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France v Austria

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Any rumours that Austria is more expensive than France are several decades out of date. Please excuse any sweeping generalisations, but, based on my own experience of skiing half and half in France and Austria (with a bit of Switzerland, Italy and Spain thrown in) over some 36 years, and also based on the anecdotal evidence of what our guests (some of whom have only previously skied in France) tell us, generally speaking Austria provides a better all-round experience, in terms of (a) the welcome and friendliness (Gemuetlichkeit); (b) the charm of its villages and mountain restaurants; (c) the relatively inexpensive prices of food and drink; (d) the comfort and quality of the accommodation; (e) the efficiency of the lift systems and snow-making; (f) the general quality of instruction over the ESF; (g) the fun-factor of its apres-ski.

Some of this is no doubt attributable to the enormous amount of effort and investment, relatively speaking that goes into winter tourism in Austria, and in particular in making foreign visitors welcome and eager to return. International tourism in ski resorts is more important in Austria than in France (31% of winter visitors to French ski resorts are foreign and 69% French, as opposed to 66% foreign in Austria and only 34% Austrian). There are many other cultural and historical factors that come into play in providing a very different experience in each of these countries. Some of these are touched upon in the 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, which makes for very interesting reading. ( http://www.vanat.ch/RM-world-report-2017-vanat.pdf )

Much has been said about Germknoedels and Kaiserschmarren, but not a word about Gulaschsuppe and Tirolergroestl - surprising! However you can get a decent midday snack (and even an evening meal in some places) in Austria for less than 10 euros.

Interestingly, our next-door neighbours here in Austria are French - possibly the nicest people in our apartment building. They seem to love the Austrian experience; however it must be said that, when we have taken them to apres-ski parties, they just don't know what to make of it - they sit in the corner with a puzzled look on their faces, before making an excuse to leave.

Quote:

Some people just like to think that they have made the best choice, whether they know anything about the alternative, or not. Your friends probably say they prefer driving whatever make of car they have, over one they've never driven, in order to validate their purchase.


Apparently this is called "spreading apart the alternatives" read all about it here (really interesting): https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html
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@tatmanstours, perhaps it is time for us to give Austria another go. Last time was... oh long long time.

Mrs Roll is dairy intolerant, and the good burghers of Austria seemed incapable of producing food without cow products: cream, milk, or butter. Or at least, they could do it, but it was a real, real effort to get them to understand. Whatever the skiing conditions and other peripherals, it made such a poor impression that we've never been back.

If they have a wider range of food options now available, and can cater for varying dietary requirements (some fasionable, some medical), maybe it will be easier for her?
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@tatmanstours, a good post and must say Gulaschuppe and Tirolergroesti are culinary highlights on a trip to Austria. Not so keen on the pork/veal domination of main courses, or has that changed too? The widespread smoking in bars and restaurants is a negative for me.
That said, I'm very tempted to try Austria again after a gap of nearly 10 years. I've just taken delivery of the new Where to Ski & Snowboard in Austria book. The print's very small but once I've found my magnifying glass I'll be poring through it.
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@intermediate, having visited Austria for the first time in 2003, I can relate to the smoking comment. In the intervening time, I've seen the progression through no smoking tables at the end of the smoky room, to no smoking rooms tucked at the back of alms, to smoking rooms being signposted in the otherwise non smoking venue, and then to places which have no smoking allowed anywhere. Austria will finally implement a full ban in May 2018, and in the meantime there are tax incentives for bars and restaurants to make the change in advance.

Last year it was still a problem in a small number of places, but much less so than previously - mainly umbrella bars. There seems to be a significant drop in the level of smoking across the board, which is of course why they've implemented the changes - Austria had the highest rate of smoking in Europe at one point, but I believe that is now dropping significantly.

One grey area is whether smoking will still be permitted on terraces after the ban - I suspect it will, but hope that this will also be segregated in some way, as there's nothing worse than sitting in the sun and the fresh air next to 6 people chain smoking...
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Fascinating fact about French vs. Austria in terms of foreign vs domestic guests. However, that's somewhat deceiving, as France is about eight times larger in terms of population. (67 million vs 8.5 million or thereabouts). There's less need for France to cater to international expectations, and French people are more than happy with the service they receive and the prices they pay.

