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ECONOMY

Why the tabac is essential to life in France – even if you don’t smoke

A cornerstone of the French culture, the tabac has long been a place for more than just cigarette shopping. Paying bills, fines and even taxes are just some of the services that tobacconists offer.

Why the tabac is essential to life in France - even if you don't smoke
Photo: AFP

France’s tabac (tobacco shops) have long been a place for more than just purchasing cigarettes. Their iconic red sign, found in any French city, town and village, is associated with a place for locals to socialise over a beer or a coffee, or watch the horse racing and have a bet.

With the numbers of smokers steadily falling in France, these non-tobacco related sides of the tabac have become even more important to tabac owners. 

“We are aware that we will sell less and less tobacco in the future. This.. goes hand in hand with our change of identity,” said Gérard Vidal, President of a tobacconists federation in the Occitanie region of southern France.

The government has therefore added new services to the list of errands that can be run in a tabac.

“More than a tobacco shop, tobacconists have become local utility traders,” Vidal told French daily La Dépêche.

So what exactly can you do in a tabac in France? 

Pay your bills

Since 2020, you can pay bills for school fees, cafeteria fees, crèche (nursery) or even the hospital.

This is however only possible IF the bill has a QR code AND says that it is payable auprès d’un buraliste(can be paid to a tobacconist).

If the bill ticks both boxes, you may pay it at the tobacconist whatever the amount if you pay by card. If you pay cash the limit is €300.

Before going you should however verify that your tobacconist offers the paiement de proximité service.

You may find your nearest tobacconist providing these services here (select your département and your commune and you get a list of the different tabacs and a map showing where they are situated).

Some French people like to visit their local tabac to have a beer and watch the TV. Photo: AFP

Pay your taxes

As with bills, this new addition was added in 2020, provided the tabac offer these services and the taxes you are paying are of an amount less than €300.

The taxes included in the system are:

  • taxe d’habitation or taxe foncière (property taxes)
  • income taxes with a QR code on the bill

Pay your fines

As with your bills and taxes, you can also pay fines in a tabac. Again, this is provided that the fine has a QR code and says that it is payable auprès d’un buraliste (can be paid to a tobacconist). It also requires that the tobacconist in question features on the list providing these services (see above).

Buy train tickets

In 2019 the national rail company SNCF made it possible to buy train tickets for the high speed TGV trains and regional TER trains in a tabac.

Buy stamps

For non-smokers, buying stamps is one of the most common reasons to frequent into a tabac. Ask for un timbre, s’il vous plaît (one stamp, please) and stick it on your letter or postcard. If you want a pack of stamps the thing to ask for is un carnet de timbres, s’il vous plaît.

Place a bet

If you like to gamble, the tabac is the place to go. Whether it is to bet on the next horse race via the PMU or get a lotto ticket, you will find it here.

Get postcards

Many tabac sell postcards (and sometimes the cards are nicer than the ones sold in supermarkets and cheaper than those in tourist shops).

Buy more phone credit

If you need to top off your phone minutes you can pop by your nearest tabac to see if they sell phone credit (they usually do).

Make photocopies

A tabac is also a place to make photocopies – if they have one – and the price is usually just a few cents a page.

Get a souvenir

Some tobacconists sell local products and souvenirs, so if you’re on a trip in rural France and looking for something to bring back home, you could pop by the local tabac to see if they have anything interesting.

Snack

Finally, if you’re feeling like a snack, tobacconists sell candy bars – the carambar toffees are a classic here in France – and sometimes even patisséries like croissants and pain aux chocolats

Have a beer or a coffee

Not strictly part of the tabac service, but in many small towns there is a combined tabac/café/bar in the same building, so once you have conducted your business you can sit down and order a drink. 

Member comments

  1. The French Government has recently done its bit by severely reducing the amount of ciggies in Spain. It can be considered another unfriendly gesture to Spain.

  2. Who are you trying to kid? The TABAC is dead.
    Everything you mentioned had been replaced by an app.
    But the French still smoke more than any country in the world!

    1. Actually France at 34.6% is almost exactly in the middle of the 2021 world average of 33.3. Greece, Latvia and Bulgaria are at 38-39 %. Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Portugal are at 28-29%. Switzerland, US and Belgium at 25%. Italy, Netherlands and Ireland at 23%. Canada, Denmark and UK 18-19%. It’s still too high of course. As of 2018, 36% of french males and 33% of french females were smokers. Cost and social acceptance are the keys to reduction rates.

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SCHOOLS

‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.

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Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.

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