Want to know how to avoid looking like a tourist in Paris? Well Conde Nast Traveller, a foremost authority on luxury travel seems to think they know.
I just read their article ‘How not to look like a tourist in Paris’ written for (I’m assuming) newbies travelling for the first time to the magnificent City of Light. Nast gives you little nuggets of information on French social etiquette, do’s and don’ts, and little words of journalistic wisdom they think will pass you off as Parisian and not some giant runner wearing, white socked, backpacked toting, poorly dressed, North American Tourist which will give you the cold shoulder from anyone Parisian.
Ines de la Fressange. An iconic Parisian. No matter how much she tells you how to acquire Parisian chic it’s simply not possible to get it in a book. It takes years of careful cultivation, living in Paris endlessly, being exposed to the most wonderful things on earth, and friends, friends who are chic and knowledgeable.
Let me say one thing first, no matter what you do, say, or dress, Parisians will spot a tourist in a split second. I know, I’ve passed as a Parisian for all but 30 seconds. No matter how good my French, how elegant my clothing, how perfect my mannerisms my attempt at deception fails miserably. Why? It’s a subtle combination of things least of which is my clothing.
What I lack most importantly (as do most Canadians) is their ‘grittiness’ and self confidence hedging on arrogance they develop from living in the most beautiful city in the world that has nothing but the finest things in life. When a Parisian blows into any town outside of Paris, the locals know it and immediately switch into subservient mode. They can’t help it. It’s a Parisian whose graced themselves with their presence.
This woman typifies French chic. Simple understated elegance.
I remember this one time 20 years ago, Larry and I decided to do a road trip with our Parisian friends, Gil and his friend, Christophe to St. Tropez, 20 years ago when St. Tropez was still chic and underdeveloped. Gil and Christophe are the quintessential Parisians right down to their very essence.
The color may be wrong but the place is right!
When we arrived to their apartment in the fashionable 16th they gushed with joy. I was flattered by their enthusiasm of seeing us but I didn’t realize it wasn’t us causing the fuss at all, but our car (more accurately our licesnse plates) that they were thrilled about. (They were waiting curbside for us) Sure the car was nice ( big black Mercedes), but it was our plates indicating we were from a fashionable part of Paris. (Every license plate in France has the postal code from where that car originates)
The No. 75 in this series of numbers indicates the car is registered in Paris. That gives you the license to speed, avoid paying for parking, parking anywhere you please, and just generally being an all around jerk.
A black Mercedes with Parisian plates is the chicest in cars you could possibly have. (Besides a Bentley of course) It would garauntee we’d have every French person outside of Paris shake in their boots before we even arrived. And believe me, they did. Combined with the attitude’ of my Parisian friends we were treated like visiting royalty. I learned more about Parisians than any time on that trip.
Typically French with the fabulous hair, makeup and ‘don’t even think of talking to me unless you have a black American express’ look.
The following excerpts are taken from the Conde Nast article. (They’re italicized with my comments in block lettering following)
HOW TO GREET SOMEONE (by Conde Nast)
Start off on the right foot by greeting people with “bonjour” (hello). It’s not only polite to do when you’re introduced directly to someone, but also when you go into a shop, when you’re first approached by a waiter at a restaurant, even when entering an elevator. While this may seem a little much, it’s an important way to ingratiate yourself with the locals—and, in return, you’ll receive much better service or attention.
In the evening, you should technically say “bonsoir” (good evening), though the start time of saying this is somewhat fuzzy. It’s typically said as evening starts to fall, but in summer that ends up being rather late. Still, some others start saying bonsoir as soon as they leave work; a safe bet is to begin using that salutation around 7pm. If you say bonjour during the evening, it’s better than nothing, but you might be quickly tagged as a foreigner.
MARKS COMMENT: It’s not only polite it’s imperative you always greet anyone with a bonjour first. If you don’t you run the risk of being stopped mid sentence with a ‘Bonjour’ and a facial expression like you’re radiating an offensive odor and your nothing but a declasse cretin lacking in any social grace. It’s most uncomfortable and embarassing being on the receiving end of this attitude.
I love the way Parisians will always greet one another even if they’re complete strangers. A gentlemen will always acknowledge another by saying ‘bonjour’ in an elevator or other confined space. I’ve seen people enter a restaurant and say bonjour to everyone and particularly the table next to them and bonsoir when leaving. So civilized.
DO’S AND DON’T’S (by Conde Nast)
Do exchange la bise (a light kiss on each cheek) in social situations between women; it’s also okay between men and women.
Do not greet another man with a kiss if you’re a man; shake hands instead. Men normally don’t give each other la bise unless they are very, very good friends or family; even then it’s rare.
Do let the French person take the lead with cheek kissing, in order to avoid awkwardly misplaced lips or a shuffle of heads. You should also follow suit with the number of kisses exchanged. The general norm in Paris calls for just one kiss on each cheek, but some groups of friends have their own customs. Additionally, some regions around France follow different rules.
