Imran sent an email to me awhile back, talking about all of the best things to do if we ever visit Switzerland. At the beginning of the email, Imran mentions that Switzerland has not one, but four national languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch! There is also a wonderful rail system there, so you don’t have to rent a car if you would rather not. Without further ado, here are Imran’s recommendations.
- Geneva (French-speaking) – Geneva is the home of many international organisations : WTO, WHO, UN, and the Red Cros. This is the most international city in the country. There are interesting museums, including the Red Cross Museum and the Patek Philippe Museum (one of the most prestigious watch makers). And it’s nice to just stroll around the city center, where you may find various kinds of shops. And there’s an Apple Store too ! Home of the Protestant movement and Calvin, you will want to see the Reformation Wall.
- Lausanne (French-speaking) – About 50 km away from Geneva, still on the Leman Lake, this city is home of the IOC. You definitely want to check out the Olympic Museum, which is situated right on the lake’s shore, with a permanent collection tracing back the whole history of the Olympic Games, and a temporary exhibition which covers various subjects. And strolling around the city is a blast, but you might be warned : the city is built on several hills, so you won’t stop walking up and down.
- Leman Lake – A very nice thing to do is to board a steamboat and
> sail all around the lake – that’ll take all day, so maybe you’ll want to just go to another city on the lake shore (like Vevey – home of Charlie Chaplin towards the end of his life – or Montreux). And every time you see a lake in Switzerland, try and see if you can sail on a steamboat, it’s worth it, especially in summer.
- Canton Valais (French speaking (East) and German speaking (West)) – This Canton doesn’t have any real major cities, it has mountains !! Over there, you mainly have one big valley from which you can access many famous small towns up in the mountains, such as Verbier, Crans-Montana, and Zermatt. The latter one being my personal favourite, since it’s a very small place where no cars are allowed… and where you have one of our famous national symbols : the Matterhorn! Further to the west, you have the Aletsch Glacier, the biggest in Europe (23km long). You will want to go up in the mountains in winter or in summer (but beware of the hordes of tourists in winter ! summer is still okay). On a side note, Valais is not the only place with mountains, but there are so many, I’ll let you check it out yourself. You really have dozens of places to visit up there, and hundreds of kilometers of trekking paths.
- Bern (German speaking) – The capital city! You’ll definitely want to walk around the old town all day long, it’s so beautiful! And check out the Federal Parliament too. It’s the biggest city in Switzerland, but it’s worth visiting.
- Basel (German Speaking) – Situated way up north, Basel has an interesting History, and a nice city center. You may want to check out some of their temporary art exhibitions, which happen every so often.
- Luzern (German speaking) – A city by the Four Canton Lake (or Vierwaldstättersee), there is the famous Chapel Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe – built in 1333 and still there! This was partially burnt down in 1993, but it’s been repaired. And most of all, you have the Lucerne Museum of Transport! There you’ll see the whole history of Swiss trains, planes, boats, cable-cars… and with the real things, real size!! You can enter the trains and see how people traveled decades ago. A must-see! Plus you have the iMax cinema there too. And through the lake, you are able to reach different other smaller places nice to visit, and also you may see the Grütli plain, where the Swiss Confederation was originally created in 1291.
- Zurich (German speaking) – This is the biggest city in Switzerland. You have so many things to do there. You’ll want to walk down the main street (Bahnhofstrasse), and see all the fancy buildings. You also have the lake. Believe it of not, you have two Apple Stores in Zurich.
- Lugano and Locarno (Italian speaking) – These two cities south of Switzerland are absolutely breath-taking in summer. As usual, you have lakes, and mountains surrounding them. Plus, every year around August, you have the International Film Festival of Locarno, with an open-air screen in the Piazza Grande.
- Canton Graubünden (German and Rumantsch speaking) – Another canton with mountains to explore! The main cities are Chur and Davos. A must-see canton in winter!
I don’t speak any language other than English, but Switzerland definitely looks like an absolutely amazing – and beautiful – place to visit!
Elan has lived in Boston all his life. He loves his city, and it shows in the email he sent to me recently. Elan listed all of his favorite must-see places that you don’t want to miss if you ever find yourself in Boston.
- MIT Museum – They have collections of old computers, exhibitions featuring robots, and much more.
