You’re heading to France—whether it be the first time in Paris, a yearly trip to Provence, or a weekend getaway to Nice. Regardless of the details, your trip will hopefully involve exploring another culture, eating delicious food, and finding an international boyfriend. (Kidding…kind of.) But before you embark on your adventures, think of that obnoxious fannypack-carrying woman yelling in English on the Lyon metro. Or that girl who got 5,000 euros stolen from a bag on an al fresco table in Lille. Certain American tendencies are best left at home. Here are a few things to keep in mind, to avoid being that traveler:
Learn how to say a few words in French. You don’t need to purchase the 5-level edition of Rosetta Stone or get a masters in French literature. Just look up a few simple words—namely, “hello,” “thank you” and “A glass of house wine, please,”—and your efforts will likely be appreciated. Even if you completely butcher the pronunciation, it’s still a nice gesture. I always remind myself: if I have enough space in my memory to know the full timeline of the Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez love saga, complete with lyrics to all vengeance songs, there’s probably space for “merci.”
Be aware of dress norms. I know those booty shorts look good on you, but bringing them out on your next Parisian excursion might not be the best way to blend in. Europeans favor pants, skirts or dresses, and rarely wear leggings or shorts as Americans are accustomed to. Overall, the vibe is more conservative than in the States. People rarely sport the tight, short dresses and stilettos for nights out, opting instead for dark pants and simple tops. Standing out might also label you as a tourist, making it more likely that you’ll be targeted for pickpocketing and – even worse – selfie-stick street merchants.
Don’t Talk Smack in English. Just because English isn’t the “official” language, doesn’t mean you can discuss with your friends how that lady next to you on the train should really invest in some deodorant. English is not some obscure, indigenous dialect spoken by a handful of people. Chances are, that lady on the train will see your BO dig and return with a snide retort to your Lululemons.
Stop Yelling. When Americans conglomerate in large groups, our voices tend to elevate—a lot. Avoid passive aggressive stares (and make your maman proud) by using your indoor voice at restaurants and metro cars.
Be Careful with valuables. Whether it’s at a hostel or the queue for Notre Dame, make sure you know where your wallet and passport are at all times. Certain places like the large Parisian train stations and tourist sites are notorious for pickpockets, so keep your purses in sight at all times, or opt for a money belt. The same goes for shared accommodation—bring a lock to keep your phone safe so you can continuously text your mom Eiffel Tower emojis. If it gets stolen, how will she know you’re having a good time?
Leave Laptops at Home. North Americans have a huge work/coffee culture, where it’s common to find an entire café hunched over their personal computers, earbuds in, for hours at a time. France and Europeans go to cafés to socialize or read a book, and trying to balance your 15” laptop on an 11” table will probably just result in spilled caffeine and universal eye-rolls. Save the surface space for a slice of gâteau.
Just…Eat it. If you go into your trip on a gluten/egg-yolk/meat/sugar/fish-free diet, you might want to consider loosening your restrictions. France has terrific meat, and maybe even better bread and pastries. Many waiters there consider chicken to be the “vegetarian” option. Nobody should feel pressured to suspend their moral/religious/health practices, but if this is just a matter of fitting in your aforementioned booty shorts, consider pushing your diet off for a bit to explore the local cuisine. Eat a pain au chocolat. Or five.
Pack Light. If you can’t carry it yourself, don’t bring it. Unless you’re planning to take private cars everywhere (in which case, please take me with you), stick to one suitcase. More than that and you risk becoming the ultimate bag lady/man, attempting to maneuver through metros, stairs, and those infamous cobblestone, winding streets. Many buildings in France are hundreds of years old. Elevators are for the 1%. Good luck getting three oversized suitcases up a 200-year-old eight-floor walk up.
Don’t Brag. If you’re the only one in your small-town village in Iowa to ever leave America, congratulations. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot since clawing your way out of the corn fields. But chances are, you’re going to meet tons of other people who have travelled just as much, if not more. Nobody wants to be Facebook friends with that hostel-hopper who lists all of the obscure islands she’s been to – let alone invite her on weekend trips to Provence. Travel is an exchange, not a competition. Your new Parisian friends will probably be more impressed by the fact that you’re from Iowa. Seriously, where the hell is that? What do people do there?