Paris -- How Not to be a Tourist
welcomes Karen Fawcett -- an American travel journalist who has
been in love with Paris since the age of 13. Karen lives in Paris
and is the savvy President of Bonjour Paris, a highly informative
website and newsletter. 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."
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.
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.
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)
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.