Monday, August 17, 2009

Ten Tips On How Not To Look Like A Tourist In Paris This Summer

It’s August in Paris. And the way I can tell is because the city is almost completely devoid of Parisians and packed to overflowing with tourists.
The tourists you can spot a mile off. They dress differently, behave differently and comport themselves differently.
And while I would never argue that people should be anything other than what they are, sometimes (especially in Paris) it helps if you are able to blend in with the locals.
Not only will you be afforded marginally better service in the three cafés and restaurants that are open in the city in August (well, maybe not, but you’ll at least be given the benefit of the doubt fractionally longer by recalcitrant wait staff), you’ll also make yourself less of a target for the shysters who lie in wait to harass, rip-off or otherwise cunningly relieve you of your hard-earned travel dollars.
So, in the interests of ensuring you get as much out of your Paris experience as possible, I humbly present a list of ten tips on how to not to look like a tourist in Paris.

1. Don’t wear white sneakers

I know they’re the most comfortable shoes you own and I realise you will be doing a lot of walking while here in Pareee, but nothing screams “tourist!” more than a pair of bright white Nikes or Reeboks. When was the last time you saw Christian Dior send white sneakers down the catwalk? Try to find a comfortable walk shoe in leather – or go with a sandal. White sneakers are a particular no-no for ladies. The only time any self-respecting French woman would don a white sneaker would be to play tennis or go to the gym (which is about once in a blue moon).

2. Don’t wear TEVA sandals
(or any variation thereof).
Yes, I know I suggested a sandal above as an alternative to a white sneaker. But there are sandals and then there are TEVAS. The latter are fine if you are at a beach or backpacking through the Greek Isles, but they will only betray you as a tourist on the otherwise elegant streets of Paris.

3. Don’t wear hiking boots
See my comment above in the white sneaker entry about sacrificing comfort for style. You’re visiting The Louvre, not scaling Everest. The most testing terrain you will encounter in Paris is the white gravel surface of the Tuileries. Do you really need carbon-fibre soled, waterproof clodhoppers to conquer the rues of Paree? I think not.

4. Don’t wear sun visors or baseball caps
I know they’re practical because you can shove one in your backpack at the start of the day, but I’d say two things here:
1. the sun in Paris is really not that strong. You want full-force furnace UV rays? Visit Australia. A simple sun-screen should serve you perfectly well.
2. it’s going to ruin your hair – and no Parisian would ever step out in public without a carefully coiffed do. Even Parisian men who sport the scruffy, voluminous hair look spend hours in front of the mirror.

5. Don’t wear your camera around your neck
Wear a camera around your neck and you might as well accompany it with a large sign that reads: “I also have a large wad of euros in my wallet”. Either invest in a compact digital camera or get yourself an elegant shoulder bag to keep your camera in.

6. Invest in a pair of designer sunglasses
Sporting a pair of sunglasses that really only belong on a ski slope will betray you as a tourist faster than you can say “sacré bleu” (which, by the way, no French person ever says…). Sporty sunglasses of the multi-coloured, reflective and wrap-around variety will only draw unwanted attention to you.

7. Try to avoid wearing a backpack
It’s tough, I know, when you are going to be out all day, trudging about the city, taking in sites, to not have a carry-all on your person. But backpacks that feature water canteens hanging off them or elaborate clip and elastic systems will mark you as a tourist. You want to blend in? Get yourself a nice leather carry-all – or, if you’re a lady, one of those bottomless pit handbags.

8. Don’t wear a fanny pack
People don these monstrosities under the perverse belief that their wallets and passports are safe if carried within them. They might as well paint a bullseye on them while they’re at it. Nothing screams “steal me!” like a fanny pack.

9. Don’t carry a guide book
By all means take a guide book with you on your wanderings, but don’t walk down the street with it in your hand.

10. Keep your voice down
You’re not in Kansas any more (and lest my friends in the great state of Kansas take offense to this, let me point out I am using this phrase in its metaphorical sense rather than its literal sense). The French are a quiet, relatively understated people. They don’t feel the need to shout when they are in conversation with a neighbour. They don’t yell across Metro carriages or scream at one another in a bus. I know the experience of being a foreign city can sometimes be disorienting, unsettling or even exciting, but try to keep the voice down when you are talking to one another. You’ll make more friends among the Parisians and attract far less attention.

Oh – and number eleven (and this is probably the most important one) try to at least learn a phrase in French. Even if the only thing you learn is “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas francais” you will be amazed at the difference with which Parisians will treat you. It’s a beautiful language with a noble heritage. The French are very proud of their language and feel like it’s under seige. At least do them the courtesy of acknowledging they have their own language by using even a sentence of it. Imagine how unimpressed you’d be if a French person bowled up to you in your home town and started spouting French at you, arrogantly assuming you would understand them. Besides, you will be amazed at how quickly a Parisian will warm to you if you at least make an effort with their tongue. Give and take, people. Give and take.

Now get out there and enjoy.


guide to paris said...

wow this is really a col post. it help us( tourist) to visit paris during in summer. thanks for the post.

misterrios said...

We just came back, and had a wonderful time. We followed almost all of your rules, but we live in Berlin, so it was easy. I had to break the rule about the camera, as I am an avid photographer. You should add a twelfth rule. Get a copy of "Paris Pratique", the map booklet, as it allows you to get around and find streets easily without having to unfold a huge map, and keep turning it to find a street.

Eralda LT said...

Hilarious and helpful! I must say though, the camera tip is not very helpful for people like myself who love photography.

Jake Dear said...


Good tips -- and on related points, your readers might be interested in our our similar post: "How to blend in: 12 ('une douzaine') tips on how not to appear too much like a tourist in a Paris restaurant . . . (or least how to be a good one)." (See )

PS, concerning cameras: A super slim one that fits in your pocket takes care of the problem.

-- Jake ( )

Louise said...

This post is just a bit patronising....???? The French are chilled, gorgeous and accepting regardless. Louise

Bryce Corbett said...

Misterrios/Eralda: Jake has a good suggestion for camera toters. Invest in a slim-line version. Though I know the city is so beautiful you sometimes need one of those monster cameras to do it justice.

Louise: Sorry if you thought the post comes across as patronising. Patronising to whom? The French or Paris tourists? It's not meant to patronise anyone, but simply point out, for those who wish to blend in and not draw unnecessary attention to themselves, a few ways to look less like a visitor.

Anonymous said...

But Bryce, who cares....???? We ARE visitors. Love your blog though. L.

Megan said...

A great list!

I also heard, wear or carry a scarf at all times & don't smile too much.

Because Americans can be a smiliey bunch, but in French smilie is a come on.