While your visions of the Paris mission may only include Paris itself, the majority of the mission (by land area, not population) is not in the
Île-de-France, but instead covers the rolling countrysides and smaller towns of the Champagne, Normandie, Bretagne, and Val de Loire regions.
The entire western third of the mission constitutes the region of
Bretagne, most of whose natives are historically Breton, not French. The Bretons speak French nowadays, but older ones (and young nationalists) speak Breton (Breizh in their language), a celtic language unrelated to French. This shows up principally in place names like Quimper (Kemper) or Plouhinel. The Breton economy is still heavily dependent upon fishing and small agriculture. The area is staunchly Catholic, but the population is aging as opportunities and development bypass them in favor of the
Île-de-France. Mission towns in Bretagne are Brest,
Lorient, Rennes, Saint-Brieuc, and Vannes.
The northern central third of the mission lies in Normandie. The Normans are, of course, another sea-faring people famous for their conquest of England in 1066. Even today, le Havre boasts the largest port in France. The region includes the D-Day beaches,
the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, the Gothic architecture of Rouen, the cliffs of Etretat. The economy unlike that of Bretagne places more emphasis on shipping and industry, although dairy-farming and fishing are important to a lesser degree. Towns in Normandie in the mission include:
Alençon, Caen, Cherbourg, Coutances,
Évreux, le Havre, and Rouen.
Val de Loire (Loire Valley)
The southern edge of the mission lies south of the Loire. The Loire is perhaps France's most famous river, dotted with historical châteaux along its whole route. The mission reacquired this area after the closure of the Bordeaux Mission in 2001. Cities in this area include Nantes, Saumur, Tours, Châteauroux, le Mans, Laval, Chartres, and Orléans. The mission now
extends as far south as Limoges, Poitiers, and la Rochelle.
The eastern edge of the mission lies in Champagne. Clearly famous
for the wines produced in the region which saved the area economically, the
region is also dependent of textile and metallurgical industries, as well
as dairy and sheep farming. Mission towns in Champagne include
Châlons-en-Champagne, Reims, and Troyes.
Finally, the mission is centered on the Île-de-France region.
The Île-de-France is both heavy populated and very urbanized, though even its most urban patches, still give way surprisingly easily to countryside. Since the majority of the population of the mission lives in the Île-de-France, most of the mission towns are there, including: Argenteuil, Cergy-Pontoise, Charenton-le-Pont,
Clichy, Compiègne, Évry,
Juvisy, Malakoff, Mantes-la-Jolie, Meaux,
Melun, Montreuil-sous-Bois, Neuilly-Plaisance,
Nogent-sur-Marne, Noisiel, Paris, le Perreux,
Sarcelles, Soissons, Torcy, Versailles, and
le Vésinet / le Pecq where the mission office is located.
Outside of but close to the Île-de-France lies Auxerre.
Paris itself is a big city - if you've never been out of the intermountain west, its size will surprise you and its pace will take a while for you to get used to. People seem to oscillate between the extremes of being in a tremendous rush or fully sedentary at the cafés. There
seems to be little middle ground at first.
Paris is a very cosmopolitan town with numerous immigrés not only from all over Europe, West Asia, and Africa, but from all over France. The allure of the big city and more stable work draws them in from other regions.
Some proselyting areas (quartiers) have a majority of foreigners—it's a testimony to this fact, that roughly 50% of all baptisms in the mission are of foreigners. Most foreigners one encounters are francophone Africans (most from the DR Congo and Côte d'Ivoire) and North African Arabs. It's also common to run into refugees from Romania (many Gypsies), Turkey, and various Slavic countries.
Though there are pockets of other nationalities in almost every town, most
areas outside the Paris region are principally French. Inside the towns, standard French is spoken. In the countryside, dialects have often been retained—e.g. in Chartres, standard French is spoken alongside Beauceron
The French are a refined, very articulate people, whose culture spans back to pre-Roman times. It's hardly necessary to mention the contributions of the French into the art, music, philosophy, literature, the sciences, or politics,
but it is necessary to be a bit familiar with them. All too commonly, missionaries put on cultural blinders when they go to foreign countries—France is one country where this is impossible. Part of building relationships
of trust with your investigators involves showing an interest in what they're interested in, and with the French that's all things French. I don't wish to suggest that you need to be able to quote Corneille or even tell
Monet and Manet apart, but you should drink deeply from the
well of French culture to gain an appreciation for what's behind what your investigators are thinking.