Tour De Paris: A Linguistic Guide To The French Capital

From Russian novels to Turkish hairdressers, Paris thinks big when it comes to cultures from around the world.
Linguistic tour of Paris represented by a building in Paris being shot from the street below, built in the style of beaux arts

Think the only language spoken in Paris is French? Think again! With the right guide by your side, you can travel to the banks of the Bosporus, the steppes of Siberia and the cafés of Italy, all within the limits of the City of Lights. Discover the capital of France as you’ve never seen it before with this original linguistic tour of Paris!

Here, we’ll take you around the city and spotlight important stops for you along the way. Whether you want to learn Italian, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or, of course, French, you’ll find a city rich in global arts and cuisine.

Italian Paris

Paris’s sole sister city is Rome — and vice versa. As they say, “Only Paris is worthy of Rome, only Rome is worthy of Paris.” Or in French: Seule Paris est digne de Rome, seule Rome est digne de Paris. And Italian: Solo Parigi è degna di Roma, solo Roma è degna di Parigi.

Through the years, Paris has developed a unique relationship with Italian culture. There’s no need to look for tourists from the other side of the Alps to practice Italian without leaving Paris. Your linguistic tour of Paris with a Roman flair starts with food.

Paris is fortunate to have very good Italian restaurants. The reason is simple: They’re often managed by Italians. Although the owners speak French perfectly, they’re always happy to speak a few words of Italian with their guests. There’s Chez Bartolo (a Neapolitan caterer in the sixth arrondissement), Pasta e Basta (a restaurant in the 13th) or Amici Miei (Sardinian specialties in the 11th), to name a few. And for gelato, Pozzetto from Turin is (ironically) located in Rue du Roi de Sicile (King of Sicily) in the fourth arrondissement.

As soon as you pass by a café or a restaurant with an Italian name, you might as well give a cheerful Salve! You can tell which restaurants aim for authenticity when they call their trattoria Da [Italian Name] (Giovanni, Sergio, Tonino, Gino, Pietro, Giuseppe, Enzo, etc.), the Italian equivalent of Chez [French Name]. Another option: Make your own Italian recipes at home after buying fresh ingredients at a good market. The Coopérative Cisterino gets flour, pasta, meat and cheese from Italy every week. The food is davvero buonissimo, and don’t hesitate to let the vendors know. There are many locations in Paris, including in the 10th, 11th, ninth and fifth arrondissements.

But the Italian language isn’t expressed solely through food. We also recommend that you take a linguistic tour of Paris with Italian literature at La Libreria in the ninth and Tour de Babel, on the same street as the gelateria Pozzetto. In the seventh arrondissement, the Institut culturel italien organizes regular exhibitions, concerts and festivals honoring the language of Dante. And if you want to travel to Venice without leaving the comfort of the fourth arrondissement, have a look at the artisanal Venetian boutique Il Campiello.

Do you have a good chance of speaking Italian at the Porte d’Italie? Not more than anywhere else. Although the 13th arrondissement does have a number of good Italian spots, you can find them just about anywhere in Paris. Located in the middle of the Asian quarter, the metro station Porte d’Italie gets its name from its geographic location. In fact, it’s the route that leads directly to… Italy, via the route nationale 7. All roads lead to Rome, especially this one!

Spanish And Portuguese Paris

The city of lights has a French heart and a Latin soul. After touring Paris via Italy, it’s time for Spain and Portugal. To speak Spanish in Paris, all you need is to go to one of the many Spanish bars, such as El Tonel, right by the Tuileries, or Potxolo in the 11th. If you’re more connected to Latin America, the Maison de l’Amérique Latine on boulevard Saint-Germain is not to be missed.

When it comes to learning Portuguese, the French capital also has plenty to offer. In the Latin Quarter, the Librerie Portugaise et Brésilienne has a very straightforward name. It’s the best place in Paris to read Portuguese authors Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago or Paulo Coelho in their original language, before crossing the city to get a few pastéis de nata at the Pastelaria Belem in the 17th. And for shopping like in Lisbon, the place is easy to remember: Comme à Lisbonne. It’s a typically Lisbon-style shop where you can have a nice conversation in Portuguese with Victor, well known in the neighborhood. This small shop is in the Rue de Sicile, where Latin culture is right at the forefront!

Turkish Paris

Our linguistic tour of Paris continues by getting further from Europe, but without really leaving it. We’re in Little Turkey in the 10th arrondissement. This small neighborhood is delineated by Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, Rue de Paradis, Rue d’Enghien and Rue d’Hauteville.

The restaurants, cafés, bookstores, markets and hairdressers will transport senses to Istanbul. You’ll constantly hear merhaba! (“hi!”) and ne var ne yok? (“how are you?”) in the streets. There’s no doubt that it’s here where you can find the best Turkish dishes in the capital. On the menu: pide, lahmacun, köfte and ayran!

Russian Paris

Although it’s not obvious, Russian culture is very present in Paris. As long as you know the places that are particularly well hidden. Your linguistic tour of Paris in Russian can start on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. The Librairie du Globe provides books, movies and meetups in the language of Pushkin. Since the Centre Spirituel et Culturel Orthodoxe Russe opened on the Quai Branly, Russian-language events in Paris have become even more common. Language courses are sometimes offered as well. For a few summers, a Russian film festival has taken place in Paris. The seventh arrondissement has a few opportunities to discover previews of Russian art or Soviet classics that never go out of style.

In the eighth, the club Raspoutine has a scarlet red theme, down to the smallest details in velvet and lace. It’s a trip back in time to pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia. If you want to have a drink with Russian tourists who have come to party all night, however, don’t make the mistake of saying na zdrowie. That’s Polish and not Russian! To give a toast in Russian, you use the preposition за (za) and not на (na). So за здоровье (za zdrovye) fits better. But Russians are more likely to say за тебя (za tebya, “to you”), за нас (za nas, “to us”), за встречу (za vstrechu, “to meeting”) or за дружбу (za druzhbu, “to friendship”). So basically no matter what, you use за. Be creative!

To practice your Russian pronunciation, you’ll have to get a tea accompanied by a few pastries at Café Pouchkine at Place de la Madeleine. That is, unless you prefer caviar at the boutique Petrossian near the Invalides or the selection of pelmeni at the Cantine des Tsars right next to Châtelet.

Is Kremlin-Bicêtre named after Red Square?  You might have wondered about the origins of the name Kremlin-Bicêtre, a suburb south of Paris. Kremlin as in Moscow? In fact, you have to back to 1812 to shed light on this mystery. During the Russian campaign led by Napoleon Bonaparte against Tsar Alexander I, the defeated French troops had to retreat to Paris. Many injured “grognards” were taken in by the hospice in Bicêtre. A wine merchant decided to open a tavern next door named Au sergent du Kremlin, and the soldiers loved to spend time there. They loved it so much that the neighborhood is nicknamed “the Kremlin.” Later, the suburb would be officially named Kremlin-Bicêtre. By the way, Kremlin — Кремль in Russian — is a generic word for “fortress.” Outside Moscow, there’s a Kremlin in Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and several other cities in Russia!

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