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 one of the clueless masses. So read on for some tips about how to blend in like a local. And you can trust me: I specialize in this topic, having been brought up 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 for someone who lives, works or studies 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, even worse, stand on the left-hand side on escalators. It goes without saying that, as a tourist in this beautiful city, you have earned a few vacation days, but you should be aware of the main stereotype of Parisians (and, generally speaking, by every inhabitant of a large city): everyone is in a rush, stressed out and/or running late.
So to avoid tuts and disapproving glares from someone rushing past you to make it to the only dentist’s office in the city which had a free slot 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. Commute, work, sleep
Apart from the rare occasions when the weather is more reminiscent of Reykjavik under a snow blizzard than Madrid under the intense sun, 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, so 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. Nonetheless, if you do happen to get caught in bad weather, walk until you come to an avenue or boulevard and follow it for a little while. In less than 10 minutes you should come to a subway station. I tried out this theory one time when I was living in Shanghai. It was mid-August, 110° F and there wasn’t a sliver of shade to be found. I eventually found the subway station after walking for an hour and having taken refuge in many cafés along the way, simply to catch my breath and cool down in the fresher (air-conditioned) air. Compared to that, Paris is a piece of cake!
3. Chaos at the marked crosswalks
When we were little, our parents taught us how to safely cross the street: Only using the marked pedestrian crossing and only once the green man had lit up. In Germany, people wait patiently for the green man even when the streets are as empty as Buttes-Chaumont park on a rainy day. One thing to keep in mind when you’re in Paris — it’s best to leave these formalities behind.
Parisians will cross the road whenever they feel like it, preferably while the red man is lit 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. Far be it from me to use cultural excuses as a way to break the rules of road safety, but perhaps take this advice on board as a way to better blend in.
4. 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? Well, then 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 that she asked me why Parisians only wear “sad” shades, since she had imagined Paris to be like a vibrant fireworks display of color. 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 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!
5. #Paris #Eiffel #Tour #Travel #Wanderlust
Can I trust you with a secret? Now in my 20s, and having spent more time in the City of Lights than in my own district, I had never set foot in the Eiffel Tower, or even in the surrounding area. However, with my 27th birthday just around the corner, I also ended up donning my tourist outfit and (admittedly) snapped #selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower. But 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 most famous French monument. So, for a little while, I played the role of a tourist. As the Portuguese writer José Saramago once said, “You have to leave the island in order to see the island.” In other words, if I had never had this experience, I would never have been able to fully grasp certain things, or have been able to write this article.
Before that moment, I had only admired The Iron Lady in passing, between Passy and Bir-Hakeim stations on the overhead subway line. One last tip: If you’re on this subway line, don’t fall into the trap! Only tourists will gaze out of the window to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, trying to snap a photo en route. To avoid being labeled a provincial outsider, concentrate hard to maintain a nonchalant look.
Now you’re all set to blend into Paris!