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  • Writer's pictureF.W. Hume

Paris Cultural Acclimation

Some Paris Practicalities

Le Farniente à la Parisienne The municipal sport (we seldom win the Tour de France or the Rugby Cup) is people watching. You sit on a cafe terrace nursing a drink for hours watching people go by. It is hard to score. It takes practice. So find a cafe, and go to it. We've got tiny apartments so we developed the French café and people watching to compensate. It differs from the Italian version by being mostly a spectator, rather than a performance, activity. But keep in mind the comments further on in this post about prices so you don't have excessive greens fees while putting. The choice of café is one of the deepest and hotly contested elements of strategy in the sport.

A Perspective on People and Parisian Politeness Many negative experiences here are due to  cultural misunderstandings. Throughout much of Continental Europe, business transactions are still much more personal than in the U.S. or U.K…. The Anglo-American habit is to walk in to a shop (restaurant, cafe, whatever) look around, talk among themselves while looking at things or having a drink, pay and leave. The transaction is paid for, the establishment has been compensated (or not if they didn't have what you were looking for) and that is that. But in most of Europe, the custom is different. Every interaction has an etiquette and a personal dimension. One always greets the person working, even if one has to hunt them down in the shop…  Bonjour, (Giorno, Dia, Guten tag)…. Hello, may I look around? How are you? do you have this or that? Usually the shopkeeper or staff and any other customers are included in any social interaction while you are there. And afterwards, Merci, Aurevoir, Bonne journée, thanks, goodbye, have a good day, good evening, whatever.   In Paris this may be particularly important because we are pressed for time and stressed but still want to hold on to the vestiges of our civilization. (This stress and hurry is responsible for a good portion, though not all, of our Parisian reputation for rudeness.) Compound all this with the average lower level of English in France than in much of the rest of Europe (I think mostly--though not entirely--due to administrative structures in the excellent French educational system which govern how foreign languages are taught) and you have a recipe for misunderstanding à la mode. The French think the Anglos have been horribly rude, respond in kind, the mystified Anglos can't imagine why the frogs are so insufferable. No need to speak french fluently, we've even had friends who with almost no French do wonderfully, exclusively in English by playing to the the more personal nature of daily life. And then they go home and say the French are the nicest people in the world. Hum, well that's not true either, but…as usual the truth is in the media via.

Variable Drink Pricing By law prices are posted on menus displayed in front of restaurants and bars. (There are places that don't follow the law but they are rare). But be aware. If you sit down, outside or in, always ask to see the menu if you don't have an idea of the price. At cafés and bars, tourists are often unaware of the price structure; standing or on a stool at the bar an espresso is euro 1-1.30, seated in cafe 2-3, outdoors on the terrace 2.50->4.50. The same margin is applied for other drinks.  It varies by location with the Champs Elyssés, Saint Germain, Pompidou, and Pigalle being the worst for gouging. So a nice 25 cl/ 8 ounce glass of beer at the counter for 2-3 euros is cool. But if you ask for a beer on the terrace, if you don't  specify,  the waiter might bring you a litre/quart glass, 4'xs the size (never consumed by the French but the glass is imported from a supplier to Bavarian Beergardens in Germany) for sat, 20 euros.  Maybe as much as 10x's the price. Paris goes from being much less expensive than Manhattan to a lot more very easily.

Water into Wine and Vice Versa Water. Tap water in Paris meets the highest level of European safety standards, i.e. in terms of microbes, and residual substances it is better for you than many bottled waters. By law a restaurant has to give you free tap water with your meal, a "carafe d'eau" , "l'eau de robinet"  or "Chateau Delanoë "(a joke on the mayor of paris). In tourist areas they sometimes try to refuse. The taste of the water varies from quarter to quarter. We'll sometimes order bottled water in the 1st or 5th arrondissements where water has a hard mineral taste. May Parisians choose to drink lots of mineral water. It is normal for a restaurant to assume you're going to order wine with your meal. If not, buying the overpriced bottled water is one way of showing you're not skipping wine in order to make the bill as small as possible, which can irritate the establishment. But that is your call. The only sound advice for anyone who orders soft drinks with their meal is: Don't. It will destroy your palate if not your soul. If you really can't have the wine, how about a perrier?

Some thoughts on the Perpetual Tipping Quandry Most of Europe has the same tipping policy.  France might be a bit more parsimonious than some other countries. There is no percentage. Taxis round up a little to the nearest euro. Drinks, leave a few cents per drink (on 15-20 euros of drinks at a cafe, maybe leave a euro). At a restaurant most locals would leave, on a bill of around 100 euros for dinner for 2 with wine etc, a couple of  euros.  A more expensive place, say 150+ maybe 5. That said, there's nothing wrong with giving 10 or 20 euros or so to reward exemplary service or a great experience. Especially if it was a large party dining. If leaving more than a couple of euros, it is more common than in the states to hand it to the person with a handshake than to leave it on the table.

