“So… tell me all about France. I want a list of things you liked and what you didn’t.”
My sister’s boyfriend asked this as we sat around the table sharing a plate of sweet potato fries post trip. I was in a jet-lagged stupor. I didn’t sleep on the plane. I didn’t sleep in Paris. I took a plane at 4:00 pm in England and landed at 4:00 pm in Seattle. Time travel is exhausting.
When he asked me about the trip I growled, “Well, a guy whipped a beer can at me in Grenoble.”
I don’t know why I went right to the negative thing, the what-I-thought-was-funny thing. Yes, this actually happened. The Husband and I were trying to find our hotel room in Grenoble, a city in the French Alps and heard drunken ramblings from across the street.
Then a beer can collided with my leg. I yelled WHAT THE F*CK? in my big Chicago mean voice. I contemplated throwing it back, but I’m a lefty and not a very good pitcher and I didn’t really feel like being the subject of a brutal attack.
He lumbered back into whatever dive he came from. I have to mention him. Because the beer thrower (I call him Lance) is possibly the only real “rude” person we met traveling through France. And we met a lot of people.
Ok, I am 90% sure a group of girls were talking smack about me on the train, but it’s not like I was about to ask them to confirm.
Excusie-moi are you talking about moi?
I can, however, confirm this:
1. French people are not rude!
French people are not rude!
I have to say this twice because even my most worldly friends warned me that I would be hissed at for daring to bother them with French where I didn’t perfectly hit the accents. I do speak French, almost fluently, but I am pretty sure I sound like a choking goose. Most people were super patient and hospitable.
I wouldn’t call them small-town smiley, but they are not rude.
Let’s move on to Paris hotels.
2. Paris hotels are small
Yep, expect a very small room for a very big price. But you knew that.
We stayed at the Design Sorbonne, a little hotel in the 6th arondissment that looks like bien sur something right out of Amelie.
It was difficult to find, like everything in Paris. We got off the metro, and went on a thirty-minute hunt for this tiny hotel, me in a fraying t-shirt, baggy jeans, plane breath and all, piloting my suitcase around piles of dog stuff and hordes of impeccably dressed students on bicycles.
When we finally found the hotel (not its fault), it proved to be a welcome respite, a cozy hideaway where I could conceal my unsophisticated self until the bags under my eyes subsided.
If it’s your first time in Paris, do not stay near the airport the entire trip and try to train in, thinking you’ll save a few euros. Stay near what you want to see, my universal travel rule. And look into renting an apartment if you really want to save.
3. Coffee isn’t just coffee in Paris
I didn’t look this up before I went. I used to be able to order coffee in French with ease when I lived in Quebec. It’s one of the first things I could do where the baristas would speak back to me. But coffee is different in Quebec.
In Paris, it took me several shots of espresso to figure out I wanted a café crème (coffee with warm crème), not simply a café, which is espresso. Café Americain is filtered coffee, 7-11 style and café au lait is a latte.
French language learning pro tip: When you order food in another language, anticipate what they’re going to say back to you.
“You want frites with that?”
While we’re on the topic of food and drink, I must let you in on a horrible secret.
4. Not all French food is created equal.
Ok, French food is fantastic. I mean that. Forget the hotel buffet breakfast unless it’s free. And if you dare go to Starbucks in Paris, we’re not friends anymore (I kid, I kid).
Get up, find a patisserie, order a chocolatine or croissant or brioche or tiny lemon pie (pour emporter, s’il vous plait) and eat it while walking to your destination. Buy a neighborhood map to make getting around a little bit easier. Expect to spend 1/3 of your trip lost.
Good restaurants are everywhere, but not every restaurant is good. Start your search for the perfect Paris restaurant before you’re famished. Don’t wait until your feet throb and hunger insanity strikes. If you do, you’ll be susceptible to a dangerous “this-place-looks-alright” mentality.
You’re in France. Now’s not the time to settle for alright.
Paris restaurant recommendations
Travel tip: Create a restaurant itinerary with a couple of options around the landmarks you plan to visit. That way, when hypoglycemia has you in its clutches, you’re not walking for miles looking to find a “hidden gem.” And definitely make reservations for dinner. Talking on the phone in French is more difficult than when you’re in person, so you’ll probably have to ask the concierge for help.
Look for restaurants with menus all in French, and take a listen before you head inside. Are the people speaking French? Is it packed or empty? Does it look like it’s trying too hard?
Le Pré Verre, near our hotel served up a cold soup with popcorn in it. So beautiful, I had to take a picture. Highly recommend it.
If you tire of French fare (it happens), there’s darn good Italian food to be had.
Like pizza, fried egg on top at Pizza Roma near the Sorbonne.
Should you go to Grenoble, there’s Epicurie Comptoir, a train-side tapas bar that’s open late. Best cassoulet I ever had, perfect wine recommendations, run by a very sweet woman. So good we went back the next night.
Comment below with your own Paris travel tips. Or reach out with a question about an upcoming trip.