So you’ve planned your trip and are heading to Paris to explore the beautiful City of Lights. France, like any other country, has a set of accepted rules and customs that make social interaction work. It’s a good idea to understand a few of them before you go to avoid any unnecessary faux pas, after all the French invented this word! These are a few simple mistakes to avoid in Paris that will make your stay so much more enjoyable.
Mistakes to avoid in Paris
Where to stay?
If you like the idea of all those pretty lanes, romantic cafes and iconic landmarks that Paris is famous for, then booking accommodation outside of the 20 arrondissements that make up the city is a mistake. Many of the outlying areas are not residential and should be avoided.
You will also waste a lot of time travelling into the tourist part of town and the vibe will be totally different on the outskirts of the city. Booking a hotel within the limits will allow you to enjoy all the charms of the city with ease.
Need help? Where to stay in Paris
Visiting Paris during high season
My advice would be to avoid the city between the months of June – August, the height of the tourist season. You will have to queue for hours wherever you go. The prices also jump steeply and accommodation will cost you much more than other times of the year.
Ditch the heels
Unless you are going to be in Paris for Fashion Week, pack comfortable walking shoes. Chances are that you are going to be your feet for hours each day so wear flats, sneakers or sandals. If you are worried about not fitting into the stylish Parisian crowd I always pack a pair of black shoes that I can wear with almost everything. Some restaurants have a dress code so check the details before you book.
The French aren’t rude
Learn a few simple words and it will make your life easier. If you make an effort then people are more than happy to help you. A simple “bonjour” or “merci” and “s’il vous plait” will open many doors. Don’t forget the most important phrase parlez-vous Anglais?
Don’t pay for water
If you go to a restaurant do as the Parisians do and ask for a “carafe d’eau” instead of buying expensive bottled water. The waiter will then bring a jug of water.
You will also notice signs around the city that say “eau potable” which means that this water is safe to drink. Fill your water bottles and save your money for something else like a glass of wine! You’re also doing your bit to protect the environment as well by reducing plastic waste.
Don’t eat your salad before the main meal
In many countries, you would either have your salad as a starter or as a light meal. Unless you have ordered a salade compose which is more substantial, the green salad that often arrives before your meal and is considered a palate cleanser. It should be eaten after the main meal and before the cheese or dessert arrives.
Don’t ask for a plate for your bread
It is common practice to leave your bread on the table next to your entrée plate. Don’t be surprised if there is no butter on the table. You might find some at breakfast, but generally, it’s not used for bread. It is advisable not to eat the bread before your main course, but rather eat it with the meal. It is also quite acceptable to break a baguette rather than slice it with a knife.
Don’t touch the produce in a market
There are so many markets in the city with beautifully displayed produce. It might be tempting to pick something up, but this is a big no-no in France. There is an unspoken “do not touch” policy. Let the vendor pick up the produce and give it to you or simply point at what you would like.
For foodies: The Paris foodie guide
You must greet the shopkeeper when you enter
Never enter a shop without offering a greeting. Things are a bit more formal in France than in other countries. A simple bonjour is enough, but Bonjour Monsieur / Madame is even better. Ignoring the shopkeeper in seen to be the height of rudeness and you won’t be doing yourself any favours. A merci when you leave will also be appreciated.
Avoid the metro at rush hour
The metro can be a real nightmare for tourists when Parisians are on their way to or from work. It is crowded and feels a bit manic. Stay away between 8h00 – 9h30 and 18h00 – 19h30. You will save yourself a great deal of stress. When you do take a metro be aware of your personal possessions, as pickpocketing is a common occurrence, but don’t get paranoid either.
Don’t pack large suitcases especially if you are planning on using public transport. Many metro and train stations have barriers installed that make it difficult to manoeuver. There are also loads of stairs, so you may have to lug your bag up a couple of flights. Public transport is often packed so if you travel light you will save yourself a lot of unnecessary problems.
Mainstream tourist sights
Of course, you are in Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Champs Élysées, but don’t forget to “lose” yourself. There is so much to see in the little streets and covered arcades. Take time to have a coffee break or head to a bar for an hour and people watch. Enjoy the atmosphere. I can guarantee that you will see more of the “real” Paris than if you only visited the main sights filled with tourists.
Don’t get scammed
Naturally, scams are not unique to Paris, but these are some that are easy to fall for.
- Pickpockets – Keep your valuables safe. Don’t get distracted.
- Friendship bracelets – Around the Sacre Coeur area this is a common occurrence. Someone ties a bracelet on your wrist then asks for money.
- Being given a rose for free and then asked for money
- Petition – people will often approach you with a petition to sign, especially if you are standing in a queue. If you do sign it they will then ask for money for the cause. Alternately while they distract you someone might pickpocket you. This is common around Notre Dame area.
Don’t plan to do too many things in a day just to tick them off your list. Paris is a city that needs to be enjoyed at a slower pace for you to enjoy its magic. Don’t feel that you have to see the Mona Lisa if you don’t like art. Rather do something else that you will enjoy, after all this is your holiday.
Renting a car
Paris has an excellent public transport network. I always think that the best way to get to know a city is to walk. That way you get to see so much more and not have to deal with crazy drivers, parking hassles and traffic jams.
These are all fairly simple and in some cases obvious mistakes to avoid in Paris. Most of it is about being sensible. If you can use even half of this information I hope that it will give you a different perspective of Paris and help you have an enjoyable stay in this beautiful city.
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