PARIS. Even non-travelers are familiar with the reputation Parisians have for being rude. As with almost any major city in the world, however, that trend can be unequally applied. Which means, in some ways, that the French are getting a bit of a bum rap. Personal experience shows that the French can actually be warm and helpful if you decide to be polite. And if you follow some basic rules when you travel to that country. So in that spirit, today’s column offers you a Paris Primer: Do’s and don’ts that can help international travelers fully enjoy all that legendary city offers.
As a combination survival kit and travel guide for how to “get along” in the French capital, Condé Nast Traveler published an article covering some of those key Do’s & Don’ts for visiting Paris. Truthfully, you can apply about half that periodical’s tips to virtually any European city.
Savvy veteran travelers likely already know these basic rules. But for you rookie wanderlusters and part-timers, we present our modified version of the Condé Nast version. Our Paris Primer.
1 . Don’t shop on the Champs-Élysées:
According to Condé Nast, this once-fashionable avenue, once among the most beautiful in the world, now finds itself overly-populated with international chain stores, automobile dealerships, and multiplex movie houses. In addition, the dream idea of dining at a quaint cafe on one of the best-known streets in the world gradually devolved into an overpriced tourist trap that locals now avoid in droves.
Here’s one Paris Primer idea that any tour guide can apply to any famous city in the world: Just follow the footsteps of the locals.
Condé Nast suggests that you can most likely find quality stuff in emerging shopping neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like the North Marais in Paris where you can shop for brands or crafts. You can find another good shopping location “in the center of town at Les Halles.” Here you can discover Parisian-designed goods from Sept Cinq or emerging French designers at L’Exception. Today, “even department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are in the business of diversifying their offerings.”
Perhaps more fun for visitors: the old-fashioned ambiance of Paris’ covered passages, which date back to the 19th century. Here you may embrace the essence of Paris-past beneath glass-vaulted ceilings and the city’s famed wrought iron. The romantic little nooks offer honeycombs of crannies filled with antique book dealers, art galleries and quirky toy shops among other choices. Most seasoned travelers find Galerie Vivienne, just north of the Palais Royal in the second arrondissement, the most elegant of the lot.
2. Don’t spend a fortune on elegant dining:
Like the previous one, this Paris Primer tip applies not only to Paris but to other French and European destinations as well. Large cities can reach up and grab your wallet and credit cards faster than a pick-pocket can relieve you of euros. If you must say you dined at Cafe XYZ to impress your friends at home, plan to fork out a few hundred big ones for that so-called “European dining experience.”
Throw Rick Steves and his other guidebook buddies in the trash and explore on your own. If you don’t feel comfortable with doing that in an unknown destination, ask the concierge at your hotel for ideas. If you give him the specific information you want, 90% of the time he will hit a home run. Or the French equivalent.
Modern-day Paris bistros remain both fun and reasonable. Or simply stroll along a street until you come to a place that suits your lifestyle and budget. If you find it filled with locals, you’ll probably also find what you’re really looking for.
Best of all, when you return homem you can now impress your friends with your own “personal expertise,” Chances are that on your next trip to Paris that little eatery is among the first places you visit.
3. Don’t try to see everything at the Louvre:
Not only is this a good Paris Primer tip for visiting the Louvre. It also works for traveling in general. If you try to see everything, the surface of this vast Parisian art palace is all you can explore. So for your first time at least, just see it rather than experiencing it. The Louvre is massive. You can race through it and gain a general impression. Or you can spend three days and never see the rest of Paris.
Either way and this goes for other cities and countries too. If you want to see it all in a single trip, forget it. It just ain’t gonna happen.
Do some homework before you leave, and decide what you regard as the most important sights you want to see. Then split your time between the Louvre and a few smaller, less crowded and, in many ways, equally satisfying museums.
Condé Nast suggests “Monet’s famous Nymphéas (water lily) murals in the Musée de l’Orangerie, at the far end of the Tuileries Gardens; The Musée Marmottan is home to the world’s largest collection of Monets; and the Musée Rodin, housed in a luminous villa with a lovely garden, is one of the most romantic places in all of Paris.” There’s also Musée d’Orsay with its Impressionist collection showcased in an old converted railway station.
4. Don’t look like a tourist:
Pickpockets and hucksters will spot you a mile away. All too often, newbie travelers over-pack because they want to “look nice” in another country. Let’s face it. Not only do the locals not care. They won’t even pay attention. Unless, of course, you do something outlandish to attract their amusement.
Our Paris Primer advice? Remember: Looking nice and being clean and neat are two entirely different things.
Almost everyone goes for casual and comfortable styles these days. Clearly, the impact of television, movies and social media has changed routine daily fashions tremendously.
If you “try” to imitate the stereotype of a Frenchman, you’re going to fail. Likewise, walking around lugging along all that expensive camera gear and posing at every landmark is a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist, perhaps ripe for the pickings.
So put that selfie-stick away folks. Act like you’ve been out of the country before.
Duly noted in today’s Paris Primer: Casual is acceptable these days. Just be neat and coordinated with neutral colors. Cowboy hats and boots, Hawaiian shirts and raucous group staring, pointing and laughing almost certainly ends up as a catalyst attracting rude responses. Especially in Paris.
Stay cool. Be polite. And do your best to blend in if you want to have a great experience. A genuine smile and respect goes a long way toward making a huge difference in how the locals treat you in almost any country.
— Headline image: Note Dame Cathedral as it looked before the recent tragic fire. It has long been a symbol of Paris (Photo: Bob Taylor, all rights reserved.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up