It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity, and not be prepared.
– Whitney M. Young, Jr.
1. The basic of all basics: Know thy weather.
Paris is ruled by its seasons. They eat according to the season, dress according to the season. So don’t get caught wearing open-toed sandals in March or Ugg winter boots in August — or you will be in for a big surprise. Then again, that would be a very legitimate reason to go shopping now, wouldn’t it?
2. Read up. Google Paris. Do your due diligence.
The best visitors I’ve pleasantly taken around are those who know what they want. The worst are the ones who arrive and say: “OK, show me what you’ve got.” Paris is H.U.G.E. — in terms of what it can offer. Whether for dining afficionados, museum-thirsty culturalists, shopaholics, or whatever. So, read up on what Paris has to offer and prepare a list of what you want to do, see, eat, drink, or buy. Believe me, it will help you maximize every minute you have while here. And that, you won’t want to waste!
3. Learn to say these three (3) indispensable words. A must.
You will not make shop-owners, waiters, clerks, or any French person happy unless you learn to say these words when the situation calls for it. And believe me, every situation will call for it.
“Bonjour” – “Bon” is good, “Jour” is day. Good Day! Hello! Good Morning! You are expected to say this every time you enter a shop, a boulangerie, a doctor’s waiting room, a restaurant. Anywhere you find people. The only time you are exempt from saying this is when you enter a department store (like Bon Marché or Lafayette) — where the area is just too big for you to be heard. But if you enter, and there happens to be a security guard standing by the door — you will still have to give him that respect.
“Bonsoir” – Used the same way as “bonjour” — but for 6PM onwards. 🙂 Same rules apply.
“Merci/Au revoir” – “Thank you/Good bye.” Every time you leave a shop, café, restaurant — whether you have purchased something or not, these words should come automatically as you are receiving your change, or as you are leaving. Always.
When I was new to Paris, no one told me about this rule — and I always wondered why the vendors didn’t really seem happy that I was around to view their merchandise. Maybe, if I entered the shop with the habitual “bonjour” — it would have changed a little. Peut-être.
4. Don’t go to Paris without packing a good great pair of walking shoes. Or two.
Before living in Paris, my shoe size was 38.5. Since then, my feet have grown half a size bigger. At my age, I thought my feet were supposed to have stopped growing. Ya think? Maybe they got wider — from all the walking? 🙂 Whatever it is, don’t leave home without your best pair of walking shoes. And mind you, they don’t have to be those white sports shoes — which the French only wear when they actually DO sports. Just good ‘ol walking shoes that will allow you to comfortably last the day.
Because it is only by walking the streets of Paris that you can truly appreciate its beauty.
5. Get familiar. With the “arrondissements.”
The whole of Paris is delicately planned to follow the shape of an “escargot.” Its “districts,” commonly referred to as “arrondissements,” starts at ONE — at the epi-center of it all (Louvre, Les Halles, Palais Royale), all the way to TWENTY — which would be the end of the spiraling snail pattern. “So what?” one might ask. Well, my friend, just don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you as you scratch your head wondering why the coffee on the 16th was double the price of what you paid on the 4th.
Each arrondissement has its own relevance and charm, almost each one known for something distinct. Or tasty. 🙂 The price of meat, vegetables, fruits … and certainly hotel rooms… will depend on which neighborhood you are in. Likewise, walking the streets at 1:00AM on the 9th, for example, will offer you a totally different experience from running the streets at 1:00AM on the 19th.
For first-time visitors to Paris, I always think it is best to steer yourselves closer to the following arrondissements: 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 15th, 16th. Why stress yourself, right?
6. When you have accomplished #1, get yourself booked!
Most of the best restaurants in Paris have a seriously crazy long wait list. For some, it could take you up to three months to get a seat. But believe me. Most of the time, it is well worth the wait. A growing number of restaurants do take reservations online, so it is worth a check. And a plan.
Book your private walking tours, cooking classes, special dining evenings way before your visit. Nothing like maximizing your precious time.