If you look like a tourist in Paris, everyone will be out to get you. Restaurant waiters will lure you into their establishments only to serve an overpriced microwaved dish. Commuters will click their tongues if you ever so slightly brush them with your backpack. A scruffy Sorbonne guy will try to impress you with the four Tagalog words he knows. It could get tough. I had to learn it the hard way. To make the most of your stay in the dreamy French capital, here are a few pointers on how to do Paris like a local—which means not getting hassled by the abovementioned.
First, put on your “Paris face,” which is a grimace that silently says “freaking try to bother me, I dare you.” This mix of aloofness and slight annoyance at everything will be your coat of protection, easily assimilating you to the rest of the local population. Exhibiting anything other than stone-cold indifference will expose you as an outsider and will mark you as a target to the free radicals floating around town.
Next, mobility. If you need to go somewhere, try and see if you can walk to the place. Parisians walk. Paris is a city made to be walked in. More and more streets are closing entry to cars, to give way to pedestrians. Yes, you might see Parisians riding some sort of machine but bicycles are reserved for the truly brave, and, well, electric scooters are just not very chic, no? If you do have to ride something, check the bus routes in the proximity. If there are no buses going your way and you are not ready to shell out 30 euros on an Uber, you are left with a very difficult last resort: taking the métro.
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The Parisian métro is very efficient and swiftly takes you to where you need to be, but you need to be always alert. You can get a carnet of 10 tickets for the price of 8, a Paris Visite unlimited pass, or, most Parisian of all, just jump over the baffle gate and look out for inspectors. On the train, do not look at anyone. Do not talk to anyone. Do not smile, not even at the charming monsieur playing La Vie en Rose on his accordion. It’s a trap.
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By now, you must be functioning like any other Parisian with a tough, don’t-bother-me face and an eye-roll at the ready. You are doing good. Now on to more important things. Escargots. Ideally, you would have this at a nearby bistro whose menu only comes in French and whose barman you know on a first-name basis. La Tartine, a classic French bistro with a 1930s interior on Rue de Rivoli, serves a good batch of buttery snails by the dozen. P.S. their barman is a hefty dark-haired Frenchman named David, aided by a young waiter named Benoit. You’re welcome.
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Another thing, when you enter a restaurant, or a pharmacy, or a bookstore, always say ‘Bonjour,’ or even hello, before you ask anything. This makes a world of difference. This elevates the chances of the sales assistant actually trying to look for your size in the stockroom as opposed to her just checking her phone and calling it a day. This almost makes the waiter feel bad about placing you in a sucky table and dipping his finger in your coffee. A bonjour before anything else goes a long way.
Forget about museums for now. Go instead to gallery openings. There is always at least two or three good ones at any given night. Spend the night looking at interesting oeuvres, maybe a vaguely phallic clay sculpture, possibly a tapestry woven with blonde human hair. Try to share insightful observations and ask compelling questions, all while draining not half-bad free booze. Here, you will meet a Swiss man who curiously speaks worse French than you and a German exchange student whose name you will try, and fail, to pronounce. It will not matter because you will forget it in two seconds anyway.
Ideally, you would try to meet these new friends for apéro, the French equivalent of pre-dinner drinks. An afternoon delight, if you will. When this occasion comes, you must have already mastered the art of la bise. In Manila, maybe you give one beso, maybe an air kiss, maybe a hug. Here, you give everyone always, always two kisses. Do this correctly and ensure a good rapport throughout the night, fail and you will have to sit through an awkward soirée, salvageable only with copious amounts of alcohol. Dirty Dick at Pigalle serves delicious Tiki-style cocktails, Paname Brewing Company overlooking the Canal de l’Ourcq brews a fine draft beer in-house, Café Chérie is a cool dancy bar at the edgy 19th arrondissement.
You may want to go shopping. Try to evade the big department stores with their tax-free counters and their tourists herded by the buses. Go instead to tiny specialized boutiques like Vintage Désir on Rue des Rosiers. (Grab a falafel in the neighboring stands while you’re there). L’Eclaireur and The Broken Arm stocks trendy fashion pieces while La Compagnie des Hommes in the Marais offers a curation of preloved menswear items from labels like Margiela, Raf Simons, and Givenchy. While a bit touristy, Citypharma near Boulevard Saint Germain offers a complete selection of French pharmacy classics at unbeatable prices.
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A weekend market is also a very Parisian idea. Go buy produce which could even be cheaper and definitely more wholesome than the ones found in the grocery. Get spices and herbs, special cheeses from small French regions, pounds of smoky merguez, even fresh baguettes, leather things, and lavender honey. Marché Iéna is a picturesque one near Palais de Tokyo where you can go for a caffeine boost before, while Marché d’Aligré is grittier and more village-y but surrounded by hip bars with tables outside ideal for post-marché drinks.
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If you are here during the warmer months, join in the outdoors fun in one of the numerous hangout spaces scattered throughout the city like Buttes Chaumont, Place des Vosges, Square du Vert Gallant by the Seine, and Canal Saint Martin. The Petit Palais opens its gilded double doors for free, the perfect occasion for a non-cliché museum visit. A big plus is the café located in the interior garden, equipped with an intricate mosaic floor, frescoed high ceilings, and imposing Tuscan columns set against lush tropical plants and the view of the central dome of the palace.
In Paris, you always get this feeling that something amazing is happening somewhere—but do not try to do everything at once. There is nothing worse than frenzy pingponging from one monument to another, only to go home and realize that you have not really seen Paris. It is an amazing city, monumental and historic, yes, but whose real charms are found in the little things: a generously-filled pain au chocolat, a chatty taxi driver with an amazing jazz playlist, a truistic street graffiti that you feel was written for you, maybe a lovely stranger at a laundromat that you will never see again.
Iconic French novelist Honoré de Balzac said that a person who does not visit Paris often enough will never be truly elegant. So as a last parting advice, I recommend that you streamline your itinerary and focus on things that really interest you. Take your time. Come often. That, and never, ever change at Chatêlet station.