Top 10 things you should know before coming to Paris

By: Vivian Song

You’ve done all your research for your trip to the City of Light. Your travel itinerary is itemized down to the last pastry you want to eat and the first museum you want to hit. Or, you’ve read your Paris travel guide front to back and are a walking library of interesting Parisian factoids. Congratulations! But do you know that not all baguettes are created equal? Or the magic phrase for ordering tap water rather than the overpriced bottled kind? Here are a few tips from an expat who’s called Paris home for the last two years on how to blend in with the locals, navigate the city and avoid drawing daggers of disapproval from Parisians who are aren’t shy about expressing their annoyance to the throngs of tourists who descend on their beautiful city.

  1. Part of what makes Paris so interesting is her wildly unpredictable weather. She’s like a moody, temperamental woman -- ie. life is never boring. Were it any other city, the year-long, schizophrenic, brooding weather would be irksome. Here, it’s climatic poetry. It’s advisable to always have a small, foldable umbrella on you.

  2. You will be judged. Mercilessly. But not malevolently. Parisians love to check each other out. It is, after all, one of the fashion capitals of the world. So, if you go against our advice and pack the running shoes, baseball caps, hoodies and ski jackets, know that you will stick out like a sore thumb and publicly announce to the locals -- and pickpockets alike -- that you are a tourist. Unless said runners are Converse All Stars (they love them here). We’re not saying you have to dress like them. Just make a bit of an effort. Paris deserves it, you’ll see.

  3. If you’re approached by a small army of young Eastern Europeans asking you to sign a petition, don’t. Just keep walking. Or you risk getting something snatched from your person.

  4. Here’s a quick primer on coffee, distilled. If you order a simple, café, you’ll get an
    espresso-like shot in a small cup. If you want a milky coffee akin to a latte, order a café crème. Similarly, ordering coffee with your meal -- even dessert -- is considered alien and will likely draw a furrowed, confused brow by your server who you can see mentally pooh-poohing your strange request.

    Coffee in France is consumed at the very end of the meal. When in Rome...

    Oh, and a complete aside, but Parisians eat their hamburgers -- a huge food trend right now -- with a knife and fork. Unsettling yes, but you’ll have to deal. Overall, the French frown on eating things with your hands. Or in a public space like the subway. Or at your desk, in the car...

  5. Public service announcement time: If you’re sitting on a foldable seat in the
    underground subway, and the train becomes full, you’re to stand and relinquish the seat. While it sounds like common courtesy, all too often we see passengers -- mostly hapless tourists -- who continue to sit despite the daggers that are being thrown their way, and the illustrated instructions on the train wall.

    Also, you know that monster of a backpack you have on? Kindly take it off when you board the train as it’s likely whacking passengers behind you who are burning holes through said backpack and into the back of your head with their dagger-like expressions of disgust. Or so I’ve heard.

  6. Don’t feel conned into having to order a bottle of overpriced water with your meal. Ask for a ‘carafe d’eau’ and you’ll get a free pitcher of tap water.

  7. Baguettes are for amateurs. Listen carefully to the Parisians in line at the local bakery, and chances are you’ll hear many of them order a ‘Tradition.’ The difference between a regular baguette and tradition? A tradition must adhere to specific baking and ingredient rules in order to be sold as such. All you need to know, is that a tradition is exponentially superior: a crispy, chewy crust, and soft, lovely melt-in-your mouth innards.

  8. If baguettes are for amateurs, the red, double-decker tour buses are for chumps. Harsh, but true. Here’s why. All you have to do is board a city bus for the same price as the subway, and you’ll score a street-level tour that takes you around the city. For example, if you’re not pressed for time, board any bus from a major landmark and see where it takes you.

  9. That said, the best way to see Paris, is on foot. And sometimes, the best guidebook, is your intuition. Ditch the travel tome in your backpack and let your explorer’s impulse guide you through the city’s alleys and side streets.

  10. Don’t forget to look up. And behind you. Because when your gaze is street-level, you miss the city’s beautiful architecture and other Kodak-moment photo opps. Or, in modern-day lingo, Instagram moments.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingVivian Song is a Canadian expat living in France. Blog description: I am The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, a Canadian expat living in Paris with a compulsive need to share photos of the most beautiful city in the world and la vie en rose with fellow francophiles.
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Contest Comments » There are 9 comments

Sonia wrote 11 years ago:

Great story ! Makes me wanna go and live in Paris... but wait a minute... I already live there !

Bmo wrote 11 years ago:

Thanks for the insider's tips! I will have to print this out and adhere to it next time i'm in the city of love.

OUDET Claudia wrote 11 years ago:

Vivian is a great writer and a very beautiful soul. Thanks Vivian for all you give, big hugs and see you soon!

Sarah wrote 11 years ago:

Charming, witty and informative -- a terrific insider's guide to a terrific city. Planning my trip ( and packing my Converse).

Janette Luu wrote 11 years ago:

Wonderful recommendations! I've been to Paris once and am eager to get back to put these tips to use. Need to eat a tradition NOW!

Audrey wrote 11 years ago:

Great insights into Parisian life. And such humor! Thanks.

Tasha wrote 11 years ago:

What am I still doing here?? Vivian's blog leaves me yearning to hit the streets of Paris.

Stephane wrote 11 years ago:

I'd like to add one advice: Don't be too loud! French don't speak as loud as Americans do, and this high decibel level is considered rude. You can spot American tourists in the metro because they are the only ones covering the noise of the machinery (well, together with Italians).

Adrien wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks you for all these tips ! I will be in Paris in 2 weeks and it's very helpful. One more thing to know before going to Paris : how to manage the luggage ! this is very problematic for me each time and I know that it's the same for a lot of foreigners in Paris. I've heard about a new concept called City-Locker : it's luggage storage spots in the center area of Paris. You can book your locker online on their website contrary to train station's lockers very hard to find and most of the time full... A friend of mine recommend it to me and I will try in two weeks :)

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