Like many people, I had a shimmering vision of the famed street when I arrived in Paris three years ago. Then I found out only chain stores can afford the rent and there are off-putting hoards of tourists and teenagers.
Like in other big world cities, young people are American culture fiends. So you’re going to have to fight if you want to learn French.
In Paris, you only really get to say “ça va?” to people you know well.
That said, sometimes the most unlikely people will stop and help you. It really does restore your faith in humanity and Parisians.
And, dang, those pickpockets are good. One of them once stole my change purse from my bag as I turned my head to look at the price of bananas at a market. True artistry.
Even if, like me, you come from Kansas and know nothing about New York.
Hint: If you are attempting a pee-and-run strategy, walk into a brasserie and head directly for the stairs, as most bathrooms are downstairs.
That creepy guy isn’t louche, he’s chelou. You’re not going to chopper that sexy girl at the bar, you’re going to pécho her!
A close second for the most never-ending experience in Paris is the RER B from the city to the airport. This journey makes you want to die. Especially when the train stops for fifteen minutes in a Parisian banlieue and no one has any idea what is going on. And then it does the same thing at the next stop.
Tracking down the plain ones is a lot harder.
But at least it has automatic guards in some places. A lot of the metros have no guardrails, which sounds like a recipe for a lawsuit. Consequently, you stand very, very far back and watch for people who look like they might shove someone.
And what other country has a RIB anyway?
You can walk everywhere — it takes less than two hours to get from one side of the city to the other, and that’s including the odd pit-stop for coffee (provided there are no strikes / protests / terrifyingly enthusiastic sales shoppers in your path).
Whatever errands you need to get done, do them on your lunch break or not at all. Then again, some offices also rank lunch pretty highly and will close during lunch time. And everything is closed on Sunday, too. So you might just have to take a day off to get to the post office, bank, or any kind of bureaucracy-related office. Just make sure it isn’t a public holiday when you go.
When night falls at 4pm in the winter, which one do you say? No idea but guaranteed that the person you are talking to you will respond using the word you didn’t use, just to let you know that you got it wrong.
While holiday window displays are beautiful, the hoards of tourists and bona-fide Parisians shopping ‘til they drop are not beautiful and are actually very aggressive. Climbing over what is essentially a brawl to get to the only pair of jeans in your size isn’t as much fun as it probably looks.
And if they do, it often doesn’t work. Once again, sorry.
Example: Le “parking” (parking lot), le “footing” (jogging), le “jogging” (sweatsuit), le “brushing” (blow dry), le “timing” (timing, as in good timing), le “feeling” (feeling, as in good feeling), etc.
Now, why not strike up a conversation with the Moroccan woman with three kids in front of you or the man behind you who is from Congo-Brazzaville and who desperately needs papers to get a job here? And, in case you forgot, you’ll remember how lucky you are to be an American in Paris.