Before visiting Paris, I was aware of the stereotypes that the French had of Americans and vice versa. Fortunately, these stereotypes proved to be completely untrue. During my time in Paris, I picked up some tips on how to thrive in this spectacular city. However, the most important tip I could give is to embrace the culture with an open mind.
Paris is a city that is worldly renown for its exquisite cuisine. When looking at a menu, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed with all of the different types of food there is try. My philosophy is don’t stick to what you’re familiar with. Try something new! This is what studying abroad is all about – learning to leave your comfort zone and experience a culture that is different from yours. It is also always a good idea to ask your waiter what they suggest as well. You will get helpful hints on local cuisine and get to practice your French. When we arrived, the first thing we did after getting off the metro was visit a café to get coffee and croissants. This café had absolutely splendid food. The croissants we got here were also in a straight shape – croissants that have a crescent shape are made with margarine and other fats while straight croissants are made with pure butter. There is actually a law in France that states croissants have to be shaped according to their ingredients. Out of all the little cafés we went to, this was by far my favorite.
If you want to thrive as an American in Paris or anywhere in France, you don’t necessarily have to be fluent in French. Speak French as much as you can and try not to resort to English. Contrary to the stereotypes, the French appreciate it when you attempt to speak their language and are very helpful to correct your mistakes. Some vital phrases to know are: Je voudrais du pain, s’il vous plait – I would like some bread, please, Comment dit-on ____ en français? – How do you say ____ in French?, Où est _____ ? – Where is _____? and Combien? – How much?
When deciding on what to see in Paris it’s important to not focus solely on the touristy sites. There are many other hidden gems in Paris that millions of tourists miss. Save one of your days to explore the arrondissement you’re staying in. Take a stroll down the less traveled streets and you may find a café bustling full of locals or a bookstore that contains ancient stories that you’ll treasure forever.
The places I visited and the things I did that were my absolute favorites and what I would recommend everyone to do are the Catacombs, the 2CV Paris Tour and The Old Butcher’s Bookshop. The Catacombs are a 200-mile underground burial site containing the remains of more than six million people. They were established during 1786 through 1788 due to no space in the cemeteries and cave-ins. My visit to The Catacombs was a thoughtful one. Walking in the quiet and dark tunnels passing numerous bones lit by the small lights made me feel so solemn. It’s amazing to think of the contrast of the ancient tunnels filled with the remains of millions of people – each with different lives and stories of their own, while right above, the bustling streets of Paris are filled with vibrant life. The Catacombs were truly a memorable visit.
One of my favorite memories was the 2CV Paris Tour. This is something everyone should consider doing when in Paris. This is a tour, where a guide takes you to see the best of Paris in an authentic vintage, French Citroën 2CV car. This car was produced in 1948 and was very popular in France. We had an adorable yellow and blue 2CV that got us through the crazy streets of Paris. We saw many beautiful attractions thanks to our amazing tour guide, Quentin. The Place Vendôme, The Pantheon, The Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel were just a few spectacular places we saw. We then ended our tour at Salon de Thé de la Grande Mosquée with some Moroccan mint tea. This is a beautiful restaurant that will make you feel like you left Paris and stepped into Morocco. There is a gorgeous garden that sets a calm atmosphere while you sip on tea and enjoy pastries.
The Old Butcher’s Bookshop is one place that cannot be left off the list. This bookshop is located outside of Le Pont Traversé at the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens on the longest street in Paris. This bookshop was a former butcher shop of the Belle Époque (translates to beautiful era). The Belle Époque was a period from 1870 —1914 in Western Europe where there was a general sense of optimism, cultural innovation, and a growth in the arts. Inside this quaint bookshop, there are numerous rare books that will be treasured forever by their lucky future owners. Even though I was not allowed to take pictures, I was able to fully enjoy the beautiful atmosphere without any distraction.
Paris is a lovely city where any American can successfully thrive as long as one comes with an open mind and an open stomach.
The world awaits…discover it.