5 Ways to be a Better Tourist in Paris
Leah Walker August 25, 2016

Paris isn’t just a city. For me and a few million other people, it’s the place that we live, work, and call home. Most Parisians I know have a love/hate relationship with France’s capital. Whether they’re born and raised within the périphérique or came for studies and jobs from other parts of France and the world, many can’t wait to escape to Normandy, Provence, or really, anywhere that isn’t Paris. As someone who’s in love with the City of Light, I find myself perplexed.

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A sunny Sunday on Canal St. Martin is lovely.

How could someone not love Paris? Many of the reasons I hear include traffic, cost of living, apartment size, quality of life, noise, and other Parisians. Certainly, one of the frustrations is with tourists. According to the Paris Tourism office, in 2015 there were 22.2 million hotel arrivals in the greater Paris area, over half of which came from foreign countries. Throw short-term apartment rentals into the mix {AirBnB’s biggest market is Paris}, and the number of tourists must be higher. And despite the terror attacks, which have cost the city €750 million in the last six months, Paris and France hold the crown for the most visited city and country in the world. Tourism is a double-edged sword for many Parisians, because visitors spend money, which creates jobs.

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Watch out for the bikes while in Paris.

Given that August signals vacances and most of its citizens are sunning themselves on a beach somewhere, Paris is virtually empty. Well, not totally empty; there are plenty of tourists. Strip away all the locals and Paris looks and feels a lot different—like almost unrecognizable. This is my second August in Paris, and I kind of like the change of pace that summer brings. Though, with the absence of Parisians, visitors really stand out among the crowd.

I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing where people are from based on clothing and behavior, both good and bad, but the latter really stand out. I don’t think people set out to be bad tourists, but rather it’s a lack of knowledge and understanding.

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Who doesn’t need a selfie with Mona Lisa?

“Paris is not a museum. Visitors forget people live in the city,” reminds a Frenchie and Paris resident of 30 years. So, in order to save you from the pffts, lip pursing, shoulder shrugs, and putains of Parisians, I’ve asked several locals {Frenchies and expats}, “What annoys you about tourists in Paris? What do you wish tourists knew?” And did they answer! Thus, here are five ways to be a better tourist in Paris.

Make Better Outfit Choices

Paris is the fashion capital of the world, but don’t think that every day is a Chanel show. Just step foot in the metro and you’ll see exactly what I mean. However, men and women are generally better put together than most other places. For instance, you’re not going to see people wearing yoga pants, unless they’re actually doing yoga. French see putting thought into your appearance as a sign of respect for those around you. “In Paris, one dresses up for dinner and a show. I do find the excessive ‘comfort’ oriented dress for theater, show, dinner, or cocktails often very inappropriate and utterly disturbing!” believes one Belgian expat.

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A leather jacket and jeans are simple, yet chic.

Even if it’s just a quick trip to the post office, French are basically dressed in what would be considered American business casual. “I think my biggest ‘hate’ is how sloppily tourists dress. My all-time worst would have to be flip-flops. Those things are disgusting outside of a pool or off the beach. No one should be traipsing around the city in them. A little bit of self-respect is in order, non?” says a 13-year Paris resident, Pennsylvania native, and French citizen. “Baseball caps are another annoying thing,” he adds.

Walk this Way

A common thread among all the answers has to do with walking. Sounds like a simple thing–one foot in front of the other, right? Not so fast, my friend. Well, actually, yes, speed it up! “People live and work here, so get off the f*%#ing sidewalk if you’re going to dawdle,” says a Canadian expat living in Paris for six years. Equally frustrated by the slow, oblivious tourists is a twenty-year resident. “Walk like a Parisian and don’t f&%@ing stop all the time; don’t stand in the middle of the street for selfies; and don’t try to reach the Arc de Triomphe by walking on the roundabout!”

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Don’t walk across the traffic circle. There’s an underground passage way!

Yes, Paris is stunningly beautiful, and every 50 meters, there’s something worth Instagramming and Snapchatting. However, stopping in the middle of a walkway is akin to slamming your car breaks in the middle of the street. “Look around all the time to make sure you’re not blocking others on the sidewalk or in the metro, as you take photos or stand aimlessly waiting for the bus,” says the American wife of a Frenchie.

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Keep moving and to your right.

Personally, I’d like to add that just because you’re a group of three or four doesn’t mean that you have to walk shoulder-to-shoulder, taking up the entire sidewalk as you saunter down the Seine. Causing others to step into the street to get around you is both rude and dangerous.

