Paris is a city that continues to surprise me. I think it does that on purpose because, just when I think I have it all figured out, the rules change. (Just ask anyone who has ever had to renew their carte de sejour.) Or, the rules remain in place, but they’ve never made sense in the first place. Here are some examples in the continuing series of “Things I’ve Learned.”
Parisians don’t really respond to email. I learned this lesson after making reservations via email to what used to be one of my favorite Paris restaurants. And here I was, thinking I was being so clever by clicking on the “reserve by email” link. But two days later, I still hadn’t received a confirmation, so I just called the restaurant and made the reservation. When I shared this with my date that evening, he just laughed and confirmed my suspicions: email links are just for show. (I’m still waiting for Comptoir Richard to respond to my email.)
ATMs love dispensing 50 euro bills, but Parisians hate breaking them. C’est vrai, it’s one of the many contradictions you’ll find in Paris. If you request 100 euros at the cash machine, you’ll likely receive two fifties. If you’re in one of the non-touristy areas of the city, chances are you’ll be told by the sales clerk or the waiter that they don’t have change, forcing you to break out your credit card. Which amazes me, really. After all, credit card companies and banks take a chunk of money from every transaction, yet almost every shop or restaurant is happier to take your card than your cash.
Those veggies are in witness protection. I’m a photographer, so I almost always carry one of my cameras with me, no matter where I am in the world. And when I see something interesting or inspiring, I’ll whip it out and snap away. Just last weekend on South Beach, my friend Claudia and I are walking around a clothing boutique taking dozens of photos of the antique sewing machines that line the walls of the shop. We were completely ignored. But the minute I go to take a picture of a bin of tomates at the local market in Paris, some apron-clad shopkeeper will yell at me that I can’t take pictures. Same with the clothing boutiques along the rue Saint-Honoré, or the restaurant in the 7th.
Don’t bring the wine. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at the home of a Parisian, bring flowers. Bring chocolate. But whatever you do, don’t bring wine. Trust me, the menu has been very well considered, right down to what wines to serve with each meal. So to bring a bottle of wine is to say that you don’t trust your host’s choices. I made this faux pas several times before someone finally shared this etiquette tip with me.
Parisians are notorious space invaders. Which is ironic in a culture that values discretion and privacy. But anyone who has ever stood in line at the supermarché, the train station or in a taxi queue comes to understand, the space between your derriere and the pelvis of the person directly behind you can be measured in mere millimeters. I’ve had less intimate encounters with men I’m dating. Of course, this has nothing to do with any desire to be in physical contact with another human as it does with the Parisian’s desire to cut in front of you. They’re just waiting for enough space to open up so that they can maneuver around you, because in Paris, the line is always blurry.