How to Survive Paris in the Summer
I’ve been wondering lately why I live here.
Winter is freezing cold. You can barely go stay outside for more than a few minutes without the icy blasts (which sound good now) sending you back indoors, to get under the covers, snuggly with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Then we have spring.
Which this year lasted 4 days.
Then summer comes, and Paris melts down. You can see it on every face of everyone in the city. From people waiting for the bus, straining to stand in a tiny sliver of shade, to the women fanning themselves furiously on the buses and métro, everyone here is hotter than heck. Yesterday I went to the movies just to get cool, but unfortunately the film (The Squid & The Whale) was a measly 1 hour long. Who makes a 1 hour movie? I was tempted to stay and see it again just to bask in the coolness of the cinema but it was hard to stay awake the first time around.
Anything to escape my rooftop apartment, just under a zinc roof, which yesterday was104 degrees F. A few friends of mine have similar rooftop apartments, and I decided that no one’s allowed to complain to us how hot they are, since we’re invariably 10 degrees hotter than they are. So there.
But this time of year, visitors start coming to Paris in droves. I don’t know why so many people choose to come to Paris in the summer, but everyone’s surprised when I tell them that many of the shops are closed and it’s really hot. And I’m leaving.
But come, they do.
So if you are planning to come to Paris in the next month or so, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Drink rosé.
For some reason, Americans are reluctant to drink rosé, which is inexpensive and delightfully served icy-cold. Rosé in France, for the most part, is dry and very drinkable. And it goes down very well in the summer, speaking from recent experience. Order it by the carafe since there’s little difference between that and what comes in the more expensive bottles.
You’ll be drinking it so fast that it doesn’t really matter.
2. Never order anything they call ‘iced coffee’ or ‘iced tea’.
It’s invariably very, very sweet. If you order iced coffee, no matter what you’re thinking it’s going to be, stop before you do. No matter how tempting it sounds to you, just stop.
If you order something called ‘iced coffee’, you’ll be served a very small amount of dark liquid (very sweet) in a large glass, with a straw, and it will be really sweet. And expensive.
Iced tea is inevitably from a can. And flavored.
And very sweet as well.
(Disclaimer: Yes, that was me you saw on the Boulevard St. Michel at, gasp, Starbucks drinking a Frappucino. It was so hot, we had no choice. But I have a question: Is there any coffee in those things? You’d think if they’re gonna charge 4.50€, about $5.50, they would at least taste the slightest bit like coffee. Would it kill them to toss in an extra espresso without charging extra for it?)
3. There is no ice.
You may get a cube or two in your drink, but French people don’t use lots of ice and few places have those jumbo ice machines like in America. When I worked in restaurants in the US, the worst thing that could happen was when the ice machine broke. People freaked. I mean, they really freaked. It was like they couldn’t deal with drinking room-temperature water. And now, some places in America are charging extra if you don’t want ice. It’s like there’s this vast conspiracy to get you to use lots of ice or something in America. Perhaps someone’s putting something in the ice?
(Because whenever I request “No ice” in the US, the waiter gives me this funny look, and I can see him thinking, “Oh great. Why do I get all the ass#%$les in my section?”)
Speaking of drinking: You’ll notice that it’s customary not to fill wine or water glasses to-the-brim full. In France, glasses are generally filled half-full. And in some places or in homes you’re expected to use the same glass for both wine and water, so if you fill it too full with wine, you gotta finish all of it before you get any water.
And vice versa.
4. Don’t expect air-conditioning.
Or I should say, very little is air-conditioned, especially like the icy-cold turbo-blasts experienced in the US. Electricity is very expensive in France. That, coupled with a general dislike of cool breezes (or open windows…or any kind of ventilation in general) but it can get uncomfortably and unbearably hot and people will sit in restaurants and apartments with the windows firmly closed.
That includes the métro, which can be downright intolerable in the summer. Especially when it’s jammed full and your face is directly in some dudes hairy armpit who forgot to take his weekly shower. but you can’t move. Most of the buses aren’t air-conditioned (except I got on the #63 recently, and it was un peu de paradis), nor is the RER from the airport, which is downright miserable in the summer and you should avoid it. Spring for a cab or a shuttle.
5. Spring for some decent sandals.
Parisians do wear sandals and flip-flips (les thongs, except you don’t pronounce the ‘h’) but in general they wear rather sporty ones. If you want to wear rubber flip flops, stop at Pay-Less and get pair that doesn’t look skanky.
(And while you’re at it, make sure your feet look decent. Like mine do.)
5a: Don’t ever wear dark socks with sandals.
5b: Don’t ever wear dark knee socks with sandals.
5c: Don’t wear socks with sandals, period.
And remember, you can only wear two of the following at the same time: sandals, shorts, or a tank top. Never all three (if you do, then it’s obligatory to add a fanny pack and carry a Rick Steve’s guidebook.)
6. Spring for some nice shorts.
Parisians do wear shorts, in spite of what you hear, but do not wear them if you’re planning to go into sophisticated places or nice shops.
Do not wear your ultra-short shorts, or anything that looks like something Mariah Carey would wear…unless you’re trolling for les clients on the rue St. Denis.
(And men: If you’re planning on doing any shoe shopping during les soldes, please remember to wear undershorts. A friend of mine was a shoe salesperson and was always amazed how few men didn’t wear undies and whenever she looked up to ask about the fit, she was greeted with an eyeful.)
7. Take time to relax.
I’ve seen too many people coming to Paris who want to take in six museums in one day, rush from place to place with a rigid schedule, and generally make themselves and their friends crazy. You’ll notice that Parisians sit in cafés for lo-o-o-ong periods of time, thinking, reading, or doing absolutely nothing. It’s a skill I’ve finally mastered.
Just sit around and watch the world go by. Remember that citron pressée that you paid 6€ for? It’s for the privilege of doing just that. And it’s hot, so just relax. Or go to the movies. Paris is a great movie city. And most cinemas are air-conditioned.
8. Get out of the Left Bank.
While there’s lots of interesting things to do in Paris; fabulous chocolate shops, great bakeries, and shopping galore, there’s other neighborhoods in Paris worth exploring besides the Boulevard St. Germain-des-Pres.
Have you been to Belleville and Boulangerie 140 at Place Jourdain?
What about the Canal St. Martin for a stroll in the evening?
9. Parisians eat much later in the summer.
The sun doesn’t go down until around 11pm, so things happen later. No one will be eating dinner at 7 or 7:30pm, and many restaurants won’t even be open before that.
So plan accordingly.
If you want a seat outside (en terrasse, make sure to specify that when you reserve, as they’re the first to go. Otherwise, if you want a seat near the window, those go second and it’s best to show up earlier in the evening rather than later.
And if you’re staying in a hotel in a popular neighborhood, and need to keep the windows open, bring ear plugs to block out noisy Brits getting pissed or the Aussies and their birds drinking cans of 1664 under your window.
10. Prepare for les vacances.
Realize that lots of places close for a month, mostly in August but starting in mid-July. It’s said that Americans “live to work” and Europeans “work to live”, which is rather true, and they are outta here.
The upside is that you’ll have Paris much to yourselves and it’s very pleasant and uncrowded. But expect many, many places to be closed.
Any other tips?