Paris x 3

Parisian Etiquette

When I go back to the states, one of the questions I’m most-commonly asked is—”Aren’t Parisians rude?

I recently got in my elevator and this was posted:


It’s a notice that my neighbor is having her birthday party and to please excuse her in advance of any noise that may be a nuisance. I’ve been told some newcomers see these posted and incorrectly assume that it’s an invitation to all in the building to stop by. So read carefully.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the French ‘stare’ you know that’s because French people talk rather softly in public places and it’s considered rude to impose your conversation on others. Unfortunately that politesse don’t carry over to cigarette smoke. Yet.

But I think letting your neighbors know your having a fête is a nice, not very rude gesture, so you can plan accordingly with an Ambien or whatever.

I spent the night at another birthday party, one that I actually was invited to, where the host made a slew of gorgeous food: poulet en gelée, two poached bass with perfectly-turned vegetables, an abundant bowl of haricots vertes glistening with butter, and a fraisier for dessert, a strawberry-mousse and genoise that our host made himself.

Of course all the while the Taittinger flowed a bit too-easily from the popping of corks from endless Jeroboams of Champagne.

Needless to say, afterwards I didn’t need any help sleeping. Don’t know how my downstairs neighbors fared since I didn’t hear a thing after I got home.

And for most of the following day.

Don't Pee Here Either
It’s Not Polite To Use This for That

I Know Paris Is Expensive, But…

Paris can be a very expensive city, especially for Americans who are used to paying rock-bottom prices for everyday staples. Here, though, things like laundry detergent, Ajax, plastic bags, and things like that are nearly double their price stateside.

So there I was at the Monoprix supermarket Friday afternoon and there were two middle-aged American women, who were probably renting an apartment nearby.

They were looking for toilet paper.

When I kindly took it upon myself to point out that what they had in their hands were actually paper towels, they were thankful, said a friend had recommended a brand of toilet paper with clovers on the packaging which they couldn’t find.

When I helped them find the Trefle brand, they were agahst.

“Oh my goodness, that’s 4.5 euros….we’re not spending 6 bucks for toilet paper!”

So they bought the cheaper stuff, and headed to the cashier.

I really wanted to say, “Honey, if that thing ain’t worth an extra 2 euros, I don’t know what is.”

But they were already out of earshot.

And really, that would have been rude.


How Parisians Really Stay Thin

Paris has a lot of bike lanes. A few are way off to the side of the roadway, safely away from traffic. But the other ‘bike lanes’ in Paris are shared with the safest, most courteous drivers in the city: the buses and taxis.

There’s no better way to burn off a whole bunch of fromage-induced calories until you sense a behemoth Paris bus breathing down your back, racing to get by you any which way possible. And in the land-sans-lawsuits, in order not to get creamed, you need to ride your butt off in a race to the finish since they don’t really care how they get by you, even if they have to go over you.

And almost as bad is being behind a diesel-powered bus at a red light. Unless you have the superhuman ability to lunge that 50-pound bike out of the way fast, you’re likely to be enveloped in a lung-clogging cloud of thick, black diesel fumes.

I haven’t been on a bike in years, but I’ve have been taking advantage of our new free bike program here, Vélib’, which is challenging each and every muscle I have.

And after a few weeks of riding, I now understand why all those cyclists are doping themselves up on steroids—I’m about ready to do the same thing.

Like walking in Paris, it’s pas possible to go in any kind of straight line so you ending going far longer than you thought. Good thing one-way streets mean that it’s pas de probleme for those of us on bikes to hop up on the sidewalk and terrorize pedestrians, or I’d be riding in circles for hours. Although one needs to steer clear of of the black-booted police and shaved-head Pompiers of Paris.

On the plus side, I can’t tell you how many nice Parisians I’ve bonded with arriving simultaneously at a ‘parking station’ only to find it full, then heading on to the next one, and finding the same thing. Then the next one…and the next…etc. We joke, laugh, and there’s a few bofs! thrown in just because we’re in France.

Unfortunately the thrill of the hunt starts getting ennuyeuse as the night wears on. The inevitable rain starts and you’re too tired to try to find another station and fear you’re going to be circling Paris deep….very deep…into the night looking for a spot.

(Yes, the machines are supposed to tell you where the closest available parking station is. And they do, when they’re working.)

Still, I wouldn’t trade my bike pass for the métro; it’s a great way to get around the city and it’s nice being in the open-air.

les Pompiers de Paris

And the view’s a little better up here too.

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  • September 20, 2007 5:30am

    hmmm, we do not have those views in Los Angeles. I’m of course speaking of the last photo. me like.

  • lbk
    September 20, 2007 7:02am

    That last view is even better when you come across them running in a sweaty pack in various parks around town in the early morning …

    And for some reason I have yet to understand, all Parisian firemen (and the occassional firewomen) look like they are under the age of 30! What happens to them after that?

  • September 20, 2007 7:47am

    I once had a French boyfriend, and when i stayed in Los Angeles for 3 months, the Americans kept asking me whether the French are rude and they told me that French people are smelly and stink. *lol

    That is just too funny, because here in Germany the French are considered to be extremely polite, very well and elegantly dressed and always with an hint of perfume around them.

    btw: my boyfriend was very polite and not smelly at all. ;)

  • September 20, 2007 9:27am

    je t’adore!

