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General reflections from a recent visit to Paris

1. We did not have a single interaction with anyone in Paris that was not courteous and polite.

2. Language was not a problem. Everyone involved with hospitality and tourism (i.e., 90 percent of the Parisians you are likely to encounter) seemed to have a good working grasp of English. The only exceptions that come to mind are a cheese monger at a sidewalk market, the ticket seller at an obscure Latin Quarter theater, and possibly the taxi driver from the airport (not sure because I side-stepped the issue by handing him a piece of paper with our destination address written on it). If anything, having invested considerable time and energy in restoring my French language skills, I was disappointed that I did not have more opportunity to use them.

3. Based on my experience, I can only assume that all the warnings about long lines, big crowds, etc., must pertain primarily to July and August. We were there for the first two weeks in May and didn’t encounter any of these. We arrived at the Picasso Museum to find a large entry courtyard with pathways staked out for three different lines, and not a single human being in the courtyard. The massive entry courtyard at Versailles was about 10 percent occupied. Lines at the Eiffel Tower were quite short.

4. Sharpen your pencil before buying a Paris Museum Pass. I made a list of the museums we most wanted to visit and got ticket prices from their web sites. The total was only very slightly higher than the cost of a two-day pass — but to make the pass worthwhile I would have had to do all those museums in two consecutive days, which would have greatly diminished my enjoyment of them. It may be that the priority-entry feature would make the pass worthwhile in busier times, but as noted that was not an issue when we were there.

5. I was unable to conjure up any scenario under which the more inclusive, and much more expensive, Paris Pass would have made sense. Seems like a pure ripoff to me.

6. The fact that something can be reached via the Metro doesn’t necessarily mean you should take the Metro to get there. I ran all our journeys on Google Maps and there were many times when the Metro was the slowest option. You really can cover a lot of ground quickly on foot, and the Paris bus system is also an excellent option. Do not ignore the cost in time and blood pressure involved in finding your way through the average Metro station looking for your transfer.

7. We used Uber several times and it worked extremely well. Better than taxis in my opinion.

8. Notwithstanding point 7, use a taxi to get from CDG into town. They’re very conveniently located at the airport which minimizes the schlepping of luggage, and the fare is fixed by law (50 euro to the Right Bank, 55 to the Left Bank) so you can’t get ripped off. You’re tired, you’re jet-lagged, you’re not sure where you’re going...Spend the money, take the taxi.

9. We succumbed to the lure of a boat cruise on the Seine. It does indeed allow you to view the city from a different perspective. Unfortunately it is really not a particularly good perspective. We went in the daytime so I can’t speak to what a night cruise might have been like.

10. The weather in Paris is capricious. No matter how sunny it is or what the forecast says when you set out, bring an umbrella.

I should emphasize that this reflects the experience of a middle-aged married couple traveling without children during the first two weeks of May. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by
14015 posts

Thanks for an interesting report on going to Paris.

Going from the CDG into Paris, I have never taken a taxi, always the RER, only took a taxi once between the airport and Paris and that was from the Paris hotel to CDG.

I take the RER when going over solo, likewise, the RER when the Mrs and I are together flying from SFO to Paris.

I don't solely rely on the Metro either anymore to go from A to B, it's walking, or now the Metro and the bus, more often now buses since I've learned how to work a number of the bus Uber...not an option.

Posted by
5192 posts

Thanks for your report, and well organized! I have a couple comments.First regarding the Paris Museum Pass (NEVER the Paris Pass) I agree that it isn't a big savings. For me, it always looks like I'll come close to breaking even and the pass has allowed me a no-risk opportunity to go in somewhere for a peek to decide if its a place I'd like to spend some time. There are also some places, Arch de Triomphe is one, that wasn't high on the priority list, but we found we had a bit of time, it was on the pass and we ended up enjoying the views very much. I'd much rather see views of Paris WITH the Eiffel tower instead on ON the Eiffel Tower. Regarding taxi from the airport, people should always consider their own mental and physical energy when they make transportation choices, but I have always taken the RER to and from the airport. Because I pack light and stay somewhere central, it's easy, cheaper and I think most often faster than a taxi since it doesn't have to deal with traffic. I so agree on thinking thru the choice of walk vs. bus vs. metro. Walking is often faster when time waiting is factored in and you do see more walking and on a bus than you do on a metro. Isn't Paris wonderful?!

