French Food Culture

Paris Market

Have you ever noticed that in France there is a different store for each food item you want to buy? Need bread? Stop by the boulangerie for a baguette. Going to a party? Pick up a cake at the patisserie. But you will have to go to the fromagerie for cheese. What about honey? Well there is a miellerie for that. This sounds exhausting. And wouldn’t it just be easier to have one supermarket for all of this?

A nation of foodies

Well yes, I suppose it would be easier, but France is a nation of foodies. French culture takes gastronomy very seriously. In France people love food shopping, and they do not mind spending their time looking for the best ingredients they can.

That is why there are so many specialty stores dedicated to one type of food item. They are called “artisans du goût” (artisans of taste) because so much care is put into creating this food that it’s more like a craft. You can be sure that a freshly baked baguette from your neighborhood boulangerie will be much tastier than a loaf of bread from the supermarket.

Les Marchés

So what’s the best way to get your hands on some of this delicious food? Well, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to practice your food vocabulary, try a marché (street market). If you’re in Paris, you’ll find that many quartiers have their very own market, which offer the freshest produce, cheese, pasta, fish… and the best prices! Be ready to haggle, and don’t be afraid to ask questions… including for “un goût” to taste whatever they are trying to sell you.

Paris Market

L’Epicerie Fine

If you’re tired of haggling over each portion of tonight’s dinner, another option is stopping by an “épicerie” (grocery/delicatessen). Carrying everything from spices and jams to milk and eggs, an épicerie is a great one-stop-shop to get most of what you need.

In fact, in Paris, Galaries Lafayette have their own “épicerie fine” called Lafayette Gourmet which is more like a food shopping mall than a grocery store! It’s enormous — you can find the entire Parisian gastronomical experience under one roof here, from bread and wine to the most unusual kinds of foods. It’s great if you’re pressed for time or want to pick up some last minute gifts. But beware– it can get pricey!

Buy a fridge!

The main France travel tip here is that if you are staying in France, try to make sure you have access to a kitchen, or at least a fridge. The biggest part of your French culture culinary experience might not come from eating out at fine restaurants, but from grocery shopping!

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Sky Lanterns

If you’ve seen the new Disney movie, Tangled, you might remember one scene where Rapunzel’s kingdom launches thousands of paper lanterns into the air. What you might not know is that this is actually a real thing… the launching of sky lanterns is part of Chinese New Year celebrations in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, people will write their wishes for the new year on the lanterns before sending them up into the air. Check out this beautiful video of the lanterns being launched in the Pingxi District of New Taipei City, Taiwan:

Chiang Mai, Thailand also holds a sky lantern launching, but in November:

Russian Drinking Customs

Russian Vodka

If there’s one thing Russia is known for, apart from their harsh winters, it’s their vodka and their drinking habits. At first glance it may seem like Russians drink a lot, but– well, there really isn’t a but! However, drinking customs do differ in Russian culture vs American culture.


In Russian culture, a table is always set with “стопки (stopki)” (shot glasses) or “рюмки (ryumki)” (wine glasses). A guest can’t be treated properly without a drink. This is true in the morning and in the evening, it’s true at parties and sometimes at business meetings, and it’s certainly as true today as it was a hundred years ago. As a guest, it is rude and downright suspicious, to refuse a drink. This is because drinking is done as a social activity, rather than a way to get drunk.

Russian Vodka

Top 4 Toasts

The culture in Russia is that a toast has to be made before the drinking starts, and is usually made by the host of a party or the head of household. It is also customary to make a toast before each shot or sip of beer/wine, although during evening parties, toasts are made often and loudly, sometimes two at a time as the night goes on! Here are some of the most common Russian toasts:

  • За здоровье! (Za zdorov’ye!) For our health!
  • Ну, за встречу! (Nu, za vstrechu!) For our meeting, then!
  • За вас! (Za vas!) For you!
  • Ну, поехали! (Nu, poyehali!) Well, let’s get started! or Cheers! (Very colloquial, not used with wine)

How to Drink Like a Russian

  1. Wait for the toast to be made. Only make your own toast if you are specifically asked to do so, and try to stick to something neutral like the first three above.
  2. Down your shot, chug a hefty amount of beer, or take a dainty sip of wine.
  3. Eat закуски (zakuski) (snacks)… You have to eat something between each toast, or you are labelled a “drunk” (this is a bad label).
  4. Repeat!

What if you don’t drink?

What can you do if you are not a drinker? One tip is that you could offer an excuse. One example:

“Я принимаю лекарство и мне нельзя пить.
(Ya prinimayu lekarstvo i mne nel’zya pit’.)”
“I’m taking some medicine, and am not allowed to drink.”

