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So You Want to Live in Paris?

Arnie Greenberg

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, politely.

Unlike the police in some cities, here they are very courteous.

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 “sans fumeurs”.

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 learn more.

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 everywhere.

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 blue.

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


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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.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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