As I prepare for my move to Paris, friends, family, and customers at the boutique I work at are constantly expressing their surprise that out of all the places to relocate to, I would choose beautiful Paris.
“We hated Paris,” my sudden advisors will tell me. “Out of all the cities we visited in Europe, our least favorite was Paris. The people are rude! They called us ‘snobby Americans!’ I don’t understand why you’d move to a city with such nasty people.”
While there are, granted, the taxi cab drivers who will make your commutes miserable or the busy waiter that will roll his eyes at every pause you take while ordering, Parisians aren’t born hating Americans. We in the States are simply used to different standards of what vocal volumes are acceptable and how to greet someone. Neither of these cultures are necessarily better than the other. But when we visit another country, if we expect to be treated with respect, we should respect the customs on others’ turf.
Here are five simple tips to remember for your next trip to Paris to avoid meeting the “rude parisian” stereotype and maximize the overall pleasantness of your stay in the City of Lights.
Always greet the man or woman in charge. Whether this be while you’re ascending a bus, entering a boutique or perusing flea market stands, greeting the attendant or employee will guarantee you better service. Whenever someone is about to serve you, or whenever you are asking a service of someone (directions, recommendations, etc.), it’s an important French custom to greet the person first. Saying hello may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget to acknowledge the keeper of the shop when we have our eye on a cute top/rare vintage postage stamp/jar of Nutella.
Inside voices are always a good idea. If you’re looking to minimize the amount of brash rudeness you’ll experience on your Paris trip, the reality is that you may have to make an effort to lower your speaking voice, your footsteps, and your general presence to minimalism. Paris is known for being a quiet city. Restaurant voices often barely transcend elevated murmurs and metro rides are silent. In the United States, we often practice the liberating custom of being able to speak as loudly as we want in public places, but practice this custom in Paris and you’ll be the victim of stink eyes and possibly pickpockets. Being respectful of others’ dining experiences and overall peace will earn you the warm smiles of others.
Give up your seat for the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women, etc…
Another highly-regarded French custom is giving up one’s seat to help the elderly, the disabled, and basically anyone who looks like they need your bus seat more than you do. Performing this act of sacrifice as soon as an elderly Parisian walks onto the metro/bus will earn you strong feelings of approval and gratitude from the rest of your bus community.
Enjoy food the Parisian way. Although ketchup bottles are becoming more and more common in restaurants across Paris, asking for a side of ketchup for your fries used to guarantee a huffy waiter. The French take their gastronomy very seriously, and asking to change a dish to include your favorite cheese from home or substitute part of a dish for another could be a serious gastronomical offense. If you want to enjoy Paris to the fullest, trust the Parisians’ tastebuds and order dishes as they are. Paris isn’t known as one of the food capitals of the world for nothing.
And, lastly, I know you’ve heard this a thousand times before, but it’s so true: Make an honest effort to start every conversation in French. Even if it’s just for asking directions or you’re frustrated because it seems that everyone is immediately responding to you in English, this little tip will give you faster service at restaurants, sincere and helpful responses from shopkeepers, and overall a more pleasant and helpful experience in a city overrun by tourists who expect every local to speak English. If you want to make the best of your trip, try to learn at least the few essential phrases, like, “Excusez-moi, où sont les toilettes?” or, “Combien coûte-ça?” I promise, you’ll be excited to practice these phrases over and over again on your trip.