Just be ready to explain at length. Another option is to pretend you’re drinking by taking small sips. As a foreigner travelling in Russia, you aren’t expected to down each shot in one go like the Russians do (although you might get brownie points if you did).

Beijing Nights

Planning some travel to Beijing, and wondering what to expect? Check out this beautiful video (with equally beautiful music track) from Dan Chung of some of the nightlife in Beijing, which is vibrant even on the coldest nights!

While you’re watching, keep a look out for the following sights:

  • Houhai Lake
  • Street artists and vendors
  • Candied haw berries in Wangfujing
  • An express or 快 (kuai4) bus

Learn French and Avoid Misunderstandings

Are you serious about learning the French language? Then you’ll get the chance to learn French culture too. Most people endorse stereotypes like “France is a beautiful country, a shame about its people”. But you have decided to go beyond widespread clichés to understand the real culture in France. Congratulations, you are officially… out of your mind for some, incredibly brave for others!

French Flag

A new way of thinking…

Yes, it’s true that it takes a lot of effort to learn a language. You’ve got to realize that you’re also encompassing a new way of thinking. You get to stretch your brain cells by adopting a new logic.

When learning French, the process will involve accepting the fact that while a man’s button up shirt is a feminine noun (une chemise), a woman’s blouse is masculine (un chemisier), and a boob is not a feminine attribute but a masculine noun (un sein). Possessive adjectives agree with the gender of the noun following them, and not with the gender of the person to which the object belongs. In English, one word is enough to say “please”, in French you it takes not one but three magic words to say please (s’il vous plaît).

Have fun with it!

Don’t get frustrated already! It’s only the beginning… Enjoy the process and dive into the recesses of this intricate language and culture. Remember that you’re contributing to creating more harmony and reducing cultural misunderstandings worldwide. It’s a beautiful endeavor! And you’ll see that the French are not such mystery after all! Isn’t that some powerful motivation to actually speak French?

Ready to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

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Money in Taiwan

There is one thing every traveler needs to know about the country they are traveling to: how to handle the issue of money. Unfortunately, this is often one of the more complicated aspects of travel. Even if you know the exchange rate between two countries, actually knowing when people are trying to overcharge you and what’s considered a good deal is a completely different story.

Money Conversion and How to Get It

The US to Taiwan money conversion rate is currently about 30 New Taiwan Dollars (NT$) to 1 US Dollar (US$). For example, “Daiso, The NT$39 Store” is a store famous for pricing everything at NT$39 (and highly recommended to visit). It is basically the equivalent of a US Dollar Store.

You can get money from ATMs in 7-11 or Family Mart, or almost any other convenience store. These ATMs usually will charge you a tax for withdrawing money, so it’s good to contact your bank before leaving and asking them which banks or ATMs you can use to get cash.

Taiwanese Food Prices

Night Market - Food

For food pricing, food in Taiwan vs American food is a bit different. Whereas in the US a good meal is usually between $10 and $15, in Taiwan one can easily purchase a large bowl of beef tendon soup (牛肉湯麵, niu2 rou4 tang1 mian4) for between NT$30 and NT$90 (around US$1-3).

Specialty food, like McDonald’s or exotic restaurants can cost a bit more than this. To eat cheaply in Taiwan, it’s best to go to places serving Taiwanese food, or to night market stalls. Look for places with long lines of local people. These will have cheap prices, and often the best food!

Haggling 101

Night Market

Electronics, clothing, and many other products can also be purchased in Taiwan for much less than in the United States (tip for students: textbooks are particularly cheap!). Some clothing sold at night markets is as expensive as it would be in the US, but is expected to be haggled down to a cheaper price.

Many of these stalls don’t have marked prices–you have to ask the vendor for the price, and they’ll often give you a price adjusted for their perception of you. Unfortunately, travelers are often given more expensive prices.

How to haggle in Taiwan:

  • Be prepared to walk away from what you’re trying to buy! Sometimes the way to get a vendor to knock a price down is to show you’re okay with not buying the product. (Also know that if you change your mind later and come back, they may raise the price a little.)
  • Be honest, but persistent–tell them why you want a price lessened. Is it your last day in the country? Running out of money? Saw it at a different stall for a cheaper price? Is there a flaw in the quality of the item? Give them a good reason to be sympathetic or lower the price; just asking them to make it lower won’t do much.
  • Often if you’re buying more than one thing, the vendor will be more likely to give you a discount on one item, even if not all.
  • Be fair! These people are trying to earn a livelihood from their sales; even if it’s not quite as low as you wanted, sometimes it’s best to just thank the vendor for lowering the price at all and pay up.
  • Haggling should not be attempted in well-established shops, or stores with busy registers.

