My dear friend and fellow fabulous writer¬†Galena Mosovich¬†is on her way to Paris for the winter. And I could not be more excited for her! I spent two consecutive winters in Paris years ago and, needless to say, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Paris is my absolute favorite city, and I’m thrilled that Galena’s off to experience it for an extended, life-changing stay. I’m also thrilled for an excuse to return for a visit! As someone who’s been there before, here’s my advice on how to enjoy Paris fully and completely on a long stay.
All you need are these two French words to survive:¬†√áa va. Yes, √ßa va, it’s so simple. Short for comment¬†√ßa va, it’s most common meaning is: How are you? But it also means, I’m good.¬†Use it as a greeting,¬†√ßa va?¬†As a response:¬†√ßa va.¬†At the¬†patisserie to confirm your¬†pain au chocolat¬†order,¬†√ßa va.¬†When in doubt,¬†√ßa va.
Don’t go to language school.¬†You’re only in Paris for three months. Don’t waste any portion of any day sitting in some depressing classroom with other foreigners practicing how to conjugate verbs in French. You’re not going to be fluent in such a short amount of time anyway. Now, that doesn’t mean don’t attempt to get at least a handle on the language. Buy a little lesson book or download an app. Try to learn the pronunciation and common conversational phrases.
Look at message boards at anglophone haunts like Shakespeare & Company (more on that below) for locals looking for a language exchange partner. I met a whole group of friends this way. Even if you don’t learn a lot of French, you’ll get to know them!
Here’s a few more phrases that will go a long way:¬†The French are far more persnickety about social graces. Whenever you enter a store or establishment offer a:¬†Bonjour madame!¬†And when you depart a:¬†Merci Monsieur!¬†Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with French after that. They’ll appreciate your effort and you’ll feel like you fit in just a little more.
At restaurants:¬†Je voudrais le…¬†“I would like the…” is how you order.¬†You’ll learn your food words faster than anything else. Je m’apelle¬†…¬†”my name is.”¬†Je¬†suis… “I am.”¬†Je¬†suis desolais¬†or simply¬†desolais… “I’m sorry.” And¬†je ne comprend pas… “I don’t understand…” will go far.
And if you want to sound really cool, throw in a¬†√áa¬†va ma poule?¬†or √áa¬†va ma¬†poulet?… “What’s up my chicken?” I’ll teach you some good curse words privately!
Also, you’ll notice the French like to say “typical” and “cool” in English a lot.
Disconnect.¬†I spent my winters in Paris pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook (at least for me) and pre-constant barrage of emails. It makes me sad to think of a Paris with all of these things, but there are plenty of benefits to traveling with them too, I suppose. I would just caution you to not be ruled by them. Sit at a caf√© table on the boulevard Saint-Germaine without scrolling through your Instagram. Simply enjoy the parade of Parisian passersby. I went a couple of months without a cell phone altogether and it was incredibly liberating. The only reason I eventually got one was so I could call my Parisian boyfriend!
Don’t watch TV.¬†Don’t watch Netflix. Don’t watch Youtube. This is in a similar vein to disconnect. Read books in your spare time! Just get lost in books! Read for hours in your flat when it’s rainy outside. Read for hours bundled up at the Tuileries by a fountain or on the steps of Montmartre. Take your inspiration from George Whitman. That’s what he did when he came to Paris post-World War II when he founded Shakespeare & Company (yes, more on that below!).
√áa va pont des Arts–before people started putting those ugly “love locks” on it.
Discover Paris by foot one arrondissement at a time.¬†The City of Lights all to yourself for three whole months! It just doesn’t get much better than that. In the beginning, get to know your own neighborhood. Then, attack each arrondissement one day at at time, and get oriented (or lost) in what makes each of them special. Places I love, the: 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 4th, 11th, 9th, 2nd. Okay, I love it all!
The beautiful chaos of books at Shakespeare & Company.
Get lost in Shakespeare & Company. Often.¬†Just do this. It is the world’s best bookstore. Or at least my very favorite. Look into joining one of their writer’s groups in the loft for camaraderie and creativity. Make sure you get any of the books you buy there stamped with their logo.
Shop the¬†soldes!¬†You’ll be arriving just in time for the annual state-mandated¬†soldes¬†(that’s sales en Anglais). That means all the shops in all of Paris will have incredible sales for weeks (now through February 17). Head immediately to either Le Bon Marche or Galeries Lafayette and feast your eyes. And that’s just for orientation. The city is bursting with incredible boutiques and designer flagships–like, the original ones, √áa va Mademoiselle Coco?
Oh hey, Chanel!
