Paris 101

The Eiffel Tower. The Mona Lisa. The Notre Dame. What else do I need to know about the City of Love?


The language. Most people in Paris speak a little English, but it’s rude to assume that they do. Your experience in Paris will be wholly different if you learn just a few basic phrases:

Bonjour This means “hello,” and you should say it to everyone. When you enter a store, the American custom is not to make eye contact or say anything to a salesperson until you want their help. In France, it is the custom to say hello to the store clerk as soon as you walk through the door. This is a lovely little holdover from the days when many shops were on the ground floor of the proprietor’s home—you wouldn’t enter a person’s home without saying hello, and the custom continued. Say it to your waiter too when he comes over to your table for the first time. French people have a bad reputation for being rude, but in my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. But if you’re rude to them right off the bat, by not saying hi, you’re setting the table for an icy response.

Excusez-moi (“Excu-say mwah”) This means “excuse me,” and is the polite way to get someone’s attention.

Parlez-vous anglais? (“Parlay-vu ahng-lay?”) This means “do you speak English,” and is more polite than just assuming someone does. Couple it with “excuse me”: Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?

Merci Means “thank you.” With hello, excuse me, and thank you, you’ve shown an effort to be polite and at least make a nod to their treasured language. It will go a long way, trust me.

Bathrooms. They’re called “Les Toilettes” (twah-letts). “Femmes” means Women; “Hommes” means Men. They’re also sometimes labeled the WC, from the British euphemism “water closet.”

Neighborhoods. Start at the Notre Dame, on one of the two islands at the heart of Paris. These two islands in the middle of the Seine are near the center of Paris, and they’re probably the center of a first-time-visitor’s geography. Wandering outwards from there, you’ll find the Marais to the North, the Louvre and the Champs-Elysee to the west, and Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter to the South.

Sara Rowe