  • September 20, 2007 10:21am

    expensive toilet paper is always worth it in my opinion!

  • tim
    September 20, 2007 11:20am

    I have only visited Paris in France so I can’t speak about the rest of the country. But I always found the French very polite. Especially if you make -any- random attempt at the language. My first hour of my first trip to Paris we wandered into the first open restaurant we could find as we were starving and it was getting late. There was an older american couple that was finishing up their meal. One commented very loudly that “soccer was for little boys” (which was playing on the tv at the time) and then argued with the waiter over the tip. After they have left we quietly apologized to the poor waiter. We received excellent service and when we went to pay the bill – all our drinks (a hefty sum) was nowhere to be found.

  • September 20, 2007 12:30pm

    Parisians, in my experience, are just like big-city dwellers anywhere; busy, in a hurry and thick-skinned by necessity. But also very kind and generous if you ask nicely.

    My first day in Paris as an au pair, I asked a nicely dressed woman in the Metro how to get to Montparnasse station. “Take a taxi,” she said brusquely. If I’d left it at that, I would have thought Parisians were horrible. But I explained that I was using the Metro for the first time and would need to use it all summer, so a taxi wasn’t an option.

    “Oh! Well, let me show you.” She helped me buy a ticket, showed me how to use the turnstile, got on the train with me and went two stops past her own to make sure I arrived safely, then wished me luck and went on her way.

    That’s what Parisians are really like, I found again and again.

  • September 20, 2007 12:42pm

    You are funny David! And I mean in the “ahah” way ;-) Now how would you say this in French? ;-)

  • Lesley
    September 20, 2007 1:33pm

    Love this post…love it!!

  • September 20, 2007 2:08pm

    Je suis d’accord avec Fanny!

  • Ellen
    September 20, 2007 7:44pm

    *sigh* you’re really living the sweet life in Paris. I am tres jealous!

  • September 20, 2007 9:11pm

    And from the looks of their derrières I would assume they are accustomed to hunting for a place to park their bikes too!


  • Linda H
    September 20, 2007 10:00pm

    My brother is a fire chief. In the years I’ve known the firemen he has worked with, I would say they are just as funny and clever as they are rugged, (and they run into burning buildings as the rats are running out.) The two things they take completely seriously are saving lives and protecting each other. Most everything else is a game. Oh, also, most of them are good cooks, too.

  • Chikki boom
    September 20, 2007 11:18pm

    Good point about Americans wanting everything to be dirt cheap. That attitude breeds an accomodation for crappy 49 cent burritos and $1 hamburgers geesh! In Canada it is difficult for local farmers to compete with rock bottom prices on produce from American farms near the Mexican border-at last now the Canadian $ is on par-justice is imminent! Now we have lowered our national standards for pesticide acceptance on produce in order to compete with American produce-crazy non? Cheap food does not equal quality food… America get smarter!
    Sorry to be such a downer!

  • tom
    September 21, 2007 12:09am

    Yes, my experience living in Paris and in the provinces of France is that Parisians are no different from people who live in other major metropol(i) in the states that I have lived in, like New York. You have some very helpful and courteous people, and some who are brusque. I have been actually pretty amazed at the customer service in my most recent visit to Paris; believe it or not, I found most SNCF and metro personnel ten times more solicitous and gracious than many Amtrak personnel and New York subway employees I have met. Customer service on the whole was actually better in Paris than most of the stores in New York that I frequented when I lived there, if you can believe it!
    I find if you are well mannered, you will have no problem in France.

  • marie
    September 21, 2007 1:23am

    Hello David,

    Do you think you could do a post on turning vegetables? Perfectly turning vegetables? What are the best utensils and how to do it best? I do love that look.

    Thank you.

  • September 21, 2007 11:59am

    I too found that the French, whether in Paris or in the south, were for the most part very helpful — even, or maybe especially when I made halting attempts at rather poor French.

    Oh, and that does sound like the perfect birthday dinner…

  • September 21, 2007 1:10pm

    Tim, Tom and Julie: It was funny because I was having drinks with a French woman blogger (who writes in English) who was truly surprised that that’s one of the first question Americans ask me when they find out I live in Paris. I

    guess no one gave her the memo that she’s supposed to be rude!

    Marie: I would just keep spinning them ’til they looked like those nicely-trimmed heads of the Parisian firemen.


    nyc: As a courtesy, that’s why I provided it for you.
    …you’re welcome! ; )

    Linda H: I don’t know if the French firemen can cook, but if invited for dinner, I wouldn’t decline (although it would be hard to concentrate on the food…and truthfully, would it really matter?)

    pinknest: Are far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the last places I’d want to save money on as well.

    lbk: I don’t know what they do with the older ones. There must be some repository for them somewhere!

    And if anyone knows where it is, kindly let me know.

    ksklein: I recently read that Europeans like American tourists the best. One source said, “They don’t complain and they tip well.”

    And, of course, we bath regularly. But if the lousy water pressure in my apartment in the morning is any indication, most of my neighbors below me shower with the same regularity, and I’m glad they do.

    (Except for that one Oh My God neighbor of mine that doesn’t…Phew!)

  • September 21, 2007 1:52pm

    Hello! This blog that it was difficult as for the English for the Japanese who watched blog of English study in various ways now that it came from Japan was interesting

  • September 21, 2007 3:17pm

    Suzuki: Yes, good point—I couldn’t agree more!