Guest Post: Paris Dos and Don’ts

When my sister, daughter and I visited Paris for a few days a couple of years ago I found a wonderful guide. Richard Nahem, born and raised in New York, fell in love with Paris and moved there. I hired him as our guide for parts of two days to explore back streets and out of the way places tourists don’t see as a way to really learn how real people live in Paris.

Richard has a blog,  I prefer Paris, and a website  eye prefer Paris tours. Please check them out, especially if you are planning a trip to Paris. He recently had a guest post by a friend and I also received permission to post what she wrote. Her blog Paris Do, Paris Don’t provides great insight for proper behavior. Again, if you are planning a first trip to Paris, take some time to read through this blog to gain some level of understanding how to avoid some gauche ugly Americanisms when going there.

My new favorite Paris blog is Paris Do, Paris Don’t. It’s hilarious, irreverent, and oh so true. Clearly the writer has a gift for irony and sarcasm. Right up my alley. Because I like it so much, I asked Paris Do, Paris Don’t (he or she wishes to remain anonymous, which I can appreciate) if they would write a guest post with their top Paris tourist Do’s and Don’ts. Here they are and I hope your find them as fresh and funny as I do. Photos were also provided by Paris Do, Paris Don’t.

Don’t Seine by Night
We all know that Paris is the City of Light; some might even argue that it is most beautiful under the shadows of the night. There is nothing more titillating in Paris than the reflection of these lovely lights upon the Seine as they create impressionistic colors and movements across the dark waters. Your first instinct is to make like the movies and take a romantic moonlit stroll along the rippling Seine, don’t. No sane Parisian would dare do it and neither should you. The only thing that takes to the Seine after hours are big fat marauding rats and maybe some teenage boys playing the bongos. The banks of the Seine are positively crawling with nightlife, but of a sickening variety. If you simply can’t resist the Seine at night, do a cheesy boat tour or better yet, stay above sea level and keep the bubonic plague in the 15th century where it belongs.

Do Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Hands down best park in all of Paris. Nestled in the southern corner of the 19th, Buttes Chaumont is the most picturesque of the many Parisian parks. From the grassy knolls to the waterfalls, lake, cupola, grottos and fantastic vistas of Montmartre, Buttes Chaumont is the full pastoral package. Undoubtedly, it is the inspiration behind the Swiss Family tree house but it’s one hundred times better because it’s real, free, and the only way to spend your weekends and lazy afternoons. Do go, it is a complete country escape without ever having to step foot on the RER, and the cherry on top is you will be the only tourist traipsing around. So expand your horizons, spread out that picnic blanket and bask in the charming Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Don’t de Flore
Every travel book will tell you to stop, drop, and roll out your euros at the famous Café de Flore. I won’t because it’s a Don’t. Frozen food is great and all, but when it comes in the form of a greasy croque monsieur that will set you back 18 euros, no thanks. Sure it has ‘history’ and is pretty inside, but so are 89% of any given corner cafes in Paris. You can gage the level of meh this cafe provokes by the ¾ eyeroll a Parisian will give you upon hearing the words de Flore escape your lips. But beware; Parisians will not directly discourage your enthusiasm because they rely on places such as de Flore to keep your touristy self out of all the good cafes–classic Parisian decoy. So if you want to pay for overpriced food and drinks and watch hordes of tourist walk by, then by all means I suggest you go and enjoy all Cafe du Flore has to offer. Otherwise, be brave, walk a block in any direction and find another terrace table to be Parisian at.

DO Marché aux Oiseaux
It’s weird, but it’s worth a peek. Every Sunday all the strange old birdmen gather on Île de la Cité to buy, sell and trade their feathered friends. I’m no bird expert and probably any bird aficionado wouldn’t dare waste their time admiring the wide selection of common street pigeons; but it’s not about the birds, it’s really about the people who love and care for them. The bird vendors will undoubtedly give you suspicious looks as you admire their cockatoos, but that just adds to the charm of the entire experience–I mean, this wouldn’t be Paris if you didn’t get at least one disparaging glare. And if nothing else, a morning at the bird market makes your Sunday poulet rôti taste so much sweeter.

Don’t Moulin Rouge
You all saw Moulin Rouge, listened to Lady Marmalade and fantasized about paying homage to that infamous red windmill haunt of bohemians and cancan girls. Today if you venture to Pigalle, I regret to inform you that your Toulouse-Lautrec green fairy dreams are about to be crushed by a neon sign wave of cheesy, sleazy, raunchy sex clubs. So don’t sully your pristine Baz Luhrmann fantasies with the tacky Parisian reality. The thing is, it isn’t even very good at being sleazy (you would be more wowed by the red light districts of Amsterdam, Tijuana or even Miami), you will be overwhelmed by how underwhelming it all is. Moral of the story: if you ever do venture to the edge of the 9eme, just grab your poppers and make like the wind–not the windmill.

DO Opera Garnier
Get ye to the Opera Garnier. This ornate spectacle had been deemed the jewel box of the city and it couldn’t live up to its name more with every visible surface dripping with gilt, glass, murals, gems etc. Quite frankly, it gives Versailles a run for its bijou. The best part about the Opera is if you arrive an hour before the performance you can score a 9e rush ticket and then you can enjoy the world-class Paris ballet, sit in a private box that looks like a bordello (forget Moulin Rouge) and then sip champagne in the grand foyer during intermission. Yes pliése.

Don’t Les Halles
Emile Zola immortalized the great Les Halles Parisian food market in his famous The Belly of Paris. His vivid descriptions of cheese, meat, flowers and ragamuffins have all contributed to Paris’ reputation as the gastronomic center of the universe. 150 years later, the only thing that remains of this once gluttonous mecca are a few abandoned construction sights, a lot of fecal matter (of the human variety), some pan handlers, a McDonald’s, a souvenir vendor or two, and that’s about it. If Zola were around now, he would probably call it The Rectum of Paris, and rightly so, as nothing but waste remains of its once rich commercial history. Go left or right of center and find the weekly neighborhood markets to fulfill your food fantasies but don’t get lost in Les Halles.

DO Tour Eiffel Light Show
Most Parisians will tell you they abhor this, they’re being sincere, they really do, but this is because they’re French and hating the Eiffel Tower is a prerequisite for citizenship. You, on the other hand, are a tourist and no matter what, you cannot resist the charms of this iconic structure. Don’t fight the inevitable, do the tower, but more importantly do the tower at night every hour on the hour because that’s when it puts on a shimmery light spectacular. It probably is a ploy by Parisians to give seizures to the likes of you, but brain spasms or not, there is nothing more enchanting than that light display at 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 on the dot–you literally cannot miss it.

Please DO read Paris Do, Paris Don’t .

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