I love Paris. After living there for four months, it’s a second home to me. In fact, just the other day, I told my sister how homesick I am for green spaces, my corner grocery store and café, and the ability to walk or take the train anywhere I want to go. With the weather getting warmer, my homesickness is getting worse, since all I want to do is lounge in the Jardin du Luxembourg with a good book or sit on the banks of the Seine and enjoy ice cream from Berthillion.
Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to Paris any time soon. So, until I do get the chance to go “home,” I thought I’d share some advice for visiting Paris. I could go on and on about this city for days, so I’ve decided to break things up into a series of articles that I’ll be rolling out over the next few weeks.
This week’s topic: basic tips on culture and etiquette in the City of Lights.
Tip 1: Take the Métro or walk
Seriously, there’s no reason to not use public transportation in France. It’s efficient, safe (pickpockets excluded), and you get to avoid the hazards of driving in a city of 2.2 million with roads leftover from the Middle Ages. Trust me, it’s not a pretty sight.
Now, taking the Métro can be a bit scary, especially if you’re like me and come from a city with pretty much zero public transit. I’m going to cover this topic in more detail in another post, but suffice to say that you basically buy a ticket from an automated machine (with options in English), follow the crowds through the turn-styles at the entrance, and get on the right train.
Via Navigo is an app dedicated to helping you get from Point A to Point B using the train or bus. Download it before arriving in Paris. It will be your best friend.
Tip 2: Always say “hello” and “goodbye” to shopkeepers
It’s expected that upon arriving at the cash register in a store or entering a small shop, you’ll say, “Bonjour.” And when you leave, you should say, “Bon journée” if it’s still light out or “Bon soirée” if it’s evening. These phrases mean “hello,” “good day,” and “good evening,” respectively.
The famous “au revoir” isn’t something that I really heard all that much in Paris, while “adieu” essentially means, “I’ll see you in Heaven.” Not really something you want to say to a shopkeeper that you just met.
Oh, also always say, “Merci.” When I’m leaving a store, I’ll usually say, “Merci, bon journée” as I’m accepting my receipt and grabbing my bag.
Tip 3: Learn a few key phrases
The French, and Parisians especially, get a bad rap for being rude. However, I found most people to be incredibly nice.
Case in point: I didn’t know how to buy an apple at the grocery store and got reprimanded by a cashier who I guess thought I was stealing. Then, this lovely lady stepped in when she saw me struggling to speak French while being flustered and used what English she knew to help me buy an apple correctly.
What will make people be rude to you is if you stop someone on a random street and ask them a question in English. C’mon, wouldn’t you be mad if someone stopped you on your way to work and asked you where some random hotel was, in a foreign language?
So, in addition to the polite phrases mentioned above, I recommend learning, “Pardon,” which you use like “excuse me” and “sorry”, as well as, “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?). A lot of people, especially young ones, know at least a bit of English and are generally willing to help tourists, as long as those tourists are polite and recognize the fact that they’re not in Kansas anymore.
Tip 4: Beware of pickpockets and scam artists
Paris has a pretty big pickpocketing problem. There’s no other way to put it. However, if you look more like a local and less like a tourist, they’ll generally ignore you in favor of easier marks. This is where dark or neutral clothing (H&M and Zara are pretty good about this), headphones, and a RBF come in handy.
There are two pretty common scams to look out for. The first one is one person comes up to have you sign a petition and then, while you’re promising money to a school for the blind or something, their friend steals your wallet and phone.
This actually happened to me during my first trip down to the city center (I lived in the suburbs) and I would have been screwed if it hadn’t been for the fact that my cross-body purse was right in front of me and my phone was in my hand. I didn’t even realize what those two girls were doing until a French girl yelled at them and told me, “Gardez son phone” (Watch your phone).
The other thing to keep an eye out for is people begging for money. You’ll see beggars on the street, especially in touristy areas, and even on the trains, walking through different cars and laying down pieces of paper explaining their tragic story in the hopes that you will give them money.
Now, without trying to sound like a horrible person, I’m going to tell you this: don’t give them money. You never know if they have a friend watching who will rob you because you’re clearly a tourist, what they’re going to use the money for, or even if they are victims themselves (children are often exploited by adults, even their own parents, because people are more sympathetic to them). This may sound especially cruel if you’re from a place where it’s normal for people to help each other, but in Paris, just like any other major city, the best response is to briefly shake your head and keep walking.
Paris is an amazing, exciting, romantic city that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. I can’t always promise you a great trip, but I can promise that if you’re polite, brush up on some basic French, use public transit over Uber and taxis, and watch out for pickpockets and con artists, you’ll be feeling like a Parisian in no time.
Next week, I’m showing you some of my must-see spots around Paris, from churches and museums to parks and cemeteries. Is there a landmark that you think should be on that list?