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5 DOs and DON'Ts in Paris

5 DOs and DON’Ts in Paris

February 19, 2013
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Paris is always a good idea.

My dearest Audrey Hepburn, how right you are. Paris is fabulous in any season, but spring shows it in its best light, in my humble opinion. Even Frank Sinatra dedicated a whole song to the charm and intoxication of Paris in the springtime.
Create your own Parisian experience, but take note of the following TEN tips to maximize your stay in the City of Light.

DOs

1) People watch from pavement cafes. Cafe culture is taken very seriously in Paris and it’s one of my favorite things to do in the city. You don’t need a book, a magazine, your phone, or another person for entertainment; the busy streets of Paris offer plenty of fodder for distraction. Find a cozy café with outdoor seating at a good location (which is virtually everywhere in the city, but the Marais is a good place to start) and soak up all the beautiful details that make the city so alluring. But don’t rush yourself; allow yourself to indulge in this sweetly simple and satisfying pleasure.
2) Eat to your heart’s content. Considering Paris is one of the world’s leading gastronomic capitals, of course you’re going to indulge in its vast haven of culinary excellence. Food has never tasted so good, so enjoy every crêpe, every baguette, every macaron, every pain au chocolat, every kind of fromage, and every croque-monsieur without any guilt. Bon appétit!
3) Learn a few basic French phrases beforehand. Trying to speak the language with locals (and smiling) goes a longgggg way. Trust me. My French is not perfect; in fact, it’s far from it. But I do recall nods of approval and appreciation that my French met with when I started out the conversation in French. We ultimately switched to English, but I know for a fact that I would have received much more resistance or experienced the infamous rudeness they’re known for had I started with English from the get go. Even if it’s just the basic phrases like merci, s’il vous plait, bonjour, merde (very important!), au revoir, je ne parle pas français, etc., the fact that you’re attempting to speak the local language shows reverence for their culture and appreciation for the language. As Clifton Fadiman said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
DOs and DONT's in Paris
4) Go shopping. That’s a no brainer. It IS blasphemy to go to one of the world’s most fashionable cities and not engage in retail heaven. I’m not talking about just shopping on the Champs-Élysées; in fact, don’t do that at all! Stroll through the cobbled streets of the Marais or rue du Commerce, create custom-made luggage at Goyard, and scope out aspiring designers and trendy boutiques that are one of a kind and can only be found in Paris. I see little point in buying my Chanel, Longchamp, and Louboutin in Paris when I can buy them anywhere else in the world. They’re not that much cheaper in Paris (at least for USD), contrary to what some may believe.
5) Acquaint yourself with Paris’ lesser-known museums. I’m all about exploring the beautiful corridors of the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Hell, I’ve been to the Louvre 26 times myself. But there is much more to Paris’ museum circuit than those two. Especially when you’re on a tight schedule, don’t spend hours there and neglect other lesser-known, but equally amazing museums. A few others that are worth a visit: Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Orangerie, and Musée du Vin (a whole museum on wine…!).

DON’Ts

1) Don’t take cabs everywhere; walk (or metro it if you must). You’ll be idling away in endless traffic, paying exorbitant fees, and missing out on the pulse of the city. And besides, I’m sure you can find many other ways to blow that precious cash in the city. Compactly sprawled across 6 miles, the city of Paris is designed for pedestrians. In the French language, there’s a beautiful word, flâneur, to describe a stroller who wanders through city streets in search of adventure and fulfillment, and one who flirts with the complexities of modern life as an astute observer. The word originated in Paris, and for good reason.

2) Don’t eat your meals on the go. One thing (among many) that the French take pride in is taking time out to savor every bite of their meal and indulge in the art of conversation, sometimes spending a few hours for one meal. As an American, it’s one aspect of the French lifestyle that doesn’t come naturally to me. But after indulging in it for months while I lived there, I’ve come to fully appreciate this simple pleasure. I try to adhere to this new approach as much as I can, but I must admit that from time to time, I’m still guilty of the coffee in one hand/a sandwich in the other/phone on shoulder look …bad habits die hard. But in Paris…never.
3) Don’t just see famous Paris; create your own Paris. That means seeking out off-the-beaten path ideas that may not be in guide books. Do a little research beforehand, or better yet, shed your inhibitions and allow yourself to get lost and discover gems that have evaded the mainstream radar of tourists. Wander through one of the many gorgeous parks, idle through the labyrinthine alleyways, venture off the beaten path for some authentic eats, discover different vantage points for stunning Eiffel Tower photos (try Tour Montparnasse, Trocadero, or Palais de Chaillot), take a literary tour that pays tribute to the intellectual geniuses of the past, and observe the culture firsthand through your interactions with locals.
4) Don’t commit fashion faux paus. I’m neither advocating a whole new wardrobe, nor am I saying you have to be a fashionista to visit Paris, but unless you want to receive the tourist treatment, understand and appreciate basic French/Parisian style. It’s not about dressing to the nines every day; it’s about looking effortlessly chic. Coordinated, but casual. Ditch those flip-flops, shorts, and white running shoes. As the French would say, ça ne se fait pas (it simply isn’t done). And certainly do not feed into stereotypes; it’s not cute to bicycle through the streets clad in a beret and striped shirt with a bundle of baguettes under your arm.
5) Don’t forget to witness the beauty of the City of Light at night. As with any city, Paris has two very different personalities, one during the day, one at night. The day personality pales in comparison with its night counterpart. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is as beautiful as can be when pressed against the glistening sun (or gloomy sky), but at night, illuminated under the moonlight, it’s sheer magic. MAGIC.


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