Thursday, January 08, 2009

NO LONGER ELSEWHERE...

I'm re-posting this sarky lil piece I wrote about Parisian etiquette for Webooks here, as the whole Webooks articles-to-go-with-their-books-thing is no longer of the interwebs. Where does it all disappear to? The same place as all the lost odd socks no doubt.


WHEN IN PARIS

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, but Parisians are not exactly known for their welcoming bonhomie. The haughty stereotype is not strictly true though; it’s usually more a case of cultural differences making the Parisian you’re attempting to interact with pull that pained, lemon sucking expression. Here are five top tips to help you get it right in the city of light. [Edit: Oh my god. A cheesier sentence never was wrote. They MADE me do it.]

1. ACKNOWLEDGE OTHER HUMANS


Parisian etiquette states that when entering a shop it's obligatory to say “Bonjour” directly to the person working there. When leaving always say, “Au Revoir.” This goes double if there is only one person working there and the place is empty. Though in many cultures it’s acceptable to browse in a shop without acknowledging the person working there, (being considered more polite to pretend they don’t exist) in Paris it’s like waving a big sign that says; “I’m an arrogant tourist.” Even if you don’t speak any other French, those words will completely change the shop worker’s demeanour towards you from frosty disdain to faux pleasantry at least. Try it both way and see the difference it makes. [EDIT 2: Since writing this I have followed Nancy's advice to look grumpy/bored when greeting shop assistants - works like a charm!]

2. VOLUME CONTROL


If you must remark loudly upon the awesomeness of Notre Dame Cathedral / the Eiffel Tower / the sunset over the Seine, try to hold it in until you get back to your hotel room. There’s nothing more annoying to the indigenous population than having their city discussed as if it’s a ride at Disneyworld. Those looks you’re getting? They mean shut up. You could always blog about it later.

3. SARTORIAL ADVICE


You should attempt to blend in under all circumstances. This does not mean wearing a beret with your name embroidered on it. Even worse would be making your comfort a priority over everyone else's by wearing cargo shorts, a sweaty T shirt, enormous trainers and a backpack. Never wear any colour except black, navy, charcoal grey or perhaps one beige item. Don’t wear anything that draws attention to you, or looks like you’re trying to be sexy.

4. PROPS


Give chain smoking another try and borrow a small dog (bulldogs are in). At a bar, order a Pastis Pernod and pretend you drink it all the time. Generally try to pout and frown simultaneously. Practice carrying a baguette nonchalantly: No one can help you fake this; you’ll just have to develop your own style. If it still looks like you’re about to pass a relay race baton, hiring a Velib bicycle is a good way to get around the problem, as they have baskets you can put your baguette/pooch in.

5. OUT TO LUNCH


It took me ages to work out that the most important part of the day in Paris is lunch time. Restaurants mostly cater to tourists in the evening, but in the middle of the day they’re full of Parisians enjoying their lunch break. Except on special occasions, Parisians rarely dine out during the week, choosing instead to make the most of their luxurious two hour lunch breaks (many shops still close during these hours as well). The atmosphere is a lot livelier; the staff more on form and you’ll be able to dine from the better value prix fixe lunch menu. The best bit is you’ll get to spy on the locals in their natural habitat: phones switched off, laptops put away, work forgotten and ready for a good long meal and a gossip. And they do this every work day.


All photos by me except 3: Griswold Family in European Vacation
and 4: Clerf's flickr.

15 comments:

Emerson Merrick said...

An embroidered beret actually doesn't sound too bad. Anything to pay homage to Clark Griswold, those movies are amazing.

erica said...

i love saying 'bonjour' and 'au revoir' in the shops. it instantly puts me in a good mood, even if i can't afford a damn thing.

i also like that they say 'bonjour' sometimes in the exact tone of voice that you would use to say, 'may i help you' or 'what would you like to order?'

lazydisco said...

oh my these are so true! this must be my favourite line though: "Never wear any colour except black, navy, charcoal grey or perhaps one beige item."

Anonymous said...

I am charmed that it works like a charm... told ya...;)
nancy

Lola Is Beauty said...

EM: You could actually rock an embroidered beret and it would look cool.

Erica: Yes, it's so nice that they say it, but the tone reminds you it's only because they have to!

LD: maybe the beige was going too far?

Nancy: it's so true - but what does that say - that they respect you more for being grumpy? Oh well, I have trained myself not to smile.

Anonymous said...

well C....(and please remember i do loveeeeee the french!) mais...i sometimes wonder if it is "par hasard" that sade is celebrated so much??? and remember sadism comes from sade...

(oh by the way...i am not convinced that he was a great writer, but rather people enjoy reading him to get to the dirty parts...;)

Bombay Beauty said...

Yes, this first point is key and most difficult for those of us traveling from the U.S. where a smile (from both parties) is considered as necessary as the bonjour. But over the last many years of European travels I find I have just gotten into the habit here at home as well. And it does seem so much more polite. My only tweak is that it is a "good morning/ afternoon / evening" on the way in and "thank you" on the way out.

Another useful skill is knowing how to find fault with every garment that you see or are show -- this gives you an essential exit without having to buy anything and a way to evade that other look which Parisian shopkeepers have in their arsenal: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

BB

July Stars said...

Pretty accurate except perhaps for the Pastis ... unless you're in the South of France!

WendyB said...

I want to borrow a chain-smoking bulldog!

Lola Is Beauty said...

BB: oh yes I should have put bonjour/bonsoir now you mention it - no good saying bonjour at 6.30pm - I assumed, but you're right, one can never assume everyone knows a few words (the last time I took the eurostar I sat opposite a girl who thought bitte was french for thank you). But I find I get funny looks if I say merci without having bought anything - I get the impression goodbye is the form unless you have something to thank.

JS: Is Pastis a South of France thing only then? Is there something that's drunk in Paris that tastes vile but makes you look like a hardened local?

WendyB: So do I - I think it's the best way...

ciara said...

I can't wait until I move to France in October and can spend hours on my lunch while not wearing a beret. I shall have to start my hunt for a bulldog-for-rent very soon - but what sort of names do the French call their dogs? I don't feel as though Fido would really do the trick.

up and down town said...

i think i'd rather take my chances in japan than sort through rules and muster up salutations for disagreeable store clerks in paris.
oh, and amsterdam is absolute heaven in terms of pleasant people. 5 stars!

Steph said...

Nicely put! Good to read before I take my dream vacation to Paris and attempt not to stick out like a sore thumb ;) and European Vacation rocks!

xoxo Steph

Lola Is Beauty said...

July Stars: oops did I mean Pernod? It's all the same to me...

Ciara: I don't know any French dogs so cannot advise, but I knew a lovely French cat called LouLou...

U&DT: I know, they can put a dampener on your shopping buzz... I wouldn't mind taking my chances in Japan though!

Steph: I actually like sticking out like a sore thumb there now!

Iheartfashion said...

Good advice! Even my 3-year old got the hang of the bonjour/au revoir when entering or leaving a shop, which brought smiles from some of the most sour-looking clerks.