The Police Most tourists will never have any issue with the police. A few, taking pictures during Paris Plage, have been stopped by the police and told to delete pictures on their cameras (it is okay to take pictures at Paris Plage, just not of individual recognizable people, France has serious privacy laws). They will help you fill out necessary reports if you are the unfortunate victim of a pickpocketting or pursesnatching. But something to remember: there are very few times and very few places where it is a good idea to argue with the police. (In Serbia, while the war was ongoing in Kosovo and the times were hard, it helped. Arguing got a couple of opportunistic gentleman in blue-ish to drop their rapacious demands for an infraction I did not commit down to a reasonable and acceptable bit of bak shish. In Italy a few times it helped to find some great restaurants, the Carabinieri often know. But I digress.) In Paris, never do it. There are some significant legal differences about the relationship between public and police. If you choose to speak to them in French, use the formal "Vous"and not the familiar form. Remain very formal and polite. This is one of those rare situations where the word Putain might not be fully acceptable.

And now, Favorite Sights:

One of the Views from Le Printemps

For Peoplewatching Café de la Mairie 8 Place Saint-Sulpice, 75006 Paris, France large uncovered terrace where smoking is allowed is the one cafe we'll suggest off the top, you'll find your own favorite. But recently there's been a trend redecorating cafés and changing them to make them more modern and international. Many of them now look like Soho or Tribeca bars. Maybe more and more like Brooklyn. Of the traditional holdouts the Mairie du 6 is really typical, hasn't changed in 40 years and is a real hangout of the French literary community. In the Latin Quarter. Great for people watching. Priests, Students, Tourists, People of Fashion, Politicians, etc.

Great Views Le Printemps department store Our favorite used to be the from Samaritaine Department store which is sadly still closed. But the advantage to Printemps over the Eiffel Tour and several other options is that you are low enough down to actually recognize the buildings around you.  You get a pretty good idea how the city feels. As opposed to an aerial view transforming the living town into a representational map. 102 Rue de Provence, 75009 Paris, France Nearest transport: Havre Caumartin/Opera In the main store ( there are three interlinked buildings) on the corner of ave Haussmann and rue de Caumartin stay on the ground floor until you make your way to the elevator on the far side of the building behind all of the perfume. Take it to the top floor. Go through the long hallway to the luggage department and take the escalator up one more floor. The cafeteria/ rooftop terrace has one of the best views in town still accessible. Free unless you want to have a snack or a drink. Runners up for View: The roof of Beaubourg has a wonderful close-up view of the center of town and since no one should come to Paris without doing the Museum, you will be there Centre Pompidou – Place Georges-Pompidou – Paris 4e Adresse postale : 75191 Paris cedex 04 Centre Pompidou Virtuel

Le Perchoir The newly opened (2013) rooftop bar which gives an unprecedented view of among  the hippest neighborhoods. There is probably still no sign on the building, enter the courtyard at the address, take elevator there to the top floor, and voilà, your secret bar with a view 14 rue Crespin du Gast / 75011 Paris + 33 (0)1 48 06 18 48 Le Perchoir - Restaurant & Bar sur le Toit - Paris Metro: Oberkampf, St. Maur, Pere Lachaise or Menilmontant

The view from Montparnasse tower skyscraper  is very similar to that of the Eiffel tower. There are some advantages. You are in the skyscraper looking at Eiffel's work instead of the inverse. The ascent is free if you go to the champagne bar instead of the tourist panorama. Sure, the champagne is pricey but it is a better deal and way more elegant. La Tour Montparnasse  est ouvert tous les jours de 7h30 à 23h00 The Champagne Bar at The Restaurant Ciel de Paris open from 7h30 to 01h00 Tour Maine Montparnasse 56th floor 33, avenue du Maine 75015 Paris Elevator/Lift labeled « Le Ciel de Paris » Restaurant Ciel de Paris I site officiel

An Unmissable Architectural Gem La Sainte-Chapelle 4 boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris Nearest transport: Cité/Saint-Michel/Chatelet 1 March- 31 October : 9:30-18:00 1 November - 28 February : 9:00-18:00 late Wednesdays  15 May - 15 September last admission 21:00  In the courtyard of the Conciergerie the royal medieval palace of the kings of France on the island in the center of town. Access is controlled by the  police,metal objects such as knives, scissors and any other sharp metal instrument forbidden, the X-rays to control this make long lines unless you go early. Tiny masterpiece built for Saint Louis (King Lous IX) to house the crown of thorns which he purchased from the usurping Latin Emperor of Constantinople Baldwin II. (Amusingly enough it was in hock to the Venitians at the time as a guarantee for an enormous loan). One of the best examples of color-intact (even if heavily restored in the XIXth C) flamboyant gothic architecture in France. That is right, with painting, tapestries and the stained glass lit up because there were no tall surrounding buildings to block the light, those medieval churches were riots of color inside. See it before you see any other gothic architecture it it will change the way you look at everything. A sonata, a veritable perfect fugue of color.

