As usual, my goal in Paris was to live like a local—to know a thing or two about the local norms, interact with my neighbors, really settle in, and get a sense of Paris.
Also as usual, I made some humorous faux pas during my quest (oh, really, you mean I can’t get out of the metro without my ticket? Also, is that doggie poo on my shoe? Ooooh, soo that’s what voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir* means…) and I’m sharing some of the resulting wisdom with you all here.
* Just kidding. I totally knew that one.
I know. Awesome.
Without further ado, then, 7 tips that will help you fit in (or at least pretend to fit in) in Paris:
1. Keep your metro tickets (you’ll need them to get out of the metro as much as to get in).
Turns out that the Paris metro system often requires you to swipe your ticket in order to get into the metro and to swipe that same ticket in order to get out. This means both keeping your ticket and keeping it separate from your other tickets.
This tip brought to you by an utterly confused Gigi who almost never made it out of the metro. You’re welcome.
2. Ooh la la is really a thing.
You might think people are joking with you when they say it, but they aren’t. Feel free to use the phrase yourself and fit right in.
3. French toast is also really a thing.
I’m always a little suspicious of foods that claim to be French or Belgian or Italian. Are they really a local treat or just something tourists think of as Italian, Belgian, or French? Happily, French Toast is a real local thing…they just don’t call it French toast. Instead, it’s called pain perdu (lost bread) because its history was one of reducing waste.
You see, when it comes to real, fresh-baked bread without all the preservatives, things go stale pretty quickly (like, next-day quickly), so if you didn’t polish off your baguette, you were left with a stale partial baguette the next morning. And to the French, eating is like going to church: holy and serious business. It’s hard to imagine a French person wasting bread. And it’s equally hard to imagine them eating stale bread.
The solution? Soaking the stale bread in eggs, milk, cinnamon, and sugar and then frying it up in a pan with a little butter.
As far as I can tell, though, maple syrup isn’t a common addition to the pain perdu. So if you want to fit in, fry up your day-old baguettes and eat them with honey or sugar.
4. The 6th floor is actually the 7th floor.
The French make a distinction between the ground floor and the 1st floor. So when they say you are on the 6th floor of a walk-up, don’t be surprised by that extra flight of stairs.
5. Watch where you step.
It’s not as bad as it used to be (or so I hear), but not every Parisian picks up after their pooch, so if you are wandering around looking up, well, you might just get a nasty surprise on your cute little flats. (I’ve personally been pulled out of danger by my expat friends more than once.)
6. Good morning is an appropriate greeting anytime before the sun goes down.
Most Parisians say bonjour even in the afternoons, switching to bonsoir after dusk. When I started saying bonsoir at noon, I got quite a few concerned looks. Who knew good afternoon could be such a dead out-of-towner giveaway?
[Turns out bonsoir is actually good evening, not good afternoon, and bonjour is good day, not good morning. So, there you go.]
7. In France, “salsa” is really taco sauce (and a version of taco sauce that tastes suspiciously like feet at that).
So don’t try to eat it on chips. In fact, don’t buy it at all. Trust me.
There you have it. Avoid the dog poo. Love thy baguettes. Go forth and fit in.
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