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.
Have you always dreamed of reliving An Americans in Paris? Life as an American expat in the City of Light isn't all about romantic walks along the Seine and picnics under the Eiffel Tower. Just ask David Lebovitz, one of Paris's best-known expat bloggers. After a successful career as a pastry chef and cookbook author in America, Lebovitz (davidlebovitz.com) decided to move to Paris a decade ago. Here, he dishes on where to find the best meals, how to stay on a Parisian's good side, and why sometimes, speaking no French can be a good thing.
THE LESS FRENCH YOU SPEAK, THE BETTER OFF YOU ARE
It's interesting, but speaking no French can actually work for you. Because Parisians think it's funny. When you speak really good French, people start treating you like a French person. I learned the language after I moved here, but I'm actually very bad with languages and I have trouble with French. When people ask, "Are you fluent in French?" I always joke and say that even the French aren't fluent in French. Because they make a lot of mistakes, too. You'll be at a party and people will be discussing a verb tense or how something's spelled or the diction, because it's not a phonetic language.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE A REAL PARISIAN WHEN...
Paris seems untouchable for a lot of people, and they want to move here. It's their dream. They come here, and it's a great place to live—for two years. Because you can actually come here and "live in America" with the Internet, TV, an American bank account, and your ATM card. But after two years, you have to start dealing with the bank, the government, city hall, moving, buying or renting an apartment. Those kinds of things are extremely challenging here—even for French people. You're a real Parisian when you change your cable company successfully. That's probably the hardest thing to do in France. Getting out of a contract, returning your equipment, it's a six-month process. Luckily, I had a reader who is French help me get out of the contract by translating the terms and conditions for me.
THE FRENCH APPRECIATE AMERICAN CULTURE MORE THAN PEOPLE THINK
I've seen a really big influx of Americanism—and I don't mean that in a bad way or in an invasive way. But, 10 years ago, you couldn't find hamburgers anywhere. If you did, they were awful. I used to complain, like a lot of Americans, about how you couldn't get a decent hamburger in Paris, and now you can get them everywhere. But now I think, well, did I move to Paris to get hamburgers? There was a big brouhaha when I posted a picture of the Chipotle opening in Paris on my blog. It was full of French people, and my Americans readers said: "I can't believe anybody in France would eat there." And I thought, "Why not?" People in New York and London eat at Chipotle. Why can't French people enjoy foods from other countries?
THE ONE THING YOU SHOULD ALWAYS DO
In Paris, just leaving a place without saying goodbye is considered really rude. It's just something we don't do in America. We don't go into a store and when we leave make sure to say goodbye. In Paris, it's obligatory. When you get into an elevator with someone, you say hello. When you walk into a doctor's office and open the door to the waiting room, you say hello to everybody. It's just the framework of politeness that French people have.
WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID BRASSERIES
People have Excel spreadsheets full of everybody's recommendations when they visit. But I always tell Americans to go to wine bars. They're sort of the modern day bistros. They're in neighborhoods and they serve people at all hours. Those are the places where "it's happening." They're usually owned by young people who are very interested in wine and the products they're serving. They know who made the charcuterie and the cheeses. They can explain them. They're friendly. You don't have to commit to a sitdown meal. You don't need to make a reservation. But the brasseries—the old restaurants—are all pretty much terrible now. They've been bought out by corporations, and they're just looking at the bottom line. It'd be great if they just went back to serving really great French food again, source good ingredients, and be known for food—not for the name. I tell people to avoid a lot of the big names. I mean, you can get really good food in Paris, but often you have to get out of the single arrondissement areas: Go out to the 12th, go up to the Rue de Martyre in the 9th arrondissement, the 15th has some interesting places.