- Fenway Park – Fenway Park is the home of the Boston Red Sox. The park itself offers tours on a regular basis. Game tickets are pricey, but well worth the cost to be there in person for a game.
- Freedom Trail – The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites, every one an authentic American treasure. The Freedom Trail today is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond.
- New England Aquarium – They have all sorts of great shows, and exhibits. They also have an iMAX Theater. You can also go whale watching.
- Faneuil Hall Marketplace – This is the seat of American history and the site of one of America’s most famous shopping and dining experiences. For over 250 years, the marketplace has played an integral role in the life of Boston’s residents. So if you are ready to see, taste, and touch a true Boston experience, visit the historic and exciting Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
- Museum of Science – The museum has hundreds of unique and fun exhibits. They also feature an electric light show, which is awesome.
- Boston Apple Store – Even if you don’t own a single Apple product, this particular store is a must-see. The tall glass building is much like the one found in New York City, and there are a ton of Apple products on hand for you to try out and play with.
- Duck Tour – This awesome tour takes you all around historic Boston, and ends in the river at the Boston Harbor. The ConDUCKtor will give you interesting and fun facts about all the sights along the way. Often, these are things that you’ll never read in any history book. It’s a lot of fun, and educational as well.
- Sam Adams Brewery – Taking a tour of the Brewery is a lot of fun, and you’ll learn everything there is to know about brewing Sam Adams beer. At the end, there is a tasting room where you can sample many of their beers for free. People under 21 are welcome on the tour, but will not receive free beer!
- Georges Island – Seven miles from downtown Boston, Georges Island contains a large dock, picnic grounds, open fields, paved walk ways, a parade ground and a gravel beach. Guided tours of historic Fort Warren are offered. Georges also has a snack bar.
Boston definitely sounds like a place where one can find any number of fun and educational things to see and do! What about where you are from? What are the best places to visit?
When I flew to Paris last week for the LeWeb Conference, I had a brief layover at the airport in Amsterdam. Sadly, I wasn’t there long enough to be able to actually leave the airport. If I had been, I might have been able to check some of these places out. Dylan spent most of his life living there, and sent the following list of “must see” places to share with all of us. Hopefully, I’ll get to head over there again one day.
- Palace Huis Ten Bosch – This is the official residence of Queen Beatrix. The park around the palace is very peaceful… but you are able to see very little of the palace because it’s behind walls and trees.
- The Euromast in Rotterdam – This is the highest tower in Holland. Great views from top.
- Anne Frank’s House – This is the most popular tourist attraction in Amsterdam. When you approach the house from Prisengracht, you will wonder where the Anne Frank House is located – the photographs and images that most of us associate with the Anne Frank Huis are of the back of the house. There is, of course, a lot of history here, as well as nostaligic feelings. Bring tissues with you.
- Madurodam in Rotterdam – The number one tourist attraction in Rotterdam… a 5-acre miniature city, meticulously crafted on a scale of 1/25. Everything works… trains move, boats float, windmills turn, etc. A very popular and interesting attraction.
- The Binnenhof – The Binnenhof in the Hague is a complex of buildings (palaces)… the inner court is where government business is conducted. The Ridderzaal, or Knight’s Hall, is the 700-year-old building dominating the complex.
- Maastricht’s Old Town – This is a great place to visit in this city. Visit the Bonnefanten Museum for painting by the Dutch Masters, and the St. Pietersberg Caves take a sweater that underlay the city.
- Canal Cruise – In Amsterdam, you should take a tour boat ride through the canals first. Take a city map with you and try to follow along on it as you go, and mark the places you pass that you would like to go back to and see.
- Madame Tussauds – You can meet famous Dutch and foreign personalities. As well as the renowned wax figures of famous people, you can also see technical high points in the form of moving figures at Madame Tussauds. There are 130 life-like wax figures on display at Madame Tussauds. You can have your photo taken with famous foreign personalities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey en Marilyn Monroe.
These all sound like very cool places to visit, and the pictures I found are beautiful! Have any of you out there ever been to the Netherlands? What did you enjoy the most?
When I asked all of you to send in your list of places to visit in your area, several of you responded with lists for New York City. As I read through them, I noticed what I call the “old standbys”. We already know we should try to check out the Statue of Liberty and Times Square if we get to NYC. However, I also noticed that most of you listed a couple of “out of the way” places… things that most of us would have never thought to see and do. I compiled the following list of ideas from several different NYC submissions. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to visit some of these places if you ever find yourself in New York. As for me… I want to eat on Mars!!
