How to Look (and Act) Like a Vraie Parisienne

To celebrate my first month in Paris, I thought it might be nice to provide a primer on how not to look like a tourist. Since moving here, I’ve learned and noted quite a bit, but felt I should write it down before differences become norms.

1. Think neutrals. Parisians tend to wear a palette of gray, black, white, beige, and navy. The United States likes to celebrate color. If you simply can’t go a day without a bright pop, try using brightly colored accessories like scarves or purses.

2. If you want coffee with milk, ask for a café creme. Although café au lait is a French term, the French call the same concoction a café creme.

3. Mind your bread. In France, the correct spot to place your bread is directly on the table. A bread plate will not be supplied. If you put your bread on your plate, you will be corrected.

4. Always ask for a carafe de l’eau at meals. When you ask for water for the table, the waiter should give you an option of bottled or tap water. At some particularly touristy restaurants, they may simply bring you the bottled water. The difference? Bottled water costs extra. Unless you want to pay 3-4 euros for your water, ask for a “carafe de l’eau,” which is tap water. You may need to ask a couple times.

5. Don’t smile. Parisians don’t smile at strangers. Doing so can often be considered an invitation, so keep the smiling while walking down the street to a minimum. Often Parisians have something we’ve taken to calling a “metro face.” The ideal metro face is neutral and uninviting. A half-glare– enough so as to seem unwelcoming, but not enough to seem angry– is also acceptable.

6. Speak French. Learn a couple phrases– “je voudrais…,” “s’il vous plait,” “merci”– to order in French. Refusing to speak a phrase in French is just rude.

7. Walk confidently. Parisians don’t walk with quite the same speed and purpose as New Yorkers, but they do walk with confidence. At intersections, feel free to walk if cars aren’t in sight. Right-of-way is a more abstract concept in Paris; whoever is in the intersection first has right-of-way.

8. Enjoy Paris! It’s a magical city.

This list will be updated and re-posted as necessary.

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