By Jayne Tuttle,
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD / THE AGE March 11, 2006
ILLUSTRATION: ROBIN COWCHER
Jayne Tuttle has 30 ways to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Paris is like any other city: go incognito and experience the best of it. However, in a city such as Paris, this is not easy. There is basically a whole city set up to ensnare we naive, wide-eyed, traveller's-cheque-bearing bumbag wearers. So here's a few tips that might stop you from falling into the Paris Minefield for Tourists, or PMT, and the crabbiness that can ensue; a few things nobody ever told me before I landed my sorry backpack in the city of light all those years ago. Essentially, how to act like a Parisian and not get caught.
1. Do not wear a bumbag. Unless well hidden or teamed with entire designer multipocket-chic look, this is a certain tourist giveaway. You might as well wear your camera around your neck.
2. Dress nice. Don't be afraid to look pretty, ladies, and men too. Shine your shoes, iron your jeans. Blokes, feel comfortable wearing pink - perfectly acceptable hetero attire. Classic. Crisp, clean polo shirt and neat pants make you look much more French than grunge, which only a serious French professional can pull off. Wear scarves, accessorise.
3. Do not do sport. Someone jogging along the Seine? Nine times out of 10, tourist. Beware of sportswear; also must be tastefully articulated. If necessary, try accentuating with scarf or clean pink polo shirt.
4. Always look as if you know where you're going. Look straight ahead. Maps are a big no-no. If you must look at a map, try standing in a well-lit area, leave map in bag, fossick around until you find right page, strain eyes, find street. You may feel stupid but people will think you're just a Parisian looking for your cigarettes.
5. Never marvel at beautiful buildings. You live here. You have seen it all before. If you must gawk, wait until nobody's looking. But then there is always somebody in the street, the place is so overpopulated, so just learn not to marvel. You could walk slowly but deliberately past, darting your eyes periodically at the stunning architecture as if you've forgotten something or just had a brainwave about how to marinate tonight's coq au vin. Or stop to tie up your shoelace and stare seemingly into space while getting a good captain cook.
6. Look serious. Don't smile at people unwillingly. Parisians are exceedingly friendly and warm but don't see the point in false kindness and gushiness. Just order your baguette politely and say "merci, madame". They don't care that you come from Alabama and it's your first time ordering a brioche and that you just lurrrve Paris.
7. Speak quietly. It's interesting to notice the only voices you hear on the metro or in restaurants are those of Anglophones, generally loud Americans. French is a soft, murmury language, English carries. Shhh!
8. Smoke as if it's good for you. Not that I suggest you kill yourself to fit in with the naughty French, but why jog along the Seine when you can have a healthy ciggy or two to keep the heart rate going? Oh la la la la la.
9. Never pay ¿5 for a coffee. This is a common tourist trap. Around the Champs Elysees, the Louvre area, Place du Tertre in Montmartre or the Place des Vosges near the Marais, you're going to pay through the nose. Just duck off one of the main streets and try a standard-looking brasserie. They are all good for coffee, usually better than the posh places. But beware: a standard coffee, consumed while standing at the bar, costs normally EUR1.10. Sitting at a table, it costs EUR2.40. And for sitting a la terrace in summer, it can cost 3.50 euros, 4 euros, or more, whatever the mood they're in. Watch out for sitting. It costs.
10. Don't drink cafe creme or cafe au lait, especially after lunchtime. Paris doesn't really do milky coffees, the latte, the cappuccino. French people, if they ever drink cafe au lait, will gulp it down in the morning in a huge bowl at home in their jimjams. Try cafe allonge (long black) or une noisette (like a short machiato) after lunchtime. The milk tastes funny anyway.
11. Try not to stuff your face or talk with your mouth open. Parisians eat several delicate courses in moderate-sized portions with their mouths tightly drawn as they masticate, nodding interestedly. No pea fights. And opening your mouth to display your chewed mouthful is not funny. Believe me. Experience.
12. Enjoy serious meats and never be offended by the way foie gras is made. Learn to eat disgusting things such as bone marrow, liver, lamb shoulders, snails, crumbed pig's trotters. If you're vegetarian, put your values in the poubelle.
13. Never eat cheese before meals. The French think it insane that anyone would do that - it fills you up! Cheese comes after the main course, with lettuce. Always be generous with crust distribution or you look like a serious cheese-unprofessional, and therefore, a tourist.
14. Do not eat moules frites with a fork. Suck out the first slimy mussel with your lips, then use the shell to eat the rest - tres authentic.
15. Never ask for a side-plate for your bread. Put your bread directly on the table next to your meal. Bread plates are unheard of, for some reason; it's as if no filthy Chux ever crossed that linoleum. Also, don't ask for butter for your bread, it's for dunking in the remaining sauce after the meal. Buttered bread equals English equals frown. (Exception to rule: morning tartine with coffee - buttered baguette.)
