Illustration by Jocelyn Kao.
Welcoming 30 million visitors each year from all corners of the world, Paris is one of the most touristic cities in the world, and France’s most visited. If you’re planning on going there for the first time, you definitely won’t want to look like you’re just another member of the clueless masses. So read on for some tips about how to blend in like a local in Paris. And you can trust me: I specialize in this topic, having been raised on the other side of Paris’s famous ring road.
Before reading on, in order for you to properly assess the scale of the challenge, you should take note that Parisians will refer to everything which is situated outside of the city boundaries as one thing only: “the province.” Now, all that’s left to do is follow the guide below:
1. When In Doubt, Stick To The Right
There’s nothing more exasperating to someone who lives in Paris than other people who saunter slowly down the middle of the street, come to a sudden stop in the middle of the sidewalk or, worst of all, stand on the left-hand side on escalators. As a tourist in this beautiful city, you’re visiting on vacation, but you should be aware that most Parisians are in a rush, stressed out and/or running late. (And of course, this is true of most large metropolitan areas.)
So to avoid disapproving glares from someone rushing past you (presumably to make it to the only dentist’s office in the city with a free appointment before December 18th, 2047), stay to the right!
One other piece of advice to keep in mind: If you think you’re lost, don’t stop dead in the middle of the street to look at your map. Carry on walking — albeit slowly — and stick to the right-hand side!
2. Black Is The New Black
In order to pass as a true Parisian, there’s nothing like fully embracing the color code. You’re aware of the French flag colors, right? Well, you should know that a Parisian wardrobe consists of the same colors with one exception: blue, white and black. The black should be emphasized here, perhaps also combined with several shades of gray.
Back in the day, my Chinese teacher was so taken aback by the color scheme that she asked me why Parisians only wear “sad” shades. She had, like many others, imagined Paris to be like a vibrant firework’s display of color. But the answer is simple — black goes with everything. By wearing at least one black item of clothing, you are reducing the chances of committing a fashion faux-pas. Paris is, after all, the fashion capital of the world and it has a reputation to uphold!
Tourists are especially easy to spot with their misguided sense of colors and patterns. I once witnessed someone wearing a leopard-print top, apple-green pants and an Indiana Jones-style hat — that’s enough to make any Parisian recoil in horror!
3. Explore Like A Local
Apart from the rare occasions when the weather is more reminiscent of Reykjavik under a snow blizzard, you really have no excuse not to explore Paris on foot. This will, of course, also save you from having to figure out how to buy a subway ticket.
There was a time when I used to take the RER express train to Paris. I would get off at a stop a little before my intended destination and let chance guide me to where I wanted to go (well, OK, I also used Google Maps). Thanks to this, I discovered small parks and tucked-away shops and cafés in districts I would otherwise never have set foot in. Paris isn’t really all that large, so you can’t get lost all that easily.
If you do happen to get caught in bad weather, just walk until you come to an avenue or boulevard and follow it for a little while. In less than 10 minutes, voilà! You should naturally arrive at a metro station.
4. Chaos At The Designated Crosswalks
When most of us were little, our parents taught us how to safely cross the street: Using the marked crosswalk and only once the green man had lit up. In Germany, people wait patiently for the green man even when the streets are completely empty. In Paris on the other hand — it’s best to leave these formalities behind.
Parisians will cross the road whenever they feel like it, preferably while it’s still red and nowhere near the marked crosswalk. Even when the pedestrian light is glowing red and there’s a car hurtling towards you, you adopt the mindset that the driver will inevitably brake. Yes, this mindset definitely breaks the rules of road safety, but you’ll blend in better.
5. #Paris #Eiffel #Tour #Travel #Wanderlust
Can I trust you with a secret? In my 20s, having spent more time in the City of Lights than my own district, I had never set foot in the Eiffel Tower (nor even in the surrounding area). However, with my 27th birthday just around the corner, I ended up donning my tourist outfit and (admittedly) snapped #selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower. Don’t be too quick to judge — I had a good reason to do so! A Scandinavian friend was visiting me and had her heart set on visiting the famous French monument. I had to oblige.
Before that moment, I had only admired The Iron Lady in passing, mostly between the Passy and Bir-Hakeim stations on the above-ground subway line. So for my last tip: If you’re on this line, don’t fall into the trap! Only tourists will gaze out the window longingly to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, trying to snap a photo en route. To avoid being labeled a provincial outsider, concentrate hard on maintaining a nonchalant look.
Now you’re all set to blend in like a local in Paris!