There are thousands of articles on things to do in Paris, this is exactly the opposite. It’s also very important to remember the things NOT to do!
1. Don’t rush. Life in Paris is about making time, especially for people. Be prepared to slow down!
2. Don’t even think, “Everyone speaks English.” Whether they do or not, they are French. (What language do you speak at home?) The quality of your stay will depend directly on what French you attempt and—more important—on knowing some basic French manners.
The Basics When you enter a shop, a room—even a building foyer or elevator—acknowledge whomever you see. Say “Bonjour, Madame” or “Bonjour, Monsieur” (never just “Bonjour,” and never combine the greetings as “Bonjour Madame, Monsieur”). By evening, say “Bonsoir, Madame (Monsieur).” As you leave a shop, say “Merci” or “Au revoir.” Elsewhere say “Bonne journée” (Have a good day) and, at night, “Bonne soirée” (Have a good evening). Around the holidays, add a “Bonnes fêtes à vous.” Also: don’t smile all the time. Say “Pardon” when you disturb anyone and “S’il vous plaît” before asking anything. You can easily practice pronunciation in advance.
3. Don’t overschedule. Leave time for discoveries. Book in advance for big museum shows (or movies), especially those that just opened. The same is true of blockbusters in their final days (derniers jours). Otherwise, you may queue for hours.
4. Don’t fail to dress neatly. Parisians assume everyone wants to be dressed well. No big white sneakers (no matter what you read), no jogging pants, no short shorts.
5. Don’t fall for the “surly French waiter” stereotype. Paris has all kinds of staff. The solution to perceived service problems is 1) remain polite, 2) remain patient and 3) never tell anyone he or she is “wrong.” (This is considered an act of incredible rudeness.) In fact, those who receive your apology—if you tell them that you misheard or that you were wrong*—may become transformed; they must demonstrate that they can be equally polite. Remember, French battles are rarely won by Anglo-Saxon tactics.
6. Don’t expect “convenience.” Paris has its own rhythms. Most museums close Mondays or Tuesdays; almost everything (except museums and movies) shuts down completely on Sundays and on holidays.
7. Don’t pack clothes that need constant dry cleaning. A “pressing” is often slow and expensive. Also, leave synthetics at home during the warm months. Paris is humid, so natural fibers are far more comfortable.
8. Don’t carry a wet umbrella, however small, around any store. If there is no stand by the door, a salesperson can tell you where to place it. Stores such as Le Bon Marché offer plastic slip-on covers at entrances.
9. Don’t look for bargain rates on French makeup or luxury labels. When you buy these in Paris, you also pay for the real estate. Especially if you normally buy online, prices will shock you.
10. Don’t expect closet space. That is, unless you’re in a fancy hotel or a rented flat renovated by foreigners. Pack flexibly.
11. Don’t throw away metro or RER tickets before your journey ends. Inspectors sometimes spot-check and you could be fined.
12. Don’t worry! Making a small effort to experience Paris as Parisians do should add depth, richness and warmth to your visit—as well as ensure you will want to return. It’s painless and easily done, so just go for it!
* Even expats fluent in French often balk at this point. But in Paris politeness is nonnegotiable, and sometimes there’s no better weapon than “Pardonnez-moi, j’avais tort” (Excuse me, I was wrong).