- Ellis Island Immigration Museum – The Ellis Island Immigration Museum offers visitors a fascinating look into the immigrant experience. Interactive exhibits, walking tours and movies reveal the hardships and challenges faced by immigrants passing through Ellis Island.
- American Museum of Natural History – Since opening to the public in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History has evolved and grown. In addition to the Rose Center planetarium and regular exhibits, the American Museum of Natural History hosts a revolving series of new exhibits, so there is always something new to see.
- Madam Tussauds Wax Museum – The wax figures are all of famous actors, actresses, TV show hosts, and other celebrities. They actually look life like, so the art work done is quite impressive.
- Mars 2112 Restaurant – This is a restaurant with a unique atmosphere. When you walk inside the door, you are still on the planet Earth. You are then told to get inside a simulation ride that brings you to Mars. While you are on Mars (the actual restaurant), you will have an experience unlike any other, including aliens that come and hang out at your table!
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – This is one of top art museums of the world. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. The Museum’s two-million-square-foot building has vast holdings that represent a series of collections, each of which ranks in its category among the finest in the world.
- Grand Central Terminal – Grand Central Station is obviously very well known – but not well understood. It is the largest train terminal in the world (by number of tracks), and one of the most ornate as well. The main concourse with its ceiling painting of the cosmos is very amazing to look at. There are shops and restaurants located throughout the terminal, as well.
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – Named the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in honor of its founder, is known as much for its building design as it is for its content. Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of modern architecture is home to the world-renowned Guggenheim collection of modern and contemporary art.
- The Chrysler Building – This building is itself a sight to behold. At the time it was built, it was the largest building in the United States, and the architecture is beautiful. Inside, you’ll see much of the decor based off of automobile parts, which is unique and fun to take a look at.
- St Patrick’s Cathedral – The Cathedral is the largest gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the United States and has been recognized throughout its history as a pre-eminent center of Catholic life in this country. Over five and a half million visitors each year come to visit and pray. The Cathedral has come to represent for so many a place of peace and tranquility. It is an absolutely beautiful place.
- NY Federal Reserve and Gold Vault – This is likely one of the coolest spots in New York City. You can take a one-hour tour through the building and its gold vault. Be prepared to show up a half an hour early to get yourself through security screening, though.
Thanks so much to everyone who submitted a list for New York City! If you wish to send me a list of top places to visit in your area, make sure you list things that aren’t considered to be “the usual”. You may just see your post here on my blog!
Dude, seriously – how do you get over jet lag without practically killing yourself? I was in Paris last week, to speak at the LeWeb conference. While it was a fantastic experience for me, I am still so tired I could die. Paris is nine hours ahead of the time here in Seattle. That is a HUGE difference, let me tell you. I was tired when I got to Paris, and I’m still wiped out two days after returning home.
Yes, I slept a little on the flight. No, it really didn’t seem to help. I’ve only been to Europe once before, and I had the same issues then, as well. I know many of you out there are jet-setters, right? How do you manage to go back and forth between different time zones without dropping over from exhaustion? How the heck do you reset your body clocks so quickly, and adapt within a matter of hours?
The community may not have been with me in presence, but I know you were all with me in spirit. Thanks to those of you who watched my presentation as it happened. Your support means a lot to me! I’m also glad that you all stayed home! It allowed you to keep writing and posting things on our sites!
There are several excellent new pieces of software featured on our downloads site today! Be sure you check back every day, so you don’t miss anything!
Chicago is a happening kind of town. It is known as the Windy City, and rightfully so! I hear that the wind never stops, and can even carry a person right in to Wisconsin if they aren’t careful! I’ve always been lucky to not have my clothes blown away while I was visiting the city. That wouldn’t be a sight to see. However, Joe sent the following list of places you should see if you find yourself wandering around Chicago.
- The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum – The Planetarium has a wonderful view of Chicago’s skyline, and is located on Lake Michigan. The Adler Planetarium is known as America’s first planetarium.You can experience the all-digital StarRider Theater, which is 3 stories tall or the Sky Theater.
- Sears Tower Sky Deck – Even though the name has now changed, anyone native to Chicago still refers to the tallest building in North America as Sears Tower. There are touch computers in the multi-media elevator ride to the top. You can learn about Chicago’s history and view new displays. The Skydeck is open every day of the year, so you have plenty of time to plan your next trip.