Public Square Place Des Vosges Rue de Birague-Rure de Béarn Formerly the Place Royale Built on the site of the former French royal residence of the Hotel des Tournelles by Henry IV (one of the most convivial of kings) as a garden-palace-residence, this was the first planned public square in Paris. Probably the most beautiful square in town. Vies with the Piazza Navona in Rome for being one of those  astounding places that don't ever disappoint. Try Ma Bourgogne on the square for a snack or as drink.

Runner up: Jardin du Palais-Royal is the rectangular garden in the magnificent complex which started out as Richelieu's Palace. Go at noon to hear the canon fire, wander the arcades and imagine what it was like in the Libertine Age when it was a notorious red light district. Ah the times D.A. Le Marquis de Sade must have had here. If feeling homesick or in need of comfort after Sadistic reflections, stop nearby in the rue Montpensier at Verjus wine bar & restaurant or The Caveau Montpensier pub, both great places run by expatriate North Americans. If you are a cigar smoker La Civette Du Palais Royal on the square by the Metro entrance is one of the better places to buy Cubans and is full of Parisian atmosphere. Palais Royal Behind the Place du Palais Royal 6 rue de Montpensier 75001 Paris. Domaine national du Palais-Royal Page on Verjusparis Au Caveau Montpensier (I don't think Jeb has put up a website page, not sure so sadly I post the Facebook page)

3 Often Overlooked Museums Musée Carnavalet 23 rue de Sévigné, 75003 Nearest transport: St. Paul/Bastille Telephone: 01 44 59 58 58 Monday-Sunday de 10h à 18h. Municipal museum of the history of paris, in a beautiful palace in the middle of medieval paris in the Marais. Very near the aforementioned Place des Vosges.Eclectic collection that always entertains. You'll learn more about the city than at the Louvre and still see great art organized historically. Check out the wrought iron medieval street signs advertising vintners and rat catchers. Look at Proust's boudoir.

Cluny: National Museum of the Middle Ages - The Baths and Hôtel de Cluny 6, place Paul Painlevé, 75005 Paris Nearest transport: Cluny la Sorbonne / Saint-Michel / Odéon Every day except Tuesday, from 9:15 to 5:45 In the former Roman baths of Lutetia and Clunisian monastery in the latin quarter. This collection is not to be missed. The Roman and medieval sculptures, the paintings, the cloisters, the astounding unicorn tapestries… What are people doing waiting in line to see the Mona Lisa or another water lilly at the Louvre or Orsay? Sorry, I take that back. But still.

Musée Marmottan 2, rue Louis-Boilly 75016 Paris France Nearest transport: La Muette Tuesday-Sunday  10:00-18:00 & Thursdays till 20:00 Small museum in the house of XIXth C art historian Paul Marmottan on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne (sort of the Central Park of Paris). Great collection of secular medieval art, very good collection of 2nd empire decorative art. But because Paul was a close friend of Monet: Probably the finest small, manageable collection of impressionist paintings in the world.

2 Oft Overlooked Chateaux Chateau de Vincennes Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes Nearest transport: Metro Line 1 Chateau de Vincennes 23 September - 20 May 10:00-17:00 21 May - 22 September  10:00-18:00 XII-XIVth C Royal castle on the edge of Vincennes forest in the center of the east side of Paris. Along with Cluny, among the best places to understand medieval Paris. The chapel in the cour still has some period polychromy. The Donjon (Keep) is really magical. Still the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion. For trivia a lot of people were "offed" here when they were to inconvenient for the reigning powers, including Mata Hari, I believe. Great place for a picnic as well.

Chateau  de la Bagatelle In the Bagatelle garden adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne Route de Sèvres à Neuilly 75016 PARIs or allée de Longchamp Nearest transport:  Porte d'Auteuil line 10/ Pont de Neuilly line1/ several busses 9:30-20:00 Started for Marie-Antoinette, simply one of the most beautiful  XVIIIth C stylegardens left. French-English-Japanese fusion styles. There's a beautiful outdoor restaurant that's supposed to be good once again, Restaurant Bagatelle Bois de Boulogne

Bonus picture and trivia for those who read to the end. Which Roman emperor was first "hailed caesar" (augustus,pontifex maximus,you know made The Man by his legions)  in Paris?


Julian (emperor) Bon Voyage!

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