Ask before you snap a pic of this little Parisienne. Photo: Steve Sampson.
It’s hard not to love Paris, but it takes time to feel comfortable. The sense of cultural collision may be strong and jet lag or fatigue makes things worse. So, here are 10 ways to raise your comfort level. When you plan a Paris trip, add these to your basic tips.
1. Take things slowly. Although rushing around is Parisian, rushing one’s pleasures is not. A beautiful moment, a drink, a view; all are best when thoroughly savored. Slow yourself down by finishing every meal with a coffee. No big milky cup—just a proper Parisian café. This tiny, delicate treat is how all locals end a meal. To avoid caffeine, just request a déca (“DAY-kah”).
2. You love Paris bakeries and patisseries. So you need to know the two key expressions. One, à emporter (“AH ahm-por-tay”), means you want the order “to go.” The other, sur place (“SUHR plass”—rhymes with “surface”), means you want to eat it there. Busy servers appreciate this, as do the others in line.
3. Paris is an old city filled with hard and tricky surfaces. Yet walking is the best way to see it. So before you come, treat yourself to a medical pedicure. You will not be sorry and you’ll certainly gain in stamina.
Plan for Paris cobbles such as these in the Cour du Commerce. Photo: Steve Sampson.
4. Wear your lipstick! Nothing makes a girl feel better and, in Paris, that confidence counts.
5. Watch out on the sidewalk. Outside the big boulevards, sidewalks here are very narrow. However, Parisians rush along them talking on their phones. Mesmerized by a sunset or shopwindow, it’s easy to stop suddenly. Then, the busy Parisian right behind will be thrown on top of you. Just stay aware of your surroundings; you’ll avoid collisions.
6. For photos in markets, inside boutiques or of individuals, ask before you snap. Here, the law gives people certain image rights—and market vendors, especially, often cause a scene. To ask before photographing a cute dog, a market find or a lovely flower display is just polite. It’s rare for anyone to say no unless kids are involved. Also, although they have given up on smart phones, most museums forbid flash photography. If you try it, angry guards will swoop down on you.
7. Parisians say pardon (“pahr-DOAN” . . . barely pronounce the n) rather than excusez-moi. To reach the door in a packed metro car, this is the word you need.
8. Don’t put up with unwanted attention in the street, in parks or on the metro. Central Paris is perfectly safe yet there are men who push the boundaries. If you’re in a busy place, someone else may tell them off. If not, say—directly and forcefully—”N’insistez pas!” (“Nahn-SIS-tay-pah!”)
9. If leaving the metro station through a door you have to push (a heavy metal door marked POUSSEZ in green), hold it open so it doesn’t strike the person behind you. Because the doors are heavy, this little gesture matters. In a city poll, Parisians claimed a recent drop in such door holding proves “that good manners are in decline.”
He's happy, they're happy; know where to sit in a café. Photo: Jean Pierre Poulet.
10. In cafés, you’ll feel better if you choose the right table. Not planning to eat? Don’t sit where it’s set for a meal. (Conversely, don’t sit at a bare table to order dinner.) If you’re squeezed for time but simply have to have a coffee? Order it standing at the bar. You can easily pay and leave, plus you’ll save some money.
Lastly, why waste your Paris trip stressing about souvenirs? Here are two perfect seasonal choices, both easy to pack and suitable for any age:
Photo: Cynthia Rose.
• Funky flatware from Sabre: Light as a feather, charming and dishwasher safe, these are perfect Paris (picnic) souvenirs. My fave is the tart slicer in paisley but you might go for tea or coffee spoons in polka dot or gingham. The style “old fashion” [sic] is especially French in shape.
Available from Sabre shops at 4, rue des Quatre Vents, in the 6th Arrondissement; 1 bis, rue Ravignan, in the 18th; and 9, rue Hoche, in Versailles.
Photo: Cynthia Rose.
• Miel de Paris: Small, charming jars of the honey from beehives atop the Mairie in the 4th Arrondissement and the Ecole Militaire. The latter faces the Eiffel Tower, which also appears on the label. In 2010 this honey, which literally tastes of Paris, was voted the best in town.
Available from La Grande Epicerie, 38, rue de Sèvres, in the 7th Arrondissement.
Basic Tips: A Dozen Don’ts to Remember in Paris
Miel de Paris
La Grande Epicerie
Editor’s note: The best tip we know of is to join the Girls’ Guide to Paris Travel Club before you book your Paris hotel or apartment. Save up to $500 on your trip to Paris and be treated like a princess.