`Buy the ticket, take the ride`
Hunter S. Thompson
Paris is known for being the most romantic place that you could ever imagine, the city of love and fairy tales, where everything’s destined to have a happy ending. Yet all these legends couldn’t get more wrong. It turns out that the Parisians have a special sense for those who don’t share their cultural and social norms. This type of story is the one that never ends well, because they’re pretty reluctant to adapting their social conventions to others’ cultural styles. So there’s a few tips you could find very useful in your attempt to successfully socialize with French people. Generally speaking, if you’re giving your best not to act like a tourist your chances to have a much greater experience increase a lot.
1. Formality is the most important thing you’ve got to take into consideration whenever talking to a Parisian. Because so will they. Politeness reigns supreme and it may look like a fake, foppish, affected general way of being, at least the first few days. But you’re going to get used to it, especially if you’re staying here for more than a week or two. But after a while, slipping a little bit of formality in everything you do will start to make sense and feel natural. Because everyone else is doing it: the way people dress, eat, talk to each other, greet, sing, it’s even in the way they look at you.
Let me explain some of these basic formalities you’ll have to embrace. The first and most important one is never talking to a stranger before saying hello first. Unlike other cultures (such as the Americans), the French people are very sensitive to the way we’re adressing our questions and requests. So ‘Bonjour’ would be the first thing a Parisian ever hears from you. Another small thing that’s a little pretentious but matters a lot for the natives is to at least try to say something in their language, even that you don’t speak French, but English. Nobody says you have to follow intensive French classes before coming to Paris, but showing a little respect for their culture always helps and you’d be surprised to see how great they respond to this.
Another very important thing is how obnoxious these people find loud speaking, especially in public contexts, not to mention the official ones. They’re very hushed people and some of the reasons why they’re believed to be so distant and stiff is because we, somehow, manage to do things that aren’t culturally acceptable for them. Paying a little attention to their culture is the key of not making them behave coarsely. Also, wandering around in sloppy tennis shoes and training trousers would totally make you stand out as a tourist, since the French are also quite stylish and casual in clothing. And while there’s never too much style in a French’s outfit, there can easily be too much casualness.
2. Getting to be more practical, keep your tickets whenever you use public transport. It turns out they’re as necessary when you get in the metro/tram as you’ll need them to get off it. Apparently the French controls have many leverages and you have to be prepared for any of them.
3. As a rule, third floor means forth floor. Like no other European culture, the French don’t count the ground floor separately, but use it instead as the 1st floor. This rule’s especially important whenever someone asks you where you want to stop in the elevator, to prevent you running down the stairs.
4. Under no cirsumstances should you leave huge tips. As generally great services are paid by generous tips, it’s really not the case in France. If you’re at a restaurant, the tip’s almost always includec anyhow, so extra tiping would be taken as an offence. Of course, we’re not talking about 5 to (at most) 10 per cent of your entire note, that is acceptable way to thank the garçon (waiter) anyway. This rule’s available in other situations as well. For instance, with cab drivers. The average employee earns approximately €1500 a month, which makes a lot more than a decent living, and they already have a paying system which offers a part of the money in every ride, so tipping over 10 per cent of the total cost would really be unnecessary. One of the French things is treating waiters as their equals and by huge tips they understand that you’re helping them because they’re not good enough at what they do and need outside aid.
5. Understand the schedule! If you don’t try to give in the French program, you’ll be coffee deprived, you’ll miss the open hours at the museums and you’ll die of starvation. So it’s very important that you try and fit the typical French schedule. After having drunk your coffee early in the morning, try the boulangeries (bakeries) for breakfast. They’re pretty cheap and exceptionally tasty. Then hurry and make a first round on the cultural objectives you’ve set for, until noon (when they generally close for two and a half to three hours). Now it’s time for lunch, and if you miss it you’ll only get some chips sin some caffé until the dinner (happening around 8 p.m.). During this noon interval all the shops and restaurants come alive, so after having enjoyed your lunch you can wander around, walking the streets and buying souvenirs. Not adapting to this program may make you lose all the French spirit and miss the destinations.
6. Speaking of the French spirit, you should really try and savour your lunch, otherwise you’ll strike as a foreigner for anyone in the restaurant. These people are really preoccupied by the cuisine, they’re true gourmets. Which doesn’t mean they eat a lot of food as fast as possible, but on the contrary. That they enjoy the social act of eating and try to take of it as much as possible. It’s highly possible that eating with French people may seem to be based on a ritual, since their respect for eating is almost religious. Advice: Take your time trying many food combinations, without finishing any of the dishes. Eat slowly, and don’t forget about the wine and the dessert.
7. And finally, the most interesting thing to do (and by far one of the most pleasant on the list), be a loafer. They call it flâneur, someone wandering around aimlessly, visiting the bookshops, tasting the best food in town, enjoying the little things without any specific purpose during the day. It’s how the French people like to spend their free time, especially during holidays or when they’ve got days off. And it’s one of the best things you could do to enjoy your staty. Bon voyage!