Ah, Paris, the City of Light. Crepes, shopping, the Eiffel Tower … it is a wonderful city in which to eat and explore. When we embark on a trip overseas, it can often generate great elation and expectation of the travels ahead.
With the quirks and variation that exist within each country and culture, visitors are urged to explore their destination’s unique and individual guiding principles in order to eliminate unexpected or unpleasant surprises.
For example, in Rome, Americans who ask about price before they question the quality of an item put off shopkeepers. Relationships can come to a screeching halt in Greece if one dares to bring up the topic of salary. Likewise, those who travel through France, a country that seems to have more than its fair share of cultural eccentricity, should take note of the important issues that can often make or break a trip. Among the multitude of rules lie eight general guidelines that can significantly help an American in Paris:
1. Try to speak the language
The French appear to be more cooperative and certainly more accommodating when they realize a tourist is at least trying to speak the language. Terms need not be long or complicated. A few key words uttered within the global language of a sincere smile can help a traveler make a connection with a native. The attempt will have most retailers, restaurateurs and hotel personnel greeting the Americans with more warmth. Most in the service-oriented fields are bi-lingual, and will usually respond in English to accommodate their clients.
2. Buy a Metro Pass
Paris is quite efficient in its use of public transportation. Tourists are better off without a rental car as driving the loosely-managed streets can be daunting for an American who has respect for proper lane use. Buses abound and the Metro system is simple and prompt. Most cultural landmarks can be accessed by use of public transportation, although transfers are sometimes needed. But with station stops every five minutes, the wait is never long. Metro passes can be purchased in one day, three-day or five-day increments.
3. Never travel on Bastille Day
Planning an arrival, departure or transfer from Paris on Bastille Day will likely result in bitter disdain toward the French. Paris is shut down for miles around the celebrated procession that parades the army, the president and every other noteworthy French individual. Even the savviest hotel concierge or bellhop cannot navigate around the obstacle course erected to protect the city’s parade route and surrounding area, and will regretfully send the departing guest lugging her luggage for blocks out of the restricted zone to find a taxi. Since most taxi drivers are actually at the parade, this, too, can be a frustrating and hair-raising experience. Travelers who find themselves in Paris on July 14th ought to ascribe to the age-old maxim: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” so enjoy the festivities of the day and don’t try to leave town.
4. Never plan shopping days on Sundays
The French have tremendous respect of leisure. Tourists who seek a shopping trip on a Sunday will be sorely disappointed. Aside from restaurants and cafes, most retailers are closed for business on this day. The mere inquiry as to where one can shop on this sacred day can elicit looks of bewilderment from a Parisian. A trip to the Louvre is a good alternative.
5. Observe the tipping tips
Most restaurants throughout France include the tip and service fees in its tally of charges. The key is to find this statement on the bill: “Service Compris.” Tourists are usually surprised to learn this after days of adding the customary American 15-20 percent tip on top of the restaurant bill. The French will usually leave loose change as a demonstration of appreciation for good service, but tipping is not required or expected for meals.
On the other hand, hotel service personnel, tour guides and anyone who manages heavy luggage appreciate tips. A few Euros will do, unless someone has gone out of his or her way to accommodate, in which case more is appropriate. Bellhops are generally tipped $2-3 Euros per bag.
6. Negotiate Cab Fees Before You Ride
Taxi drivers in France are noted for their clever way of extracting just a tad more from the tourist, so its best to assert a bit of savoir-faire from the get-go. A ‘surcharge’ for gas or an added charge for luggage can all be reasons that a taxi driver will ask for more money than is indicated on his meter. Ask one simple question after stating your destination and before getting into the cab: “Combien se cout?” or “how much will this cost?”
7. Buy A Visitor’s Pass
In a culture rich with so much art and culture, most tourists wish to visit more than one museum. However, lines can be very long and individual admission prices can add up. A Visitor’s Pass, available from the Metro Station or the Bureau de Tourisme is invaluable, sparing you from the ghastly line at the actual venue. The cost of the pass is also a bargain and allows entry to most museums and art exhibits.
If you happen to find yourself in one of those nasty French qeues, don’t be alarmed when a French man or woman helps him or herself into the line ahead of you. The French hate lines and view them as guides as opposed to established systems. Cordially indicating the back of the line usually solves the problem.
8. Don’t Be A Grump
Americans traveling through France seem to navigate under the notion that the French are rude and dislike Americans. While some in fact may, the general outlook reflects that of most cultures: People will be nice to nice people. An attendant at the Eiffel Tower noted, “We French feel that the problems between Chirac and Bush are their own personal issues and those sentiments are not shared by most of the French people.” A concierge at the Sofitel Hotel in Paris gave his take: “The French like the American people, they just don’t like its government.” A tour guide shared this morsel of wisdom: “The Americans are such nice people, but why do they let someone like Michael Moore mock them like he does?”
Tourists who come to France armed for battle will not have a pleasant time. Putting politics aside, travelers should relish all the charm, style and grandeur that make France the land of absolute enchantment. So, explore the Louvre, eat wonderful food, drink delicious wine and take a stroll along the Canal St-Martin with succes fou (crazy success).