If you are planning a visit or becoming a resident of Paris, you will find everything you need in this charming city. The fashion capital of the world, the city has a long history of art and a rich culture. From museums, to restaurants, cafés and parks, the city offers endless activities to experience French culture. You may have heard rumors and clichés, so here are 17 things about visiting Paris no one tells you until it’s too late.
1. Crossing red lights
For Parisians, the cross lights seem to be a suggestion, which is open to interpretation. You are welcome to wait for them to turn green, it is up to you, but most Parisian pedestrians become experts in physics as they learn how to calculate the precise time and speed of an approaching car to get to the other side of the street.
2. Paris is covered by a cloud of cigarette smoke
In the old-time, classic French cinema, attractive actors look fabulous and classy while smoking a cigarette – a practice that is still very popular in today’s French culture. You will see large amounts of men and women from all ages and backgrounds with a lit cigarette while sitting, walking, standing or waiting. It is estimated that the streets in Paris hold up to 350 million tons of cigarette butts every year.
3. Bonjour, Merci, Pardon, Bonsoir and repeat
Like any other city, Paris has clear standards of etiquette; locals are polite to each other in their everyday social interactions, keeping a civic harmony on the streets. For example, it is perfectly normal for the bus driver to smile and greet all the passengers with a ‘Bonjour.’ If you are visiting Paris or living here, make sure you remember the words ‘pardon’ (I’m sorry/excuse me) for when you want to get the attention of a stranger, and ‘s’il vous plait’ (please) when asking for something.
4. Appreciate the beauty but keep off the grass
There are enough parks and gardens in Paris to visit each day of the month. The grass looks so perfectly green and welcoming, ideal for a picnic on a sunny day or for laying down with a good book under a tree’s shade. Unfortunately, certain parks like the Jardin des Tuileries, are kept untouched and clean; sitting on the grass is forbidden – disappointing all those who were ready to have a piquenique à la française. This is, however, the reason behind why many Parisian parks are so alluring.
5. The French do speak English
A couple of years ago, tourists visiting Paris found it hard to communicate with the locals due to the language barrier, since very few of them spoke English. Hence, the popular belief that the French don’t speak any English. However, with the growing influence of American culture along with the internet, more Parisians are Anglophone. Although they are not big fans of the English language and mostly prefer speaking their native language, they will make an effort to understand you and make themselves understood if you ask politely or even better, if you ask in French.
6. The French are not rude
It’s true that most locals won’t go out of their way to help or socialize with lost foreigners, but if you ask for help there will always be someone willing to assist you. As mentioned above, they are publicly polite to each other which, contrary to being rude, portrays them as respectful and unobtrusive. Parisians working in the tourism industry deal with all types of tourists, including disrespectful ones too that neglect the city’s culture and laws – as it happens in any big city with a constant flux of tourists. Therefore, you might come across locals who don’t appreciate misbehaving tourists and might seem impolite.
7. Cheese, wine and bread mean much more to the French than you thought
Aside from the large amounts of cheese displayed at the supermarkets, you can also find an extensive variety at fromageries – yes, there are specialized cheese stores! Made from cow, sheep or goat’s milk, you will hear names that you’ve never heard before, and what is even more fascinating is the fact that each cheese has its own history and place of origin. Good cheese always tastes better with a freshly baked bread bought early from aboulangerie (bakery). This combination can only be improved with the excellent assortment of French wines; if you like red, white, rosé, sparkling or fortified or if you prefer it dry, semi-dry or sweet, you will always be able to accompany your food with an exquisite wine of your taste.
8. It’s very easy to move around
If you don’t have a phone with a GPS, Paris might seem like a maze for newcomers: with 20 districts and streets sharing very similar names that are impossible to pronounce. But no matter where you get lost, you will eventually see a Metro sign or bus station with a big map of the city. As long as you know your destination, getting around with public transportation is easy regardless of the language you speak. There are also public bikes with stations close to one another – a convenient alternative to getting the metro whilst being physically active.
9. Fashion is within
Paris is the capital of fashion and Parisians honor their title. Walking on the streets during work days, you will see men in well-fitted suits, and women in dresses, high heels and chic bags rushing in the metro. In the summer, women dress with light colors, flappy skirts and open shoes, while during the winter, stylish coats and scarfs reign the public spaces. Being fashionable is an inherited trait, as parents dress their kids with unique styles and designer clothes. Parisians are well prepared all year round to look their best even if it’s only to go to the supermarket on a Sunday morning.
10. Most Parisians wearing high couture don’t go on shopping sprees
You were probably wondering how it is possible for the average Parisian to own expensive clothes and bags? In fact, most locals shop during the famous ventes privées; private sales that fashion houses arrange every end-of-season to sell what they have left at the lowest prices. If you are an old-time resident, you will probably be added to the brand’s lists and if you are new in town you can always follow your favorite designer’s Facebook page or sign up to their newsletter and you will be part of this private shopping frenzy.
11. The dilemma between staying hydrated and having to pay for the bathroom
As long as you are consuming at a restaurant and you need to use the bathroom you won’t have a problem; however, if you drank too much and find yourself away from home, you will be asked to pay (usually) around 50 cents to use any establishment’s toilette. Don’t expect the bathrooms to be cleaner just because you paid, the half euro is only worth it because it will avoid what could be a catastrophe.
12. Good Food Nation
Eating quality food is a top priority for the French, regardless of the meal or time of day. Portions are neither big, nor small, they are the perfect size to be satisfying. Eating is both individually and socially significant. Because food can be regarded as a source of personal satisfaction and social interaction, brunch, lunch or dinner are the ideal moments when these two necessities are fulfilled. A delightful meal starts with good company, followed by a flavorful bottle of wine and is completed by a delicious dish.
13. But eating is expensive…
If you really want to indulge in one of the many appetizing restaurants in Paris, you must be willing to pay for what you eat. Eating in this city is not about the fulfillment of biological needs but an authentic experience through which you can explore the culture better. All food, but especially cakes, cookies and croissants, make the patisseries and boulangerieslook like art exhibitions. So next time you are debating on whether you should pay for a fancy dinner, remember you are buying much more than just food.
14. Runner Friendly
Running is not exclusive to Paris, every city has its parks and trails where people can run outdoors, but there is something about Paris that is different. First of all, most sidewalks are wide enough so that you don’t have to be extra cautious not to hit anyone with your sweaty arm or be run over by a fast biker. Secondly, there is a wide selection of beautiful parks that once inspired philosophers, writers and artists, and will definitely win your heart over while you run. And lastly, on sunny days, when the sky is clear, instead of looking at your watch, you can look up and appreciate the slow change in colors of the sky and clouds, especially around sunset. The scenery is so magnificent that by the end of your run you will be out of breath.
15. Get your groceries no later than Monday
Be sure you have everything you need from the food market by Sunday, otherwise, you won’t be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Monday is one of the two official days for market sellers to rest and fuel up for the following week.
16. Art extends to the streets
Paris has some of the most fascinating art museums in the world with unique pieces from French and international artists. However, you can also enjoy a cultural trip without having to go to museums and galleries. The French capital has become an important hub for emerging street art and graffiti artists, so keep an eye out when strolling through the streets.
17. The Western weight-loss trends and diets are not very popular in the French capital
Most Parisians look slim and healthy because they eat when they need to and keep an overall balanced diet that includes all food groups. They have good genes which they maintain by eating in moderation.
By Noa Radosh