5 Things Americans visiting Paris need to know

 In Europe

There is a problem every American visiting Paris will face when they arrive in the City of Light. Besides it being a foreign city with a different language, food scene, and an endless string of historical and artistic sights, there is also an unspoken code of conduct that is hard to navigate. Although we were only visiting Paris for five days (tragic as this is not enough time to be in Paris. Ever!), we did glean a few valuable norms of social etiquette during our stay. We also found a few surprises, both good (the metro) and bad (the coffee) that we never expected, but are glad we can pass on to you.

  1. Café culture is a way of life, not a quick caffeine fix. The coffee is not always good, but the conversation is stimulating and unforgettable. You don’t simply grab a coffee to go, although they do have Starbucks. You linger and savor the conversation and friendships.
  2. Greet everyone. If you only learn one French word learn “Bonjour.” Every time you go into any shop say bonjour. It is polite to greet people when you enter their shop or need help no matter where you travel in the world, but especially so in Paris. Don’t be rude. Greet everyone.
  3. Thank you goes a long way. I went to Paris with about 10 words of French language in my repertoire. Although I wish I had known more, simply saying “merci” took me a very long way. I would greet with Bonjour (no matter the time of day this was my fall back just to be polite) and I would leave every shop with “Merci, au revoir!”
  4. The Dijon mustard is spicy. Order yourself a steak and a little carafe of Dijon mustard will come out with it most times. This is not mild American Dijon mustard. It is spicy, almost like a horseradish sauce and can really clear your sinuses. This is one of the spiciest things you will be presented in France. It is delicious and something every U.S. grocery store should be carrying. Sadly they do not.
  5. Paris metro is one of the most beautiful forms of transportation you can find. If you have ridden any subway in the world, you can figure out Paris, especially if you have conquered NYC’s system, or even the DC metro. If you are not a frequent user of a metro, have no fear. All of the subway lines in the city are numbered and they have colors too. Refer to the numbers though as some of the colors start to look the same. Read more about riding the Paris metro.

The one thing all Americans visiting Paris need to remember most of all is that Parisians are not snobby. They are a very proud people. Keep that in mind and your attitude will shift and you will understand the city a whole lot better.

Have you been to Paris? What do you think people need to know before they head to the City of Light?


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Showing 9 comments
  • Kate and Mike

    Nice post. Regarding #4, Americans can get their fix of Dijon mustard from the Maille store at the Place de la Madeleine. They have more flavors of Dijon mustard than we ever thought possible.

    • Keryn Means

      Oh GREAT tip!!!! Will have to check it out next time we are in town.

  • Amy

    So true. We LOVED the metro, and we immediately noticed that our habit of ‘grab a coffee and danish on the run’ was NOT going to work. When in another culture, you have to adjust.

  • Mandi Korn

    Just found your blog and I really like this post. Your honesty is fantastic and I love the advice you give. I cannot wait to read more about you and your families travels.

    • Keryn Means

      I’m so glad you found us! I like to keep travel real for all of us. After all, no parent, no matter who you are or how much money you have, ever has a seamless trip. We might as well be honest about it, show the flows, but also highlight the fun.

  • Kristina

    Totally agree on all, including making a stop at the Maille store, where you can fill your own crocks with mustard from big jars. And if you’re in the Place de Madeline, make sure you check out the subterranean public restrooms built by Porcher in 1905. They are gorgeous Belle Epoque.

  • Jen

    Useful information, we will take note of this when we travel to Paris sometime this year. How was your experience in Place de Madeline?

    • Keryn Means

      Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend much time there Jen, but it was beautiful and easy to walk around and explore. We already have plans to go back to Paris to dig in even more. Have a wonderful trip!

  • Karen Dawkins

    When we went, we spent time preparing — the kids learning about the city, culture, history. They had a lot more respect once they understood how old Paris is — and how much has happened there. We also dressed for Paris: the kids wore collared shirts and jeans without holes in the knees. We learned a few phrases and asked a lot of questions. At one restaurant, the only ‘fancy’ one on our itinerary, my kids had such an enjoyable time that the server hugged them before we left. Ellie adored her. We love Paris!

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