There’s a big misconception out there that the French are rude. Usually as tourists, we are rude without realizing it. There are a few cultural manners you need to know when traveling to France, particularly Paris, that will give you the upper hand. Additionally, learning a few street-smart tips will be beneficial for your experience. I’m here to share them with you- the do’s and don’ts of a tourist in Paris!
1. Say hello!
Something I learned from a favorite professor in college is the power of the “bonjour” when entering a shoppe, restaurant, cafe, etc. in France. In French culture, entering a business is like entering that owner’s home; it’s personal and a point of pride. How would you feel if someone walked into your house without a greeting and started wandering around? This realization rocked my world. I didn’t do this on my first trip. I look back now and see the difference in my first and second trips practicing this simple manner.
As an American, I am so accustomed to just walking in a store, minding my own business, and leaving without even saying a word to a single person sometimes. Our culture is different than in France. It is important to be aware of these slight cultural differences as a way of respect to the country you are visiting. A simple “bonjour” when entering, and a “merci” or “au revoir” when leaving will make a world of difference.
2. Be aware of your belongings
Yes, Paris is a big city. This doesn’t mean it’s dangerous if you are aware of your surroundings and smart about the way you are traveling. Pick-pocketing is present, and usually, it’s in places where crowds are packed in tight (the metro, tourist attractions, lines to monuments, etc). Be aware of your belongings! You don’t need to act suspicious or be obviously territorial. Most pick-pocketing happens when you aren’t paying attention!
Tip: The trick I like to use on my trips is to wear a cross-body bag instead of a backpack. With a cross-body, I am able to keep my belongings right at my hip, in plain sight. When getting on a packed metro, or walking in a crowded area, just be aware.
3. Take the advice of the locals (especially servers)
When in doubt, ask a local for help and take their advice (if possible). Parisians know the tips and tricks of their city that we may not. If a local says to hop on a different metro line to get somewhere, do it! It will probably be faster and save you some trouble.
As for eating, being a server in France is not a part-time gig on your way to a higher-level job. Most servers work at the same restaurant or cafe their entire career and are experts of the cuisine. I love asking for the recommendations of servers in France. Get a little bit outside of your comfort zone and try something new when going out to eat.
4. Buy tickets in advance
Take some time before your trip to purchase tickets online for major attractions and museums in advance to skip the lines! This will save you money, time, and patience. The Louvre or the Eiffel Tower will be a much more enjoyable experience when you don’t have to wait an hour in line.
5. Ask for tap water at restaurants
Plain and simple, asking for tap will save you euros at a restaurant.
6. Learn some basic French phrases
Most French people speak English. However, attempting to speak in French first will you get you much more respect, friendliness, and usually a smile! You are in a country that is not your own; try your hand at asking a question or ordering in French the best you can. Another tidbit I’ve learned recently is that many locals know English, but are not confident in their English. Visitors attempting the language makes them feel more comfortable. Try French first, but don’t stress about it being perfect.
7. Ask for help!
As I mentioned before, the French being rude is largely a misconception. If you need help, ask for it. Most people will be able to help you, and most will speak English. Don’t be afraid or intimidated.
1. Feel the need to tip
In France, restaurants and cafes have a tip included in the bill. It’s not common to leave a tip, but if you are feeling generous, a few euros on the table will do. Don’t worry, you are not being rude! However, I think any tips are appreciated.
2. Look or act like a tourist
Okay, this one is obvious, right? Sometimes, our body language and actions can scream, “TOURIST!” without us realizing it. Paris is the fashion capitol of the world and the Parisians are well-dressed. Your appearance can make a huge difference. You don’t need to wear designer clothes, but don’t come to Paris with your Orlando, Florida shirt from vacation and wearing your worn-out sketchers. Ha! Simple neutrals, a scarf, and comfortable (but somewhat fashionable) shoes will do the trick. This will help you blend in.
As for actions, try to LOOK like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going on your trip. Sometimes you won’t- that’s okay. I’ve found that if you look and act like a local, you’ll get treated much more positively, and you’ll be much less of a target for pick-pocketing.
3. Be impatient at cafes/restaurants
As Americans, we are used to FAST meals and fast service. We go through the drive-thru to get fast food on our way to somewhere else, and we get upset if we don’t see our server after five minutes in a restaurant. In France, your dinner may be 2 hours long and you may not see your server for half an hour. This is one cultural trait I really enjoy about France. A meal is an event and it’s not to be rushed. Slow service is good service. Don’t rush it, enjoy it. You can request the check when finished. 🙂
4. Pay for the Louvre when you can go for free
It is pretty unknown to many first-time Paris travelers, but you can go to the Louvre for free if you play your cards right! Keep in mind, these days may be busier, but it’s a great way to save some euros on your trip. Try and schedule your Louvre visit for one of the dates below to get in for free:
- First Sunday of the month
- July 14- Bastille Day
- If you are under 18, or an EU citizen ages 18-25, the Louvre is free.
The French are private people for the most part. It’s best to not assume people don’t care that you are potentially invading their space or taking photos of them. If you ask to take a picture, many will consent. However, respect their privacy! Consider taking shots of larger groups of a crowd, try to avoid having children in your photos, or angle your shots so it doesn’t interrupt or disturb anyone.
6. Expect your drink to have ice
The “no ice” trend in France (and really, Europe all around) was a surprise to me. I was expecting ice water! This isn’t a big deal, but just shift your expectations. When going out to eat, drinks will usually be chilled.
7. Take a cab
Cabs are expensive in Paris and mostly unnecessary with the convenience of the metro. The metro will take you much farther for much less. Additionally, Paris isn’t as spread out as you may think for a big city; there are no buildings or attractions that are more than a few minutes walk from a metro station.
Are there tips you would add to this list? If you have any additional do’s and don’ts when traveling to Paris, share them in the comments! I’d love to know your viewpoint and hear your travel experiences. I hope these tidbits help you when visiting the best city in the world. Keep traveling and bon journee!