Hi Frugalistas! Did you enjoy Emily in Paris on Netflix? It was very popular with members of my France Travel Planning Facebook group (you can join here for free if you aren’t a member). It generated much discussion, especially about what not to do in Paris. Poor Emily makes so many Paris mistakes – mistakes that many visitors to Paris make, but which are largely avoidable. I’ve written previously about how to avoid mistakes in Paris for visitors, but this post is a bit different. Here are how to avoid the Paris travel mistakes made by Emily, and how you, as savvy France Travel Planners can easily avoid them.
What not to do in Paris when you first arrive
Confuse calendar dates
Emily is rightfully so proud to have secured a much coveted table at a popular restaurant. It’s a very important client meeting so she desperately wants to impress. Imagine her embarrassment when she realises she’s got the month and the day round the wrong way. In Europe, the calendar convention is to put the day first and the month second.
If you do make this Paris visitor mistake don’t make it worse like Emily did by then trying to argue with the French person who has identified the problem. The French person is not wrong – you are – while you are in France.
Misunderstand how French floors are counted
How many times does Emily try to get into Gabriel’s apartment by mistake, because she doesn’t count the floors properly? She knows her Paris apartment is on the 5th floor, but as she climbs the stairs, she forgets that the French count the floor at street level as the ground floor, not the first floor. So according to the American way of counting building floors, she is on the 6th floor, not the 5th.
Assume your apartment building will have a lift (elevator)
If you are staying in an apartment in Paris, this is an important consideration. Poor Emily arrives with numerous cases and bags, all ready to start her new life in Paris, and is faced with an apartment building with no elevator (lift). This is quite normal for apartments in Paris, so it’s important to check before you book, rather than assume.
If you do book a Paris apartment that does not have an elevator, don’t over pack – just one carry on bag will be much easier to manage. I have a large number of one bag packing lists you can check out here.
In one of her first meetings a new colleague asks Emily why she is yelling. To her she isn’t yelling, she’s speaking normally. But if you listen to French people speaking among themselves you will notice they tend to speak more quietly than we Anglophones do. Regardless of whether you are Australian, American, English, Canadian, or anywhere else where English is the spoken language, be conscious of the volume of your voice – it will hold you in good stead when you are out and about with French speakers. This is particularly important in restaurants.
Wear the wrong clothes in Paris
Emily is never without her stiletto heels. In fact most of the women in the show sport towering stilettos most of the time whether they are American or French. I’m not sure what Patricia Field, the costume designer for Emily in Paris, was thinking, because stilettos are definitely the worst shoes to wear in Paris. So impractical for a city that is made for walking, and positively dangerous for walking on the many cobblestoned streets.
Wear flat shoes in Paris and leave the heels at home.
My best shoes for travel post has plenty of useful options that are far more sensible.
Emily’s obsession with Paris images on her clothes just screams “tourist”. Who can forget the truly awful bra with images of Paris she is wearing the first time she makes love with Thomas? Buy the Eiffel Tower T shirt, and even the terrible bra (although where you would find it I’m not sure), but save them for when you get home (or when you know no Frenchmen will be seeing your underclothes).
How to avoid mistakes in Paris shops and restaurants
Not saying bonjour when you enter a shop or restaurant
Despite stereotypical rumours to the contrary, the French are actually very polite people. Regardless of how little French you speak, you must, must, must always say “Bonjour” (or “bonsoir” in the evening) when you enter a shop or restaurant. In department stores say it when you are being served. Emily makes this mistake on her first trip to the bakery to buy her pain au chocolat.
Asking for your steak well done and expecting it to be so
French steak tends to be cooked a little less than what we are used to. Therefore a well done (bien cuit – be-yan quee) steak may not be quite as well done as you are used to. The same goes for any other degree of cooking. Similarly, expect duck and many other meats to be served less well done than you may be used to.
Emily wants to send her steak back because it isn’t cooked enough for her – nor is it as she ordered. This is also not unknown in France as many chefs will not cook a steak “well done”. When you understand that French steak is often not as naturally tender as you may be used to, this is not really a bad idea.
Assuming the customer is always right
Emily has a lengthy discussion with her dining partner on this topic after the “well done steak” episode. In French restaurants and shops the customer is not always right. This does not make the French rude, it just makes them different. Consider it like this: in France, restaurant and shop staff are professionals who take pride in their work. They earn proper wages and are not reliant on tips. You are paying for their professional service and opinion, not for them to agree with you.
You can read more about how to shop in France in this post.
Common French language mistakes
Assuming everyone in Paris speaks English
Although English is now widely spoken in Paris, it is always best to assume not everyone speaks English. Emily doesn’t.
Falling for a faux ami
A lot of French words sound just like English words. But not every French word that sounds like an English word means the same in French as it does in English. The French call these faux amis (foze am-mee) – false friends as is pointed out to Emily. Faux amis are difficult to avoid falling for – no matter how good our French is, we’ve all been there, and been embarrassed by it. Just don’t do what Emily does and ask for a “preservatif” (a condom) with her croissant. If you want jelly or jam with your croissant, be sure to ask for confiture, and if you are concerned about the presence of preservatives in your food, check for conservateurs, not condoms!
How to avoid French language mistakes
With many of us not able to travel to France at the moment, we have plenty of time to learn some basic French. Emily obviously didn’t have time to take French lessons or prepare for her move to Paris, but we do. And we have plenty of options:
Duolingo – is a popular app that offers short lessons. A number of members of my Facebook group like it.
Rosetta Stone – a long established subscription based based language course that offers discounts on longer term courses. Good for those who want to absorb themselves in the language, as it focusses on good vocabulary and grammar principles. Click here to check out Rosetta Stone courses.
Babbel – also offers a subscription based service that is good for travellers. Click here to check out Babbel language courses
Rocket Languages – excellent for travellers, and with a 6 day free trial, what’s the risk in giving it a go? Rocket Languages focusses on rapid, confident language acquisition. Click on the image below for more information.
Photo credits: author’s own unless otherwise identified.