MARKS COMMENT: This is just not true about men kissing. Yes men and women kiss each other, but there’s nothing rare about male friends kissing in the slightest. (In fact some of them of have slept together at least once…hey, it’s France)
Besides male friends kissing each other cheeks (never the lips) they may give a nice strong hug. ‘Air kissing’ is just not cool between men. It’s too effeminate. Between women, yes, but men are always more hearty in their greetings are secure enough in their masculinity. They’ll also kiss each other goodbye too and think nothing of it. It’s only North American men that are hung up on ‘touch’.
This is a little familiar to be a simple bonjour kiss it is however a photo from one of my all time favorite French movie “Bonjour Tristesse” with Jean Seberg and David Niven. Filmed on the French Riviera in 1958. A must see! (North American’s hated it when it came out, whereas the French loved it!)
WHAT TO WEAR: (By Conde Nast)
To fit in with locals, it’s best to leave behind any sweatpants, baseball caps, flip-flops and white sneakers. Parisians are generally quite stylish, but that doesn’t necessarily mean extravagant haute couture outfits—instead, think casual chic. You’ll likely see Parisian women wearing some combinations of skinny jeans, an up-and-coming designer top, Converse, or ballerina flats. Parisians also love their trench coats (which they call le trench) and blazers, and wearing a long scarf will also help you blend in.
Fanny-packs or large colorful backpacks are a dead giveaway for tourists; if the latter is necessary, keep it more on the discreet side. Another option is to pick up a very Parisian Longchamp bag, a nice leather purse, or a chic bag designed for men. Lastly, while you might be tempted to purchase a beret while you’re here, unless you’re planning on playing petanque with elderly gentleman, you should save it for back home.
Forget it, you’ll never look like a Parisian no matter how hard you try. I’ve seen the chicest of Parisians running around in flip flops, tight sweat pants (not lululemon) and ball hats so that blows Conde Nasts theory out of the water. If I were you I’d pack whatever makes you feel most comfortable. I have some tips below that may help. I can tell you one thing, designer bags, clothing, etc stamped with designer initials are totally ‘unchic’ as of recent. It’s commom sights like these all over Paris that are the culprit.
A common scene throughout high end designer stores in Paris. In fact, it’s this sort of thing that’s making labels passe and quickly out of fashion.
Tips for women: Use less make-up, get a fabulous classic easy hair style, and dress simply but with elegance. And be skinny. Skinny, skinny skinny. Lose 10 lbs before you go. You cannot be too skinny unless you’re, God forbid, dying from some horrible disease. French women don’t care what they wear actually as long as they look bulimic.
Parisian women (and men) are the chicest on the planet and it’s because they dress appropriately for their age, body type and budget. You don’t need to be rich to be chic. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. If a women is rich, you know it by her demeanor, hair, flawless skin, simple makeup, and simple elegance not by the gigantic vulgar designer bags or back breakingly high Jimmy Choos’ that are so popular with North Americans.
These are average but undeniably beautiful Parisian women. if you can pull off this look you may get mistaken for Parisian.
North Americans always wear way too much make-up and jewelry and always look too healthy and cosmetically altered. Yes, Parisian women do cosmetic surgery too, and they look just as weird, but they still look French.
Oh My! What was this poor woman thinking?
I’ve seen too many North American women aspiring to this ‘Housewives of Hollywood’ look. They will NEVER look chic, never mind Parisian, no matter how hard they try.
Tips for men: Bring a navy sports jacket, good dress shoes, great jeans, and a white shirt. The classic Parisian male look is a crisp white shirt, gorgeous slim blue jeans, and a blue or black jacket and beautiful black shoes. Messy hair, longish if possible and voila, you can wear that practially anywhere. You need a nice coat of course, but a great ‘Canada Goose’ coat for winter is a la mode in Paris.
Parisian ‘silhouettes’. Lean, simple and elegant.
There is nothing Parisian ‘male’ about this look that unfortunately so many North American males embrace. But then, John Travolta’s cool factor has all but disappeared.
HOW TO WALK AND TALK: (by Conde Nast)
Parisians walk with a purpose, but that doesn’t equate to a race through the streets; rather, they walk at a steady but determined pace. It’s good form to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (this also applies to escalators), but on busy streets it can be a bit of a free-for-all. If you need to look at your map, “pull over” and consult it to the side of the road instead of in the middle of the sidewalk: this will save you from the evil stares, huffs or nudges of your fellow pedestrians.
Contrary to some stereotypes of Mediterraneans, Parisians are very soft speakers. Speaking loudly in public is frowned upon, but it can also make you stand out as a tourist and thus lead to unwanted attention, particularly from pickpockets.
