How To Spot An American In Paris

Sorbis /

1. How You Enter a Store

It is considered very rude to enter and exit a store or a restaurant without saying “bonjour” and “au revoir.”  Most businesses in Paris are small and intimate, so to walk in and ignore the worker/waiter comes across as very impolite. When walking into someone’s small cheese shop, it should be regarded as if you’re walking into someone’s home. You would never walk into someone’s home and walk right by them to go to their fridge (I hope). The exception here would be big department stores or grocery stores like Monoprix. Other than that, it is vital to enter with a truthful “Bonjour, Madame.” One day at the market in Montmatre, I asked for a taste of the Comte cheese and an American woman budged up right next to me and shouted at the vendor in English, “Can I taste also?”—not saying hello and speaking in English—Mon Dieu! The shop vendor responded to her, “c’est mieux avec un bonjour” (it’s better with a “hello”).

2. Using a Fork with Your Right Hand

The French hold a fork with their left hand and a knife with their right hand, and do not put down the utensils while eating (unless, maybe, for a sip of wine). This way of eating does make sense, as opposed to what many Americans do, which is holding the fork in left and knife in right while cutting something, and then putting down the knife and switching the fork to the right hand. Not only does this leave a mess on the side of your plate (or table), but also takes away from the grace of the meal—manners are important in Paris. This method has also proven quite helpful while eating salads—the knife acts as an aid to fold the leaf of greens around your fork. This is very important since another big faux-pas in France is cutting your lettuce!

3. The Shoes That You’re Wearing

This one especially goes out to men. If you are not wearing leather shoes or trendy sneakers, then you are most likely not Parisian and are probably an American. I know this sounds a bit stereotypical, but I literally did not see one man in all of Paris in every arrondisement that was not wearing either of these. Women can get away with more, but if you want to fit in, always go for a chic, leather or suede boot.

4. Speaking in English

This one is obvious, but it is shocking how often people don’t even attempt to speak French to waiters/shop-owners/clerks.  A basic “bonjour” and “merci” go a long way—it’s respectful of the culture to at least greet someone in their native language.  Any attempt is much appreciated by the French, even if it’s only an “au revoir, merci.” I was eating dinner and three girls walked over to the table next to me and barked at the waiter from across the room, “Do you have French Onion soup here?” I couldn’t believe my ears.  Not only did they not greet the waiter, but they were speaking in English, and very loudly in a tranquil environment. Then they went on to ask for their picture to be taken by him, and then asked again when they realized part of his finger was blocking the lens. Incroyable.

5. You Are in a Rush

Parisians take time to do things properly. There are no to-go cups or take-out menus in Paris, the exception here being crepes and baguette sandwiches during lunch. Overall, the French will sit down every morning for un cafe and maybe a croissant or tartine. There is never a rush to leave or to get a check. This applies for every meal. Unlike the high customer turnover in America, which pretty much pressures you to leave the restaurant as soon as you’re done with your meal, in France you are welcome, if not encouraged, to linger and stay at your table as long as you’d like. A very stress-free environment does wonders for your state-of-mind and view of life. TC mark


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