China and the European Debt

One of the questions currently buzzing in Europe in regards to the euro crisis is whether China will participate in the eurozone rescue fund. Although it is in China’s interest to keep the European economy from collapsing (because Europe is one of China’s top markets), Chinese officials have said that they need to see more details of the plan before they can decide to invest.

However, there is no doubt that China will be looking for opportunities that will benefit its own interests in this crisis. Read more about Chinese interests in Europe here.

What to Bring With You to Russia

You’ve planned a trip to Russia, but how do you prepare? Do bears and wolves roam the city streets? Does everyone wear fluffy fur hats? Do old men play balalaikas in the metro? While you’ll find almost anything going on in the metro, there are certainly no bears or wolves in the city. The fluffy hat part is true, though. So what should you bring with you when you travel to Russia? Here’s some advice!

1. A purse or document case

Both men and women will want to have some way of carrying their documents with them (including passport, visa, money, id card, etc.) — it’s the law that you carry these on you. Your document case should be concealed and/or very difficult to pickpocket. Men in Russia often carry around a small satchel for this purpose, and women carry a small or medium sized purse. An inside zipped pocket or money belt is also a good place for documents.

Backpacks are not advised, since they can easily be pickpocketed. Note that larger purses or bags will have to be checked in at every museum and theatre you go to, so try to stick to smaller ones so that you don’t have to give them up.

This one should be a given, but NEVER leave your documents away from you!

Russian Summer Fashion

2. Warm clothes for winter, light clothing for summer

The Russian winter is famously cold and wet. You will definitely want to invest in a warm down or pillowed coat and a nice pair of thick-soled, warm, waterproof boots, in addition to hat, gloves, scarf and long johns.

In the summer, there’s usually a month or two of warmer weather. This is when fashion really comes to the forefront. Women wear heels and knee-length skirts, men wear dress shirts and slacks (no shorts). Both stick to neutral colors. It’s best to hide tattoos and take out piercings, as these are looked on unfavorably (historically, criminals were the only people who had these).

Russian culture is ultra fashion conscious, and it’s practically impossible to be overdressed. You will rarely see someone wear anything more relaxed than business casual attire, so be ready to dress up every day!

3. Toiletries and medication

Medications are completely different in Russia vs America. They can also be of lower quality because of lax regulations, or not always available. If you have to regularly take any medications, stock up for the duration of your trip and bring them with you. Also bring some basic pain/flu medication so that you don’t have to struggle with finding what you need at the pharmacy or apteka (аптека). If you do need to buy medications or toiletries, the pharmacy is where you can get them… grocery stores/supermarkets generally do not sell hygiene products.

Finally, carry a pack of tissues with you at all times! Bathrooms do not always have toilet paper in stock, especially outside of big cities, so come prepared!

The Occupy Movement in France Gets a Rough Start

If you’ve been following the international Occupy movement, which started with Occupy Dataran in Malaysia, spread to the US with Occupy Wall Street, joined the Spanish 15-M Indignados protests on October 15th, and continues to spread worldwide, then you may be interested to know that the movement has gotten off to a rough start in France’s version, “Occupons la Défense.”

France24 has a brief summary of the events here. You can also read more about “Occupons la Défense” and watch a live stream (while practicing your French!) at

Ready to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

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The Sounds French Animals Make

One could have thought that animals speak an international language. Guess what? They don’t! Since you’re learning French you gotta learn how French animals sound too. Because if American ducks go “quack quack”, French ducks prefer to emit a more sophisticate nasal sound that goes “coin coin” (practice those nasal sounds right now please!).

Cui cui!


Following the ducks’ example, French birds go “cui cui”, a sound that can only be pronounced by stretching those lips forward as if ready to collect a French kiss… who knows, you might get lucky and encounter the right kind of bird! The French cockerel, the emblem of France, is much less delicate though with its trumpet-like “cocorico” — much less sophisticated that the American “cockadoodledoo”, don’t you think?


As for man’s favorite pets, cats and dogs, they respectively go “miaou miaou” and “ouah! ouah!” in France – hard to tell if their values are higher than those of their American counterparts. It’s up to you to determine when you are visiting France. You should have lots of opportunities to do just that since the French looove their dogs! Just don’t step in the wrong place to figure out what the truth actually is, or that truth may very well stink!

Ready to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.