Paris is different from American cities.
It has its own rhythms, codes and expectations.
While tolerance for the idiosyncrasies of tourists is high in the City of Light, an acquaintance with Paris living can make your trip to France easier and more fun.
Here are ten tips for getting the most out of your trip to Paris:
1) Restaurants tend to serve meals at fixed times: noon to 2:30 pm for lunch and 7 or later until 11pm or so to sit down for dinner. Strict hours often mean better – and more genuinely French – food. Also, fixed price lunch menus – especially in business areas – can be a real treat: fast, good, reasonably priced.
2) People don’t eat and drink so much on the street in Paris. The take-out coffee with the beaker lid is practically unknown. Instead, Parisians enjoy their coffee (express, noisette, crème – not latte) sitting down in cafés, or (less fun) gathered around a coin operated automatic coffee machine at work or in the university.
3) Open air food markets are a wonderful place to buy fresh produce. The best are on fixed days in neighborhoods where locals shop – not right next to major monuments. French market sellers tend not to cheat their regular customers (of which you are not one). Even regular customers quietly check their change.
4) The French have a few basic rules of politeness that everyone agrees on and that make life better for all. Say “Bonjour, Madame” (or “Bonjour, Monsieur”) when you enter a shop or before you ask people for something. Part with a happy “Bonne Journée” or “Au revoir.” And be as attentive to saying “s’il vous plaît” (please) and “Merci” (Thank you) as you would be at home.
5) The French also share a collective faith in strange superstitions that they themselves do not really know the origins of. For example, it is bad and crude and terrible to cut lettuce with a knife. And: at the table, hands must be visible at all times (in some households hidden hands are worse than elbows on the table).
6) As a foreigner you are not obligated to act on these beliefs, but it is better if you know what they are and do your best to fit in.
7) Doggy bags are not “done” in Paris.
8) This said, even things that are not “done” are not really impossible as long as one knows that the request is unusual and you go about it in a sufficiently polite and good-humored manner. At a favorite restaurant, I recently asked to take home some of the excellent food that we had ordered too much of and did not want to waste (which would have been a tragedy). The restauranteer kindly wrapped the leftovers up for us, for which we were very grateful , especially since we know it is not “done”.
9) The biggest mistake some travelers make is to assume that what they’re used to is the way things work in the world - which is so silly that I wouldn’t even mention it except that I see it all the time.
10) French people, including Parisians, appreciate politeness, kindness and a sense of humor as much as anyone else.