping at all when in Paris or elsewhere in France, this might be a very valuable word to know. It refers to the refund that visitors to France can receive on the VAT they pay for purchases made in France. The VAT, or Value-Added Tax, is just a tax on goods and services, sort of a different kind of sales tax used in France and other countries.
Essentially, you get a refund on all the taxes you paid when out shopping. And considering the fact that the average VAT in France is upwards of 19% (and no, that’s not a misprint), this is not such a bad deal. (Note: in France, the VAT is usually already included in the price of a product.)
The whole process is way too long to describe here and you can only receive a refund on certain purchases (no food, darn it), so visit the New York French Consulate for more information.
2) service compris(tip included) [sehr-vees koh(m)-pree]
Eating out in France? (a rhetorical question, of course, because how could you not be?) Then make sure to look for this term on the bill or menu at a restaurant. If you don’t see it mentioned anywhere, you can always ask: Le service est-il compris? (Is tip included?) [Luh sehr-vees eht eel koh(m)-pree?]
Service compris – or “sce compris” in its often abbreviated form – means tip is included in the cost of your meal, service non compris means it is not. Most likely, you will rarely see the latter.
Even if it is “compris,” many people still leave a few coins as an extra “thank you” – typically, some centimes for a drink at a café and a few euros for a meal.
3) centimes(cents) [sah(n)-teem]
The French word for cents, as in 50 cents or 35 cents. Although the term centimes was also used under the old currency of French francs, most people in France still use it when speaking of euro cents.
Euro cents come in various denominations, ranging from 1 cent to 50 cents. They’re the lightweight, all-gold or all-red (or, okay, copper, if you want to be technical) coins with the word CENT on them, to make things easy.
And speaking of euro coins, keep in mind that the two lowest denominations for full euros, “one euro” and “two euros,” are both coins, not bills, so don’t just hand out any coin when you’re paying a bill or leaving a tip. Trust me, it can happen. I sadly speak from experience.
4) carte de crédit(credit card) [kahrt duh kray-dee]
en espèces (in cash/coins) [ahn eh-spehs] /
en liquide (in cash) [ah(n) lee-keed]
Carte Bleue (“Blue Card“) [kahrt bluh]
The three most common methods of payment in France. The last one (Carte Bleue) is one of the most common kinds of debit card in France. And even though I’ve determined it is one of the most common based on totally unscientific research on Wikipedia, I do know that its use is very, very widespread.
The Carte Bleue is a Visa debit card, and is issued by many of the major French banks. You will see signs for it all over the place, but you can only get one with a French bank account.
5) soldes(sale) [sohld]
remise (discount) [ruh-meez]
If you’re feeling the pinch of high-priced euros, but can’t resist the allure of French fashion, go to Paris in January or late June, when almost all of the city’s shops go on sale. (For more info, click here.) It just might help bridge that exchange rate gap; although, of course, even items on sale aren’t quite as appealing as something…
6) gratuit(free) [grah-twee]
My own personal favorite, this term will, unfortunately, probably not pop up very often, but it’s still definitely something to keep an eye out for. No need to explain why, I think.
The Louvre, for instance, offers free admission on the first Sunday of each month and on July 14, as well as art teachers and those under 18. Read more here. Just keep in mind though: be prepared to wait.
Admission to the main hall of Notre Dame cathedral is always gratuit, so if an official-looking person asks you to pay money, that probably means you’re about to climb up 380 or so well-worn steps to the top of Notre Dame, or you’re about to enter the Treasury, and not the hall itself with its famous rose windows. I have also made this mistake at one point (and I think it’s pretty clear by now that there aren’t many mistakes I haven’t made). For other free things in Paris, check out this handy list from Fodor’s and the city’s many festivals.
For other helpful French phrases, see my previous entry on French Airports.
– Shaina, Editor