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Her Paris -- How Not to be a Tourist

Journeywoman welcomes Karen Fawcett -- an American travel journalist who has been in love with Paris since the age of 13. She writes...

As an unofficial sociologist who has passed more time than she cares to admit trying to ascertain real Parisians from people who happen to be passing through, I have come up with a partial and totally subjective list of ways for a woman to avoid having that "just off the plane look."

No noise, no gum...

First and foremost, the sound of one's voice can be the biggest give-away. Whether or not you are a fluent French speaker, please lower your voice to a near whisper. French natives (and this is more true in Paris than in the provinces) generally do not scream -- even when they are angry. Yes they laugh. But rarely do you hear shrieks.

If you don't believe me, go into any restaurant and the voices you'll hear will be those of Americans, Germans and Brits. The theory that the louder you talk, the better you will be understood is false. More often than not, when you yell, the person whose attention you are trying to attract will ignore you if at all possible.

Another no-no is chewing gum. Better to smoke a cigarette than look like a cow masticating on its cud. And, even if you hate cigarettes with a passion, cool your hatred in Paris. If you find yourself sitting next to smokers (and let's face it, most of France falls into the category of "smoking section"), don't make a scene. Adapt to the country's customs and hope that you will not suffer an overdose of secondary pollution.

Wear black, black, black...

What to wear is one of the most frequently asked questions. Couture designers may not like this response since they might be pushing pink and chartreuse in this year's collection, but the reality is that most chic French stick to black and occasionally make small deviations to navy and brown. Beige and white are frequently seen during the few summer days when the thermometer sores over 80 degrees. But no matter the temperature, black is always safe.

Another observation: whatever hem lines are being shown in the fashion magazines, French women frequently opt to wear very tight black skirts. If it is during the winter, they wear black stockings to enhance that thin and sexy look. Once May day comes, most women go bare-legged.

Furs, yes! Nikes, no! ...

When it comes to packing, going with black will save you a lot of time and energy.The French are pros when it comes to making few clothes go far, and accessorize their outfits with such aplomb that most Americans cannot believe their talent. Scarves and shawls are always in; if in doubt as how to get them stay on with that mystical French chic and style, go to Hermes where there is a salesperson who does nothing else but demonstrate how to wear scarves in the hope that you might succumb and buy one of theirs as your reminder of your trip to Paris -- which is not such a bad idea. If you were unable to master the scarf tying method, you can always use one of Hermes' scarves as a work of art to hang on your wall.

French women are often seen wearing capes, and during winter months, will wear politically incorrect furs -- especially in the more exclusive quartiers (neighborhoods) of Paris.

Shoes: the ubiquitous debate over chic or comfortable. Yes, some French people do wear Nikes, but they are in the minority. About the only time most French people wear such shoes is when they're jogging or working in the garden. No one walks to work in track shoes and then changes into high heels, as in New York. Chic French women seem to feel high heels are mandatory even when they are wearing jeans.

A word of advice: Please avoid wearing what North Americans know and love as warm-up suits. Again, the French confine these articles of clothes to workouts at the gym but wouldn't be caught dead wearing them out and about.

More about make-up, too many guidebooks and dog doo-doo..




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