Tips for Women Travelers in France

Find everything women travelers in France need to know about healthsafetyromance, and women’s rights.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad.  Add your voice!

Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Nicole says: Tampons and pads are easily available at small and large grocery stores and pharmacies.

Felicity says: Feminine hygienic products are the same type and variety you would find in the US. I have found them at even small grocery stores. Smaller versions of the large chain stores are likely to carry an assortment of tampons, pads, and panty-liners. Pharmacies also sometimes carry them, but you usually have to ask at the counter.

Birth Control

Nicole says: Most women I know take the pill, which is available with a prescription from a doctor. It is very cheap (from 7 to 35 euros for a pack of 3 months), and you get reimbursed if you are part of the health insurance system. Condoms are only available at pharmacies, but there also street dispensers for when they are closed.

Felicity says: Birth control is similar to the US. You need a prescription from your doctor, which is pretty easy to get. But US prescriptions are unlikely to be filled with an equivalent in France. The formulations here tend to the “low dose” versions in the US, and may not have the same hormones in the same doses as you are used to. Also, for the non-pill forms of birth controls – there are condom dispensers outside most pharmacies, in metro stations, and on campuses. For the low, low price of 2 euro, you can get a packet of 3 condoms!

Gynecologists

Nicole says: I’ve found that most doctors have a more minimalist approach than in the U.S., and may also seem less warm and comforting but simply get straight to business. They are still very competent.

Felicity says: I don’t have any recommendations for this one yet, as I’m still trying to find one myself! I’ve been talking to the American hospital and they’ve been pretty helpful getting all my insurance paperwork filled out. From what they tell me, it’s pretty well the same as visiting the gynecologist at home.

Breastfeeding

Felicity says: Breast feeding is not something I have seen a lot of in central Paris. I saw one woman breastfeeding and she’d thrown a shawl over herself and the baby. No one around her seemed to mind.


Romance

Dating Locals

Nicole says: It used to be that the American style of dating was not practiced here, but that seems to be changing a bit. Usually people don’t meet strangers in bars though, but rather through friends at parties or out. A date can involve getting a drink or meal or going to a cultural experience like an exhibit.

Felicity says: The locals seem to date in groups. It’s more similar to English dating practices than US. Women should not worry if he invites his friends along. They will likely leave you to your date. However, if he is taking you out on dates by yourself make sure he’s not the kind that is so controlling that he can’t deal with you talking to other people.

It has happened to more than one of my friends in their Tinder adventures. Tinder is less of a hook-up app here, and more of a legit dating app.

Types of Men

Nicole says: Men who have gone to one of the business “grandes écoles” or studied private practice type of law, generally very well dressed and metrosexual and pay attention to dress and appearance; more hipster, artsy and intellectual types; and more “roots” types who are into sustainable development, etc. Paris is a big city, though, and I think you can probably find a “type” for almost everyone.

Felicity says: There are a lot of foreign men in central Paris because of all the tourist attractions. So, finding a “typical” man here is a strange experience. I suppose the most typical men you meet in central Paris are probably tourists who came here on their own – my experience with these have been that there are some quite friendly, and others really not depending on if you are their “type” or not.

The other men in this area tend to be professionals working in the embassies, banks, or shops/cafes. These guys are generally polite, but may not be particularly interested in hearing about your tourist adventures.

LGBTQ-friendly?

Nicole says: Yes. The Marais is known for being a good area.

Felicity says: For the most part. There are some parts of town that are less friendly, but there are certainly LGBTQ-friendly areas, bars, shops, and people. Try the Marais area.


Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Nicole says: Women have the same rights as men, are seeking higher education at high rates, and are active in the workforce. However, in certain contexts men can be much more openly sexist than in the U.S., for example.

Felicity says: Because the French have such a concern about the fertility rates of women, women hold quite a high position in some ways. In the law, equality is quite real. In practice, on the other hand…. be prepared for some old-fashioned sexism, staring, and unrealistic expectations about your femininity.

Local Women

Nicole says: French women are more likely to dress in a feminine style, wearing skirts, dresses and heels on a regular basis, even in the winter. They are generally very conscious of their surroundings, and for example will only discuss certain subjects in public, in front of men, and some subjects only with very close friends.

Felicity says: Some clear cultural differences between the women here and myself are expectations in dress and personal grooming. I have always been the no-makeup, hair in riotous curls, jeans and sneakers wearing kind of girl. Here I get a bit of a look for dressing “like a boy.”

Women who wear jeans are wearing fashionable cuts and styles of jeans paired with some kind of heels and an equally fashionable top. Somehow, the hair and makeup also manage to be nearly perfect too. It is impressive. Every now and then, you’ll see women not dressed this way and they begin to look strange as well.

Women-Specific Environments

Nicole says: None.

Felicity says: Thanks to the way French law is written there are very few places women are not allowed to go. Similarly there are very few women-only places. I have found that most spaces just incidentally become female only spaces, such as my university. There are males enrolled here, they are just extremely rare.

The one gender-segregated thing which comes to mind for me is the Turkish baths at the Paris Mosque.

Perception of American Women

Nicole says: Perception of American women varies based on the person’s experience, though overall they are viewed as being more easygoing and casual than French women. Sometimes this is a good thing with no connotations, but it is good to be careful because some French men take this perception to mean that American women are more ‘easy’ and may try to take advantage of that.

Felicity says: Locals react differently to the revelation of my origins depending on how much French I have attempted to speak. Most want to discuss politics and foreign policy with me when I say I’m from the US. When I say I’m from Canada, I get told I don’t have a very Canadian accent on my French, and then we talk about French politics. This is only, of course, if they have never been to the place I claim as my hometown.


Safety

Transportation

Nicole says: Metro, velib and walking are safe during the day. There are general safety concerns such as with biking in a large city with many cars.

Metros are generally safe, even late in the evening because there are usually people out. There are some areas to avoid, such as northeast Paris late at night. If you have to transfer lines at night, try to transfer at a large station such as Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, or other stops with multiple lines where there is more of a chance of more people being around. A couple of my friends have mentioned being in almost empty stations and having a small group of men attempt to follow them, and have recommended always going to busy stops.

Felicity says: Do NOT take the night bus (the noctilien). If you have missed the last metro to get home, get an uber or a cab. Ubers have been pretty good to my friends (mostly ladies) so far. I have been experimenting with the bike share system (Velib) which still operates even if you have had a few drinks. Just bike slowly. Cars do give you plenty of room and you’re moving faster than most drunken, grabby fellows.

Shady Areas for Women

Nicole says: Northeast Paris at times, certain lines of the RER – north on RER B at night, RER A going east on the Torcy branch (Boissy St Leger branch is okay). Try to stay with one or a couple of friends if you are going to be out late in areas further away from the center.

Felicity says: None particularly for women, in my experience. If an area is unsafe, it is usually unsafe for everyone.

Clothing

Nicole says: Nothing in particular is unacceptable. A friend who grew up here mentioned that she wears pants to avoid being hassled, because men do make comments even if they are not threatening. Choice of clothing is more a question of whether you feel comfortable with attention when you are out rather than safety.

Felicity says: What not to wear: Big jewelry and expensive clothes/handbags can make you a target for pickpockets, but it is the same in any large city.

What to wear: Your “normal” American clothes are fine. Wear comfortable shoes–I cannot stress this enough. Stairs and lots of walking await you in Paris.

Want to fit in better with the Parisian women? Find a pair of heels that you can walk a mile in, and then carry a pair of flats in your purse. The styles constantly change here, so check out instagram and some local publications to get an idea of what the women are wearing. You can always go shopping here!

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