Make Like A Parisian
American in Paris Anne Stark Ditmeyer explains what it takes to be "in" in the City of LightFeatured September 12
On the surface, Parisians may seem very similar to other urbanites, but, having lived in their city now for a few years, I can reveal some subtle differences. Cracking the cultural code is a game, but it's a real joy when you do start to understand Paris from their perspective. Simply follow the rules and you'll fit right in.
The first thing to remember is that style is very important to the Parisians. Pack light, pack black, pack layers and don't forget your scarf. You never know for sure where your day may take you, so be ready for anything. This season you'll spot a lot of polka dots - they're the new stripes. Also, look for new ways the French are mixing in subtle patterns to their classic wardrobes.
If worse comes to worst, you'll have to go shopping - if so, make sure to try along Rue Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement.
Step two is behaviour. What you wear on your face is as important as the garments on your body. Being in such an incredible city might tempt you to grin from ear to ear, but save those smiles for the inside. A poker face will also minimise unwanted advances by street sellers, touts and scammers. In particular, ignore anyone who asks if you've dropped jewellery - it's a trick.
Don't forget your manners, either. Parisian etiquette is simple, but the rules are easily forgotten. Of course, a "Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur" when you enter an establishment, and "Merci, au revoir," when you depart, will help set you apart from those other unappreciative tourists. If you really want to show off, leave the conversation with a "Bonne continuation!" (Enjoy what is yet to come)... basically, good day and good luck rolled into one.
By all means, try out your rudimentary French, but don't freak out if someone speaks English back to you. It happens to the most accomplished of us. The French like to practise their language skills too.
Knowing the rules is one thing, but putting them to use is another. Your homework is to find a café where you can sit en terrasse (ie, outside) and watch the world go by. A place like La Terrasse (www.laterrassedu7. com), by the École Militaire metro, is great for this, as you will easily differentiate the locals from the tourists here (the more advanced should try Café Charlot in the Marais; www.cafecharlotparis.com). Don't forget to announce yourself with a friendly "Bonjour..."
As you put your people-watching skills to work over a coffee or une verre du vin, observing the way the fabulous French are sporting their scarves this season. I can guarantee you'll start to feel more ike a local, rather than just a visitor. Good luck with your undercover assignments and bon voyage! Anne Stark Ditmeyer is a graphic designer/editor and founder of www.pret-a-voyager.com