Posted by
344 posts

Thanks for the report! It reminds me of the last time I was in Paris (Labor Day weekend, 2001) and my daughter was in high school and was taking French and Art Appreciation. Since I worked for an airline, it wasn't too expensive to go for a long holiday weekend as a "field trip" so that she could practice her French. Funny thing was, that every time she would attempt to speak French, the person she was trying to converse with would start speaking English. Oh well, she tried. Nonetheless, it was a great mother and daughter trip and holds wonderful memories.

Posted by
492 posts

Thanks for the report!

It's interesting that I've often heard this cliche that Parisians will refuse to speak English to someone, even when they know it. I've never once experienced that, and your experience has always been my own - even when speaking French to them, you'll so often find they happily speak English back. On a trip several years back, an American friend I met up with there (who happened to be visiting at the same time) complained about this, feeling it was patronizing. I am not sure how he could have come away with that impression, though. Rather, I've always felt their efforts to speak English back to me came from the same motivations I'd attempt to speak French to them - us each doing our utmost to help the other person understand us, and even put our language skills to the test. I've never felt it came from their being anything other than friendly, polite, and thoughtful! Further, when hanging out with French friends at a cafe or restaurant and much of our conversation at the table taking place in English, when I've asked for or ordered things in French the server then happily stuck to French entirely, and happily transitioned to English as soon as I had clearly gotten in over my head with what I was saying!

Posted by
14015 posts

I have had to ask if they spoke English, obviously I knew, since the sign at the station said "English Spoken." When I speak in French, they reply in English, i have to give in when it deals with French due to my linguistic handicap and deficiency.

When that happens in Germany, ie, I speak German, they respond in English, I don't have to give in here due to linguistic deficiency and lapse into English. I continue speaking in German. If the interlocutor wants to continue in English, fine, I 'll do likewise in German.

Having a two language conversation, I have found that not to happen...the guy sooner or later switches over to German. Unless it's massive immersion, I know I'll never be able to do that in French.

Posted by
50 posts

Thank you for sharing your experience and creating such a detailed report. The tips about the taxi and uber are very useful. I've always used the metro when going around and never bothered with considering a taxi or Uber. Might check it out next time. Thank you!

Posted by
7609 posts

I chuckled at your remarks on the boat cruise. I have always thought the best way to see the city was not 'down in the ditch' and always recommend that if one must do this trip, they do it at night when at least it is interesting to see the city lit up. The best way to see Paris has always been to walk -- and you see a lot more walking along the upper bank of the Seine than down in the ditch on a boat. So few people see it that way, but I see that you do.

And the weather -- spot on. yesterday we had lunch across town and walked in the Marais and then did some last minutes shopping at Italie Deux near the apartment before finally heading home after picking up some vegetables for dinner at a local market -- it was sunny and beautiful. We were not home for half an hour when the heavens opened and it poured rain. We have been caught in a couple of those showers as well.

Posted by
3938 posts

Regarding lines - we last visited Paris in late April 2017 (3rd week) - we lucked into some amazing weather - tshirt was fine even at 11pm and I even got a bit of a sunburn after nearly freezing in Amsterdam 10 days earlier. We had never been to the d'Orsay in our 3 previous visits, so decided to go on the Thurs night (I think it was) that they were open. Wow - no line and the place was not at all crowded. Even the Louvre wasn't bad.

Posted by
834 posts

Love this post. I agree with all....and #6 and #9........we used the metro exclusively on our first Paris trip, feeling like as tourists that we needed to master from tourist site to tourist site. On trips #2 and #3 we walked......and enjoyed the pace and sites of the city so much in Paris IS above ground and you are missing a lot of that by not also burns off the Mont Blancs and croissants! And you should take a Seine Boat Tour but do it at night so can turn the corner on the river and see the Eiffel Tower glittering.....AWESOME. The French people have been nothing but gracious to me on all 3 trips....... I always try my best to put my best step forward and be gracious to them as I would hope they would be to me.....and they always are! Two shop owners in the Marais gave me a gift for complimenting their stores and shopping with them....dear people!

Posted by
12132 posts

Thanks for your report. I've been to Paris eight times. I have met an occasional jerk (usually a bar tender or waiter in a place that caters to tourists) but the vast majority were much more helpful than I'd expect and the rest were perfectly polite. I've always thought the issue is the cultural difference between how Americans and French view "polite". In France, it's the height of rudeness to approach someone and ask a question ("How do I get to the Louvre?"). A polite conversation begins with a formal greeting and ends with thank you, goodbye (Good day sir. Can you help me find the Louvre? Thank you. Goodbye.). You're much more likely to have nice interactions with the locals if you understand how we can be perceived as rude.

I travel shoulder season too. I went to Versailles on a day when rain was forecast and saw very few crowds even though it didn't rain. My theory is it's like Disneyland where everyone skips it on rainy days.