- Navy Pier – Navy Pier is full of attractions, restaurants, shops and parks. It is a wonderful place for the entire family. You can jump on the giant Ferris Wheel, or start a game playing Navy Pier Adventure Golf. Also, enjoy the Navy Pier Ropes Course – an obstacle course with four platforms and twelve activities between each platform.
- Medieval Times – Just northwest of Chicago, in the Hoffman Estates, is the magnificent Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. You will be able to watch 11th century jousting tournaments while enjoying finger-licking good roasted chicken and barbecued ribs, or roasted veggies for the non-meat eaters. You will be divided up into different sections of the audience. Each section cheers for a different knight. The knights ride real Andalusion horses, and are dressed in exquisite costumes of the medieval time period. This event is a family favorite.
- ESPN Zone – If you like sports, then the ESPN Zone is the place for you. Take part in interactive sports that are played in the ESPN Zone such as Hoops Hysteria, MoCap Golf and NHL 2 Night. When you are finished playing, sit back and relax in the Screening Room, which contains a 16 foot screen surrounded by skybox suites. There are high-definition monitors placed throughout the entire ESPN Zone for watching all of the sporting events. There is also a wonderful American Grill dining selection, as well as a merchandise shop.
- Lincoln Park Zoo – Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last free cultural institutions left in the United States, and it is open every day of the year. You can choose to get on rides such as the SBC Endangered Species Carousel, the swan boat, or the LPZOO Express train. Enjoy wonderful interactive exhibits and learn about all of the animals. There are a couple of gift shops, and many different dining options to choose from.
- Martini Ranch – If you are looking for a place to go after a long day just to relax and have fun, then the Martini Ranch should do the trick. You can get a drink (any kind of Martini imaginable), and also order some tasty appetizers such as chicken fingers, nachos, mozzarella sticks and potato skins. The Martini Ranch is popular and can get crowded sometimes – but it is worth it.
- Chicago Architecture Foundation – Learn about Chicago’s Architecture in the ArchiCenter. The ArchiCenter is open every day of the year with free admission. Be a part of interpretive exhibition and visit the ArchiCenter museum shop. From the center, you have access to 75 different tours.
- Shoreline Sightseeing Skyline Cruise – Take a tour of Chicago’s Skyline. This boat departs from Navy Pier, and continues to the Hancock Building, past the lighthouse and Sears Tower to the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. You can also choose to take night cruises. Often during the summer, the night cruises boast a beautiful view from the middle of Lake Michigan for the fireworks at Navy Pier.
- Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio – Visit Wright’s private residence and studio. His home was also his laboratory for architectural designs. There are available museum tours as well as walks that are self-guided audio tours. There are 25 of his buildings to view and learn about. Take part in the historical architecture.
I really like this list, as it lists several things that most people have never heard of. I prefer it this way. I don’t only want to visit the “famous” or “popular” attractions. I want the local flavor!
Imei has a grab-bag of observations related to Paris, France and French culture. Remember: we’re American!
- What is that funny sound French people make that sounds like “Phhht?” The sound is made by squiring air quickly through pursed lips. When do you use it? Example: “I went to the ATM to withdraw money, but when I entered in the amount I wanted, then [sound of “phht”]. Implied: where’s da money?
- If you don’t want the waiter to take your plate while you sneak off to les Toilettes (femme for women, homme for men), place your knife and fork with the ends in a tee-pee formation. If you’re finished, place your utensils in a parallel position. If you’re eating in a restaurant, generally the bill won’t come until you ask for it, even if you eat like a snail [as opposed to eating escargots].
- Yes, you can drink the water from the tap.
- In the U.S., it is considered healthy for a man to drink one to two glasses of red wine a day (one glass for women). In France, it is considered sensible (i.e. reasonable) to drink three to five glasses of wine a day (two to three for women). Fancy that.
- The average number of spelling errors on a French policeman’s parking infraction form is 25 or more. Why? Because transcription is a bear in French, with so many different spellings of similar sounding words. [Don’t get Chris started about “your” and “you’re”, folks, or you might be hearing the word “dumbass” shortly thereafter.]