Shopping in Paris ruined me for life. It’s just not as good anywhere else. In addition to the¬†soldes,¬†designers will also be previewing their newest collections. Maybe pick just one dream item to take home with you. For me, it was fancy ballet slippers that I still wear today. I also snagged a Prada bikini for like 40 Euros–you can take the beach girl to Paris, but you can’t take the beach out of the girl!
The good news is in addition to sales, you can also get a tax rebate when you return to the states, so save your receipts and inquire about the necessary paperwork (consult your guidebook about this too).
Buy French makeup.¬†Here’s an instance where American makeup sold, like Revlon, costs as many Euros as Chanel or Dior. So buy the Chanel and Dior. Also, peruse the counters of Parisian pharmacies for fancy beauty products. They’re far more chic than CVS or Walgreens. Just look for the neon green cross on the facade.
Save money on food and shop at the markets.¬†Admittedly, I think I’m the only person who can’t appreciate farmers markets even in Paris, but I know you will. There are so many good ones. Buy up your fresh produce at the market, get your¬†fromage¬†from the¬†fromageries and your baguettes from the¬†boulangeries and your mille-feuile from the¬†p√Ętisseries. Or, if you’re like me, just buy everything at the discount grocery store Champion.
Make yourself a giant omelette stuffed with fresh veggies and¬†comt√©¬†cheese, a baguette with jam and a pot of French press to serve as breakfast and lunch.¬†Oh, and stock up on¬†C√īte du Rh√īne.¬†It’s only like four Euros at French grocery stores. And¬†Cr√©ment d’Alsace¬†is an affordable alternative to Champagne. Mais bien¬†s√Ľr, drink Champagne too (if only to practice the proper French pronunciation–you’ll never get it right!)!
You don’t have to try the tasting menu at Jo√ęl Robuchon to eat well in Paris.¬†After all, I’m pretty sure the French coined the term¬†prix fixe. Most caf√©s and brasseries will offer lunch and dinner prix fixe menus at varying levels of affordability. Also, it’s impossible to eat too many cr√™pes in Paris. They’re equally good from street vendors as they are inside cozy¬†cr√™peries, and both options are relatively affordable. You’ll notice the approach is far more simple than the way we do cr√™pes in the US. My favorite dessert crepe in Paris is a simple¬†miel et citron (honey and lemon). Always order with a bowl of brut¬†cidre.¬†Also, you’ve got to eat falafel in the Marais. L’As du is the famous place. I think Lenny Kravitz’s even eaten there (and I have too), so you know it’s cool!
Falafel with Lenny!
Save the Bonnard retrospective for me.¬†I know you’re going to devour the¬†mus√©es¬†and¬†galeries while you’re there. I can’t wait to see what you discover! But save the Pierre Bonnard retrospective at Mus√©e D’Orsay for my visit. I first saw his work and fell in love with it there. Let’s also hit the Centre Pompidou, one of my very favorites! Okay, okay, that’s more of a request than a piece of advice.
Get acquainted with the bobos and their haunts.¬†Bourgeois Bohemians, or bobos, are basically the equivalent of hipsters in Paris. You’re living in Montmartre, so you’ll be surrounded by them. Do your legwork so you can take me to all the cool bobo spots when I come visit.
Challenge: A Moveable Feast.¬†See if you can drink your way from Montmartre to Saint Germaine on foot in one night. Hint: It can be done.
Reinvent yourself.¬†You’re in a foreign city on the other side of the world by yourself. There’s perhaps no more exhilarating and freeing feeling. You can be anyone you want to be. Think about what that means to you and seize the day! For me, it meant wearing red lipstick on the daily and straightening my hair. It also meant mustering up the courage to stroll into bars and caf√©s by myself and relishing in the thrill. Be bold. No one knows you.
Hemingway, table for two.
Find a famous ghost to follow.¬†For me, it was Ernest Hemingway. I made a point to walk past every former apartment he lived in and, at the very least, have¬†a drink at every cafe he frequented from Saint Germaine des Pres to Montparnasse. Along the way, I also ran into Picasso, Apollinaire, Simone de Beuavoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Emile Durkheim, George Sand and others. Good company.
Have a kir royale at Le Fumoir.¬†This simple act was a life changing experience for me. Seated at the bar, after the first sip, I locked eyes with a mysterious stranger and that would set the wheels in motion to meet my Parisian love; it’s the stuff of fairytales.
Swoon! Aim for this!
Look for love.¬†Yes, do this instead of looking at your Instagram. Look for it! Because it’s there everywhere in Paris. It’s no exaggeration that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Just hope that you’ll find someone to kiss on a bridge over the Seine–and maybe even someone to whisk you away to the Alps for a long weekend!