Saturday, April 4, 2009

Paris from the Perspective of a Non-French Person

The purpose of this post is to give guidance to tourists and visitors to Paris (and other French tourist towns).  If you want to add to our commentary or dispute some point we've made -- please do so in the comments!!  
Thanks --ARAD
image from

We hope you've been well as we've been traipsing around Poitiers and Paris with Jefe's family.  (And thank you if you are still reading...)

Now that we've been to Paris three times as "resident aliens" (i.e. not counting the times we came before moving to France), we feel like we're beginning to know our way around, which areas we enjoy and which ones to avoid like the plague. 

When people visit Paris, they think all the people they see (at least all those who aren't looking at maps) are Parisiens. Well, that probably isn't the case. While exact numbers are hard to come by, Paris is host to at least 9 million non-French tourists every year, and at least that many French tourists.

Some people (e.g. us) try and hide the fact that they are tourists so that the waiters don't start speaking English before you even sit down. To be hired in a restaurant or cafe in Paris, it's clear that you must prove that you are fluent in French and English. I think preferential treatment must also be given to applicants who have cultivated a special blend of hackneyed "bad English" pronunciation, patience, and a side of caffeine addiction. Unfortunately, Jefe and his backpack and unfashionable coat are usually a give-away. But that's ok, because we ride bikes, we go places most people don't, avoid the places that most people flock to, and we even save some cash at lunch by packing a snack to eat in the numerous parks and gardens (when it isn't raining/freezing).

Paris can be a little intimidating because it feels like everyone is judging you, and they are, the French being an especially opinionated people. The way you dress (she's not wearing black?! OMD --"ouh mon dieu" the French equivalent of OMG), where you eat, what you drink (a Pinot Noir from Alsace with veal liver?!?!?), how you tie your scarf.

french scarves


Even which hand you hold your fork with. It's very difficult to switch from the zig-zag style of eating to the Continental style. Almost as difficult as learning to write with the opposite hand. But, it's worth it to teach yourself, especially if you are the type of person (e.g. me) who thinks that the patrons and waitstaff in French restaurants are surreptitiously watching you cut into your food and silently judging you. Maybe if you learn to eat properly, they won't think you're a tourist. Oh wait, everyone is a tourist.

Nowadays, we don't have to look at the map quite as often, and even I know which way north is and how to get to the airport (I'm even getting good at helping out lost tourists). I could also give pretty good directions around Le Marais, one of the trendy shopping areas in the 3rd and 4th arondissements.

We're always looking for weird art, and Paris is happy to oblige with many controversial exhibits (which they've conveniently labeled as such). Since the worst minority oppression takes place in the suburbs, Paris has to import their controversy. In this case, from the U.S. in the form of David LaChapelle.

One photo from the series "Jesus is my homeboy" by David LaChapelle

And since I like making lists, here's another one:

How To Look Like a Tourist in France: Top Ten
1. Ask someone for directions.  Extra points if the person turns out to be another tourist.
2. Wear jogging shoes.  Extra points if they're white.  (I still walk to the gym already wearing my gym clothes.  I also--gasp--leave the gym, visibly sweaty, still wearing said gym clothes, and walk home.  I know that it identifies me as a foreigner, I just don't care.)
3. Sport multi-colored eyeshadow, fake bake, or cakey foundation.  French girls typically go for "le smoky eye" look with neutral face and lips.

le smoky eye

4. Wear anything that is visibly optimized for comfort.  Fleece is an excellent example.
5. Count with your hand incorrectly: the French start with the thumb, not the index finger.
6. Hesitate for more than 10 seconds when someone asks you a question in French.  You will know that 10 seconds have passed because he or she will repeat their question in English.
7. Only order a plat instead of the whole formule. Extra credit if you order the wrong kind of wine, too. 
8. Stop in the middle of the street to take pictures of a building.
9. Travel in a group of more than 5 people.
and of course...
10. Start speaking.

1 comment:

red said...

haa!! nice post. I will practice my scarf wrap, but I think I already have it down. Yay for me.