- Think starting a new business in the U.S. is difficult? It’s a cake walk compared to Paris, with exceptional laws that protect employees over employers, high taxes, and paperwork that will leaving your head spinning. [I salut anyone who starts a new biz in Paris. More power to you.]
- More words are left in the masculine gender, yet are applied to the feminine. I am allowed to call myself a Professeur du Yoga, instead using the typical feminine ending. I get to be a Mister! [did you know: there is an exclusive committee that approves or rejects the addition of words, pronunciation, and their usage in the French language. Do you think they will add the word, “Doh!” anytime soon?]
- Ever wonder about where such items as “French fries”, “French Toast”, “French Manicure”, and “French Kiss” come from? You can do a Google search on these, and there is plenty of speculation. But if you live as an ex-pat in Paris, you notice that the French culture is somewhat arbitrarily mapped to… well, just about anything. [and I’ve been reminded that the correct term is “Freedom fries”.]
- For business people, traveling with your iPhone means expensive charges for data unless you plan ahead. Options: buy a service plan to cover the time you are there, or better yet, get hooked up with someone with SIM cards from England and unlocked iPhones from Italy. [besides, you can make some international friends and practice your accent.]
- Thanks to a tip from an ex-pat we ran into on the Metro, there is another photo op location worth mentioning: the rooftop of the Printemps and the 11th floor of La Samaritaine (Louvre-Rivoli).
As expected, Paris is full of trivia, tribulations, and surprises, and reassurances. A trip to Paris is full of adventure and delight for the American tourist, and we highly recommend that you come for a visit soon.
Do you have any perspectives to share on French culture?
Once again, Imei has helped compile these tips for the journey to Paris, France.
- We all know that Paris is just beaucoup expensive for Americans, thanks to the strength of the Euro. However, there are ways to save a little here and there, and hopefully that will take some stress off your pocketbook so you can enjoy your stay in this beautiful city.
- Many of the museums of Paris have a free visit evening listed on their websites. It will likely be a an off-night, such as a Thursday, and it will only be for the evening hours before close, but hey, free is free.
- Take the Metro. If you’re staying for at least a week, buy a pack of Metro passes rather than single tickets. They never expire, so you don’t have to worry about using them in a certain time frame. Any left over? Gift ’em to a friend, and pay it forward.
- From the CDG airport, check for the closest RER (A or B) that runs nearest to your area of Paris. It’s cheaper than a taxi, efficient, and easy.
- Looking for some inexpensive gifts for the gals back home? What is Paris without a scarf? Go to the Arabic speaking area near Montmarte, and haggle for anything from scarves to Egyptian style cover ups. I found two scarves made out of velvet and chiffon for 10 euros, gifted one of them, and still get compliments on the other. Hint: inspect them carefully. You might find a small tear or a “burn” where there a glue gun went rogue.
- If you like eating well, always go for the prix fixe meal at the local bistro. You’ll have more than enough food, and for 12-15e, your appetizer, main, and dessert will feel like a feast. Adventurous? Eat at the Arabic gyro-style shops, and get a wrap containing lamb or beef, veggies, pita bread, and a soft drink. Don’t even try to super-size it. [Speaking of super size, the French equivalent of McD’s is Quick].
- Need some inexpensive house or personal items? Tati is a low-end department store equivalent to Kmart in the U.S. Just know: you get what you pay for. [Imei notes: I have to say that the fancy underpants I bought there is still holding up nicely, ooh la la.]
- Like to walk? Visit some of Paris’ beautiful gardens and scenic areas, such as Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, and Boulevard St-Germain. Want to try something different? See if you can get in on a game of Petanque.
- If you are bold and have balls, you can rent a bicycle: the clunky, grey Velib that has taken Paris by storm. But I warn you: don’t let those buses creep up next to you. Not only will the buses take off all the door handles of the cars on a narrow street, but they will leave you nowhere to go if you don’t know where you’re going.
- Single Ladies: you are the cat’s meow. Repetez, s’il vous plaiz: you are the cat’s meow. Going to a nightclub? Go early, get in free. Grab your drink tickets, and don’t use them. Let men buy you drinks. Gift those men with your drink tickets later. And if the nightclub has more than one floor, like Bain Douche, be sure to switch floors and start the process all over again: “Je suis Americain… “. Have fun!