Stop Complaining

If complaining was an Olympic sport, the French would be gold-medal contenders. However, when the French complain about their country, it’s OK. As a visitor, it’s considered rude. As a three-year Paris resident from the American East Coast explains, “MANY Frenchies understand English, so you aren’t hiding the complaining by speaking in English. Everybody hears you and finds it irritating and offensive. Expect that the systems are different here. Stop complaining that things aren’t the way they are in your home country; be open to the differences.”

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Froot Loops cost €10 per box! Even I’m guilty of complaining in Paris.

A German expat echoes that sentiment. “Don’t expect everybody to behave like in your country–other countries, other cultures.” A New Yorker living in Paris for eight years adds, “…tourists have a sense of entitlement. They are guests here; act like one. You’re an ambassador of your country as a visitor!”

Speak Softly

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Not everyone on the terrace needs to hear your conversation.

One thing that I’ve especially become accustomed to is the soft-spoken voices of the French. When I go back to Texas, my ears bleed from the loud music and even louder conversations in restaurants. Seriously, French just speak more quietly than other nationalities. “I find visitors to speak very loudly, especially Americans,” explains one expat from the USA. Perhaps this part of the French culture developed out of necessity {Have you seen how close the café tables are?}, but it’s a nuance that’s quite important. Thus, when in Paris, remember to speak softly, especially in enclosed spaces.

Learn the French Dining Culture

I’ve written on numerous occasions about the food culture in France. Meals here are meant to be savored. With the exception of a crêpe, food is not eaten on the go. Drive thrus don’t exist to my knowledge, and it’s rare to find a French place that will put your coffee in a to-go cup. “Slow down at restaurants and stop complaining about the service. Start to expect, and learn to enjoy, a slow meal; the waiters think you want to take your time. It’s part of the culture and part of why Parisians are skinny!” proclaims an American expat. Also, keep in mind that the waiter isn’t being rude by not bringing the check. On the contrary, bringing the mealtime check without being asked is seen as rushing the customer. When you’re ready to leave, catch the waiter’s eye and say, L’addition, s’il vous plait.”

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There’s not an ice cube on this entire terrace.

It may come as a surprise, but doggie bags just aren’t part of French culture. In fact, this year France passed a law mandating that eating establishments serving over 150 tables per day must provide take away packaging. The law was passed in an effort to curb food waste, but since the law was enacted, I’ve yet to see a Frenchy’s leftovers packaged. Another thing, French aren’t really ice people, unless it’s in a cocktail or swimming in their rosé on a hot day. Order a Coke, and you’ll get a lemon slice and maybe one ice cube. Just go with it.

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No need to be this fancy for a Parisian picnic.

One lifelong Parisian wants visitors to step out of their comfort zones and taste what France has to offer, which is more than croissants and macarons. “The simplest things are often the best things–enjoy a good picnic.” Indeed, Parisians love a good picnic. No need for an elaborate setup, just stop by the fromogerie, boulangerie, and boucherie. Remember some fruit and a bottle of wine. With Paris as your backdrop, there’s no way you can go wrong.

And Some Positive Words

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Greetings are very important in France. Always say bonjour or bonsoir.

I didn’t just hear negative comments. There were plenty of positive ones as well. One Paris native said, “I like the fact that tourists visit Paris and love her.” Another believes “…tourists to be less annoying than Parisians. I find tourists to be in a constant state of elation, mostly cheerful and enthusiastic.”

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Love locks were removed from Pont des Arts for a reason! This is my biggest pet peeve.

Frankly, I’m in agreement with the complaints and praises. Though sometimes frustrating, I enjoy seeing visitors fall in love with Paris. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to live here. So please, visit Paris, take your selfies, but for the love of God, FORGET THE LOVE LOCKS.

5 Ways to be a Better Tourist in Paris by Leah Walker

Note: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I make a small commission if you make a purchase through my links. It costs you nothing more, but helps keep me stocked in French wine {and a roof over my head}.

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

38 Comments

  1. It’s really interesting to hear what ways locals feel you can be a better tourist when visiting Paris. As a fairly new resident of France’s fifth largest city, Bordeaux, I’d say a lot of these apply there and to most of France. Though in Bordeaux, there is a huge take-away culture and the containers dot picnic blankets to enjoy just about whatever in a lovely garden or park. One thing I would add is to please, PLEASE clean up and toss out your rubbish. Tourists leave corks, bottles and other rubbish behind and there are seriously rubbish bins everywhere.