One important cost factor to consider is that many, many French skiers stay in lodgings owned (or leased through) their comite d'entreprise (employees' association). To give you an idea of what they pay -- my CE at my previous job offered a week of accommodations in an apartment for a family of 4 and lift tickets for 3-400 euros a week at various ski stations. You'll NEVER be able to match that as a non-French skier. It is a perfect example of how the French system works: All workers pay into the CE, as does the employer. In return, you get benefits like inexpensive family vacations and money for school supplies.
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Having skied in most of the main alpine countries over a period of 45 years, I personally prefer Austria. I agree with Tatman. It is the whole package in Austria, skiing, lift system, prices, atmosphere, friendliness, pretty villages, mountainside restaurants, mix of nationalities, tiroler grostl and of course the Apres Ski! The only downsides are the smoking and sometimes the low altitude. And , having discovered Saalbach some 7 or 8 years ago, it is for me the greatest all round resort of them all.
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tatmanstours wrote:


Apparently this is called "spreading apart the alternatives" read all about it here (really interesting): https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html


That is interesting, thank you.

There was a theory behind my inane rambling, then, who knew? Very Happy
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Have to admit, I can still get a beer for €2.80 in the odd place, and a goulash soup for €3.90. Makes for a cheap lunch. A lot of the local huts do crispy dripping on bread, now that is a really cheap filler for a quick lunch.
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Eddy wrote:
Having skied in most of the main alpine countries over a period of 45 years, I personally prefer Austria. I agree with Tatman. It is the whole package in Austria, skiing, lift system, prices, atmosphere, friendliness, pretty villages, mountainside restaurants, mix of nationalities, tiroler grostl and of course the Apres Ski! The only downsides are the smoking and sometimes the low altitude. And , having discovered Saalbach some 7 or 8 years ago, it is for me the greatest all round resort of them all.


I agree that the ambience in Austria and Switzerland is probably better. I suspect the reason beyond any cultural tendencies is that most (and I'm generalizing here but I think I'm correct) French ski stations were developed after WWII during the "glorious 30" as France became an industrial powerhouse -- workers got secure factory jobs and could set aside some money for paid vacations. And at the same time the state had an interest in developing the Alpine economy to move it away from subsistence farming into something sustainable to stem population losses. So the result is a bunch of fairly antiseptic resorts that can accommodate a lot of skiers cheaply. Not to say that there aren't quaint ski villages in France but you have to hunt for them.

I'm curious to know how ski stations developed in Austria.
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@porkpiefox, I find it fascinating. You can see it at work in any situation in which, having been faced with a binary choice, people will tend to big up the option that has been chosen and diss the one that has been rejected, purely to make themselves feel more comfortable with their decision. As well as France v Austria, it can also be applied to Brexit (but let’s not go there Confused )
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If you like mile after mile after mile of pistes, all very crowded and all in the same area that's full of high rise blocks in the middle then French purpose built resorts are your thing.

If you like charm, rustic villages, drinking heavily and singing in leather shorts after skiing then Austria is more your thing.

Prices are about the same for accommodation and lift passes but food and drink on the mountain are ridiculously expensive in high altitude French resorts.

France offers better high altitude stations although Austria, being pretty land locked, offers just as good snow conditions, despite much of it being lower. That said, there is some seriously high skiing to be had in Austria and far more glacier skiing than in France.

Chalet offers many many catered chalets which is a preferred choice of many English skiers

French does have charm, but not necessarily in their high resorts. Serre Che offers a bit of the best of both worlds.

St Mantonites bang on about the back of the Valluga as if it's the most rad and stoked thing a skier can do. Few would ague, Cham and La Grave offer something on another level.

If you want great, extensive skiing, amazing scenery, good prices, generally uncrowded lifts and friendly people then Italy is, of course, the best place to go. The fact there are 4 Snowheads bashed there probably speaks volumes - Livigno, alleghe, Arabba and Monta Rosa.

Austria also offers a lot of tree lined skiing which can be useful when the weather is not great. Val Thorens is the best place on Earth on a bluebird day in April but pretty damn bleak in a blizzard in January.

I'm told Switzerland has it all - if you can afford it....
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Layne,

"it's more of an overarching factor than an overriding one."

Really? Puzzled Puzzled
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tatmanstours wrote:
... Some of these are touched upon in the 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, which makes for very interesting reading. ( http://www.vanat.ch/RM-world-report-2017-vanat.pdf )...


It certainly does! There's an interesting fact on nearly every page; my favourite one is that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a glacier. The only thing I'd have liked more detail on is a more complete table on the numbers of which nationalities visit which country.


