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What Mistakes Do American Tourists Make in Paris?

Paris Culture
by Tim Wenger Feb 26, 2018

Self-deprecating humor, or at the very least a strong ability to laugh at yourself, is an essential tool for traveling abroad. The same goes for living in a city constantly filled to the brim with tourists. There’s a dose of humor involved anytime normally coherent citizens are taken out of their element. Still, it seems there are certain quaffs made more often than others.

Can common mistakes made by tourists be avoided? We took to Quora, along with Matador’s back catalog of editorial content, to find out. Stop #1: Paris.

On the tendency to attempt to do too much in a day

Diana Arneson on Quora starts us off by commenting on the all-too-common tourist practice of overbooking your time. “Trying to squeeze too many landmarks into a short space of time, to the exclusion of two of Paris’s chief joys: exploring, and just sitting and watching the world go by,” she says. “People tend to underestimate how much time it takes to get from one attraction to another, and to overestimate how important it is to get a selfie by those famous landmarks.”

“I like the idea of gradually becoming acquainted with a place,” Matador contributor Chris Adair explains in recounting a quick 3-day trip to Paris. This seems in line with Martin Blanchard’s opinion in the Quora thread: “Do not spend too much time in Champs Elysées, even if the view is iconic, it is really not a good place to feel the Parisian way of life and you will meet more tourists than actual locals.”

W Kasmer added: “Paris is not that small and lines even for security (assuming you have a museum pass or pre-purchased entry tickets) at some museums can be time-consuming.”

On Parisians’ disdain for overdoing it at breakfast

I fell victim to this on my first and only visit to Paris. I awoke hungry, only to find that the hotel breakfast consisted of pastries, coffee/tea, and more pastries. Parisians, and Europeans in general, in my experience, don’t do breakfast the way that Americans do. “Breakfasts are smaller, and so are the hotel rooms,” Martin Blanchard noted on Quora.

I see my mistake. “Expecting big, hot American breakfasts to be easily available,” according to Diana Arneson. “They’re not the norm in France — the standard is more likely to be fresh bread and perhaps a croissant, with a glass of juice and your choice of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Some places offer a breakfast buffet that also includes ham, cheese, boiled eggs and cereal, but you have to hunt around a bit if you expect to get eggs, pancakes, bacon and/or French toast.”

On Americans’ obsession with cars

“In Paris, car access is much more complicated than in US cities,” noted Martin Blanchard. “America is a very car-centric nation (especially away from the coasts) and American cities are designed around car access. Paris really isn’t,” Iain Compton added via the Quora thread. “Don’t assume you’ll need a car and don’t limit your transport options to taxis/Uber/etc. The RATP network covers pretty much everywhere in Paris at most of the times you’ll need it and your tourist ticket is valid on buses, trams, and the RER, as well as on the metro. Additionally, Paris is a relatively small city (geographically speaking), walking is often an option — many times it is the best option.”
I echo this sentiment. On our first night in Paris, my wife (who’d been there before) surprised me with a walking tour of the city, spanning about three hours and concluding with the Eiffel Tower. I will never forget that night.

On the café culture

This one was too good not to share via Ludovico Altana on Quora. The French take dining and the café lifestyle seriously. In that light, the cafes of Paris aren’t designed for the ‘Whole Foods’ crowd. Ludovico concludes where we’ll begin: “Food is serious business there, folks.”

Here we go:

“This happened in a small, fairly touristy café near Montmartre a couple years before I actually lived in Paris (I was on vacation with my parents).

While I’m trying to sip at my piping hot soupe à l’oignon, I hear two American women in their late twenties, fairly well dressed; I peg them as big-city, Whole Foods types. They sit down, and order a glass of white wine each. Typical.

As well as, they order — to share —– a fondue bourguignonne, known to them as “fun-do”. Interesting, I ponder. They didn’t look like big meat eaters. See, fondue bourguignonne is this: small chunks of beef you fry to your desired doneness in a fondue pot full of oil.

Surely they were expecting the world-famous fondue suisse, the one with the bread and cheese. They were. A few minutes later, a bowl of chunks of cold, raw beef is brought to their table.


The waiter tries to explain the situation, in his best grammatically-perfect-but-heavily-accented English. They’re having none of it; the menu should have said it was meat. No, they don’t want to order something else. They leave.”

On hitting the different neighborhoods

Matador contributor Kate Robinson broke down the neighborhoods of Paris in this piece, noting the styles and attractions of each. On that note, visitors should expect subtle differences and specialties throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

Oh, and a good pair of shoes to get between the areas is helpful. “Seriously, you will have to walk further than you are used to,” noted C. Elizabeth Carter. “If you’re sightseeing, don’t wear heels, flip-flops, sandals, or trainers. Paris is hard on the feet and worse on the feet when it rains. Well broken-in shoes and a spare pair of socks are key.”

The bottom line: Go to Paris (just keep your wits about you)

Tired feet, messed up orders, and feelings of self-consciousness aside, the bottom line is this: Just go! You’ll never become a better traveler if you never travel. Chris Adair put it perfectly: “If there’s one thing I learned for absolute certain on this little junket, it’s that Paris has the power to very efficiently refresh one’s sense of artistic and cultural curiosity.”

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