    And for the French, it doesn’t kill you to carry bags and clean up after your dog. It’s ridiculous how many people stop to thank me for cleaning up after my dog. The French can bitch about me running out in shorts and tshirt to walk my dog, but it’s far more disgusting that they leave merde everywhere.

    1. I agree, these apply basically everywhere in France. I’m not referring to take away food, but rather taking the leftovers after you’ve dined in a restaurant. Doggie bags just aren’t done. Speaking of dogs, the poop problem has gotten better over the last few years, but there are still those people who refuse or only do it when someone is watching.

  2. All these comments from these folks are quite interesting and they hold true any country. Complaining to a local about their bureoucracy or lifestyle, merits you to leave that country. You don’t like it, leave. When I visit or live in a place, I attempt to become a native and imitate their customs to the point of advocating for said place. Yes, things might be wonderful in your country of origin but then again, why not appreciate the country for its perks. For the Parisians, they need to lighten up; let’s understand there are people saving in their piggy banks for years to make it to the “most romantic place on earth” as it is donned by many. People, Individually or in Groups will stop to mesmerize over its beauty for longer than 5 minutes.. sorry! Boo-hoo ! We don’t have this problem in Houston! 😉 (sarcasm) Lastly, I would also like to say, I am a loud person in general. I am after all a Mexican, and as my maternal Grandfather used to say, I was Breastfed; therefore I have good lungs and loud voice. (not sure how its related) I will be heard for miles around, and its ok as long as I’m not in a Library, church, hospital or now Paris… 😉

    1. Great comment! I get what you’re saying about advocating for the place you’ve chosen to call home. I find myself sticking up for France and Parisians more than the French or Parisians. I guess it’s because I choose to live here, rather than being born here. Also a great point about appreciating a place for its perks. So true! And I’m really laughing at the breast fed comment. I laughed out loud.

  3. I’m a foreigner living in Paris with a dog and I always scoop mon chiens’ poop – but it seems like I’m the only one in my neighbourhood. One day while my dog was doing his biz, an extraordinarily well-dressed French lady of a certain age (oh, how I do love those Parisian dammes…) gave me a truly sour look and asked if I was going to pick-up my pooch’s poop. “Mais oui” I replied… “I’m NOT French!”.

  4. These are great and applicable in much of Europe. I’m visiting Paris w/my Mom (her first visit) and I’ve already done a clothing pre-packing evaluation to explain what is appropriate for her to bring.
    I agree with the food exploration outside of croissants – we have booked a food tour and wine tastings to taste a bit of the French gastronomy

    1. Oh, that’s great that you’re visiting with your mom. And going through her suitcase sounds like something I would have done to my mother. I’m happy you’ve booked a food tour and wine tastings. Who are you doing them with?

      1. Hi Leah – mom and I are booked for Small group Food tour with Context, VIP Louvre w/wine tasting with City Wonders and Versailles (the quick tour) with City Line – had to mix it up because mom said “don’t we just get on a bus”? Um no mom we now have a plethora of options. Doing our own DIY champagne tour to epernay with tasting at Chandon –

    1. French understand that it’s a very difficult language to learn, but it’s the assumption that everyone speaks English that maddens them most. At least greet in French, before asking if they speak English will go a long way. So many French people believe their English isn’t good and apologize for their accent. I always tell them, “No! You’re English is much better than my French. And, I love your accent.” It always gets a smile.

