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How to Blend In With the Parisians Without Trying All That Hard Kind of Really ish.

February 28, 2013

I’m going to London tomorrow for the first bit of my “spring break.” It’s called spring break in America, but it’s still too cold here for anything current to be related to spring, so it’s actually mid-term break.

Before I leave and actual spring comes (hopefully) in March, I wanted to post about how to survive Paris in the winter — style and manner-wise, that is. If you’re visiting Paris, I’ve learned you can avoid appearing like an outsider, or at least like a tourist, with the following tips.

  • Dress coats. Dress coats, dress coats, dress coats, even with jeans. If not a dress coat then a long down coat, reaching to mid-thigh or to knees, or a pea coat. I wear my regular down jacket, the one that hits my hips, only on the weekends when I don’t care how out of place I look since all the non-natives that have come for the weekend do, too. Otherwise, when I don’t want to stand out for my American citizenship, I wear my blue dress coat that I’ve gotten a good number of compliments on and stopped for directions in (and that I bought two winters ago in N.C. Score).
  • Since it’s always freezing, knitted scarves and hats are essential. I don’t mean the cute little scarves they sell in North Carolina in November; I mean thick, long scarves that are wrapped twice, maybe three times around the neck and look like they could suffocate you if you’re not careful.
  • Boots are the go-to shoe. Ankle boots are popular, but I get away with my taller ones. Tennis shoes are all right as long as they aren’t too athletic. You’ve got to keep everything classy here, right?
  • If you need eyeglasses, you need Ray-Bans. My smaller red glasses feel so shy around the big black frames sported by every other glasses-wearing French person.
  • Just like in New York City, just like in DC, if you’re taking an escalator in a metro station, stand on the right or walk on the left. Do not stand on the left. Everyone will hate you.
  • Most of the streets in Paris are one-way, and those that aren’t have signs indicating such (instead of the other way around in the States). So when you’re crossing the road, you only need to look one way. However, I find it easy to look the wrong way, so look both ways to be safe and alive.
  • If the little red man is telling pedestrians not to cross but no car is coming, cross. If a car is coming about half way down the road, cross anyway. If it’s five seconds away from the crosswalk but you only need four to cross, cross still. If you feel uneasy, follow a group if you can, and walk so they’re between you and the car, a lovely nifty buffer just in case. I would feel bad about doing this, but I mean, they went ahead and crossed, didn’t they?
  • Walk a dog. Then you’ll really feel Parisian. If you want to go all the way, walk a dog without a leash. Oh, and don’t bother picking up after your dog; excrement is just as much decorations for the sidewalks as the cigarette butts are.
  • Smoke. All the cool kids do it.*
  • If you have a kid, he/she should ride a scooter. It’s adorable. Unfortunately for us over the age of 8, we’ve out-grown them in Paris’ eyes. That’s what the motorcycles are for.
  • Euro coins are a pain. Avoid using them so you don’t have to reveal to anyone how little sense they make to you, a non-European.
  • Bring your own bag to the grocery store or some cents to buy one there.
  • Every conversation with a worker in a shop, cafe, or restaurant starts with “Bonjour” (or bonsoir if it’s after 5pm) and ends with “Merci, au revoir.” If you’re feeling particularly nice (or if you’re just in the habit after ending every French class with it for four semesters, like me), you can end with “Bonne journée” to wish someone a good day or “Bonne soirée” to wish someone a good evening.
  • When you want to order something, it’s “je voudrais…” (je voodray) or “je prends…” (je prehn).
  • If you’re lost, approach someone and say, “Excusez-moi, je cherche INSERT DESTINATION HERE” (Excuzey-moi, je shersh INSERT DESTINATION HERE IN YOUR BEST FRENCH ACCENT). Just say it quickly; if you say ask for someone’s attention too slowly, you’ll sound like those stopping people for money.
  • And, most importantly, if you’re not sure what to do, just do what everyone else is doing. If you’re in line at a bakery but don’t know the ordering protocol, look at everything like you’re still deciding until another customer gets behind you. Turn and say “Allez-y” (allehz-ee (go ahead)) and pay attention to what the customer and worker say and do. If you’re unsure of what exact transaction took place, you can still probably follow the customer’s lead and end up okay. If your stop is a regular occurrence, you’ll learn the protocol soon enough. It took me three times at the supermarket to finally hear all the words and realize the cashier was asking if I wanted a grocery bag.

*This is sarcasm. Please, don’t smoke.

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