INSIDER TRAVEL SECRETS
10 Things You'd Never Guess About Paris
From where to find the best meals to how to stay on a Parisian’s good side, expat blogger David Lebovitz dishes on what it’s like to live as an American in Paris.
THE FRENCH LIKE TOURISTS!
I actually still think tourists are cute, and one of the reasons I do is because French people, in spite of how Americans view them, are actually really nice to tourists. I can't imagine a French person going to New York or L.A. and just going up to someone, speaking French, and being understood or getting helped. But I see tourists do it all the time here. They just go up to a ticket window and start speaking in English. So, I give the French a lot of credit. They do think we're kind of silly and cute and say, "Oh, Les Américains."
EVEN THE FRENCH DON'T ALWAYS LOVE PARISIANS
If you ask a Parisian if Parisians are rude, they will say yes. If you travel through France and say, "What do you think about Parisians?" people will say, "I don't like them." It's kind of like the image that Americans used to have of New Yorkers. It's a big, hostile place that wasn't user-friendly. And then, you know, 9/11 happened and New York became—I don't want to say "touristy"—but they really tamed it a lot. Giuliani got rid of a lot of the seedy stuff in New York, and it became a much friendlier place. Paris hasn't necessarily been all that sanitized.
IT'S MORE DIVERSE THAN MOST PEOPLE REALIZE
I live in the 11th arrondissement, which encompasses a lot of different areas. It encompasses the Bastille, it's right against the Marais, but it also covers the area of Belleville, which is a very ethnic neighborhood of North Africans and Chinese—a pretty diverse mix. I'm writing a book about Paris and my editor said, "Why are you including all of these ethnic foods?" Well, because that's what people eat in Paris! People don't eat cassoulet in Paris. They eat sushi (not very good sushi, I should add), they eat Vietnamese food, North African food. That's just part of life in Paris. I'm influenced by walking around the different neighborhoods. You walk from one to the next, and you'll be in a totally different place.
THINK THE FRENCH ARE CONNOISSEURS OF CHEESE? THINK AGAIN
You know, it was funny, I wrote an article about a cheese shop here recently and a French friend of mine said, "Well, David, you know that French people usually don't know anything about cheese. They only know the one or two cheeses from the region where they are from." And you know, I've been living here for 10 years and that never occurred to me, and then I started asking French people and they only knew the cheese from the region where they were born, which is kind of interesting.
MISSING THE "U.S." IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer service is the biggest change and the most difficult part about living in Paris—just getting things done. It's extremely difficult to return anything, get help on the phone, or just get someone to do something. When you do get somebody to help you, it can be great, but it's challenging. I recently got a package from FedEx—somebody had sent me a gift from America. And I got a customs bill, so I went to the FedEx office to say it had been a gift. But they said if it's an unsolicited gift, I'd have to tell them to write that on the package's customs form. And I said, "Well, if it's unsolicited, then how do I know they're sending me a gift?" But they just sat there, looking at me, like I was supposed to come up with the answer. But logic doesn't always work here in France, which is a challenge for someone who believes in logic.