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Paris: 10 Pieces of Cliché-Free Advice

How the media arena enjoys a stereotype. Apparently, as much as it enjoys a list.

Put the two together and you have a plethora of guides as to how to dress like a Parisian, eat like a Parisian or even be like a Parisian! How convenient for your 48 hour stay. If you dare to bark at waiters, drink crap coffee and wear black exclusively, you – apparently – have become Parisian.

Though there was only one reference to smoking Gauloise in the most recent truc de merde that has landed on the Internet, CNN did manage to cover the Parisian penchant for infidelity. I mention this only because it has been categorically proven that infidelity does not exist anywhere else in the world.

To celebrate the recent onslaught of boring, unjust, lazy and damn-near stupide guides to being a Parisian, we thought we would provide you with 10 pieces of advice that could actually prove useful, should you wish to ‘fit in’ during your stay.

And if there was any advice we could dish about how to be a Parisian, it would definitely start with don’t try.


1. Culture

According to CNN you should ‘brush up’ on the latest films and exhibitions as conversations in Paris will inevitably turn cultural, and often they do. But what they failed to mention is that Parisians hate stupidity.

If you enter a conversation about art or music or film expect it to turn into a debate – not a battle, a conversation – where you will be asked to present your point of view.

In this instance it is handy to have one. Particularly one that you did not pick from scanning a newspaper for five minutes.

Or if you know not of these things, maybe you would shut up and listen to those that might be able to school you. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is not a French expression.

2. Coffee

Again, the powers that be tell us that French people are skinny because they don’t eat croissants, and because they lounge about in cafés sitting on a short black for three hours reading Le Monde.

Truth be told, the French do eat croissants and all kind of things associated with diabetes, they just don’t feel the need to binge on pastry and hate themselves unlike certain Anglo cultures.

They are also increasingly taking an interest in artisan coffee and there are several places serving decent cups, even varieties with milk (mon dieu!)  Not every Parisian drinks only espresso by Cafes Richard.

3. Food

In what just might be the piece de resistance within the CNN article, the writer suggests that visitors to restaurants should ‘bark their order, make smart insider jokes (such as Hollande’s recent affair) and drop a few coins in tips’.

I would invite tourists to try this strategy and report back on its success. I’m sure that French waiters will truly enjoy being ‘barked at’ in your broken French, whilst you try jovially to insult their administration.

If you really want to be Parisian in a restaurant, they key is to be cordial whilst not taking any shit.

If you want something you need to be vocal or otherwise you are going to ignored. But above all be polite and don’t make ‘insider jokes’ about French situations that you don’t understand yourself.

4. Service

Again, CNN suggest that you be aggressive, be be aggressive, when it comes to civil servants, “who are notoriously tough, even obstructive, nuts in France.” Apparently you should “keep the upper hand by using an assertive, informed tone.”

I’m not going to disagree with the difficulty faced by expats when it comes to French administration, but I will quote Fight Club: “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake”. If you choose to live in Paris you take it for better or for worse.

The trick to being Parisian (again) is not taking any shit, not by being rude. Don’t leave whatever official building you are in until you have all the documents and information you need, but do so smiling. At worst they will be confused.

5. Clothes

CNN suggest real Parisians only wear black garments from Colette and Merci, whilst swathing themselves in (mass produced) artisan perfume by Diptyque.

Real Parisians pay social charges and shop at Zara and Episode. They have a knack for making cheap clothes look expensive and mixing vintage with high street. Above all they wear clothes that suit them – what a concept!

If you are trying desperately to ‘fit in’ don’t wear stupid stillettos to go walking around cobblestone streets. If you are going to get your legs out, keep your boobs in and go easy on the makeup.

Heed Chanel: look in the mirror before you leave and take something off.

6. Housing

“No respectable Parisian lives outside the city, as the very word banlieue (suburb) brings shivers to their stylish souls.” Maybe they don’t live there, but there are a bunch of cool things happening in Pantin.

As the Marais turns into a shit-show for tourists and rents rocket in neighbourhoods like Pigalle and Parmentier, real Parisians are forging a path in the North, Northeast and the surrounding post-périphérique enclaves.

Real Parisians are prepared to look beyond the clichéd boulevards of Saint-Germain des Près in favour of evolving quartiers like Belleville, Charonne, Jules Joffrin or Nation.

And this is where you will find them out and about on the weekends. Not sipping Krug at Hotel Costes.

7. Wandering

CNN suggest that you avoid the Champs Élysées (as do we) but they do recommend Paris Plage during summer, which is effectively a road that is closed and doused in sand to imitate a beach.

We would also recommend Paris Plage if you happen to be a teenager looking for a place to get boozed and make out with your boyfriend. We would also recommend it if you like screaming children. Or if you are a girl whose favourite pastime is being hissed at by creepy old men.

Real Parisians will rent a bateau on Lac Daumnesil in the Bois de Vincennes, or maybe picnic in the Buttes Chaumont or even go swimming at the piscine Georges Hermant.

8. Infidelity

According to CNN, “Women generally cultivate younger or married men — the expression “de cinq à sept” (from 5 to 7 p.m.) refers to such after-work activities.”

Is it not time that we put this cliché about infidelity to rest? Real Parisians will look and comment on things they find attractive because they value and celebrate beauty.

And also because they come from an outspoken culture, which is liberal (and adult) when it comes to talking about sex and pleasure. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every single person born in Paris has a lover.

It’s like saying every Australian has a pet kangaroo.

9. Money

“For Parisians money isn’t a topic for discussion,” explains CNN. “Never compare salaries or even refer to the exorbitant cost of a restaurant.”

I don’t mean to insult the intelligence of CNN’s readership, but in which universe was it appropriate to start talking to people about how much money you make and what gravity does it have on integrating yourself into French culture?

Real Parisians are probably not eating in restaurants that are exorbitantly expensive because they aren’t stupid. And I don’t think they are talking about money because – according to CNN – they are too busy talking about the art they read about in Le Monde.

10. Language

“Nobody will really accept you, of course, unless you speak la langue de Molière.”

This much is true, you aren’t going to be a smash hit with the Parisians if you are barking at them in English. Think about being in your English speaking home country and being accosted on the street in Russian. Is it rude to be affronted and not respond in perfect Baltic? No, it is logical.

Many real Parisians have learnt or are learning English and often will want to practice. You just have to approach it the right way, which is starting off with your crap French. All you need is a little bit of decorum.


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