AS AN American-tourist-turned-bona-fide-Parisian, I have learnt, at my expense, how to blend in while wandering the French capital. Here are a few tips to help you go incognito in Paris:
1. Stop taking selfies with the Eiffel tower. Now.
If you really have to, take one. Five if you’re worried about getting a good angle. But there’s no excuse for taking 500.
2. Stop smiling at strangers.
They’re getting freaked out.
3. Think again about putting that lock on the Pont des Arts.
First of all, it’s a security risk because the weight of all those locks makes the bridge dangerously unstable. Second of all, hate to break it to you, but city workers cut off your sign of everlasting love because of said security issue.
4. Realize that “Bon matin” doesn’t exist in French.
It’s just plain old bonjour until it’s bonsoir.
5. Avoid moving around in large herds.
Hit the town solo and you’ll definitely discover more because you’ll be open to the city around you.
6. Don’t waste your precious time waiting in line at Ladurée.
I mean, it is pretty and so are their macarons. But it’s a lot more fun to wander into unknown little bakeries where you don’t have to wait in line.
7. Be considerate when you stop people for directions or ask them to take your photo.
I can’t tell you how often tourists jump in front of me while I’m running to ask me long questions about which direction to go in or to get me to take their picture. One man literally blocked my way and shoved his camera in my face. Once, I was running before 7am on a workday and two separate groups of tourists stopped me for directions. I’m sorry, but the sweaty girl hurtling along at 6:45am probably does not have time to answer your questions.
8. Don’t be too sad when you see the Moulin Rouge is just a seedy tourist trap.
I know, I love that movie, too.
9. Don’t bring up old tired stereotypes about French people.
Guaranteed you are NOT going home with that sexy Parisian girl if you ask her if she shaves her armpits, wears deodorant, or is reeeeeeaaaallly into sex like all French people.
10. Remember that not all people in Paris are tourists.
Sounds silly but people have some funny ideas about life in Paris. Just because I live here doesn’t mean that I spend all day making out with Parisian men on benches, drinking wine, and having long lunches. I actually work and have to go to the grocery store and have nights where I am too tired to go out, like every other Parisian.
11. Avoid St. Germain-des-Prés.
I find it expensive and empty. I also see practically no real Parisians there.
12. Skip St. Michel and the Île St. Louis.
These places are just writhing with tourists. St. Michel is like a very fake, very rowdy little tourist fairyland. Île St. Louis is quieter and more expensive, but for me, it just isn’t Paris.
13. Swap the French onion soup for some Moroccan tagine or some Senegalese mafé.
Paris is a world city and is home to waves of immigrants from all over the world. I definitely recommend that you enjoy the traditional French bakeries and whatnot but on, at least, one of your nights you should consider swapping some “French food” for some food brought to you by multicultural France. And remember that France isn’t just whitewashed Amélie, as cute as she is.
14. Don’t pause in the middle of a passageway to look at a map or your iPhone…unless you want to make enemies.
Especially in Paris, where some sidewalks are so small you just can’t pass someone trying to find the Eiffel Tower. (Hint, look up.)
15. Know that anyone wearing Paris and / or Eiffel Tower paraphernalia is the embodiment of the cliché tourist.
16. Make your list bigger than the usual Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, St. Michel, Île St. Louis, Sacré-Coeur, Mona Lisa.
Go wander through the fairytale land of Buttes Chaumont, Parc Monceau, or Parc Montsouris (or countless others). Check out some of Paris’ vibrant, multicultural neighbourhoods (I love the 11th, 12th and 20th arrondissements). Go to the Louvre, but then check out some museums that aren’t the Louvre.