Walk Like a Parisian (How to Fit In, Or At Least Pretend To)

by Gigi Griffis

Possibly failing at my attempts to fit in in Paris.

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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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) March 11, 2013 - 6:46 am

Spelled “bonjour” my dear Gigi…. Jour means day. So translates to “good day” hence all day use. Soir is evening… Used until bed time when you switch to nuit meaning night.

gigigriffis March 11, 2013 - 6:57 am

Thank you. I kind of love that I made a faux pas in my post about faux pas. Fixing the spelling now. :)

Maria March 11, 2013 - 8:58 am

Tip #7 wins! Feet? Eeewww.

gigigriffis March 11, 2013 - 9:08 am

Haha. Seriously. Mexican food in Europe is pretty much always a really bad idea. In addition to feet-tasting salsa, I’ve heard tales of green beans in quesadillas. Dear goodness.

Rebeca March 11, 2013 - 11:27 am

LOL love the fact that you had the guts to try “salsa” in Paris. Personally I only trust salsa either made in New Mexico, or south of the border. Although, if you ever travel to Spain let me know how their salsa is. It has got to be better than what you find in Paris.

gigigriffis March 11, 2013 - 11:29 am

That’s probably a good rule of thumb. I think next time I have a major salsa craving in Europe, I’ll just have to make my own.

Neens March 11, 2013 - 1:43 pm

Oooh, this will come in handy when I finally make it across the channel! Just a little heads up for when you come to the UK – points 1 and 4 also apply here! :o)

gigigriffis March 11, 2013 - 1:48 pm

Ah, thank you! Good to know. I knew about the floor thing in London, but I didn’t know about the tickets!

Rob March 11, 2013 - 2:12 pm

I guess there was benefit in growing up in Canada after all. Knowing all about good day and good evening, and all that.
The subway, though? That would get me. It was *not* that way when last I was there (admittedly a long time ago). My faux pas was climbing into a 1st class car with my 2nd class ticket. I had no idea there was such a thing as 1st class on the subway. A person in uniform came to check tickets 2-3 stops from where I was getting off and an argument ensued (her in French with much gesticulating, and me in English with much WTF) that terminated by me saying “This is my stop” and getting off the train. She was still yelling as the train pulled away. I waved.

Amsterdam used to be shit city because of the dogs. I guess Paris is catching up.

My friend in Paris says “Ooh la la” a lot. She was more than amused at the Grace Potter song (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHlhOgQ36m8)

gigigriffis March 12, 2013 - 1:52 am

Haha. Yeah. I’ve been in more than one awkward conversation with a person who works for the train or metro companies while traveling. Sometimes you just don’t know stuff…

Jonathan Look, Jr. March 12, 2013 - 12:33 am

Hilarious and I agree! To me Paris is one of the most accessible places on the planet; welcoming even. I know as an American we are supposed to find the French rude and standoffish. We are supposed to be aloof about all things French (remember the idiotic “Freedom Fries?). But, I will just say it, I love France and I love the people. The salsa, not so much.

gigigriffis March 12, 2013 - 1:52 am

I agree. I love the no-nonsense Parisians.

Suzy March 17, 2013 - 11:15 am

Taco feet salsa? That is a faux pas I wouldn’t want to make! The good day, good evening thing is very similar to Italy. No one says Buona Sera until the sun has retired.

gigigriffis March 17, 2013 - 11:28 am

Yeah. My Italian friend made a much easier transition to Paris than I did for that and other similar reasons.

Preparing to Interact Socially in French | tell nicola July 24, 2014 - 5:10 pm

[…] Walk Like a Parisian  […]

Elaine August 22, 2014 - 2:07 am

One more note on train travel; if you are boarding a SNCF train out of the country or to another region from Paris, always stamp your ticket before getting on board at one of the machines on the platform to validate it.

gigigriffis August 22, 2014 - 2:25 am


There’s Just Something About Paris | The Ramble August 20, 2015 - 1:15 am



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