What Travellers Wish Someone Had Told Them Before Going To Paris

It is interesting scanning some of the France travel forums as I have seen a trend with the advice that is given to people who are looking to travel there.  There are hundreds of pieces of advice and much of it centres on what they wish someone had told them before going to Paris. I have often written about the importance of saying “Bonjour” as soon as you enter an establishment. There is a page devoted to “First Time Tips” and I have written a number of posts giving tips that apply not just to Paris, but all of France (10 Dos and Don’ts When In France and Two Common Questions Answered).  Here is a list of some of the most common recommendations from travellers and they are spot-on.

What They Wish Someone Had Told Them Before Going To Paris

#1: Understanding The French

The French can come across as rude or standoffish. They’re not. They are simply more reserved and formal in their manners than people in other countries. So don’t expect to see a lot of smiles. They just don’t.

#2: Hotels and Apartments

  • If you like to take a shower (rather than a bath) ask for a room that has a shower, otherwise you will have to sit in the tub and use the hand held shower. There is rarely a mount on the wall so you can stand up and there is often not a shower curtain.
  • The washing machine is likely in the bathroom or kitchen. Your load might take up to 3 hours to wash and you might not have a dryer so be prepared to hang out your clothes.
  • Many (rental) apartments that have washing machines have strict rules about when you can/can’t run them. Usually you can only run the machine between 9am and 9pm so you won’t bother your neighbours. Sometimes the rules say no laundry on Sundays!
  • The ground floor in a building is not the first floor as in North America. It is called the “rez de chaussée”. Therefore, the first floor is our second floor.
  • Don’t always expect to find an elevator in an apartment building. Most likely you’ll walk up (many) flights of stairs.
  • Hotel rooms are usually small. Apartments are cheaper, larger, and you can save money on your breakfast (and other meals).
  • When you leave your hotel to sight-see, you may be asked to hand in your key to the front desk. In most cases this is a very good idea as the key is usually attached to a very large and heavy key fob (think heavy metal)

#3: Site-seeing and Shopping

Musée Carnavalet, Paris. J Chung
Musée Carnavalet, Paris. J Chung
  • You should not and cannot see all the top sites in 5 days. Just realize that you WILL return. So take your time and be sure to relax in a cafe and sip a glass of wine.
  • You don’t need the Paris Museum Pass to avoid the long line-ups. Many museums have more than one entrance.
  • Moulin Rouge is too touristy and they cram way too many people in
  • Wear the most comfortable shoes you can as you’ll be doing a lot of walking; use your dressier shoes for going out for dinner.
  • The Metro is easy to use, but be sure you hang onto your ticket until you leave the station. You could be fined if you do not show it upon inspection (which are done randomly)
  • Always carry some coins as you might need to pay to use the toilet (ie. in department stores, train stations, etc)
  • When buying something with your non-French credit card, you may be asked if you want to pay in your country’s currency or in the French currency (Euros). NEVER do your country’s currency as the rate is much worse. Even though your bank may have a foreign currency fee, you’re still better off with the bank’s rates.

#4: Restaurants and Cafes

French breakfast
French breakfast
  • Don’t go to a restaurant for dinner before 8 pm. It will be dead quiet.
  • At restaurants, wine is cheap. Juice and pop are expensive. Water (tap water: carafe d’eau) is free and perfectly fine to drink.
  • Your waiter will not bring you your check until you indicate that you are ready for it. The polite way is to say, “S’il vous plaît” to get his/her attention.
  • Breakfasts in hotels can be expensive. It’s often cheaper to go to a local cafe for their continental breakfast.
  • If you drink coffee, be sure you find out how to order your type in French. For example, a  Café Américain is a regular black coffee. You need to ask to have milk added if you want it.
  • Your lunch and dinner are to be taken at a leisurely pace (ie. a few hours). That’s how the French do it. They do not rush through their meal so do as the French do.

    The tray is for the bill and your money.....not for a cigarette butt.
    The tray is for the bill and your money…..not for a cigarette butt.
  • At an outdoor cafe, when your waiter brings you your drink or food, a little tray will be placed on your table. It will have “l’addition” (the bill). It is NOT an ash tray. It is for you to leave your coins when you are ready to pay and for the waiter to place “la monnaie” (your change). Cigarette butts go on the ground.

Finally, just accept that you, like millions of other travellers, will become addicted to Paris and France and you will return.

What do you wish someone had told you before going to Paris or anywhere in France?

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  1. Keith Van Sickle says:

    A lot of people think of Paris as being some kind of open-air museum. It is, kind of, but mostly it’s a bustling city–the political, cultural and economic capital of France. Millions of people work there and live busy lives. They aren’t rude and standoffish, they’re just busy.
    If my introduction to the US was New York City, I might think that Americans were rude. But like Paris, New York is a bustling city and people are busy more than rude.

    1. So true about many cities…they are all different and in France I prefer the small towns….much less rushing around. More time to enjoy life!

  2. So interesting and such great tips, Jan for first timers (like us!) who dream and plan to visit both France and Paris in the near future. I had to laugh when I read your info on the French washing machines as I can remember trying to use our washer for the first time in Portugal. The cycle was at least a couple of hours! Luckily our machine has a ‘rapido’ button which takes it down to about 40 minutes. Having some idea of what to expect and the cultural differences that might lead to false impressions will make a big difference in a first time experience for us as well as for many other travelers!

    1. The first time I experienced the “washing machine” I remember sitting in front of it as front loading was new in 1991!