Famous for fine food, high fashion, priceless art, and centuries of history Paris can be intimidating to even a seasoned traveler. But rest assured that despite being the epicenter of all things luxurious and expensive you can save money, avoid pickpockets, and never encounter a “rude” French person.
Learn Some Manners
If you learn no other French learn to say please (S’il vous plait), thank you (Merci), excuse me (Pardon), and good day (Bonjour). Manners are extremely important to the French. Just as Americans may be cold if they feel someone is rude, the French are no different. If they find you rude and offensive they’ll likely give you the cold shoulder. Say please and thank you often. When you place an order, buy tickets, or ask for something, say “please”. Say “thank you” when you receive something. For example, if you go to a café say “please” when you order, say “thank you” when your drinks arrive, say “thank you” when the food arrives, say “thank you” when the check arrives….you get the idea. In short, be exceedingly polite.
Additionally, it is important than when entering and leaving a store you say good day to whomever is working at the counter or door. Here in the states you may be able to come and go from a store without ever getting off your cell phone, but that won’t fly in Paris. Say “Hello” when you go in and “thank you when you leave.
It’s not Personal
Don’t assume that just because things are different than in the US it means you are being treated badly. The French don’t smile and say “hello” to people on the street usually. They take their time at meals and so service in restaurants and cafes is always slow. Your waiter won’t stop by and ask you if you’re doing ok, because it’s considered intrusive in France. If you want something you will need to ask.
Parisians don’t wear sweats to the grocery, and they don’t wear jeans that much either. You don’t have to wear designer clothes to blend in, but you do need to dress better than you probably would here in the states. This isn’t because Parisians particularly care how you dress (believe me they see plenty of tourists), it’s because pick pockets, gypsies, and other scammers look for obvious tourists as marks. By “looking French” you’ll avoid a lot of potential hassles.
Ride the Metro
Forget cabs and bus tours. Get a Metro Pass. Passes are available by number of days as well as the number of zones you want access to. A week pass for all zones can get you from Euro Disney to Versailles and everywhere in between for about $150.
The Metro has stops at all the major tourist destinations and it is quick, reliable, has long hours and allows you to see Paris like a local. The pass is also good for the RER and busses as well.
Avoid riding the metro before 9 AM and between 4 to 7 PM in order to avoid rush hour. While riding the Metro during the rush hour is an experience, it’s not one that everyone would like to have!
Get a Musee Pass & Plan Ahead
Why go all the way to Paris to just stand outside and look at the Louvre? There are a lot of fantastic places you can go and enjoy for free in Paris including the Tuilleries, the Luxembourg Gardens, The gardens of Versailles, etc. But the best Treasures in Paris require an entrance fee, most of the time.
The Musee Pass is a pass which can be purchased at all most any museum or attraction in Paris and will provide you access to over 60 museums and attractions including the Louvre, Versailles, D’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Arc De Triumph and more. Passes can be purchased for two, four, or six days and range in price from $45 to $108. At many locations the pass can get you in the door without waiting in ridiculously long lines. You can get package deals for Musee passes and Metro Passes online if you buy them in advance and have them sent to you prior to your trip.
You can also get free admission to some museums on certain days. For example, the Louvre offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Buy a guidebook and figure out when you might be able to get free admission to the museums you are interested in. Sundays at the Louvre are generally a good plan however; as many things in France are closed on Sundays and the Louvre can easily take up a whole day!
The Musee Pass can also get you discounts on river tours and other things as well. Keep an eye out when around the city and use the Pass as much as possible.
When In Rome…
Parisians love to walk and ride bikes and you’ll find that Paris is a pedestrian friendly city (so long as you don’t jay walk). You can find a lot of enjoyment in just walking around the city. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to take the Metro in from the suburbs in the evening and to walk along the Seine while the sun goes down. Watching all the lights come on and the Eiffel Tower twinkle on the hour is incredibly romantic and magical. And it’s totally free. As is a day at the Gardens at Versailles.
The Palace is lovely inside, but the garden it what is truly amazing. Rent a carriage, bike, boat, or just walk. The gardens are open to the public, dotted with restaurants, cafes and shops. You could easily spend a day trying to see everything.
In August you can join the Parisian on the shores of the Seine for Paris Plage. The city brings the beaches of the south of France to Paris by lining the Seine with lounge chairs and umbrellas available for anyone to use.
Parisians are big on using their local parks and gardens and you’ll find that they are well maintained, that they are well supplied with chairs for public use and small snack carts for light, cheap lunches.