- Single Men: women own this place. If you want to get anywhere, you will have to pay. They know it, and you know it. End of story. Bring cash. If you want to save $$, forego the women, go out with your best buddies, get some beers, or better yet, bad boxed wine from the local market (yes, even France has bad boxed wine). Factoid: buying beer or wine from the local Casino (one local supermarket) is significantly cheaper. Don’t go too cheap however: wine under one Euro isn’t even fit to cook with. At Nicolas (wine shoppe), ask the store keeper for valuable advice on French wines. [Imei adds: I always take a bottle or two back for the cellar back home.]
So, how do you save money in Paris, France?
Face it, no one wants to unknowingly embarrass themselves by being the ugly American. Here’s our short list of etiquette tips that function well throughout France and actually translate fairly well to your microcosm back home. Thanks to Renee from Travel Geeks, who also contributed a conversation that influenced this list, and to Imei for editing and compiling it:
- A profuse use of “please” and “thank you” goes a long way. You will hear people constantly saying “merci beaucoup” or just “merci” even more than you hear “you’re welcome.”
- In general, adults don’t wear shorts (males) except for exercise, and women don’t wear short skirts and shorts without stockings or tights (except to a nightclub, where you’ll see shorter skirts on women without hosiery). There is a sense of propriety and class, even if the placards and magazine stands near Metro entrances suggest otherwise. My tip: if you travel for business, bring a sport coat, slacks, and a pair of non-sneaker shoes.
- I don’t care how many times you might have seen this in a movie, but it is rude to snap your fingers to get the attention of a waiter. In my six trips to France, staying two to three weeks at a time, I have only seen the head waiter clap his hands for his team to quickly clear a table and set up for the next course in a 10-course meal. Instead, catch his attention with your eyes or a hand in the air. [General rule of thumb: if snapping your fingers gets your partner livid, just imagine what it does to your server.]
- The Metro posts signs that explain who has priority for seating. Unfortunately, it is all in French. Here it is: women with children, pregnant women, people 75 and older, and those with disabilities. During heavy commuter hours, be aware of those who needs priority seating, even if your feet are begging for a rest.
- Stuffed like a sardine into the train? Make your way toward a door one stop before your exit station, and then kindly say, “Pardon.” People understand and will do their best to make way for you to exit quickly. If you are nearest to the door, open the latch or push the green button to open the door, and get off the train so that people can exit. As soon as people have exited, hop back onto the train and move as far back as you can.
- France isn’t the land of Provence’s best parfumeries for no reason. People like to smell good here, and my guess is that they appreciate that you smell good, too. My favorite: Chanel’s CoCo for night, and Mademoiselle for day. For men: Hermes’ Bel Ami. Men: if you don’t think this matters, just know that I once met someone simply by being able to identify the scent he was wearing. Women have a refined and sensitive sense of smell. Use this in your favor.
- Having traveled around the world, I find that Parisiens do not need nearly as much personal space as Americans. Space is a precious commodity, and they are used to having less of it. A hand at the back, guiding you gently; a greeting of a kiss on both cheeks among closer associates, and other touchy-feely actions fit with this picture. Men: you are the man. Be a gentleman, offer your hand to a woman getting in and out of taxis and cars, settle her into her seat, help her in and out of her coat. You serve the woman nearest to you at the table, and you pour the wine. Her glass is never empty. Women: you are the cat’s meow. Men will wait on you, pour the wine, and often serve the food at the table. If you are feminist and find this offensive, swallow your offense, sit back, relax, and see tip #1.
- Parisiens receive many hours of English instruction from a young age. That does not mean they are fluent. Americans also study a foreign language in order to attend college; that doesn’t mean that in a pickle, you can use your French language studies to figure out why someone is yelling at you (besides the fact that street-French is filled with slang and spoken hellafast with missing words or words that are slammed together like a verbal train wreck). I recommend picking up the “French in 10 Minutes a Day” laminated card with typical phrases, numbers, questions, and descriptions of things you will hear and you will need to say, even if all you can say is “Je ne pas parle le Francaise.” There are translator programs for the iPhone, mini-translator products, and a free version of Rosetta Stone available through most public libraries that you can use to practice a few phrases. Your attempts to speak French go a long way toward connection, making friends, and getting around as a savvy (and welcome) tourist.