  5. This is spot on, Leah!
    My daughter and I were fortunate to have lived in (on the edge of) the Marais all last summer. Our flat (on Rue des Tournelles, Place des Vosges was our backyard!) was tiny but perfectly charming. We arrived in June, the day of the big taxi strike, so major challenges getting to our flat.
    Once there, we were soooo thrilled with its quaint beauty and beautiful courtyard. Ahhh, we were finally in Paris! So many adventures ahead! We ventured out, had our first meal in Paris, learned a lot from our Frenchie waiter… who was oh so cool at first but quickly warmed up to our Southern charm and was our best friend by the end our meal. haha.
    We picked up (another) bottle of wine on our walk back to our flat. Apparently we didn’t notice how quiet our courtyard was. We were happy, happy to finally be in Paris after so much planning and then our horrendous ‘taxi strike’ day. We flung open our lovely floor to ceiling French casement windows… uncorked our bottle of Rosé and Facetimed (Internet!! woo hoo) our family to let them know all was well… We were laughing and being our loud Southern selves. ..
    We had zero clue how rude we were being until the next morning when we were awakened by 3 French women in our courtyard, jabbering endlessly and pointing up at our flat. What??? Even then I had no idea why they were so mad until I noticed one of them mimicking a talking gesture with her hands and the cadence in her voice… It was clear she was saying, ‘they talked and talked and talked and went on and on and on’.
    I am laughing even now thinking about it, but it was a crystal clear (much needed) message to our cultural differences. A Frenchie slap in the face.
    We adapted quickly and began to embrace the quieter, more respectful French culture.and by about our 5th or 6th week we were completely annoyed with tourists. Sadly, especially Americans, but other specific (rude) nationalities as well.
    I loved your point on greeting the French. It’s so important to them! It’s almost cute. ‘Bonjour!’ They really also love being reminded of their gender. ‘Bonjour, Madame… Bonjour, Monsieur … Bonus points for that! If you forget the greeting they are so disappointed, I’ve seen shoulders slump in sadness at museums… ‘Ah, over and over, no bonjour. How can I bare it?’ Ha But, that small little greeting can buy you a zillion points with the French. i would also add, ‘merci, au revoir’ to the ‘must say’ list.
    We’re obviously back home (in Arkansas!) and missing Paris every single day. My daughter married the love of her life in Normandy at the end of our trip. Our immediate families and and a few friends joined us.
    We are forever changed by our French adventure and can not wait to return.
    Loooove following your blog and happy that you are living your dream. Perhaps we can meet up one of these days! 🙂

    1. I loved reading about your first night in Paris. So funny and I can see it as if I was there. I hope y’all get back to Paris. We can meet on a terrace for some wine or a Coke with a lemon and no ice. 😉

  6. Regarding the restaurant/bar industry, if only tourists would realize that tipping is NOT included in the bill (a common myth that is still passed around today… None of those “taxes” are tipping taxes. None of them go to your server!). Although there is no standard expectation of percentage, as we have in North America, it is something that is always appreciated, by French and expat restaurant workers alike.
    Nothing is more disheartening when your customers have demanded American-style service and loads of attention without leaving a tip or even a word of appreciation. In France, restaurants are not staffed as they are in America. We often have one person working when an American restaurant would have four or five. If you continuously ask for one more glass of water, another side of sauce, some ice, to beg the kitchen to stay open later for one more dish after the chefs have already cleaned, etc. every time your server passes by your table and leave no appreciation, it’s quite enticing to just give that simple response of “Non, c’est pas possible.” the next time.

    1. I agree and good point. If you’re going to expect and demand more than the basic service, then tipping is a nice gesture. I don’t think the 20% North Americans tip is necessary, as the restaurant and bar workers in France are paid a livable wage and have various benefits. I always leave a little something, whether it’s a cup of coffee or a dinner.

  7. As someone who regularly visits Paris – and STILL can’t dress right – that comment from the 13 year old about flip flops was a delight to read haha! Loved getting the local insight and I’m going for the flat shoes, jeans and white t shirt ensemble on my next trip 😉 Great post!

  8. I lived in Paris last year for several months and I agree with what you say about embracing Parisian culture when you’re an expat or a tourist, but I feel you’re being very rude and condescending towards Americans now that you live there. You only have one compliment that Parisians enjoy about Tourists? Hummm… but when I was living there I did none of what your list said, but French people are loud also “without speaking” meaning those obvious rude looks they give tourist when they do something annoying not knowing that they did. I feel since tourists aren’t going anywhere, the French should get over themselves and be a little kinder and really learn English and use it! Since the main language for business is English and most other European countries speak it quite well. Alsoyou say French people are known for being stylish but I only noticed two looks, black leather jackets, jeans, scarves and black mini boots “the Uniform of the French” I called it LOL. And don’t get me started on the smells of some of the French, please take more showers!!… Now this is just a take on how an American from Los Angeles felt about my time in Paris. See it goes both ways, It was not all pretty! How about the French take a tip from Americans for once? Example: When hoards of Tourist take to Bevely Hill, Rodeo Drive and the Movie Studios at least the locals are still kind and polite to all the selfie takers and tour bus riders striding and riding all through the streets of Beverly hills . Beverly Hills don’t need the tourist money like Paris does but we “Loud Americans” are still polite to Tourist and also we keep dog poop off the side walks of Beverly Hills, and our other beautiful cities, unlike Paris.
    So let’s keep this in perspective and appreciate All peoples cultural differences and not act like one is more “refined’ than the others, because we can all learn something from each other. This is Just my personal input on this subject.😊

    1. Teena, thanks for your comment. In regard to the part about being rude and condescending, you realize that the comments were quotes from people I interviewed, both expats and French? These are widely held opinions by people who live here. There are more positive things that were said, but that wasn’t the purpose of the article, which was how to be a better tourist. I added the ones at the end to let people know that tourists are also appreciated.

