Swap that ballcap for a clue.

Swap that ballcap for a clue.

I’ve gotten a tidal wave of letters in response to my last post, and since I’m off to the Mexican Riviera this week, I thought this one might be perfect.
Have you ever travelled to Europe and wondered why everyone looked at you differently, and not always in a good way?
Read on…

Dear Go-To Gay,

My girlfriend and I are going to Paris for our honeymoon this May, and even though it’s my dream destination, I’m a bit nervous about how they treat Americans. Everyone says they’re so rude if you do the slightest thing wrong, and unfortunately, neither one of us has ever been out of the country, so we don’t even know what that is!
I know you’ve lived in Europe (I think I’m remembering right) and travel a ton for your books, so any advice you can give us would be fantastic. 
Meaghan B, St. Louis, MO

First of all, congrats on your wedding, and for being brave enough to head off to Paris on your honeymoon! Listen, I’m going to give it to you straight, so you can blend in and have the romantic experience you want. I did live in the south of France for a year, so I have a good idea how to do that. The operative word here is blend, and if you can pull that off, the French are wonderful people who are genuinely interested in Americans and our culture.
…But there are some things to remember, okay? Right, let’s hit it!

1. Pack smart, fashionable clothes. Even if you don’t usually wear them at home.
Parisians are lovers of fashion and see it as an art form, and nothing will give you away quicker as a clueless tourist than popping up on the streets in ANY athletic gear whatsoever (including yoga pants, sweatshirts, hoodies, trainers, or track pants,) and you can forget your athletic shoes and hiking boots. And no, I’m not kidding.
Great choices are a trim jean jacket, well fitting and sleek black jeans, sleek leather boots you can walk in, crisp white shirts that you can dress up for dinner, simple, classic jewelry and a nice scarf in a beautiful fabric (whether masc or femme leaning) that you can use to dress up basic outfits.
Do NOT go out in athletic gear of any sort. Don’t wear baggy jeans, obnoxious logos, USA sports teams, ect. This protects you two ways. First of all, you’ll blend, which makes everything easier, and secondly, you’ll be less of a target for thieves and unsavory types looking to rip off clueless Americans.

2. Learn some very basic phrases that you’ll need every day, and perfect them until they roll off your tongue.
Start every request (such as an order at a coffee shop, directions, speaking to hotel staff) with a greeting that almost all Americans don’t bother with but is standard for the French. “Bonjour.” Follow that up with, “Please may I have a coffee (or whatever you’re ordering)” in English. Know what you want and say it quickly. Almost everyone speaks English in hospitality venues, but you want to show awareness by greeting them in French.
Note that I didn’t say to simply order in English. That phrase, “please may I have” is very important. Most Americans barge in and say something like “Yeah, um, I dunno, ….Imma get one of those (…then they point. Don’t point.) And don’t speak more than you need to. Very likely the person that helps you will first simply step up to the counter and make eye contact, saying nothing. They are asking you what you need and judging you by how you tell them. So do it correctly.;)

3. Learn your Taxi French well and deliver it in a perfect French accent. 
This is incredibly important because it tells certain unscrupulous taxi drivers to choose someone else to rip off. They’re aren’t many, most are lovely and helpful, but if you get one, you can either pay 50 Euro to get to the city center from the airport, or 175 Euro in the same amount of traffic. Your choice.
I know this sounds daunting, but learn to say “Centre-ville s’il vous plaît” (city center, please) or your hotel’s name, or simply a street near your hotel, perfectly. Make eye contact, say it clearly and confidently, then shut up. Americans chat with taxi drivers, the french generally do not. If you do this correctly, they won’t even know you’re an American.
Remember to say “Merci” as you get out, and tip 1-2 euro per bag if they help you with them.

4. For the love of god, don’t wear a ballcap. 
“But Inkslinger…I always wear a ballcap, it’s my style!” No. No, it’s not. Not in Paris.
If you must wear something, a plain beanie blends, or a smart hat like a subtle fedora. And take them off when you enter a building, especially a museum, church, or an elevator. No room for personal interpretation on this one, especially if either of you are masc. Just do it.

5. Keep your voice down. 
Just trust me on this. Americans speak at about twice to three times the volume of Parisians.
Keep your voice, no matter where you are, only a step or two about a whisper, and never call across a crowd to get someone’s attention, or (Jesus Christ ) put your phone on speaker. In fact do not, and I repeat, do not talk on your cell on public transport or inside any restaurant or building. If you do receive a call, answer it quickly and quietly, tell the person you’re on the train and will ring them back. Nothing gives you away and gets you some pointed stares more quickly than this particular transgression.

6. Pre-book your nicer restaurant choices, and know the lay of the land before you arrive. 
A nice dinner is not a meal in France, it’s an experience.
Most last 2-4 hours, on average, and the worst thing you can do is hurry the experience or ask where your food is. It’s not uncommon to wait longer than you’re used to, but just trust the experience; the French are serious and knowledgable about food, so you’ll get it exactly when they think you should, and it will be beautiful. Don’t question it or you unmask yourself as inexperienced and a bit of a cretin.
If you’re curious in a respectful way about food choices, waiters are more than gracious, and where possible, take their suggestions. If you don’t care for something you’ve ordered, simply don’t eat it, but never mention it and (I shudder as I write this) never ever send something back to the kitchen. It’s just not done.
When they ask how the experience is, which is not frequent, simply say “C’est beau, merci.” You’re saying, “It’s beautiful, thank you” and even if the food is new and not to your taste, I’d bet the farm it was just that, beautiful. Food in any country is an adventure, and if you’re willing to try new things, Paris is an unforgettable city with gorgeous food.

Parisians have always been wonderful to me, and they are charming and appreciative when they sense Americans are making an effort. It’s one of my favorite cities, and if you have time, take a short jaunt up to Lyon and do some wine tasting with Caroline Fazeli. DM me on Insta or comment below for the details, or she is on Insta at @winedinecaroline.

Félicitations pour votre mariage et bon voyage à Paris! (Congratulations on your wedding, and have an amazing trip to Paris!)


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