Writing our final blog from Paris is always an emotional mixture of happy and sad. We try to make it interesting and different from previous years. Given that this is our fourth time to do the blog, putting a new slant on the visit is indeed a challenge. Bernie has actually helped with the writing of this one.
We have decided to pursue this topic, “How to have a great experience in Paris if you are an American”. We hope it will be an interesting read and useful advice for future travel.
– Relax and forget about time. Time in Paris is different. The mornings get going about 10, lunch starts anytime between 12:30 and 4pm and dinner starts anytime between 8 and 10pm. Stores often close two hours for lunch, the fruit stands close between 1:30 and 3:30 in the afternoons, and many shops do not open at all on Mondays. Predictability of schedule is not a big French priority. Getting upset about it only diminishes your experience; it doesn’t bother the Parisians. Our best advice is to go to bed between midnight and 1am and get up between 8 and 9am. That sets your body clock to the rhythm of the French day.
– Plan to spend two hours for lunch in a restaurant and three+ hours for dinner. It is a slow process to be relished. After you are seated, you may sit for ten or fifteen minutes before you are waited on . And you will not receive your check most likely unless you ask for it. Then you may wait another fifteen minutes before it comes, then another fifteen minutes before the waiter attends to your method of payment. This one still bugs me, but I’m getting better! The one exception to this are some of the street cafes where the waiter expects payment when he brings your order. This is usually at very busy, high tourist areas.
– Drivers are aggressive so pay close attention. Don’t step a foot down off the curb or you may be sorry. The traffic light “green man” is your signal to walk but many Parisians (like Bernie) pay no attention and go when they can. It’s a way of life! Even I’ve fallen prey to walking when it’s clear! Bicycles and motorcycles pay little attention to the rules of traffic.
– Endure the cigarette smoke as it seems to us that more, not fewer, people are smoking, especially the young. That may be because the smokers have been forced outside as no smoking is allowed inside the restaurants. If you like to sit outside as we do, expect and politely endure the smoke. Don’t be indignant about it as that is totally inappropriate in Paris. More and more businesses have the infamous sign “Defense de Fumer”, Smoking Kills.
– Politeness is the magic answer to receive great treatment in Paris. Being forceful, demanding or impatient as many Americans can be creates a stubbornness that will spoil your visit. Paris is not America. Try hard to blend in and accept their way of life.
– Ease up on the fastidiousness over cleanliness. Clean is a relative term in Paris though I see cleaner and cleaner restrooms in the 6 years we’ve come and this year, I saw more and more hand sanitizer being used. Just close your eyes and realize that hundreds of thousands of people survive here in good health! People still walk down the street with an unwrapped bagette. And they eat a third of it before they get home! “It’s a French thing and there is nothing better than the end of a bagette fresh from the bakery. Kids learn it as soon as they’re able to eat bread, I did.” (Bernie)
– Try to learn a few dozen basic phases to use to greet, say good-bye, etc. and it will help exceedingly. Most in Paris speak English but they do appreciate your efforts.
– When you are riding the subway, remain calm and quiet. The French subway riders are like other subway riders: they make no eye contact with people on the Metro and rarely smile. They read their books, take a quick nap, work on their various digital devices, listen to music and rarely engage in conversation. The teenage girls chatter with their friends, (what’s unusual about that?) but that’s about it. If you don’t mind having TOURIST written on your chest, then certainly chat away while holding a map of Paris in your hand and pointing to the metro line map. If you prefer to blend in, sit quietly.
– Endure the begging as it happens here as in all big cities. “Non, merci” is the polite response.
– Everyone of our trips reinforces the money exchange process of using the available ATMs. Never purchase euros in America. Use your bank debit card as soon as you reach the airport. They will charge the lowest fees, much better than most credit cards. NEVER use a money changing station.
– Expect little or no ice though it’s better than it used to be. Parisians love Coke products and that has helped.
– Expect no face cloths for your shower or bath. Bring your own.
– Best not to come to Paris for your trip of a lifetime during the month of August. Many stores are closed and many Parisians are out of the city. April through July are the ideal months though we understand the lights at Christmas are lovely if you can endure the weather.
– Learn to love foie gras – goose or duck liver pate. It’s wonderful though it sounds pretty gross. It is the absolute ultimate French cuisine. They love when you order it and love it even more when you devour it with pleasure.
– Clerks at the grocery stores like to get the right change! It’s a big deal as is placing a divider after your groceries so the next person can put his items on the line. This is one place where people hurry in Paris!
– Don’t plan to shop for clothes unless you understand the process. The sizes are totally different, everything runs much smaller than in the USA, there are few dressing rooms for trying on clothes and it’s just overwhelming, at least to me (Linda). You can make some bad, rash decisions and end up with items you wish you hadn’t bought. Then returning it is a fine art which even gets the better of us after 6 years. If you are rich, shopping would be a totally different experience, but for those of us in the middle, it’s a challenge.
– Appreciate history, otherwise, don’t come to Paris. It is a city teeming with glorious history on every corner. Relish it, read about it and only then can you appreciate the real beauty of this magnificent city.
– Spend time on and around the Seine River. It is the soul of Paris. Whether you prefer the Left Bank, the Right Bank or the Ile, the river is the defining sense of the Parisian spirit.
There are a few final pictures attached of this and that, some reflecting Bernie’s affinity for what he calls the “Green Team”, the folks who religiously clean up the streets. They are everywhere at all hours of the day from the individual street sweeper to the automotive sweepers, the sidewalk washers and of course all the recycle guys. You never know when you will have to step around the automated sweepers on the sidewalks of the Champs Elysees.
So, we come to our final au revoir for 2010. Almost everyone on the blog has responded at one time or another, and we do appreciate all the kind comments. Our trip is enriched every year by staying in touch with you and sharing through words and pictures a piece of our hearts.
So how do you say goodbye to Paris? You don’t; you just say “see you next year”.
Linda & Bernie