Operating instructions for Paris

© Paris Tourist Office D. Lefranc

Everyone loves Paris, but nobody likes the Parisians. But when you know how to deal with them, they’re quite affable, according to Mademoiselle Lili.

They are reputed to be unfriendly, neurotic and arrogant, and they think the world revolves around them. The Parisians don’t have a good reputation, neither in the rest of France, i.e. the provinces (which the Parisians view as everything outside of their city) nor among tourists. There are countless comedy films on this topic. Although the city is one of the most popular destinations in the world and is filled with immigrants from all different countries, the Parisian stubbornly refuses to communicate in any language other than French. There’s no point trying to speak in broken French. What would merit a benevolent response elsewhere ends with Parisians turning away in annoyance: Learn to speak proper French before you visit our beautiful city! Meanwhile, I appreciate this cultural patriotism because precisely the opposite is currently occurring in my former home town of Berlin. People are pretending to be so international that in a trendy club or restaurant everyone is speaking English to avoid coming across as a country bumpkin. Well, not everyone who wants to visit Paris has to speak fluent French. If you only pay attention to a few things, there’s another way to earn the respect of the Parisians and survive this big city jungle without making a fool of yourself.

1. On the street 

Zebra crossings are pretty patterns that make the road look more interesting. Whoever daringly crosses the road, trusting that approaching vehicles will put on their brakes will be greeted with angry beeping, a trip to the hospital or both. The red or green of a pedestrian crossing is just a suggestion. Even mothers with children cross on red if there’s no car coming. After all, even on green you have to anticipate that some vehicles turning right or blocking the crossroads may speed up at the last minute. In Paris you cross the road if there’s nothing coming. And that’s that. 

2. In Metro 

Avoid the rush hours from 8 am to about 9 am and 5 pm to 6 pm. My friend who lives in a chicer suburb remarked: In the RER suburban railway on your way to work, you have more body contact than you do during sex with your boyfriend. If the compartment is full, make your way to the door in plenty of time if you want to get out. Otherwise you’ll be stuck. Say a friendly “pardon” or “désolé” if you tread on dozens of people’s toes. “Désolé” (sorry) is a phrase often used by Parisians, but you shouldn’t take it as a genuine apology. In reality it means: I don’t care. 

3. In cafés and restaurants

Almost all over the world where tables are outside, you can sit down and either have something to drink or eat. Not in Paris! Only where a restaurant, brasserie or bistro is accompanied by a sign for a café or bar can you take a seat for just a drink. If you just want a drink, make sure you don’t sit at a place setting. Only tables without cutlery and glasses are made available for this purpose. Raise your hand if you want to be served. Never shout “Garçon”, but instead address the waiter as “Monsieur”. Address waitresses as “Mademoiselle”. French women will feel flattered instead of patronised. Never order a Latte Macchiato. The waiter will look at you as if you’re crazy. In Paris they call it “Café crème”. As far as beverage fashions go, Paris is very conservative. Parisians think Hugo, Averna or Prosecco are Italian villages. Embarrass particularly arrogant waiters with a generous tip so that they feel obliged to thank you for it. They’re not accustomed to that.