Travel Etiquette - Don’t Be THAT Traveler in Paris…
As much as we hate to admit it, Americans have a pretty bad reputation as tourists and travelers in Europe and in particular, in Paris. In fact, so widely recognized are Americans that they are often targeted for pickpocketing and other scams (which we'll address in another post). Well, P'Nichers, let's get ready to learn how to charm the berets off of our Parisian friends with these travel etiquette tips...
A French gentleman once told me, "Parisians can actually hear Americans before we see them." Le Ouch!
Speaking levels in Paris and France are much lower than here in the States. By using our booming American voices in public spaces, we are attracting attention in the land of quiet discretion. This is an off-putting no-no...
If you do forget to use a quieter tone, you will make the French feel ill at ease in their own domain, and that is certainly no way to charm a Parisian!
So, when speaking in public spaces in France, take your own inside voice and half it. Now, half it again. Voilà, you are speaking at a Parisian decibel.
Another habit you may wish to leave at home is speaking on your speakerphone in public. No one wants to hear it.
And of course, the charming and chic P'Niche you are, you would never forget to say your proper bonjour when entering any Parisian or French establishment!
When waiting in lines (and there will be lines), Parisians do not really smile at everyone they see as we do in the States. Nor do they really engage in "small talk" with strangers. And definitely no personal items or questions with strangers!
Don't get anxious if you don't get greeted with ready smiles or chit chat. It's just the Parisian way...
Once, you do make friends, you will of course greet them with a bonjour and "la bise," or cheek kisses.
To do it properly, you simply gently move in with cheek to their cheek and making a little kissing sound. In Paris you start on the left. This means you move left, but it's your right cheek that touches them. Repeat other side. Tah Dah - La Bise!
Dress the Part. P'Nichers, I cannot tell you how many travel message boards I see that say "dress as you want, be comfortable, you do you!" And that is true - but only to a point.
P'Niche is going to state the unpopular opinion here - if you are walking about town in your old tee, sweats, and a backpack, you will look like a tourist. In fact, one might say how someone is dressed may directly correlate to getting approached by pickpocketers and other scam artists.
We've gone over chic capsule wardrobes for ease of packing and fashionable planning - you've got this and you will look effortlessly chic as you meander those charming Parisian streets!
We will definitely dive more deeply into café culture and how tos in another post, so please do subscribe to come back to Parisian Niche for a second serving.
In the meantime, to seat yourself at a café, don't just sit down - even if tables look open. You simply look to the nearest waiter and say "Bonjour, je peux m'installer?" (Bohn-Zhoor, zhuh puh mahn-stall-ay?) And then gesture to a table (if open). It simply means, "Hello, may I sit here?" It will win you lots of points with that charming Parisian waiter.
Ok, you're seated, but uh-oh, the waiter is going a mile a minute in French you don't understand! The most important thing, chic P'Nicher... do not panic.
When in this situation with any Parisian... simply pause and say quietly "Désolé, je parle seulement en angalis." (Day-so-lay, zhuh parle sool-mahn on-glay). It means, sorry, but I can only speak in English. Remember, your French accent does not matter. Your trying does and ten to one, you get that info you needed in English.
When at bakeries, remember to greet with a "Bonjour Monsieur or Madame." Have in mind what you'd like to order (we'll discuss bakeries soon) to be ready to move the line along. Make sure to say your "s'il vous plait!" Once you have your items and you've paid, offer a kind "merci". Hello, Please, and Thank You are the Holy Trinity of Parisian manners!
When shopping at one of Paris' amazing farmers' markets, do make sure you don't touch any of the produce without asking. It's considered quite rude and will get you a firm "Ne touchez-pas!" (don't touch!) from the seller. The same rule applies for Paris' many flea markets and brocantes. When in doubt, or when in interest, just say "Bonjour" and help will be offered.
We'll talk more on taxis soon, but in the meantime, if a taxi is needed, please do not try to hail one from the street. You'll need to go to an official taxi stand to get a cab. If not, the driver may very well give you a smirk as they drive by you (ask me how I know)...
Once inside, give the address, and if needed, have it pre-written on a piece of paper to overcome any language challenges.
In France, unlike in English speaking countries, there are two ways to say "you". There is the formal "vous" (voo) or informal "tu" (too).
If trying to speak French, it is best to begin to address everyone with vous until invited to do otherwise. Your new Parisian acquaintance will be more comfortable.
Learning a little French will go a loooong way in Paris. Remember, don't judge yourself on accent or ability. Do we tease French people for their accent in our own tongue? Of course not - we're totes charmed! As are the French by our attempts.
When we do try, we show that we are happy to be in their space and respect them and their culture. We'll learn more travel phrases soon...
Remember P'Nichers, it's been a minute since we've traveled. We don't learn and brush up on travel etiquette to chide or criticize ourselves (or others), we do so in respect and anticipation of immersing ourself in the wonderfully rich and delightful French culture. How lucky we are... that said, race you to the nearest café et à bientôt!