As for the France vs Austria question, the golden rule is: France in the Summer, Austria in the Winter, bring your own teabags.
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Arctic Roll wrote:
@tatmanstours, perhaps it is time for us to give Austria another go. Last time was... oh long long time.

Mrs Roll is dairy intolerant, and the good burghers of Austria seemed incapable of producing food without cow products: cream, milk, or butter. Or at least, they could do it, but it was a real, real effort to get them to understand. Whatever the skiing conditions and other peripherals, it made such a poor impression that we've never been back.

If they have a wider range of food options now available, and can cater for varying dietary requirements (some fasionable, some medical), maybe it will be easier for her?


I would suggest there has been a quantum leap forward in this regard. I holidayed in Austria with a Vegetarian in 2001, and after explaining 'no meat' best I could, she was brought a bowl of soup which contained ham. When she complained, the waiter explained that ham is not meat !

Nowadays, Austrian menus ( in every restaurant I have visited in recent years ) contain a detailed breakdown of dishes that contain ingredients likely to trigger allergies. I guess that doesn't necessarily mean that there are alternative dishes for those that suffer said allergies, but at least the information is there.
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@Pasigal, most Austrian resorts grew slowly and organically from farming communities over a period of 100 years, and so there are very few places which were built from the ground up as ski resorts. As a result, much of the lift infrastructure is outside the village centre because no-one wants to knock down 5 houses to make way for a lift and a piste to get to it, and a bus to the lift is a common approach, and therefore the bus service has to be regular, reliable and efficient (but then this is Austria, so of course it is). As communities have grown, the investment has come from the farming families who have been there for generations, rather than from big companies who descend on the area and then transform it, so as a result the growth has tended to remain in keeping with the local area - a big hotel will look like a chalet, but one 5 times bigger than a traditional farmhouse, and while it may be built from concrete blocks and have concrete slabs for floors, the outside is clad in timber and the inside is decorated in a traditional manner.

The result is that the villages and towns have mostly retained their character and charm, and the mountain huts have likewise stayed smallish and with character rather than being huge self-service places designed to get people in and out quickly. The 3-hour lunch is not practiced as much in Austria as in France, but you will see some people settling down at 1130 with a beer and not leaving until 2.

The concrete monstrosities of France serve a purpose, but they hold no attraction for me. The French resorts which have retained their character are more attractive, but then other factors come into play such as the prices, and so on.
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@ousekjarr
Thanks very much. That is what I suspected, and explains some (if not much) of the differences.

I think I'm going to have to start exploring Austria. We've stayed in France so far as our children are working through the ESF system and are more comfortable speaking French.
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tatmanstours wrote:
@porkpiefox, I find it fascinating. You can see it at work in any situation in which, having been faced with a binary choice, people will tend to big up the option that has been chosen and diss the one that has been rejected, purely to make themselves feel more comfortable with their decision. As well as France v Austria, it can also be applied to Brexit (but let’s not go there Confused )


Yeah I agree @tatmanstours, it's a fascinating but strange phenomenon.

For the record, I normally go to France, but that comes down to things like I like to be able to speak the language and I'm pretty much fluent in French, whereas I don't speak any Austrian. My parents also have a place in the South of France, and as they often ski with us, they then head down there afterwards. Not particularly important things, but they tend to factor in when I'm choosing where to go. I've been to Austria, Switzerland, Italy (and even Bulgaria many moons ago) and had great times in all of them. I wouldn't say I prefer any of them, they're all great in my opinion and their differences are what make each of them individual. If they were all the same, it would be boring. I'd happily live in any of them (barring Bulgaria), were it not for my job (which I love wink ).
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Austria all day long, the food, the people snowHead so much so i got Married there ! 'all is good'
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The problem with this discussion, whenever it comes around, is the generalisation of resorts within the same country. In France - Serre Chevalier is not the same as Val Thorens, La Clusaz is not the same as Flaine etc etc.
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@porkpiefox,
Quote:

The problem with this discussion, whenever it comes around, is the generalisation of resorts within the same country. In France - Serre Chevalier is not the same as Val Thorens, La Clusaz is not the same as Flaine etc etc.

