Part Two: If you Come to Paris
So you want to come to Paris? Why not, but may I suggest
that if it’s possible come in the off-season. This year we arrived in mid
November. It wasn’t too cold and while we had some rain, we had much more
sunshine. In mid November there are still leaves on the trees and people are
touring in open double decker buses. So… grab your beret, hop on a plane and
get a guidebook with a glossary of French terms. A little French helps.
There are also a few other things you should know.
First of all, it helps if you speak French. Bonjour, good
day, will help and remember to say it with a smile before asking a question
or whenever entering a small store like a bakery, even if it is crowded and
everyone is ignoring you. By the way, you won’t find better pastry anywhere.
You’ll see soon enough.
Don’t approach a policeman with, “Hey, Mack. Where’s do I
get an English newspaper?” Say “bonjour”. Then ask your question,
Unlike the police in some cities, here they are very
In a store that’s crowded. Line up and wait your turn.
Don’t call out your order. This is a polite country. I passed a bakery today
that had a line of at least thirty people outside in the rain. I saw them
waiting outside movie theatres. The space for a large lobby doesn’t exist
here. One waits until the movie selected is ready to begin. Then you go in,
no matter what the weather is like. People were patient. There was no
shoving. That’s not the French way.
Don’t be surprised if young boys or men of all ages shake
hands when greeting each other. Don’t be surprised if they kiss on both
cheeks as a greeting. It’s so French. I saw two 12 year olds meet to go
skate boarding. They seriously shook hands.
I also saw a man greet three others at a sidewalk café. He
kissed the two he knew and shook hands with the stranger.
Don’t expect to find butter on the table. Ask for it but
if you don’t ask, you get none. Some places may charge for it.
If smoking bothers you, ask politely if there’s a place
If you can’t be around smokers, you may have a problem.
People still smoke here and young boys and girls smoke on the street on
their way to work.
Regular coffee is espresso. It’s strong and comes in a cup
the size of a thimble. Order a large (grand) café crème, which is a larger
cup with cream added. Sometimes un grand café Americain (large American
coffee) will do the trick. But don’t be surprised at the price. Anything
beyond regular coffee as they serve it, will cost more. The same applies for
tea and hot chocolate. I paid 12 Euros for two hot chocolates last week. I
find that expensive. The good news is that in most places service is
included so tipping is a few coins as an extra but not mandatory.
The French drink wine with almost every meal. There’s even
a light wine that I’ve seen working men drink in the mid morning. But
remember, they were probably up at 5 AM. Order a carafe de vin, it’s cheaper
than a bottle. Red is rouge and blanc is white. Of course a good bottle of
Chateau Lafitte or Chateau Margeaux is always available for a hefty charge.
Cokes or soft drinks are now found everywhere but on
American standards they are expensive. At a restaurant, count on 4-8 Euros.
(A Euro is almost a US dollar).
There are green bottle collectors about the size of a 500
gallon drum at many corners. One drops all glass containers in for
recycling. The garbage won’t take glass. On certain mornings, the containers
are noisily emptied. I’ve seen some that have bottles stacked on the
sidewalk nearby. THE FRENCH DRINK A LOT OF WINE.
Do not handle the fruit and vegetables in most small
markets. Let someone serve you. Just smile and ask politely, s’il vous
plait…It reminds me of a song we sang when I was a child. “Pease don’t
squeeze the bananas”.
People eat their lunch or snacks almost everywhere, even
seated next to you on the Metro (subway). Buying a pre-made sandwich on
French bread and eating it while walking on the street is a rather French
thing to do. It doesn’t do much for digestion. Today a lady bought a piece
of Quiche and had the waiter heat it. She carried it out on a plastic plate
and ate it with a plastic fork while walking along the street.
Leave your glittering jewelry at home. It won’t impress
people and you may be mugged. All those extra credit cards can be a burden.
Cull your supply before leaving home. Bring as little as possible. A friend
had a gold chain ripped from her neck while on a metro (subway).
Don’t draw attention to yourself by flashing large sums of
money around. There are ATM machines everywhere. Take out a few Euros at a
time. Even if there’s a fee, it’s a safer way to operate. Keep your wallet
where it’s safe. (Preferably in a zipped pocket)
Be careful of pickpockets, especially on the metro or
crowded places. Don’t stand near the metro door. Find a seat. You might be
mugged just as the doors close. The culprit grabs your bag and just steps
off the train when the doors close. But that can happen in any city.
Don’t be naïve. There are many unemployed people here. You
see them begging in the streets. You’re fancy jewelry will look pretty
enticing to them. But dropping a few coins in their outstretched hands may
make you both feel better.
