Dos and Don'ts
Dress: Like most Europeans, Parisians will be polite about it, but anyone who turns up wearing sneakers, money belt, and/or shorts might as well have "tourist" in neon across their forehead. You'll be surprised at how casually (though stylishly) most Parisians dress, but you'll need a suit and tie for some of the more upscale restaurants.
Opinions: Do not assume that the ones you take for granted—about political correctness, animal rights, sex, smoking and drinking, and so on—will be shared by the Parisians.
Café Etiquette: Note that cafés post three tiers of prices: one for standing at the counter, one for sitting indoors, and one—the most expensive—for sitting outside. On the other hand, you can sit there for as long as you like, watching the world go by—a favorite Parisian pastime.
Greetings: A polite formality governs daily life in Paris. Say "bonjour" (good day), "merci" (thank you) and "au revoir" (farewell) even when buying bread. Address strangers (including waiters) as "monsieur" or "madame." Shake hands when introduced to someone. Parisians do les bises (one, sometimes two, kisses on each cheek) when meeting people they know; it's a bit of a faux pas to try that with people you have just met, unless they kiss first—just follow their lead. American-style hugging strikes the French as bizarre. Talking about money, or even asking a man his job, just isn't done.
Tips: A 15 percent service charge is included on café and restaurant tabs. Any extra tipping is optional, but appreciated because they go directly to the server as a thank-you. Do tip taxi drivers, however, and ushers in theaters and cinemas (around two euros in the opera, 50 cents at the movies). It is customary to tip guides a couple of euros, and porters generally expect a euro per bag.
Although English is widely spoken, Parisians appreciate at least a stab at the language, especially if you make an attempt at the pronunciation.
Bonjour: Good day
Bonsoir: Good evening
Bonne nuit: Good night
Je voudrais: I would like…
Combien ça coûte?: How much does this cost?
Je cherche: I’m looking for…
Je ne comprends pas: I don’t understand
Parlez plus lentement: Speak more slowly
S’il vous plaît: Please
Merci (beaucoup): Thank you (very much)
Je vous en prie: You’re welcome
Excusez-moi: Pardon me
Où sont les toilettes?: Where are the toilets?
À votre santé!: To your health!
About Paris and France
This former home of French kings epitomizes royal elegance in the style of Old Europe. Get facts, photos, and travel tips for Versailles, a World Heritage site in France.
Discover the arts, foods, crafts, and vistas that make this one of Europe's most inspiring regions.
Test your knowledge of Paris with this quiz from National Geographic's Ultimate City Guides.
Shop National Geographic