Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
Parisians leave Paris in August. Think twice before you come: EVERYTHING except the Eiffel Tower and Nôtre-Dame is closed. The only people you meet are tourists. And what’s worse: waiters in restaurants, taxi and bus drivers don’t like tourists all that much…
Don’t think you will find a perfect place just by chance. Trust us – or others – and make your reservation in time. That can mean one day beforehand but it can mean three months, too. Especially the world renowned Michelin-star places, which are booked up months. in advance And once you’re there, please don’t just take a seat. Wait to be seated, and say: “Bonjour”.
Having two cafés crèmes on a terrace of a touristy Café of the Champs-Elysées may tear a hole in your wallet. You do not want to spend your savings in cafés? Do as the Parisians do: avoid the expensive crème (nobody says café au lait, actually), have a café at the zinc, that’s the bar, and there you’ll be charged half the price, standard now is 1 to 1.20 Euro. And the good thing is: the bar is the center stage of Parisian life; you’ll be surrounded by locals.
Forget everything you know about public transportation. In Paris there is no graded tariff-system whatsoever. You just buy a ticket and travel, for as long as you like, wherever you like. Get yourself a carnet, that’s ten tickets you will use up easily, they’re sold at some metro-stations and every Café-Tabac (with the red “Tabac”-sign). ParisPass could work for you, too: You’ll get unlimited trips on metro, buses, RER plus free access to most of the museums.
…but you still need them. If you really have to be on time, don’t risk trying to hail a cab at the next corner (you know Murphy’s law: you won’t find a taxi when you really need one). So, in urgent cases (like your flight home to Australia at 15h00) it’s better to call and get through to the two main competitors in Paris: Taxi G7 (0147394739) or Taxis bleus (0891701010) or get them on the Internet (they even have English-speaking services). Out on the street, it’s a bit confusing whether a taxi is available or not. They display three fancy lights on top that are completely meaningless (and even the drivers can’t tell you what they’re for). So the only sign of real importance is the big white top light saying “Taxi”: if it’s lit, the driver be able to pick you up (but you won’t know for sure until he really stops).
Don’t expect Paris to function like any other metropolis, it’s a very structured city with its own rythm. The buzzing street you’ve walked down in the morning goes dead between 1 and 4 pm. Lots of shopkeepers insist on holding onto their sieste. And while you can shop easily on Sunday mornings, a lot of shops – and whole neighbourhoods - simply close down on Mondays. Same with museums: Most of them are closed on Mondays. So enjoy the Sundays in Paris when markets, most of the bakeries, butchers and grocers are open until 1pm. Some supermarkets and most of the boutiques in tourist areas like the Marais or Opéra or Saint-Germain even the whole day.
If you plan to visit the major attractions of Paris (which you should definitely do), have in mind that you won’t be alone AT ALL. But you don’t have to go with the crowd either. Try to swim against the current, at least a bit. Public museums are usually open on Thursday nights for late visits called nocturne. In the Louvre Wednesdays and Fridays are the right moments to admire La Joconde (that’s Mona Lisa’s French name) without taking part in a mass migration. Same for Nôtre-Dame: It’s the most visited sight in Paris with more than 13 million visitors a year, imagine! To avoid the stampede, you could attend the Sunday mass at 8:30 am and it will be just you with the priest. To Versailles? Go there in November. For all attractions there’s one rule: Find out about online-ticketing and reservations for exhibitions via Internet, which are widely available now. Or take a ParisPass to skip the queues.
Looking for a loo can be quite an adventure in Paris. Walking around all day it’s impossible to avoid public toilets. The automatic street toilets you find everywhere look like UFOs that have just landed but they’re pretty unused. After all, no Parisian would ever use them except in case of urgency. Do what they do: buy yourself an espresso at the zinc of a café or bistrot and use their facilities (You really do it this way: step in, say “Bonjour”, say “un café, s’il vous plait” – and off you go to the loo!). Fast-food chains often give you the toilet code on the ticket. It’s for custumers only. But do you really want to go to one of them while in Paris? Think about it!
If a local invites you to his home, which rarely happens, come at least 10 minutes late, 20 minutes is perfect. Bring something nice: Flowers, chocolates, a bottle of wine, a book. Have the door code ready, remember the floor and any directions given. Normally, you won’t find any nameplates on the doors.
In general, Parisians are politer than their reputation has it. Everybody here expects you to say Bonjour when you walk into a store or just in the elevator or even when you get on the bus. And, logically, you’re supposed to say Au revoir or even Merci! when you walk out again. Following this rule will smoothen your stay in Paris! Forget what you might have heard about garcons. The waiters nowadays won’t appreciate being called by that name. So ”Monsieur!” is just fine. And remember: “The customer is king” is not a valid rule in Paris. You might be humiliated. But don’t take it personally.