Take a tour or hire someone to take you around. You’ll
A double-decker tour bus is 22 Euros and you can stay on
as long as you like. I can recommend private or semi private tours in Paris.
Don’t be surprised if people do bump into you on the
street without excusing themselves. Chances are they too are tourists or
boors. I doubt if they’re Parisians but it happens often. Space, or lack of
it, seems to make people guard theirs.
By the way, forget the old story everyone tells about how
impolite and self-centered Parisians are. They are no better, no worse than
New Yorkers, or Chicagoans. They are busy people going about their lives
trying to make a living. They are very nice if you are polite to them. I’ve
never had an incident on the street. I smile, use my best French and say
‘Bonjour. They always respond nicely.
People even ask me directions. I, too, smile and do my
best to help. Sometimes I can help. I know the city but I can make a mistake
so I just tell them I’m a tourist.
A word about dogs. They are everywhere, in restaurants,
under the table, or on a pillowed chair, behaving nicely. They can be seen
in shops or sticking out of the coats of their masters. Older ladies often
have dogs under tow. They show their displeasure when the dog is bad. They
have very French names. “Chiffon,” I heard a lady yell.
“Je me fache.” (I’m getting angry.) I asked a lady holding a tiny dog
in a store, if I could take the dog’s picture. She was pleased. “Everyone
takes her picture,” she said proudly.
In one area they had white dog figures painted on the
sidewalk every so often. One was allowed to curb their dog on those squares
only. Then, a few times a day, a man on a special motorcycle would park on
the square hovered over the dog residue and soap would automatically be
dispensed. Then twirling brushes would descend and clean the area.
Now people are being asked to clean up after their pets,
obviously, from where I’ve been walking, some people don’t. It’s the same
Get a small phrase book. Greeting a Frenchman in his
language is as courteous as being greeted by a Frenchman in your language in
the USA. It feels good too. In many places they will have English menus.
Paris is one of the nicest, most exciting cities in
Europe. Come here, rent an apartment and enjoy a holiday you’ll long
remember. But do your homework in advance. This is a very big city. Special
things happen here. The French excel is great shows.
Tonight a spectacle took place near our apartment. At 6 PM
all the church bells began to ring. A cortege of mounted soldiers led four
men carrying the coffin of Alexandre Dumas to the Pantheon. They were
dressed in the blue and white uniforms of the musketeers. They were taking
his remains to the Pantheon over 130 years after the writer’s death. Actors
with torches and a float, which they used as a stage, followed them. They
acted out a scene from the Dumas play, ‘Christine’, which was being produced
for the first time. The theme was obviously ‘liberty’. The whole street was
lit in blue and white, the colors of Royalty.
Drummers, trumpeters, police and thousands of ordinary
citizens lined the streets for a remarkable show. Dumas will now rest with
Zola, Rousseau and Marie Currie. On the coffin was a blue velour cloth with
the sentence, “One for all and all for one” written in white.
Corps of drummers beat out a cadence as they approached
the decorated Pantheon standing on the highest point in the area.
The coffin bearers followed by the horsemen, placed the
coffin on a carpeted area, in front of the dignitaries. It was a moving
sight as speeches and readings followed under the massive columns of the
building dedicated the great men of France and floodlit, red, white and
Dumas is revered in France. He wrote more than anyone and
built a chateau, which he called Monte Cristo. He is read around the world.
President Jacques Chirac and the members of the Senate
watched the actors. It was dramatic to the point of overwhelming. You had to
be there to see how France put to rest an author that they revered.
This is the kind of thing that happens in Paris. If it’s
not a visiting dignitary, a concert under the Eiffel tower or a Bastille Day
parade, it’s the excitement of living in a city that moves. For me, there is
no city like it. I come back year after year. I always will.
I felt very much a part of the scene as I stood on rue
Soufflot and watched the musketeers go by in full regalia down to their
white plumed hats. It took almost three hours before the TV lights came down
and the crowd dispersed.
Come. Visit for a while. Walk the walks of Hemingway,
Charles de Gaulle, and Louis XIV. (I doubt if he walked much). You won’t
regret it. You’ll be back in history where the Bastille stood, where the
Revolution took place, where Napoleon returned in triumph and eventually in
defeat, where Marie Antoinette was taken on a small cart to a huge square
and guillotined. This is a city of history and recreation. There’s so much
to see in this city in the Seine.
I can make suggestions about where to stay and how to plan
your trip. I do it because I love Paris. Just write about your Paris
memories. But come and join the scene. Tell me how I can help. When I’m not
in Paris I can be reached at
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)