Five things you should never do in Paris
There are certain things you should never do in Paris, if you wish to avoid the ire of Parisians. Each and every one of these lessons I have learned the hard way, incurring sideways glances and dirty looks à droite et à gauche. But today I would like to make my social failures your gain! (That's just how generous I am ;)) Voilà five things you should never do, should you ever wish to be accepted in Paris.
1. Never wear sportswear in public
If you live in Paris and want to practice group fitness, unless you wish to remortgage your house in order to join a flashy yoga studio with the luxury of a changing room, then most likely you are going to sign up to Affordable Yoga and Fitness (and forego the aforementioned luxury of a changing room - suck it up, princess!).
Pas de soucis, the logical solution is to just turn up to class already in your active wear, right? WRONG! Unless, that is, you enjoy the sensation of being stared at in the metro as if you had rocked up in your pyjamas. To put this into context, the metro is the same place where homeless people walk around with no pants, no shoes, three bottles of rum, and an extremely questionable odour, and noone bats an eyelid. But activewear, apparently, crosses a line.
As an Australian, I find the Parisian disdain for activewear in public all the more puzzling because where I come from, active wear has surpassed the realms of acceptable public attire to become a bona-fide fashion trend (watch this video and you will understand).
2. Do not eat while walking on the street
Life in Paris is hectic and it can sometimes arise that, although I don’t have time to sit down and eat, I have raging hunger nevertheless (#TheHangerIsReal). Practical solution: grab a sandwich and eat on the way to your next appointment. Cruel reality: Ça ne se fait pas en France. That is just not done in France.
This lesson was learned the hard way, en route to a yoga class (yes, I was also wearing sportswear — I was lucky to have not received a red card and two match suspension). I noticed that people were looking at my strangely (well, more so than usual), but things became really distressing when one old man openly chortled at me as he walked past (Side note: chortle - a word which can only be applied to old men). It was later that a friend explained to me (in the same patronising tone that must be used to explain to a three year old that you shouldn’t go to the toilet on the dining room floor) “Oh no, you cannot eat while your walking on the street!”
3. Do not smile at people while walking on the street
To add to the list of things to avoid on the street — along with eating, vandalism and public urination — you should never smile at passers-by. In Australia, it is not uncommon to smile, or even engage fellow pedestrians with a friendly “Howzitgahn” (Translation: “Good day how are you”). In Paris, if you so much as curl your lip upwards, or flash the slightest hint of teeth at a stranger on the street, the effect will be somewhat similar to if you had set upon them with a knife.
4. Do not hug people
Important life lesson once imparted to me from a Parisian:
"When you are greeted by a French person, they will most likely faire la bise. Sometimes two cheeks and sometimes three; sometimes they will start from the left and sometimes they will start from the right, depending on which region they are from. If you are at work they may just shake your hand. Be prepared for any variation, but whatever you do, never hug a French person. They will find that very strange."
Oh yeah, because there is nothing more natural than pressing your cheek up against another colleague between two to three times!
Greeting a French person is always a sort of social Russian roulette. And the fact that atleast I can be sure they won't hug me doesn't reassure me.
5. Don't drink rosé outside of a “safe period” spanning about 0.0007% of the year
The French are very particular with their wine - this is nothing new. There are certain things that go with red wine, certain things that go with white wine, and there is this tweet that was brought to my attention by my apprentie Manon:
But what you may not know is that there is nothing more socially incriminating than drinking rosé on any but a handful of specially selected days that are approved by Parisians for its consumption.
For me, whose favourite wine is rosé (specifically from the Cote de Provence, in case you’re ever coming over and wondering what to bring as host gift) this was an extremely sad revelation. (Side note 2: Can I also please point out that this lesson was learned on a date with a French guy who, when I ordered a glass of rosé in November, looked like he wanted to bolt and run from the shame of it. He charitably explained to me the way things worked in his highly evolved country before gradually fading out of my life some weeks later)
Enfin, it was a sad revelation until several months later I decided that my enthusiasm for rosé greatly surpassed my desire for approval by Parisians. Now I can be found in wine bars and bistros all over the 9th district of Paris defiantly ordering glasses of rosé with complete disregard for the season (and savouring every last rebellious drop!).
Rosé all round! Santé!
Could it be that one day soon I will snap and start hugging strangers in the street, a sandwich in one hand, a glass of rose in the other, dressed in active wear and brandishing a smile? I’m definitely not ruling it out. But in the meantime, for those who are still desirous of the approval of the Parisians (or for those who are still in full command of their sanity) I would highly recommend avoiding such behaviour.
How about you? Is there anything else that you have done to earn the ire of Parisians?