Indeed.
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Quote:

Does France have a contender, or is it 1-0 to Austria on the dense dumpling front?


no but tarte myrtille is the mountain restaurant staple and very, very good indeed
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I still haven't skied in South America, Alaska and Japan. We need a thread comparing all three NehNeh
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I don't think the French do dumplings, not even the wobbly sort. But tarte aux myrtilles is indeed a marvel and one rarely messed up, even in the most basic places. Not that I often succumb to temptation. Twisted Evil
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@Hurtle, yes, but can it compete with Topfenpalatschinken? It would have to be very very very good to beat that. snowHead
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@Steilhang, put it this way, my idea of a good crepe is a crepe Suzette, very light, no filling, but a superb taste. The taste of Topfenpalatschinken is admittedly delicious, but I couldn't manage more than a single mouthful, so ordering a whole one is wasted on me. And most fruit tarts, if well made, are also pretty light.
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@Hurtle, I can feel a holiday coming on in Austria where everywhere we go you are required to order Topfenpalatschinken and I am required to help you with any that you can't eat. It will be hard, but I think I'll manage somehow.
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@Digger the dinosaur, you're on! It is very good. Just. Too. Much. FWIW, I feel much the same way about Tartiflette. Wanna share?
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Quote:

as a result the growth has tended to remain in keeping with the local area - a big hotel will look like a chalet, but one 5 times bigger than a traditional farmhouse, and while it may be built from concrete blocks and have concrete slabs for floors, the outside is clad in timber and the inside is decorated in a traditional manner.


Sounds exactly like many French resorts. Just not the big, high altitude, high rise purpose built jobs (which are a small minority of French resorts). And the implications that French mountain restaurants are "big self service jobs" is just typical of the kind of pointless generalisation that this sort of thread tends to generate. Very few of the restaurants in my area are self-service and many are developed from small traditional buildings - tarted up with suitable Alpine knick knacks and a decent heating system.
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I just searched Google Images for "Les Contamines restaurant Roselette" and came up with a picture I posted on Snowheads years ago - the power of big data!!
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@pam w,
Quote:

Just not the big, high altitude, high rise purpose built jobs

Actually, Val Thorens have been busy cladding their horrible buildings over the last few years.
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@Hurtle, I will be happy to assist you with your tartiflette problem, just say the word wink
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@Grandma Sunshine, will do. Toofy Grin
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Hurtle wrote:
@Steilhang, put it this way, my idea of a good crepe is a crepe Suzette, very light, no filling, but a superb taste. The taste of Topfenpalatschinken is admittedly delicious, but I couldn't manage more than a single mouthful, so ordering a whole one is wasted on me. And most fruit tarts, if well made, are also pretty light.
One mouthful is all it takes, but I think Digger's plan is good!
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@ousekjarr, thanks for the eye witness update on smoking in Austria. Good to learn it is on the decline in public areas. I've seen the issue commented on many times on snowHeads. Some suggest that the rules are often flouted, with ineffective enforcement. Hopefully that's changing too.
Not that France is anywhere near smoke-free in eating and drinking areas in practice, though I've seen a massive decline in the last 10 years or so.

I agree, terraces where food & drink is served should at the very least have segregated areas, with non-smokers getting the south facing side!
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@Arctic Roll, In Saalbach at least they seem to have come a long way in the last 10 years - many gluten-free marked products in the shops and even a vegan restaurant in the village. Don't know about dairy-free though.

@intermediate, I have heard occasional comments that hotel menus can be overly dominated by a certain thing - too much pork, or too much beef. However, there are some really good restaurants in the village - reasonably-priced too - in fact you could easily eat at a different one every night during a week's holiday and not be disappointed. The menus are varied enough not to have to get your chops round any pork or veal too.

As for the smoking, a lot of us are looking forward immensely to the smoking ban. It will be a real pleasure to see all those chain smokers huddling outside, whilst those of us who have been suffering from streaming eyes, sore throats and smelly clothes for years - not to mention difficulty in seeing across the bar through the smog - will be able to breathe clean air. Some of the bar owners are not so keen - wondering how they are going to cater for smokers without incurring problems in the form of complaints from neighbouring hotels, arising from noisy groups of smokers standing outside late at night ("smirting" is what they call it, I hear - smoking whilst flirting, or the way round).

Quote:

having discovered Saalbach some 7 or 8 years ago, it is for me the greatest all round resort of them all.

@Eddy, Sssh, don't tell everyone! wink However I'm inclined to agree that it ticks all the boxes - at least for me and Mrs tt and all our friends and family. That's why, having 'done the rounds' of the usual French resorts, and having realised that we always looked forward a lot more to our Saalbach trips, we took the plunge and committed ourselves to being 'single-resort skiers' for the foreseeable future.