      I also disagree that the French should ‘really learn English.’ That’s like saying that everyone in the USA should learn Spanish, because there are so many speakers visiting and moving to America. Italy is the second most visited country in the world. Do you think the Italians should learn English, too? I’ve been all over Italy, and there are many place I’ve visited that nobody speaks any English. I think that’s just fine. I’ve chosen to live in France, and I need to learn French. I adapt to France. It doesn’t adapt to me.

      As for French fashion, it’s a matter of taste. I will say that classics never go out of style, but I still mix in bright colors with the black and grey. Yes, to the smells. Sometimes I wonder if those people who don’t shower or use deodorant can’t smell at all.

      Comparing Beverly Hills, a small enclave of LA, isn’t the same as Paris. If 22.5 million people poured into Beverly Hills, do you think they’d be so friendly? I think not.

      I agree with your point about appreciating cultural differences. However, when you are in somebody else’s home, you respect their customs, no? My mom used to say, “My house. My rules.” I think that applies to travel, too.

  9. Thanks for your response Leah, but I stand by everything I said… I currently live and work in Italy and most Italians do speak English and are happy to practice as they know in these these times doing business in English is essential. And yes I do believe I should learn their language as well and I do. In California there are a lot of Spanish speakers and I have to be able to
    Speak Spanish in some communities to get by, but yes in America you should at least know basic English to get by, but if you’re struggling with the language we Americans will help you with it and not get too annoyed to help, unlike the French (well at least most of us would) Lol… But we agree on one thing, that no culture is superior than the other and we can learn from each other. But like it or not, times has changed and they will have to change with it or get left behind! The increasing decline in tourism will eventually do the trick I feel… But I have also learned the French don’t like change and it may not make a difference, just like the sweltering hot days in Paris those last few days but they refuse to use the AC because they swear its not THAT hot UGH!! Lol.

  10. I love your advice. And living in an American tourist city, much of it applies here as well. So much of it is common courtesy that people forget when they go on vacation. Thanks for a great post and reminder.

  11. Totally agree with you and I believe most of the points mentioned apply everywhere. My only objection with Paris is that even though they understand English (some of them they don’t speak)

    1. The French aren’t trying to make it difficult for you, rather they are very nervous about making mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been apologized to for their English and accents. It’s something that goes back to how things are in school. There are no points for trying and only ridicule for mistakes. It’s a cultural thing that’s very different from the USA.

  12. Leah you really hit a home room with this post. As others have said previously most of these suggestion are either common sense or common courtesy. Unfortunately, both are a sadly hard to find. I would also add learn basic French phrases. We’re visiting your country we need to be respectful and learn at least a little of the language.

  13. I love Paris and think it is the most beautiful city at night. I never realized the thing with the “to go” stuff and but that I think about it I cannot remember many people with drinks in their hands 🙂

  14. haha I was dying at the “make better fashion choices” and “stop complaining.” I complain a lot when I travel through Europe about the price – but I just need to get used to it. As for the fashion…well you don’t have to dress like coco chanel, but you don’t have to dress like a broke backpacker either (how I was 5 years ago). Need to go back and use these tips!

    1. I’m used to the prices now, but you should see me when I’m in London or Switzerland! OH MY! Come back to Paris and see it from non-broke backpacker perspective. However, the best things about Paris don’t cost a thing.

  15. This kind of complaining is true not only in France – almost all the nations think it’s ok if they complain about their own country, but will strongly oppose the moment a foreigner tries it :0

    1. It’s true, but the French are world-class complainers. I love to see them get a little defensive about their country. It shows a little bit of pride, which is normally seen as something only fascists do .

  16. Paris is amazing, but not perfect. But even with its flaws, there’s no way someone should skip the city. Great post, Leah. Oh, and “interesting” comments from that one reader. 🙂

    1. Yes, Paris isn’t perfect at all. Though, it’s so marvelous that I’m willing to deal with those imperfections. Yes, I don’t really follow the argument from that comment. However, to each their own.

  17. Thank you for your insight. If I wanted things to be like the States I would stay home. I love Paris and the people – I like in Washington D C – we have tourists who don’t get it here –
    I could live in Paris very easily

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