- About food: the buffet is usually reserved for large venues and hotels. What you will notice is how little the locals eat: little or no breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a smaller dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Parisien pile his/her plate high, but s/he does not need to. When the food is made with real butter, olive oil, whole food ingredients, no GMOs, and grass fed animals, the amount of food it takes for your appetite to be satisfied is much less than the typical buffet in America. Rule of thumb: take a smaller plate, and fill it 2/3 full. Leave room for a nibble of cheese at the end of the meal. [Incidentally, Paris is following world trends for obesity, instituting new campaigns and education to reduce the incidence of obesity in children and young adults].
- Most Parisien apartments and hotels are constructed of concrete, yet the walls sound like they are paper-thin. Keep your voices down, turn down TVs and electronic devices, and recognize that hair dryers and shavers project sound laterally (your neighbor on the same floor). [Of course, for everything else in the intimate department, just consider it free entertainment.]
Do you have any other etiquette tips to add to this list?
Some of these are general travel tips that are good for any trip overseas, but Imei has included a few that are particular to Paris.
- Bring a sturdy and comfortable pair of shoes for walking. Don’t worry so much about fashion. Your feet will only care that they are comfortable. Most Parisians spend time walking everywhere, and it is not uncommon to see a person carrying the makings of a meal from several stores (butcher, bakery, Casino) onto the Metro. Be prepared to stand during most of the prime commute hours on the Metro.
- If you need a converter for an electrical appliance, make sure it’s not one of those “all-in-one” converters on a solid block. The prongs are the correct ones, but the block won’t fit in the deep and round hole around the prong entrance. Sticks and holes do matter.
- In winter, bring a wool coat that hangs below the waist, a scarf, gloves, and a hat. The windchill factor is exacerbated in Paris proper because of the buildings. In summer, wear loose clothing but don’t be an ugly American: leave the open-toed Teva’s and flip flops at home. You’ll thank me after the first person rolls her bag over your toes in the Metro. Also, the Metro isn’t often air-conditioned in the summer, and with humidity, prepare to sweat.
- Take a moment to study a map of the Metro lines. Almost everyone takes them for public transport, and they are much cheaper than taxis. You do not want to drive in Paris. If you are staying a week or longer, purchase a pack of tickets rather than single tickets. Keep these handy while you ride, as they are checked occasionally during transit and when you exit the Metro station, as well as when you are transferring from one line to another.
- Pack light, and bring smaller and more narrow luggage with you. Some of the larger pieces of luggage I have seen don’t fit on the escalators of the Metro or are difficult to manage going up and down the entrances and exits.
- Your mobile phone will work in Paris, but it is expensive for your data use. It may be better to explore other options: a temporary phone from France; buying a T-mobile Hotspot access (T-mobile is Deutsch Telecom); use a Skype phone? I wonder when someone is going to bother to make this more convenient for businesspeople to purchase per day a phone and/or SIM card for use while in another country.
- Meals generally take longer to consume, especially when eating in public. The French really know how to eat and how to relax. They tend to eat dinner a bit later, so get yourself a snack in the late afternoon so you can make it to dinner time, and sit back and enjoy.
- If you get sick in Paris, don’t be afraid to stop into a hospital if you need to. Hospitals are clean, efficient, and if you have no residence in Paris, absolutely free. Welcome to socialized medicine. Also, if you need a pain reliever like Ibuprofen, don’t help yourself to it from the shelf in your local pharmacy. All medications — even the over-the-counter (OTC) ones, must be handed to you by a pharmacist.
- Like NYC, Paris is as beautiful to see at night as it is in the day. With the Metro running until 4 am, you can get around, snap pictures, walk along the river, and see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. For the clubbers, you’ll have your pick of swanky places, but get ready to hear some unknown American rap (from the old B sides) that might be leaving you scratching your head.
- Like any large city, there are reports of crime and vandalism, yet for its size, these numbers are surprisingly low. Keep a small amount of Euros with you for incidentals, and if you don’t need your passport, lock it up in the hotel safe. I always keep a copy of my passport in my luggage as well. I also recommend keeping your money in a thin money bag that hangs on the inside of your clothes, and for men to keep their wallet in a front pocket with their hand placed over the pocket when in crowded public places full of tourists.
- If anyone invites you to their home for a drink, dessert, or a meal, graciously accept! You will see how people live, especially in homes with less space per person. Be sure to bring a gift: something for the meal may be appropriate, such as something from the patisserie or a bottle of red wine.
So, do you have any travel tips for Paris, France?