@Scarpa, Don't forget you can also get a Bauerntequila for less than 2 euros (photographic evidence is available) Laughing As for gulasch soup, this is my staple lunchtime snack - filling but not too heavy, and also kind to the wallet. Best gulasch soup ever - the Hecherhuette, Viehhofen (big lumps of braising steak in it). Worst value soup ever - a small bowl of watery, clear soup at some mountain restaurant above Courchevel 1850 for EUR 10 about 15 years ago.

@cameronphillips2000,
Quote:

singing in leather shorts after skiing

These I find are optional, but we do some some available for the right occasions.
Quote:

French does have charm, but not necessarily in their high resorts. Serre Che offers a bit of the best of both worlds.

So do villages like St Martin de Belleville, Vallandry/Les Arcs, Montalbert, Champagny, St Foy, Les Coches, Peisey Nancroix, Vaujany, Briancon, and countless others; however resorts like La Plagne (paradoxically, by far the most visited ski resort in the world), Les Arcs, Avoriaz, Flaine, Les Menuires, Val T, Alpe d'H and all the other purpose-built resorts leave an indelible impression. Also the aforesaid relatively attractive villages are like morgues after the skiing has ended (which of course is what some people prefer).
Quote:

I'm told Switzerland has it all - if you can afford it....

Also in my experience a bit morgue-like, except no doubt Verbier (if you can afford it). And maybe Zermatt (Ditto).
Quote:

As a result, much of the lift infrastructure is outside the village centre because no-one wants to knock down 5 houses to make way for a lift and a piste to get to it, and a bus to the lift is a common approach

@ousekjarr, However, if you can discover a compact Austrian village in a steep-sided valley, you may find as many as three gondolas ascending from the village itself, and minimal walking involved (let alone bussing) wink
Quote:

I like to be able to speak the language and I'm pretty much fluent in French, whereas I don't speak any Austrian.

@porkpiefox, I did A-level German but never get the chance to practise it, because just about everyone in Austria seems to speak perfect English (compulsory subject at school I believe). When I resolve to persevere in German, we usually default into English within 20 seconds. I enjoy travelling in France in summer, as I also speak a bit of French and get plenty of opportunity to practise it, as the French seldom seem to speak any English, or at least they don't admit to speaking it.
Quote:

typical of the kind of pointless generalisation that this sort of thread tends to generate

@pam w, However it shows what a strong cognitive bias those soulless, purpose-built (but undeniably ski-convenient) ski stations have created in the minds of so many. People flock to them because they are snow-sure and convenient (and many T.O.s offer them) and are then put off them for predictable reasons. The more attractive villages are invariably at an equivalent height (not the same altitude, but equivalent, allowing for the Gulf Stream effect) as Austrian ones, which some people feel have in general more to offer. However there will always be those who want nothing more than a quiet village with maybe a solitary, practically deserted bar and a restaurant or two. "Atmosphere" means different things to different people.
Quote:

fruit tarts,

Why no mention of the time-honoured Apfelstrudel, not to mention the Marillenstrudel and Topfenstrudel (with custard of course)? (typically about 3-4 euros).
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Quote:


Why no mention of the time-honoured Apfelstrudel, not to mention the Marillenstrudel and Topfenstrudel (with custard of course

I like Apfelstrudel etc, but - for me - a single layer of short pastry is preferable to multiple layers of puff overpowering the fruit. One thing I do agree, however, is that Gulaschsuppe is the best lunch ever. Never had a decent one anywhere in France, but have had a few in the bits of Italy which border Austria.
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I'm really please to hear about the smoking ban coming in as I've been wanted to try Austria for some time.

For some reason it was never on the radar pre children (13+ years ago) and post children the smoking has really put me off.

If it is coming in from May 2018 I can see where we'll be in February 2019!
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Quote:

as the French seldom seem to speak any English, or at least they don't admit to speaking it

You clearly haven't been to France recently. I went into a large hypermarket to buy I TV recently. The assistant came over and start to discuss the features etc with us - in good English. Can you imagine a shop asssistant in the UK doing the same in French. I had a punture recently and called in to a tyre shop in Bourg st Maurice. The assistant also spoke good English Can you imagine going to tyresRus in the UK and getting such service. 30 years ago you may have been right about how few French people spoke English but not now.

To be honest I find the levels of service, politeness and friendliness much better in France than Austria, but as others have said there is probably more variation between areas than between countries.
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So I think what we’re all saying is both countries are pretty good.
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@HoneyBunny, +1. We all need to go to both this season. snowHead
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