I love Chamonix among others local beer - "Brasserie du Mont Blanc". It's made from glaciers water. I've never seen it somewhere else than Chamonix, so I think it's worth to try it when you're there. It isn't cheap (something about 2,5e for 33cl bottle in shop, and 4e in cafe/restaurant/pub ) but you won't regret (I didn't).
In 2004 I read an article in the Sunday Telegraph about an “Anglo-French conflict” in Chamonix, due to an alleged “invasion anglaise”.
The scenario it depicted was rather ugly, with the locals resenting badly because British buyers had sent house prices skyrocketing, local businesses were bought and run by Brits for Brits, restaurants or tea-rooms had staff who spoke no French at all, taxi drivers complained that they did not hear French spoken any more in the centre of town.
When I finally managed to spend a holiday in Chamonix, I found that although the town is full with visitors of many nationalities, it still is very French, with the majority of holiday homes still owned, and happily used, by the French. And whenever my little French failed me and I asked “parlez-vous anglais ou l'italien?” I always met people who could speak English and did not seem displeased at doing so.
I don’t know if the situation has changed in the last few years, or if the journalist had very much exaggerated the problem. Maybe both.
The pub you see in my picture was founded by an Irish but now belongs to a French, who has maintained the pub’s Irish name. It may be evidence that locals and foreigners can get along well.
What is tartiflette? This is a question my companion and I asked each other on our very first day in Chamonix. It was mentioned in a leaflet advertising celebration for the 100th anniversary of the local railway. Celebrations apparently included music, dancing and tartiflette.
We soon learned more about it, because it seemed to be an essential ingredient whenever people got together to eat, drink and be merry.
It is a dish, very tasty and also very caloric, consisting mainly of potatoes, pieces of bacon and melted cheese.
I also learned that although in all menus it is listed among the typical local dishes, it is not actually a traditional dish. Apparently it was invented around 1980. Anyway, there must have been a time when traditional dishes were new. So long live the tartiflette, which in a few decades has become a classic!
In the website quoted below you will find the recipe, in English.
when in chamonix you should certainly try the mont blanc beer.
i'm a big beer lover and can assure you that this stuff is way better than your typical watery kronenbourg and 1664.
mont blanc beer comes in several varieties and i would recommend the "mont blanc blanche" for a sunny day.
They are present in large numbers and year after year there are more of them. Little ones, big ones, whole fields of stone piles.
By adding a stone when crossing, hikers help these piles growing. Some of them are very nice.
The climax is at "Le Signal", high above the "Mer de Glace", where there are hundreds of these piles (see second picture in this tip).
Just as in any other french city, France's national holiday is a feast.
Flags are put out everywhere , a military parade in the afternoon , a bal populaire at night and a big firework at the end.
And in Chamonix, the firework is worth the wile!
The French are very polite to strangers and expect the same in return, or it is considered disrespectful. For example they still use the formal term for 'you' ('vous' rather than 'tu' in French) which is the archaic 'thou' in English - when speaking to strangers (except small children). That gives you an idea of how culturally ingrained this polite behavior is.
So, unless you are rude to start with, things normally go OK.
What is rude? Well, a major rude thing many tourists do is going into a store or restaurant without acknowledging the owner/workers with a friendly 'bonjour' and instead, starting things off with demands (usually in English) rather than greetings.
It is customary to say 'Bonjour' or 'Bonsoir' (good day or good evening) first. Even 'Hello' is better than nothing! Even at the checkout line of the supermarket!
Fail to do this, and suddenly you find 'those snobby French' being cold to you -- and that's because you just acted like their stereotypes of boorish English or American tourists - which around here are also quite strong, and sadly well-deserved.
I just once found myself on the receiving end of rude service when I started out being friendly. Big deal - I've had worse waiters in Chicago.
I've also had waiters/waitresses thank me and be extra friendly for my attempt at speaking French - especially in the middle of the busy season, clearly relieved at having a guest who was polite and nice to deal with.
Are there French here in Chamonix who dislike the English ? - Yes, some - and more the Brits specifically than English-speakers in general (there is a huge ex-pat UK community here and some fear they are 'taking over'). Is this always the case? No - one of the weddings in Cham this summer was between a UK ex-pat and an old Chamonix family...so things can move forwards!
Don't add fuel to the fire - build the bridge rather than burn it!
Article on French culture
The reputation of bad service (especially as observed by Americans travelling to France and Europe) is usually a misunderstanding of the difference in the attitude which the French (and often other Europeans) take towards their meals. Meals are times to gather with friends, talk and enjoy the food - not a time to be rushed or to meet a new waiter with a pushy personality. People expect to not be overly bothered while enjoying their meals.
Therefore, don't expect to get the bill with your food, for example. It is considered rude to 'drop the bill' on someone's table without that person requesting it. If you are in a rush - make that clear before sitting down.
Otherwise, sit back and relax and enjoy. The normal time allowed for lunch breaks in France is 2.5 hours! If you want to get the bill soon, request 'L'addition, s'il vous plait' when you order your coffee or desserts at the end of the meal.
Tip between 5-10%, by the way - not 15-20%, as waiters here get paid better than their American counterparts and don't expect huge tips.
This rule applies when hiking on narrow mountain trails or when 2 cars are meeting on a narrow lane on a hill. The uphill party has the right-of-way and should not be forced to stop - the downhill party should give-way.
Not only is this polite, it will help to prevent accidents - especially in winter when roads and trails are slippery.
I found many people very appreciative of my horrific attempt at speaking French--even willing to help with pronounciation, words, grammar, etc.
One particular woman at a bookstore wasn't very kind to me, when in a rush, I didn't ask in French if she spoke English. She warmed up considerably when I showed up at the counter with an English/French Francais/Anglais dictionary and phrase book.
This one is fun. It's traditional that if you lose a piece of bread in the fondue pot, you will owe everyone a round of drinks!