You’ve bought your tickets, you’ve made your hotel reservations (or rented an apartment), and now all you have to do is pack and head out to the airport. Not so fast! You still have a few things you need to take care of in preparation for your trip to Paris.
Maybe you’ve heard someone say that the French are rude, or, the only bad thing about Paris is that it’s full of Parisians. Don’t believe it! The French are warm, wonderful people, especially when you get a chance to know them, but first you must learn a few of their customs. This will go a long way towards making your Paris vacation a success.
Do your homework.
In addition to the critiques of the hotels, restaurants and attractions in Paris, most guidebooks have a section devoted to local customs. These include proper greetings and other acceptable social behaviors. When an American tourist encounters a rude Frenchman, you can bet that the Frenchman believes he has just encountered a rude American. Learning what is expected of you as a visitor to France will make your Paris vacation more enjoyable. If you’re traveling on a tight budget there’s nothing wrong with borrowing a guidebook from a friend or buying a used one at a bookstore.
Greet the shopkeepers.
In the United States, it is customary for a shopkeeper or employee of a retail establishment to greet the customer (how many times have you been welcomed to Wal-Mart?). In France it is just the opposite, and it is not only considered polite for a customer to greet the shopkeeper when entering the establishment, it is also customary for them to greet everyone inside. This rule also applies to restaurants in Paris, hotels in Paris, the doctor’s office, the boulangerie down the boulevard, everywhere. The reason for this is that the French consider their shops to be private spaces, rather than public. Learn this rule and be amazed at how nice and helpful everyone in Paris can be. I’ve got a friend that’s been all over the world, and was shocked that she didn’t know this prior to going to Paris. She was bewildered as to why everyone she encountered seemed to be upset with her.
Believe in or not, quite a few Americans (myself included) tend to have louder speaking voices than many other cultures. In my case you can put that down to the exuberance of traveling. At my request, my wife gleefully agreed to remind me to tone it down when I got too loud.
Learn a few words of French.
You don’t need to be fluent. You can get by on what I like to call “guidebook French”. Learn to say hello (bonjour or bonsoir, depending on the time of day), good night (bon nuit), and thanks (merci), thanks a lot (merci beaucoup) and please (S’il vous plaît). Je nais comprend pas (I don’t understand) will let the Parisian you are trying to communicate with know that you don’t speak fluent French, although to be honest most of them will pick up on that fact without you speaking that phrase. Most Europeans speak English, and they will be more than happy to converse with you in your native tongue now that you’ve made a small effort to speak their language. Don’t worry about learning the proper pronunciation from this article; the guidebooks will have phonetic spellings of the important words and phrases that you need to make your Paris vacation more enjoyable.
Spend some of your time living like a local.
This is one of the best ways to get to know any new place. Take the metro, or dare to eat lunch in a restaurant that isn’t in a guide book. Go see a movie. The French love cinema, and Paris is full of theaters, some even showing English language films.
You are, after all, on vacation. Paris has been around for centuries, and you could play tourist all day every day for a month without seeing everything the city has to offer. Instead of trying to cram everything into your short visit, add just a few must-sees to your list and spend the rest of your time discovering the City of Light at a more leisurely pace. I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely had to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, but after spending a few hours exploring those monuments I chose to use the rest of my time wandering aimlessly, letting the day take me where it would. Some of my best memories of Paris took place because I allowed myself to explore without an agenda. Sure, I haven’t done everything that I’d like to do in Paris, but that just leaves more to experience during the next trip, like cruising the Seine at night on one of the tourist boats.
About the author: For twenty years Will Atkinson traveled the United States and Western Europe as a singer/songwriter, and although he rarely performs these days he still loves to write and travel. He is also the founder of Greater Articles.