Paris… what is there to say that hasn’t already been said, you know?
There’s the cheese, the beautiful architecture, the wine, the sexy music, the fascinating history, the art, the people, and the everything else. But up until last month, I’d never been there, and anyone’s first time in Paris should be a special experience, especially if you’re doing it right.
First off, I have to tell you how I was able to afford a trip to Paris while earning way less than the median income on Maui. When I moved to Costa Rica, I left my jewelry box (containing all of my expensive and most prized jewelry) at my mom’s house in Dallas, simply because I didn’t want to cart it around, and there is absolutely no need to wear a lot of fancy jewelry whilst floating in the ocean and/or sweating a higher than normal amount. Unfortunately, however, someone broke into my mom’s house and stole all of it, and all of her jewelry as well. Teenage doucheholes… they’ll get ya every time.
Anyway, my mom and her best friend were already planning a trip to Paris during their spring break, so when she got the insurance check for our stolen jewelry, I decided to use my portion on a plane ticket to Paris instead of ultimately more boring things. If I haven’t said it before, Europe > Rent.
Paris 101: FAQ Breakdown
Where is the best area to stay in Paris?
Since our group quickly grew to 5 (that happens when you’re going somewhere awesome) and we were all staying different amounts of time – my mom and her two friends stayed 10 days, my friend Anna stayed 9, and I stayed 15 – we decided to hop around the city a bit, staying in a mixture of apartment rentals and hotels in different arrondissements.
One thing about Paris; it’s fucking huge, but it’s easy to get around.
When looking at the best area(s) to stay, my recommendation is somewhere that’s within easy walking distance to the Seine (the giant river running through Paris), and not too far from the center of the city. While most people want a view of the Eiffel Tower from their rental balcony or rooftop, and that is certainly possible from many places in the city, the area surrounding the Eiffel Tower isn’t necessarily that fascinating. Check it out, but don’t shack up there.
The Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement was my favorite neighborhood, thanks in large part to its convenient location, nightlife, narrow alleyways, and general charm and beauty, which certainly isn’t hard to come by. I’d also highly recommend the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 10th, and 11th arrondissements. Montmartre, a picturesque and lovely area in the 18th, is also a wonderful choice, although less convenient to the rest of the city – stay here at the end of your trip, when you’re slightly less inclined to walk around discovering new areas and more inclined to relax and get drunk.
How much French do you really need to know?
Well, that depends. I took French for four years in high school and a summer in college and know approximately 13 words, so it’s like I’m fluent, if fluent means terribly incoherent with a Texan accent and not understanding 94% of what anyone says at any given time.
If you just learn how to order food and wine, and how to find the nearest place to pee, you’ll be just fine. Useful phrases you may need include:
Bonjour / Bonsoir – Duh. It’s rude not to say hello or good evening when being greeted or going into an establishment. I wish we had this rule in the U.S. I can’t even tell you how many human farts have answered ‘how are you?’ with ‘coors light’. A good rule of thumb – bonjour when the sun’s out, bonsoir when it’s not.
S’il Vous Plaît / Merci – Say please and thank you (respectively), simply because you’re not an asshole. Say it a lot, especially if they’re nice enough to speak your language.
Café Crème – The French don’t do steaming cups of giant black coffee like we do. Café crème, or coffee with hot cream, is the closest you’ll get to a delicious coffee drink that isn’t miniature and strong as shit (aka espresso, which I also adore).
Carafe D’Eau – You don’t have to pay for water in Paris. Restaurants offer sparkling or still water because many people prefer it, but if you’re in the general mindset of water is water, tap water does just fine. Ask for a carafe of water and save your cash for more important things, like alcohol.
Vin Du Moment – Oh, wine. How I love thee. And guess what? As opposed to the mysterious bottle of disgusting poo known as ‘house wine’ in any good dive bar in America, house wine in France is unshockingly kickass, and often much cheaper than other bottles you’ve also never heard of. Look for ‘vin du moment‘ on most menus, and order a glass (verre de vin du moment), carafe or bottle.
Je Suis Désolé – I’m sorry. It’s a phrase everyone needs to know, and one that I used several times a day, mostly because I didn’t know how to respond to almost anything and felt bad. Use it. People are a lot more forgiving when you can at least apologize in their language.
Pardon – Excusez moi works too, but this is the shorter (and seemingly more common) way to say ‘please don’t mind my ass hitting your elbow’ on the Metro.
Où Sont Les Toilettes? – Because everybody poops.
Are the people in France as rude as they say?
First of all, who’s they? Do people even really say that the French are rude anymore?
Like I’ve said many, many times before, assholes exist everywhere. France, Texas, my apartment complex, the DMV, you name it. I did not find the people in France to be rude at all. Not necessarily the friendliest people in the world, per se, but it’s not like I go around trying to befriend random people who don’t speak my language, either. So there you go.
Am I going to go broke traveling to Paris?
Not if you make good choices. Stay in Airbnb rentals (we found several for $50/night and up), couchsurf, share meals, ride the metro, walk, take advantage of free amusement, etc. Paris is definitely expensive – I spent somewhere in the range of $1,500 in 15 days, including lodging – but I could have spent a lot less if I wanted to.
The most expensive part of your trip will likely be eating out several times a day, but in my opinion, that’s also the best part, so do with that what you will. You can get a good bottle of wine in the market for 8 euros and under, and if you pair that with a fresh baguette and cheese, you don’t even need to go to a restaurant.
Spend wisely and you’ll be just fine.
What’s the best way to get around?
Besides your feet, the Metro. The great thing about the Metro system in Paris is that, unlike the subway system in New York, you don’t need to know what side of the street you need to be on to get on the right train. Hooray!
Grab a Metro map and a bundle of 10 tickets from the nearest metro stop (around 14 euros for 10 rides, and you can use card or cash to purchase) and you’re good to go. Also save yourself some serious map-scanning time and download the Paris Metro App on your cellular telecommunications device and get the quickest route to your chosen destination. Simple! As the unofficial navigator on nearly every trip I’m on, I appreciate simple transportation.
Uber and taxis also exist for when you really don’t feel like lifting your baggage down several underground staircases. Other than that, walk it out! It’s by far the best way to explore the different hoods of Paris.
What’s the deal with tipping?
If you can afford to go to Paris, you can afford to tip. Gratuity is almost always included on your check, so it’s by no means mandatory, and by no means should you tip like you do in the U.S., but throwing in an extra 5 to 10% will be appreciated.
What are the best things to see and do while I’m there?
Hold up, brah! One excellently informative blog post at a time…
Will I have a good time?
Unless you’re a blind sober robot with lactose intolerance, I should fucking hope so.