MARKS COMMENT: Who cares how you walk. That’s bizarre. But Parisians are soft speakers that’s true. Particularly when dining out in a good Parisian restaurant. (bistros tend to be a bit noisier particularly during a sports match)
It’s a pleasure dining out in France not only because the food is beyond amazing, it’s truly because everyone is quiet, and respectful of their neighbours. Even French children tend to be well behaved and will eat whatever the adults do.
Even outside, Parisians are discreet and quiet when they eat. Be prepared to be scanned from head to foot if you pass by.
French people tend to order quickly and never fuss around with the menu. Waiters hate indecisive people, particularly tourists. Ask for an English menu if you must but once the waiter arrives order with purpose and no hesitation. You can certainly ask questions, but again, don’t dilly dally between one thing and another.
I’m always apprehensive about dining out in North America. People love to be loud and strive to be ‘centers of attention’. If I see a large group of women or men on a ‘night out’ or couples with loud undiscplined children I ask to be seated as far away as possible. I wish North Americans would realize that they are not ‘cool’ when they yell and scream in a restaurant. It’s so gross and ill mannered.
People…this is how you look and sound to everyone else in a restaurant…please take it outside!
(If you want to be really Parisian, order a ‘hamburger’ and use a knife and fork to eat it with. 99% of Parisians never pick it up and eat burgers like we do in North America. I always eat them like that now, even in Canada. I know I look crazy, but frankly I hate hamburgers dripping down my mouth, shirt etc.)
This looks gross on so many levels Ms. Hilton.
LEARNING THE LOCAL LANGUAGE: (by Conde Nast)
It’s polite to learn a few key phrases in French; this will earn you the respect of locals, and help you in the end. As mentioned above, the friendly bonjour is essential. Other key expressions include au revoir (good bye), merci (thank you), s’il vous plait (please) and l’addition (the bill). One thing not to do: Hail your waiter by saying garcon! If anything, it will likely encourage a waiter to take his sweet time in actually bringing you the bill.
I agree to totally use bonjour, bonsoir, au revoir, merci etc. The French love it if you try. But don’t try too hard. Just revert to English if you’re unsure or your accent would peel paint of a wall. I remember hearing Texans trying to speak French. I mimicked that accent for days it was so funny and used it wherever I went. It drove Larry crazy!! (BTW…the correct term for a service person is Monsieur or Madame. C’est tout!)
As long as you try and don’t act like a self-entitled jerk, the French can be the most charming and gracious in the world.
That was all Conde Nast had to say about the subject. I have a few more examples of my own that you may find amusing.
1. People that run around Paris with perpetual smiles on their faces.
Look I know you’re loving every second of the ‘charm’ of the big city, but perpetual smiles sets you apart immediately and may get you purposely run over by a crazed tourist overdosed Parisian on a moped. Parisians NEVER smile on the street. They scowl. And frequently. There’s a French saying that Parisians aspire to. “J’aime rien, Je suis Parisian” (I dislike everything…I am Parisian)
‘I love nothing! I am Parisian’ is very French.
2. I know we covered this subject above but it’s worth mentioning again. Never approach a service person without saying ‘Bonjour’
3. People that buy padlocks to put on one of the bridges to profess their undying love…Hello, the city of Paris is now removing them! Don’t waste your time even thinking this is romantic or the slightest bit Parisian. It’s an eye sore and you look like a jerk.. period!
Paris city workers removing padlocks from Paris bridges.
4. The wedding party that insists on trudging across bridges or intersections with cameras in tow and torn ill fitting wedding gowns looking for that special spot to take their “I was married in Paris, look how glamorous I am”. It’s not cool, and Parisians get married anywhere but in the streets of Paris. Typically at a country house way, way outside of the city. Wedding photos in the city are only for tourists and peasants.
Parisians smirk when they see this!
5. Do NOT rent a Segway. Only tourists do this and they look like complete idiots. Walking is good for you and helps you lose weight that you will obviously want to lose once you see how skinny Parisians are. Parisians are just waiting for you to get smucked by some truck. Brad who works for me told me the owner of Segway was mistakenly killed by driving off a cliff in one of his stupid contraptions. It’s true, I checked!
Segways are stupid and so are the tourists that use them. Walking is good for your health and the best way to see Paris.
6. Jumping for Joy photos. No offense to the Asian population but you folks are most guilty of doing this. You look ridiculous and I and every other Parisian are just waiting for you to fall flat on your ‘ass’.
Two Bulgarian tourists pose in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on their last day. Try jumping off the Eiffel tower for a real thrill.
7. Hanging out near the Moulin Rouge. Fine if you want to do a quick drive by just to say you saw it. But the Moulin Rouge is and always was, in the worst part of Paris. Surrounded by pornographic movie houses, sex shops etc. it’s not a pretty sight. And PLEASE do not stand in front serenading the place by singing the theme song from the 2001 movie. You may get egged and it just might be me!
Look out for pickpockets. They prey on tourists at this location because only tourists go here.
Happy Travels you Parisian you!
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