Things we think you should know about Paris and keep in mind if planning a trip here:
1. Parisians love their cafes. The tables are crammed super close together and they are perfectly capable of having an intimate lunch or conversation with another intimate lunch or conversation 6 inches away from them. At some places it is more common to sit side by side instead of across from each other. Regardless, cafes are the way to go. Many don’t have hours posted – they close when business slows/stops for the night. This could be 9:00pm one day and 1:00am the next.
2. Crepes are not a breakfast food. Lunch or dinner. Definitely a snack while on the go. They can be sweet, with sugar (the simplest) or bananas, nutella, strawberry jam or a combination thereof, or savoury, including ham, bacon, cheese, mushrooms etc. Savoury crepes are usually made with buckwheat opposed to sweet which are made with flour. This means that savoury crepes, in theory, are suppose to be gluten-free (though they seem to cook them all on the same grill….but there may be places that are more cautious…just a note to my GF friends). We ate them both as a snack and as a dinner. At a sit down dinner they were very large and full, as a snack, thinner and served to go (and eaten while walking).
3. Parisians love books. Book stores, used book stores, English, French and German bookstores, left-bank booksellers and libraries. In cafes, on benches, near the Seine, in a square and on the metro – Parisians love to read.
4. Be careful what size drink you order. The concept of “non-stop” anything doesn’t apply here. Drinks are EXPENSIVE, and meant to be drunk slowly and savoured. Make sure to clarify, in centiliters (if you don’t remember how to convert, come see me for a lesson or download an app) so there is no miscommunication.
5. Parisians are rarely seen walking with their coffee. Coffee is ordered, and you sit down and savour it and watch time go by. It’s not that you couldn’t find yourself a Starbucks and pick up a drink on the run, it’s just that it isn’t common.
6. The French are polite. I don’t know where the rumour began that the French are rude, but in our experience, if you are kind to them, they are kind in return. We didn’t experience one rude French person in Paris. Also, if you make an effort to speak even the slightest bit of French, it is often returned with a smile….but keep in mind…
7. The French are linguistic snobs. If you pronounce something wrong, they will correct you. It isn’t because they are trying to be rude – they are just trying to help you pronounce the word properly. And why wouldn’t you want to know how to pronounce it well? Listen, repeat it back, until you get it right. It’s like free French lessons.
8. French streets are covered in cobblestone. Leave the heels at home. However, the French do rock the concept of casual, yet elegant. You can spot a tourist a mile away because they are wearing runners or sandals (or, gulp, socks and sandals….). I read an article that said you can wear flip-flops, shorts or a tank top, but not all 3 at once. This is something that I noticed. However, I don’t know how the French can afford to dress themselves – every shop we walked by sold €100 blouses and €165 dresses. I fail in this department because I am all about function and comfort….sorry Paris.
9. Renting bikes is a great way to get around the city. I think I would have been more inclined had I known my way around and had it been cooler. There is a great city wide bike rental system where you pick them up in one place, and lock them up in another, and just grab one from the bank of bikes at their various locations. This saves you from worrying about “your” bike. Next time I think we will do this. (If you are wondering, the system is called Velib).
10. Don’t be deceived by “time.” It isn’t worth the extra euros to stay in the city center to save “time” commuting from place to place. The metro system is so well put together that transiting from the outer districts to the main attractions is relatively easy. Besides, the food is cheaper, people are chiller and the vibe is way more authentic the further you get from the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. So don’t think you are saving yourself time and gaining more precious minutes at the Louvre. In the end, you lose more than you gain.
11. Don’t overplan. Guilty of this one. Make a list of “must sees” and a list of “maybes” at best. Our favourite experiences involved wandering and enjoying long lunches/dinners in cafes. This can be easily overshadowed if you are in a rush. We wanted more time to sit on the banks of the Seine, take those dancing lessons in the streets, kick up our feet in Luxembourg Gardens and read books on park benches with the locals. Yes, there are amazing things to see in Paris. But more so their are amazing things to EXPERIENCE. So slow down. Paris is the first city I have been to where I can’t say it enough. SLOW DOWN.
12. Don’t count calories. Paris isn’t the city for it. Pastries, wine, sugary drinks, deep fried meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, cremes, crepes….the list goes on. Even a French salad on a menu of a cafe is not a nutritional home run. If you are on a diet, this may be a difficult city for you. Especially the first time around. Good news is that there are stairs and hills and more stairs and 5 km walks and then another 300 stairs and then 100 stairs to the metro another 100 up, another 1km to the Louvre, another 250 stairs up and down…..what makes up for the food is the moving. Skip the cabs, enjoy the walks, pace yourself, control your portions. And ENJOY the food. Skip the guilt. If the above foods are not your style (or if you are like me and craving fruit and vegetables) hit the local fruit stand and bring some back to your apartment or hotel. I usually stopped to buy some berries or nectarines (SO GOOD) on the way home every day. It’s okay to opt out of the culinary opulence from time to time.
13. BE POLITE. I was in a store near Versailles waiting to buy a bottle of water. The girl in front of me (maybe 18, from a distinguishable country slightly south of ours given the giant stripes and stars on her bag), buys a postcard. The clerk tells her, in French, that it is 65 cents (which I can see on the register). She cocks her head and says, with all the disgust she can muster “Do I LOOK like I speak French?” On behalf of all tourists everywhere. Please do not be that person. Remember, you are in another country, that speaks another language, with its own set of customs. P