24 Dec Maximizing your stay in Paris – our friendly tips!
Any large cosmopolitan city like Paris has some basic rules of etiquette that help such a mix of different people get along in the melting pot. The French themselves are a friendly bunch but in order for peace and respect to reign, there are a few specific things that we’d like to share with you about Parisian life in particular. Obviously, the better you understand and know the culture you’re arriving into, the richer the experience you will have during your stay. So here are a few friendly tips we’ve chosen to share with you.
Know the lay of the land!
If you want to avoid spending most of your time asking directions and getting helplessly lost, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the general layout of the city. This will enrich your visit as well, as you will be able to position monuments in their context and get a real feel for the capital. There are 20 districts, which are known as “arrondissements” and they are conveniently numbered from 1 to 20. The Seine river cuts through the city creating the Left Bank and the Right Bank. On the Left Bank you have arrondissements 5, 6, 7, 13, 14 and 15. All the others are on the Right Bank. The districts are also organized in a spiral working out from the center of Paris, not far from the Louvre. So, as the numbers climb you are spiraling out towards the outskirts of the city.
Often people forget that both La Défense and Versailles are not actually in Paris. They are both in the suburbs but can be easily accessed using the public transport system. The skyscrapers of the business and financial district of La Défense is really worth a visit in as much as the beautiful palace of Versailles merits a day trip.
How better to show your love of French culture than by trying to memorize a few polite phrases, or even, if you’re up to it, learning the basics of the language to be able to have a brief courteous conversation. French locals really appreciate it when a tourist or visitor makes an effort to speak their language. It simply shows that you want to communicate and adapt yourself to the country you’ve arrived into. Of course, your accent won’t be perfect, but that doesn’t matter at all. It can even sound cute to a local ear when a foreigner pronounces a word wrong! Don’t worry, if the conversation starts to get too complicated and you get lost, you can even dare to ask the person you’re speaking to if they speak any English. You’d be surprised how many have some school English and the level of English of the younger generation in Paris is actually quite impressive!
Museums can be free!
There are so many fabulous museums in Paris that teach us about French culture, science and history through the local artefacts, inventions and artwork. Each of the capital’s museums are free to all EU citizens who are under the age of 26, which is specifically intended to encourage young people to appreciate the culture that made France the country it is today. Actually, on the first Sunday of each month, most museums have free entry to all the public. Some examples are the Louvre Museum, Musée du quai Branly and Musée d’Orsay.
You need to adapt
You will need electric plug adaptors, whether you are from the US or from the UK. All electronics operate using 220V in France, which is the same as in mainland Europe, but the plug sockets are not the same as many of its neighboring countries. If you’re from the States, you may have to acquire continental voltage converters if you don’t already have any. Tourist shops and airports are always stocked up with these.
How to navigate the Metro
The Paris subway runs from 5.30 am to 0.40 am from Sunday to Thursday and from 5.30 am to 1.40 am on Fridays and Saturdays. If you’re planning to take one of the last metros in the late evening, make a point of planning your night in advance and make sure you don’t miss the last one. But if ever that happens, know that you can fall back on the night bus service that runs right through to the morning, known as the Noctilien. There are not many of them, as it is a reduced service during the night, but at least you won’t be forced to take a taxi, which is really not in the same budget!
A piece of advice when taking the metro: make sure to stay to the right on escalators or on the moving walkways to avoid collisions. Parisians or experienced visitors know that those in a hurry may need to nip by on your left, the standard overtaking lane (just like on the freeways!).
Although even some of the locals don’t always respect the following rule, we really advise it to avoid trouble: let people get off trains before you attempt to step on. Easier said than done during rush hour, when you could let three metros go by before you actually get on one (if you are too shy) but at least you won’t be pushed back out by someone who’s trying to get off!
There are endless combinations of connections on the metro to get you around in Paris but they will not take you outside city limits. If you want to get out to the suburbs, you’ll need to get on a RER which is a larger and further-reaching service.
It’s important to note that smoking is prohibited by law in restaurants in France and it will not be tolerated. If you are a smoker, you will find that some restaurants include an open-air section to allow you to smoke at the table, but not all.
It is rare to see formal dress codes in Paris restaurants, but in expensive restaurants, neat attire is expected. It’s also worth noting that restaurants expect you to order something if you use their chairs or tables. You cannot just sit alone, or with a friend who is ordering, and not order something yourself. Just a simple coffee will usually get you off the hook, but some restaurants have a minimum order requirement.
When you’ve finished eating and you would like your bill, you need to ask for it. A server will not presume you have finished, so don’t end up sitting there all night waiting – just ask! Service charges (gratuity and tax) are always included, so you don’t have to add anything on to the total amount, but often a 5 – 10% tip is appreciated, though not obligatory.
It may seems surprising, but stores close relatively early in the evening when compared with US or UK standards. Normal opening hours are from 9 am to 7 pm, so you would want to time your shopping well. Although the laws on this are currently changing in France, most stores are closed on Sundays, except some in touristic areas or around Christmas time. There are of course exceptions to the rule, such as the little boutiques in Le Marais district, the high-end boutiques and several chain retailers on the Champs-Elysees. You will also find the shopping mall “Les Quatre Temps” in La Défense open to the public on Sundays. Some retailers take an extra day of rest and recuperation after Sunday, so don’t be too surprised to find many shops closed on Mondays. National holidays bring many stores to a close too.
Two tips when you’re out and about
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Even if Paris is considered to be a relatively safe city by international standards, it is still advisable to always be wary of pickpockets. Be aware of how much money you are actually carrying on your person and keep track of your valuables.
If, after your picnic or bench lunch, you haven’t finished your baguette, bring it home, give it to someone else or throw it in the bin. But do not feed it to the pigeons! It is not only illegal but, if you’re caught, you’ll get a fine on the spot! Sorry birdies!
Of course, a trip to a city as wonderful as Paris can’t be limited by a string of rules or even by guidelines like the ones we have gathered for you above. So, relax, and enjoy your trip, whether you get lost, speak in English only or get punished for feeding those heavenly doves. It’s your stay in the French capital – do it your way!
Do you have any other tips to share and to add to this list? Please let us know in the comments below!