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Top 10 Things I Learned About Paris

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Champs-Élysées
ONE
The French aren’t rude. Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I think I like the French. (Cue the gong.) I lived in Italy for three years. Let’s just say I was Team Olive Oil, not Team Butter. Plus, everyone’s heard the stories of notorious French snobbery, especially toward uncouth Americans who don’t speak the language. I was prepared for a throwdown by Day 2, but it never happened. Taxi drivers doubled as tour guides, waiters were friendly and dutifully answered any menu translation questions, and even when we stopped into cafés for a quick coffee (obvious strategy for using their bathrooms) we were welcomed.

Curio Parlor

TWO Say hello, even if it’s the only thing you know how to say. This goes a long way in how pleasant they decide to be to you. Bonjour (good day) and bonsoir (good evening) are crucial salutations, and then of course: Je ne parle pas français, je m’excuse (I don’t speak French, excuse me). And if you want to step up your game, when you say goodbye make it bonne journée (have a good day) and bonne soirée (have a good evening).

Metro at City Hall

THREE Use the subway, or métro. It’s convenient, quick, and an excellent alternative when rush hour streets are clogged from 4:30pm to 8:30pm. The only snag is that it closes between 12:30am and 1am until morning and try finding a cab while everyone else is competing for one, and did I mention it was snowing? Brr. The silver lining: Some of the best photos I took were at night when the buildings and bridges are all lit up. Paris certainly lives up to its name “the City of Lights,” though I’d hate to get that electricity bill.

Poster in Metro

FOUR Paris may have founded food and civilized ways, but one thing they forgot was the bathroom. Awful, awful bathrooms. Even a high-end restaurant we dined in one day didn’t have toilet paper. Carry tissue, antibacterial lotion, and grease, ‘cause those stalls are tiny (especially when toting a bulky winter jacket).

Line at the Pompidou Museum

FIVE Parisians (and tourists) will wait patiently on line forever. Italians would have pushed their way in long ago; they don’t do lines. I once saw an Italian father with three young kids skip the line at the Vatican. (Someone make the sign of the cross.) Every Paris museum had hundreds of people out the door; and someone needs to explain to me why Louis Vuitton had a velvet rope too. It’s a brown leather bag, people, get over it. Museum tip: Buy the 2-, 4-, or 6-day Museum Pass, which allows you to skip the line at dozens of museums, as well as pays your ticket.

Line at Louis Vuitton

SIX Watch your step. There is dog crap everywhere. We need to get a New York City–style crackdown going on these owners.

SEVEN I think we finally solved the tipping question. After reading differing policies in various guide books, we did an informal poll with our hotel concierge, the waiter at Robuchon’s Etoile, and the server at adorable cocktail lounge Curio Parlor. Even though much of the tip is built into the price of the food, and even though the bill says servis compris (service included), leave 5% of the bill as a tip at a decent restaurant. Round up for the taxi driver and barista.

Lobster at Farmers Market

EIGHT Get a good food dictionary. Perhaps in a final stand to stay French in a tourist-driven city, they don’t do English-language menus. Luckily, most of the nicer restaurants had seasonally-driven food, so we were often met with the same handful of words: homard (lobster), huitres (oysters), bar de ligne (line-caught seabass), coquilles (scallops)… seafood-leery Andrew was a good sport with these tasting menus, to say the least!

Notre Dame

NINE It may be touristy, but do a night tour. As I mentioned, you’ll get the best photos at night when the city is illuminated. Take a cruise along the Seine, or go to the 56th floor of the only skyscraper in Paris (the local joke is that it’s a beautiful view because you can’t see the skyscraper in it). We meant to take one of the Bateaux Mouches (boat tours), but then the Seine flooded the streets for the first time in 100 years and they stopped running (ah, climate change). We made it to Montparnasse 56 on the last night: skip the interior area and walk up a few flights to the outside viewing area.

View from Montparnasse 56

TEN I’m announcing it now: French wines are hangover-free. I’m 36 and I’ve been a California wine devotee for years, but two glasses of wine and my head aches in the morning. Forget the terroir or the tradition—these Burgundies and Bordeauxs left me feeling great in the morning! (and on little sleep given my jetlag, no less) I don’t know if California is injecting tannins into their Cabs or what, but I may have to experiment further and get back to you. Cheers!

Meursault White Burgundy

Related posts:

Paris Food Tour: Baguettes, Cheese & Chocolate
Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret

Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?

Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent

Christmas dinner at Le Cinq

Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma
Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?
Paris: The Last Bits (Photos)

Jan. 06 2011 |
  1. Liz the Chef

    Paris in winter is wonderful – looks like you had a wonderful time…I’m ready to pack and go!

  2. Blaire

    excellent summation! love it.

  3. Abby

    Great tips! Can’t wait to go sometime!! Congrats on getting this posted so quickly upon your return…I can’t wait to hear more about the food!

  4. Amy75

    Alice Q. Foodie referred me to your blog bc I live in Paris. This was a really fun read. So true re the bathroom issue. I actually prefer using the public restroom stands as they’re automatically cleaned between uses. Glad you enjoyed Paris. I love Italy and try to go as often as possible!

  5. Beatrice

    great story, tips and pictures. brava! so, you have to order espresso in order to use the bathroom. how was the coffee?

  6. jane

    @Beatrice, I would say it was not unlike Italy (ordering to use the bathroom). UNLIKE Italy, the coffee was awful!! Coincidentally, an article came out in the NY Times shortly after my trip saying coffee in Paris might finally be improving – “sort of” – ha: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/ristretto-paris-coffee-improving-sort-of/

  7. Sasa

    I totally agree – I never had anyone be rude in all the times I’ve visited Paris…Well not more than any other city. I did have a French boyfriend who turned into a bit of a stalker though so there’s definitely something funny about them ;P

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