Virginie is a bundle of positive energy with a winning smile and a deep understanding of French history and French attitudes (she is, after all, French). Virginie also "gets" Americans well, as she lived in Montana at a formative time in her life and adored her "western" experience. She leads all of our fully guided France tours, as well as private small-group tours in Burgundy, Brittany, and Provence. Virginie also offers trip-planning services and accommodations at her guest house in Saint-Vérand.
Virginie, when you're not on the road leading tours for Rick Steves, where do you live?
Though I was born in Brittany, I now live in Lyon, France. Lyon is justifiably known as the food capital of the world. Just that in itself is a good reason to visit! Being nestled in the heart of two famous wine regions (Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône), it is easy to pair amazing wines with great food at the bouchons (as local restaurants are called here). Even though Lyon is the third biggest city in France, it has a small-town feel. Nature is everywhere, with two big rivers and colorful hills all around. Beyond having one of the best preserved Renaissance neighborhoods in Europe — le Vieux Lyon — the city also has an important Roman heritage, and a modern, environmentally friendly district. Lyon's varied architecture makes it a very pleasant and interesting city for me to live in. For our My Way travelers, Lyon offers a rich history, top-notch museums, and a lively cultural scene.
Before Lyon, is it true you lived in Big Sky Country?
Yes, my husband and I lived in Bozeman, Montana, for a few years. It was an amazing place where we actually met more French people than in Tampa, Florida (where we've also lived). Our small French-speaking community of about 20 would have an heure française (French hour) once a month to enjoy French cheese, bread, and wine…and speak French. Very few people in town had ever met French people before, and many thought my accent was Russian, or German! We were welcomed and adopted into the Montana culture very quickly, and learned to fly-fish, ice climb, and go hunting with the locals.
Having lived in the States, what are the most common misconceptions you've found that Americans have about the French?
There are Americans who will return from a trip to France and tell their friends that French people are rude and snobs, and that they will not be treated nicely over there. But it's important for any visitor to know that their impressions of the French will be driven by how they, as visitors, approach the local people. An American who rattles off questions in English without at least greeting someone in French — that's considered crude behavior and it can offend people. If you approach any French person with "bonjour" and try a few more French words (even if you butcher every one!), they will usually smile and open up, because you are showing them politeness and respect.
Many French people speak English fluently, but they are proud of their language and if they see that you are making some effort with it, people will really appreciate that gesture. This is the part of my job that I like the most: breaking down stereotypes, opening doors, and having my tour members come up to me and say, "The French people have been so, so nice to me!"
You also help research Rick's guidebooks in France. Does this influence your work as a tour guide?
Rick's guidebooks are very focused on finding the best experiences for American travelers who have short vacations and little time to waste. This perspective really forces a researcher to always think about value and make good decisions on behalf of travelers — not just write down gobs of information. My research role also makes me a better guide. Not only am I super-informed about all the sights, museums, and restaurants that we recommend in Rick's books — I also carry over that sense of responsibility: I automatically put myself in the tour members' shoes to guide how I can make each day fresh, efficient, and meaningful.