While I can't, in any way, claim to be an expert on Paris I can say on my recent trip I learned a few things while there that really made my time memorable. I've put together my list of "10 Things I Learned While In Paris". I've broken it down into 2 parts to make it more manageable (and keep you coming back for more! Just kidding). I hope you learn something from it! Here are my lessons learned 1-5 and I will post the rest of my lessons learned later this week.
1. Take the time to learn some key phrases in French
No one expects you to become fluent in French before you go but taking the time to learn some key phrases will really help you go far. It's polite, it opens the door, and many people appreciate you trying. Most everyone I met knew English but you could always tell they appreciated my *attempt* at French. I even had someone correct my pronunciation of a word in French but they did it in the nicest way. The French are very proud and particular about their language, so this can be commonplace but DO NOT let it undermine your confidence. Go for it! I learned my greetings (hello, goodbye, good morning/evening, goodnight, see you later/tomorrow), numbers, asking for a table for 3, the words for fish and shellfish, how to tell people I am allergic to fish and shellfish (Yeah, I am THAT person. I've been told Asia might kill me. Thoughts?), and telling a cab where to take us. I did this using the free podcast Coffee Break French and making note cards.
2. Download travel apps that work offline
I've never traveled before with a smartphone and when I discovered there were apps I could download which allow me to travel around Paris and not need my 3G or LTE signal, I was stoked! My go to apps while wandering around the city were the Trip Advisor City Guides - Paris app and theTime Out Paris app. Both allowed you to use them offline and included excellent features like top 10 lists of each type of activity, descriptions, contact info, addresses, and more. My favorite feature of all was theTrip Advisor City Guides - Paris' GPS that allowed you to find out what was near you and would use an arrow to point you in the correct direction. It wasn't always perfectly accurate but it was a huge help anyways. I also downloaded the Google Translate app but this can only be used with WiFi, which I typically couldn't access WiFi until I was in my hotel room. It did come in handy in the hotel when we needed a floor fan and the front desk clerk, after not understanding my request, pulled up Google translate and let me type in fan in English and she translated it to "ventilateur".
I also had my SpeakEasy French app with me and this was EXCELLENT to look up phrases in French. It's broken down into categories (Communication, Emergency, Getting Around, etc) and also allows you to hear the pronunciation of the phrase. I had to save the phrases into my Favorites while on WiFi and then could access those favorites while offline.
3. They aren't kidding - there are cafes everywhere
We only ate at 1 location twice (it was close to the hotel and we were tired) and we ate out at practically every meal. Like New York City, it is entirely possible to never eat at the same place twice while in Paris. When we were hungry we would just wander down the street and knew we would come upon a cafe. It was beautiful (and hot) while we were there, so we got to enjoy the outdoors. The cafe's post their menu outside for everyone to look at and, as I learned, they usually have an English menu available as well. If you ask, they will get it for you. We usually would just ask for a table (in my attempt at French) at whatever cafe we found and almost every spot figured out we were American (or English speakers) and would automatically bring an English menu out. If you're nervous about the food being different and not knowing what you are eating - don't be. Yes, it will be different (that's part of the fantastikness of traveling) but most places will have the English menu to help you out. It's an excellent experience and be ready to R-E-L-A-X and take your time. None of this American nonsense of rushing to sit, rushing to eat, and rushing to turn the table over. The staff will let you sit there as long as you want. They are getting paid the same either way (not like American servers with the miniscule wages plus tips as their salary).
4. Bonjour is the best way to start every conversation
Walking into a store or restaurant, getting into a cab, approaching a help desk - anywhere - that you walk up to a stranger and need assistance it is customary to begin the conversation with "Bonjour". Just saying "Bonjour" (Hello) and then making your request is perfectly fine. No need for all the additional semantics like "How are you?" and "Nice weather today". "Hello" and "Can you help me with...." are sufficient. It is considered especially rude to walk into a store and not say "Bonjour" to the shopkeeper, even if that's the only thing you ever say to them.
On a side note - while shopping it's also rude to touch everything, especially clothing. As Americans, we like to paw everything so just keep your mitts to yourself and remember "Look with your eyes, not with your hands" (right mom?). If you are in a nice boutique and you like something, ask the shopkeeper to assist you.
5. There are tons of "sales people" on the Eiffel Tower green
Every night, Eiffel Tower lights up with a beautiful sparkle of lights for everyone to ooh and ahh at while sitting on the grass. I wasn't aware until we returned, but until recently the greens in front of the Eiffel Tower were off limits but while we were there everyone hung out on the greens waiting for evening to come and the light show to begin. Most made a night of it with their own picnics, drinks, and blankets. It was wonderful and was only marred by the roaming "sales people" with bags of booze/cigarettes/wine asking everyone if they wanted "Beer? Wine? Champagne? Cigarette?". At first, we would politely decline but if you're there long enough they would inevitably swing back around and ask again and we began acting like they weren't there. I think in the 2 hours we were there they swung by at least 30 times. In addition, there were other people walking around with hoops of miniature Eiffel Tower statues and glow toys for the kids. The police are cracking down on these entrepreneurs, which we saw a couple times when they would show up and the sales people would scatter like the wind. It was quite entertaining.
So those are my first 5 lessons learned. Let’s continue the “Ten Things I Learned While In Paris” with Part 2 – Lessons 6-10. Click here to read lessons 6-10.