16. Try not to get drunk. Parisians are boring when it comes to binge drinking. They drink more wine per capita than, I think, any other nation, but they do it sensibly, it's always about the taste, not the quantity. Drunkenness equals social death and "how smashed were you last night?" is not a game likely to draw pants-wetting laughter and punching. Example: standing last night outside expensive nightclub with French friend, trying to get her to skoll vodka, she, extremely confused, finally conceded and, taking a tiny sip said, "Oui. C'est bon". She had tasted it! She couldn't understand why we would be trying to down it. Completely missed the point. Not in the nature.
17. Beware the fruiterer. In some places it is OK to self-serve. But in the epicerie or the fruit shop where there is a man standing looking at you, you are expected to ask for what you desire and he will find the best one for you. And he does. Say "Pour manger aujourd'hui" and they will pick the ripest, yummiest to eat today. If you don't speak French, say, "bonjour, monsieur", and point. Better than causing a scene when you wipe your greasy mitts all over their precious produce.
18. Feel comfortable being alone in restaurants and bars. Perfectly acceptable French behaviour.
19. Enjoy wandering and pondering. Reading on steps and in gardens, visiting galleries and museums and cinemas and theatres on your own, you look far less like a tourist than in your group of 60 wearing your neon T-shirts.
20. Try to speak as much French as possible, even if it's "bonjour monsieur/madame", "merci", "au revoir". Even though they know you're a tourist, they are less likely to give you the tourist treatment when you make at least an effort.
21. Say "oh la la" a lot and add as many las as you see fit. The more las, the more serious/funny the situation. Seven works well.
22. Never step in dog poo. Parisians are masters at dog-poo hopscotch. Les crottes de chien are part and parcel of the Paris streetscape. Don't be offended; think musical theatre.
23. Learn to accept romantic behaviour. The giving of red roses, chocolates and champagne are not an act of piss-taking, they are actually genuine romantic offerings from the typical Frenchman.
24. Give up looking for low-fat products; no Parisian has ever heard of them, or if so, thinks they are degeulasse. Just eat all the buttery treats you like, then, if worried about blowing up to the size of a house, head to your friendly local parapharmacie, where you can join other Parisians in indulging in diet pills to blow the imagination.
25. Always be demanding in restaurants. Never be afraid to ask for any sauce you like, and tell them if the food is not good. Politeness is required, not subservience.
26. Be rude in department stores. The customer is always wrong is the policy in Paris, so be prepared for a bunfight in any department store where you need help. Just be aggressive, Parisians are used to bullying to get what they want.
27. Learn to cry on tap in order to achieve administrative success. Banking, posting letters, anything involving administrative personnel is hell, so be prepared to put on the waterworks to get anywhere.
28. Never wear a bike helmet. Paris traffic may be the most insane you've ever seen, but it messes up the hair and looks affreux.
29. Do not be fazed by rudeness or abrupt behavior. Enjoy it. It's a game to them. This is how you earn your stripes: Take it in your stride and bark back. When standing in hot train stations waiting for a telephone and a rude Parisian steps in front of you as if you were waiting behind the wrong phone, say "I don't think so, Madame" and stand your ground until she gives up and storms off. The bird is very powerful in French society, it is under-used and holds a lot of clout. Flip it where necessary to achieve success and earn respect.
30. Walk as much as possible. Ride bikes. Take the Metro to mystery destinations. Enjoy the taste of food and don't care if it's fattening. Sleep in and don't feel guilty. Leave crumbs in the bed. Be romantic. Eat chocolate. Buy real champagne. Play dress-ups. Sit and do nothing on park benches. Sit and play chess for long hours on park benches. Give money to homeless people. Play cards. Drink wine every day. Lick the cream out of macaroons. Waste time. Don't stress about seeing everything in the Louvre. Don't stress about seeing every museum in Paris. Watch movies you don't understand. Sit in theatres with amazing roofs and big velvet curtains and watch plays you don't understand. Listen to music you've never heard before. Pretend you're Amelie. Get yourself lost regularly. Don't organise anything. Buy last-minute tickets to operas and ballets, even though it's raining and you don't know if you'll get in. Kiss in the snow. Drive like a crazy person. Write stuff down. Sing as you're walking down the street. Watch the busker on the train and smile at him even though you're scared. Go to Versailles and hire bikes and have picnics. Do cartwheels on grass. Scratch the name of your sweetheart in the iron fence on the top of the Eiffel Tower when the guard isn't watching. Jump the park gate at night when the guard isn't watching. Run madly across the roundabout at Etoile to get to the Arc de Triomphe when there are cars driving lanelessly around. Wear thongs in the city. Ignore the guidebooks. Go out sans map. Go into the restaurant even though they don't speak English. Kiss on both cheeks, right then left, and make contact rather than take air. Pash in public. Order stuff you would never eat at home. Do things you'd never do at home.
Then you'll really get to enjoy Paris.