Wecome to Paris.
Chances are you will look like tourists. Americans in Paris often take their country with them in small but perceptible ways, sometimes laughable, sometimes quite embarrassing. Allow me to point out here a few things to help you navigate in a new city, and save you from sometimes ruining your day, if not your stay.
Never ever do this.
*Never wear shorts: it's better if you think you're going to a wedding in Boston than to think you're in the Bahamas. It's hardly possible to be overdressed in Paris. But do not bring a tuxedo (called a smoking in French, isn't that ironic?)
*Never wear jellies with socks, or Birkenstocks with or without socks - who's herding sheep here?
*Never carry an umbrella: if it rains, you will take shelter in a café and have a nice little break in your grey day.
*Never use a backpack - are we scaling Mount Everest?
*Never wear jeans with any decorations whatsoever: a simple basic Levis 501 will do best for men, but for women, don't even think about wearing jeans, unless they are black and skinny, period.
*Never wear logos: tacky, tacky, tacky.
*Never carry a fanny pack - are you kidding???
If you are going to take pictures with your smartphone, that's fine, everybody is doing it, especially the Chinese and the Japanese tourists, or if you carry a semi-pro camera with lenses, fine - but the point-and-shoot style is a definite giveaway of your status in the city of lights, just sayin'.
But do do this.
Wear black, grey, beige, white. It will simplify your wardrobe and your packing if everything you bring matches in any combination. Besides, you will be shopping for new clothes - who goes to Paris without affording a few new pieces?
If you go down to Provence where a lot of British take residence for the summer, you can get away with wearing flowers and pastel colors, but really, in Paris, unless you have mastered the chic art of dressing from intense study of fashion magazines or couture defilés, don't try - stay simple.
A simple white shirt will always work with any outfit. And try to keep your "I Love Paris" tee-shirts for when you'll be back home! Stripes are always acceptable, the white and blue ones are the best option. Leggings are so-so and work better in the winter.
On the avoids list.
And for crying out loud, wear SHOES, not sneakers; are you going to be jogging in Paris? No. So wear flats, ballerinas and canvas tennis shoes, no flip flops please. Some sandals could be fine, but a macadam city will never be a nice place for them. Would you be wearing open toe shoes in New York City? Ok, maybe you would, but try not to in Paris.
And if it is summer, do I really have to say no to sports outfits? No sweats of any kinds is the way to go. A nice light sweater for fresh nights out perhaps, but no jean jackets. There is no place in Paris where women are required to wear pantyhose (what a word), so don't bother.
Avoid heavy bling-bling jewelry, never a sign of good taste to start with, and a definite draw for thieves. Besides, the lighter you are to travel, the better off you are. Nobody in France will judge you on the amount, or lack of, rings and diamonds you wear. Elizabeth Taylor was the exception. You're not Elizabeth Taylor.
A few tips.
France uses military time, better brush yours. When you ask for the time, a rare happenstance nowadays, people will say it's 14 hours at 2 p.m., and 21 hours at 9 p.m., etc.... you get the gist. With digital clocks and cell phone, the problem is diminished, but just be aware that train and bus schedules still use that system. It's easy, you start with noon and you add one hour for each hour after 12 (noon) - so one o'clock is 13 hours, get it? And it's written like so: 13 heures.
Be aware that the rez-de-chaussée is the American first floor, which means that the French first floor is the American second. Still with me? In elevators, you will sometimes see a R on a button and that will be your rez-de-chaussée, or lobby floor, or ground floor. If you press 1, thinking you will exit the building, well then, you will land on the second floor. Just wrap your mind around the concept.
The term rez-de-chaussée comes from the word chaussée, the old word for street. Rez de means at the level of, so the entire saying equals to: at the level of the street. Meaning the first level. See? Easy! The word chaussée also gave the word chausse, which meant shoes, and ended up becoming chaussures (shoes), and chaussettes (socks.)
Yes, Paris has floor 13, street 13 and all kinds of 13 usages in everyday life. No menacing and unlucky sense attached to the number 13. You could be in room 1313 on the 13th floor of a hotel. On a personal note, this is actually my lucky number, as my three kids were born on a 13th! What are the odds!
French fries are not French, they are Belgian, and so they are simply called frites. If you ask for a café (coffee), it will be small, strong and black. If you want a coffee with cream, order a café-crème. If you want a lighter black coffee, order a café allongé. The sugar substitutes are named sucrettes and come in long skinny packages - unless you will stick to a local Starbucks, where you don't have to worry about all that, but it would be a shame not to experience the multitude of petits zincs of Paris.
Remember, you're American, they're French, you are invited, you are the guests. They will have their ways, you must adapt to the differences. There are no hot no-go zones in Paris, but like in any large metropolis, some times and some places will be less safe than others - same in any city. Pickpockets are sometimes a problem at tourists' attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower, and also in the métro.
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To be continued.
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