Some tips about eating out in Paris that ParisLens learned the hard way! Feel free to learn from our mistakes!
Handy Hints for Eating Out
- If you are staying for at least a few days and are towards the outskirts of the arrondissements, you are more likely to find well-stocked and cheaply priced supermarkets that locals use – these make excellent pit-stops for breakfast, liquid and snack products – excellent for a cheap, quick fix you can keep in your hotel room or bag for on the move! Regardless of what you do and where you end up visiting, you will inevitably walk a lot more than you do at home, and you will feel it! Those snacks add up if they are impromptu, so if you are on a budget it makes sense to plan ahead, and if you’re not, you may still be intrigued by the French way of life!
- The French take their time cooking and eating, and quite frankly, you will feel a fool if you don’t accept both of these things! It’s just the French way. Not that you will ever be waiting long for food, mind. But waiters will ask if you are ready for the next course yet – if you need a pause, say so! They will appreciate this, so between courses, take your time, savour the wine, and enjoy taking in your surroundings. Similarly – and this one is primarily aimed at you, fellow Brits, and you, Americans: EAT SLOWLY. That means, chew your food properly and swallow it before you load up your fork for the next bite. You will get disapproving looks otherwise, and even if you don’t care about this, you may find you actually want to savour the flavours properly anyway – all French cuisine has been officially classed as a protected cultural heritage by UNESCO, so you will find some simply exquisite flavours and foods that you will want to taste properly!
- Aahh, la boulangerie. This means bakery! And they sell the most amazing fresh baked goods you will ever put into your mouth. It’s also ridiculously cheap to buy in the outer northern arrondissements and beyond. If you want the good stuff, go early. It’s not unheard of for local bakers to open shop anywhere from 5am onwards! Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “5, she say??! Sod that! Sleepy bed sleep shhh.” Oh but when you’ve tried those fresh little baked goods, you’ll get it, and you’ll be racing past the locals for the prize pain au chocolat or baguette.
- Which brings me on to the next point. Never, ever, ever ask for a baguette in a boulangerie. You will get a dry old breadstick, and you will be disappointed. Always ask for ‘un tradi’. It means ‘a traditional’. Trust me on this. The baker may look at you a bit funny, so may other customers, but you will get that fresh fluffy foamy bready goodness handed to you, and you’ll feel as if you are receiving a knighthood. Don’t back down and mumble “un baguette s’il vous plait” – Don’t Back Down! Best enjoyed by the Seine or behind the Eiffel Tower with some cheese and wine. There are, as far as I’m aware, no tricks or pitfalls to purchasing cheese or wine. Except.
- And this one is important. Wherever you go, whatever you do, if you enter ANY establishment in or on the way to/from Paris, say a warm and genuine “Bonjour!” to the owner or seller when you enter, and “Merci, au revoir!” when you leave. If you don’t, you’ll get some strange looks, and you will feel a special kind of daft. Speaking from experience. It’s just the polite thing to do, and it’s the French way. Besides, it’ll make you feel much more at home, and a little Parisian. You know that’s what you want to feel, or you wouldn’t be going to Paris, now would you?!
- Contrary to popular belief, Parisians are actually pretty friendly, so long as you’re not obviously vulgar. Waiters and waiting staff are usually highly trained and uber professional, nothing like you see on Eastenders in the caf’, so be respectful at all times. If you want to sit at the bar and drink, fine, but don’t then move to a table. This is rude and impolite, as purchasing at the bar is often ever so slightly fractionally cheaper than being served at a table. If you want a table, wait to be seated and enjoy the experience! p.s. “l’addition, s’il vous plait!” is an acceptable way of requesting the bill when you are finished. And don’t forget to say “Merci, au revoir!” when you leave!
- Eating alone. As a single woman living alone in the City of Lights, I eat out alone a fair bit. This is safe, and after a few sittings with a book, one actually feels incredibly comfortable doing so. Waiters never hound you, nor do they rush you, and even if you’re the only femme in the joint – as I have often been, due to the high competition for punters around the San Michel area in particular – you will not be harassed. I admit it – it felt a bit intimidating at first, but that was just me and my own cultural expectations and personal insecurities! I scoff at them now, and have enjoyed many non-overbearing short conversations with waiting staff who know when to back off and leave you to your crème brulee in peace!