Some people come to Paris and try to fit in by wearing their best black outfit, staying in an obscure part of town and avoiding speaking English as much as possible. Sure, it’s fun to be a local, but at the end of the day, being a local also means working, cleaning your own bathroom, and perhaps spending hours waiting in lines at the tax office. Really, you’re better off embracing your status as a tourist.
We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that when in Paris, it’s OK to be a tourist. Book that charming hotel in the center of town, enjoy an outdoor table at a cafe, and stroll along the Champs-Élysées if you like. Over the years as a tour guide and correspondent, I’ve experienced lots of people who try, without success, to pass as a local. It’s just not necessary.
It’s normal that tourists want to fit in, but too often you end up adding too much pressure to the trip planning process and to the actual trip itself. Here are five ways I think tourists could relax about their trips to Paris:
Go ahead and a be a tourist. And don’t worry about your shoes! Photo: Ed Yourdon
I always tell people I can spot a tourist by their shoes—but since they are usually in a touristy spot, like by the Eiffel Tower, I don’t think I’m really all that clairvoyant.
The bottom line on footwear? If you really think anyone in Paris cares what you are wearing on your feet, and if you’d rather spend more time shoe shopping than planning the rest of your trip, that’s your problem. Parisians wear boots, sneakers, flats, heels, loafers, Chucks and everything in between. And while they aren’t always practical, flip-flops do come out in the summer from time to time.
Related: 8 Paris travel myths debunked
You don’t know any French? Quel dommage. Enough websites (including EuroCheapo, for example) urge visitors to learn some basics—merci, bonjour, au revoir—and that’s all you’ll need to know.
It’s nice to know local lingo, but few waiters or bartender will expect you to whip out the conditional or future perfect tense while ordering a beer. Some Parisians speak English, and others who you will inevitably encounter are comfortable with tourists pointing, nodding and holding up fingers to signal numbers—if you’re polite about it. Get the bare basics down and then give it a rest. This isn’t a backwoods town where no one has ever met a foreigner.
Be prepared for lines at big attractions in Paris like the Louvre. Photo: Duncan R
Paris is a treasure trove of art, and travelers want to be very discerning when choosing their museums to visit, and often think that it’s better to go to one museum over another. In the end, if you really care about art, go to the museum that matches your taste. If you’re only going to the museum because you think you need to, then go when it’s convenient and just accept that yes, there will be tourists at places like the Louvre. Everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, and no one knows why, so either just go with it or else pass.
Related: 7 tips for surviving the Louvre
You only want to eat where the locals are eating? Sorry, I’m very selective about who can come over for dinner. Want to do what Parisians are doing if not dining at home? Have you seen the lines at McDonald’s?
Thinking that Parisians are all going to some quaint little, off-the-radar bistro every night is a good exercise for your imagination. There are plenty of great “local” places, but don’t think you’re going to unearth anything that hasn’t been dug up a thousand times already. Just try to enjoy your meal wherever you go, and don’t Instagram it—because real locals don’t need to photograph every goat cheese salad and glass of wine.
Be aware but don’t panic for your entire trip. Photo: Duncan Hull
Money belt, traveler’s checks, locked box in the hotel—check, check, check. You’re a tourist and you’re overly concerned about falling prey to pickpockets? While I applaud your caution, I wonder if you leave your phone laying on a table while you go to the bathroom at Starbucks. Do you often take candy from strangers? Do you leave your door unlocked at night?
For some traveling to Paris means leaving all notions of personal safety back in their home country—but Paris isn’t Disneyland. (Although there is one a few miles outside of the city.) It’s a real city with the same sorts of crimes that you find in other parts of the world, including America (without the fear of getting shot). If you’re walking around with a wad of cash in Paris, you’re asking for as much trouble as if you did that in Chicago, or London or Sydney—it’s not a good idea anywhere, so don’t do it.
Be vigilant and prepared, yes, but don’t overdo it. Keep your wits about you as I hope you do anywhere else in the world and you should be fine. Check out our article on popular “scams in Paris” so you know what to expect, but honestly, if a scruffy looking group of teenagers swarmed around you in Kansas City asking you to sign a dirty petition and give them money, would you really stop and engage them?
Do you have something else to add to our list of things tourists should relax about when visiting Paris? Do you agree or take issue with any of the points above? Share with us in our comments section below.