THE BLOG

Do's and Don'ts According to Parisian Principles, and Other Little Things to Know so You Don't Make an Ass of Yourself, Part Two

06/15/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2016

A Few Tips.

On the food subject, when ordering in a restaurant, be aware that the first course is called entrée; the main dish is le plat principal, and the dessert is le déssert; so when in America, you see the word entrée as the main dish, it's just simply wrong. Apéritif is not an appetizer; it's an alcoholic drink you order before the meal. No, French people do not put red wine in babies' bottles.

(I'm just here to dispel rumors.)

Smoking and dogs are permitted on outside terraces of restaurants and coffee shops. Some even allow dogs inside, get used to it. Some establishment will even have a house dog of their own welcoming you at the door.

And yes, the seagulls you spot in the city come from the ocean when they leave the coast to follow boats on the rivers, all the way to the capital - the cries of seagulls in Paris are one of my own little pleasures. Sometimes they mingle with the stoic Parisian pigeons, sometimes they get beat up by those legendary owners of the city skies and sidewalks.

Drugs and All.

The pharmacies always carry homeopathic remedies, and yes, you can walk into one and ask the pharmacist for drugs and other medicines, even if you don't have a prescription - you can show or tell him/her the problem and they will give you something appropriate to take. Definitely the first step before you see a doctor for minor injuries or trouble.

A pharmacy is not a drugstore and won't have any sandwiches or magazines for sale. It's a place for medicine and a few beauty products. There is always one open all night in every neighborhood, and they do so by rotating system. The single one open at night in each area is indicated on the door of the closed ones. All have an illuminated green cross on the outside.

France is not a 24/7 country. Workers rest on Sundays, and most food shops and a lot of cafés and restaurants will be closed. Department stores are shut as well. A new law is now allowing large home improvement stores such as Darty or IKEA to be open on Sundays. For the tinkering kinds.

The very reliable chains of small grocery shops sprinkled everywhere in the city will also be open on Sundays, but they only carry the first necessities of food: fruits, vegetables, milk, and a few toiletries. Some are tiny, but it will do when you cannot access a larger store.

And of course, some Sunday markets will offer outdoor shopping in a vast array of choices. This is always my favorite way to shop - nothing like walking among stalls of fresh food, it's like a walk in a food park! Grab a basket, as they won't pack your groceries. On the subject of packing, in most supermarkets, you need to bring your own bags or baskets, and you have to bag it all yourself. No baggers, no carry-on service are available in France. If the store has plastic bags, they will be for sale.

One of my first culture shock when I moved to San Francisco, in my first trip to the decadently gigantic corner supermarket, was to find a young man packing my groceries in paper bags, putting them back in my cart, and, oh my! Escorting me to my car to stylishly arrange the said bags in my trunk! I was simply baffled, I had no idea this even existed!

Well, don't expect this in Paris. Not happening.

Social Media.

When addressing someone you don't know, for all men you must use monsieur, no matter the age or the social place in life, but for women, it's a little bit trickier: you will say mademoiselle to anybody young enough to NOT be married. Hum. But how do you know? Not all married women have a wedding ring, and not all wearing a ring are married!! To avoid a faux pas, just say mademoiselle to those under 30, and madame to all others.

Of course, you could be talking to a 50 year old unmarried old maid who should in theory be addressed as mademoiselle, but you don't want to rub it in now, do you? Anyways, when in doubt, do say madame, it's a little bit more uptight and old fashioned, but nobody will blame you for it. But keep the mademoiselle to obvious ladies under age 20.

And yes, it's okay to eat the end of a baguette before getting to your final destination. Yes, it is allowed to hold a door for a lady. Remember to always say hello (bonjour) when entering a shop, a café, a restaurant, an office, a post office, a bank, in short, any place you will visit, do say hello.

The American way of shopping is now largely accepted in Paris, but still some differences are to be pointed out. It used to be that you would enter a store to actually buy something - daring, right?! Nowadays, the shopping-without-buying experience has taken roots and it is possible to be just browsing at merchandise, and leave empty-handed. But the return of goods is not as vastly permitting as in the U.S.

You will not be able to return anything that looks like it's been worn, or open in the case of cosmetics or food items. Shoes must be in pristine clean condition. And some boutiques will simply say NO to any kind of return. In America, people return prom dresses after having worn it to the prom! No, no, no.

Driver's License.

And finally, if you will be driving in Paris, remember that any vehicle coming to your right side has the right-of-way, no matter where or how small the street is - this is one of the sacred rules of the French roads.

Also, you must carry ID at all times, for the police force can ask for them as they please and see fit. But you do not need to have your passport with you at all time; in fact I do not recommend that you carry it on your outings. Your American driver's license will do.

And yes, Parisians speak English. Enough said.

Any questions? Ask me: sidoniesawyer@gmail.com.
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