Like you, I take the metro when it's more than a 15 minute walk - because a metro ride will take at least that long.

The boat cruise is better at night because you see the lights and the Eiffel Tower light show. I wouldn't recommend it during the day.

I don't think the weather is as capricious as London (four seasons in one day), but it's always good to keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Posted by
2485 posts

Excellent observations. May I add:

Museum Pass - can be a good deal for some but it is generally purchased without considering cheaper alternatives. Any ticket purchased in advance offers the same skip the line advantage.

Paris Pass - I agree completely that there is no scenario making this a wise purchase.

Métro - I take the métro when I need to be somewhere at a specific time. Buses are fine but have many unknowns: traffic, route closures due to demonstrations, and roadwork causing unpredictable delays. For public transportation information, googlemaps are woefully inaccurate. I find Citymapper even better than the RATPs own website and Citymapper is the only reference I use. It would have probably given you better en route information than did googlemaps. No doubt however that walking is the preferable way to see Paris.

Uber better than taxi? - Not sure I agree with this. Taxis do not have surge pricing. Taxis have access to the bus lanes, Uber does not. It makes a difference in traffic.

Another problem with Uber in Paris is that drivers are canceling your ride if, on the way to pick you up, they receive a more profitable offer from one of the other services they might drive for, e.g. Kapten, Bolt, or Snapcar.

I use a combination of Kapten, Bolt, or taxi.

Posted by
9721 posts

About the language: they just love trying out their English and think it's so cool. Until recently, the French were not known for their linguistic ability and were quite embarrassed trying to speak English. This generation is different.

But it is frustrating if you've studied, practiced and want to try. Even one of my kids, who was raised in a French-speaking home (but has a tiny accent), has the waiters his age responding to him in English. He continues on in French and they continue in English. Maybe it's because his wife is Anglophone. He was frustrated.

But, if anyone in France approaches my husband in English, they get a piece of his mind blown back at them in Parisian argot. No one ever continues in English with either of us. We probably look mean or something!

Posted by
144 posts

We had the same wonderful experience last month.

The French people were so kind and polite. My husband and I kept trying to speak French, but their English was almost always better than our French! :)

Posted by
3644 posts

I agree with all you say especially the courteous and polite (except on transit and I'll get to that). My wife and I tried to consistently used some basic phrases such as asking for a table at a restaurant and we would get approving smiles and thumbs up and then they'd switch to English. Definitely if you try, they will be very accommodating.

A couple of things that I'm curious about for opinions. We had a tough time getting some places to accept cash unless we had exact change. For example at a Batobus ticket office, a cost for two was about $34. I gave a $50 Euro and was told no. I tried 2-$20's and told no. I gave a $20 and $5 and was told no. I could see his till, he had plenty of cash. This happened a few times. Has anyone else experienced that? We did a 2 week tour of France and the change problem didn't occur anywhere else.

The only lack of courtesy we found was on the subway and RER. Parisians don't seem interested in moving out of the way of the doors or clearing a path for luggage. I was even trying to to get away from the door and to someplace a bit more neutral so I wasn't blocking anyone's access, but no success. It's not like anyone was mad that my luggage was partially blocking a door, it just seems like it's common and no big deal. I'm comparing this to my experiences in London where people were constantly moving out of the way to allow people on and off, making room for luggage, etc. I don't think we took a ride on the Tube where someone didn't offer up a seat to my wife (she's only in her mid-50's and has no mobility issues that would make a person feel obligated to give up a seat). It seems to me on a Paris subway, it's just normal for people to not move or offer a seat and for people getting on and off to wander though a maze of people to find an open spot. Any thoughts to my observations?

Posted by
3518 posts

The change issue goes back farther than 2000. We experienced It when francs were still the currency. At a stop on an autoroute a vendor actually refused to sell us a newspaper because our smallest bill was a 200f note. It was hard for me to believe that at a busy travel center he couldn’t change it. But, as they say, “c’est la vie”. We’ve encountered the same phenomenon in other countries.
As far as manners on the Paris metro, I have been the recipient of many courteous gestures; offers of seats, help with luggage, etc.

Posted by
10344 posts

Regarding crowding: news reports last week said management closed the Louvre for a day because the previous day there had been too many visitors for them to handle.
This raises the question: should the Louvre and other major museums change to requiring advance online reservations (doesn't necessarily have to be timed entry), getting the museums to proactively do what they can to improve the visitor's experience by controlling the maximum number of visitors allowed in, in one day?

Posted by
10344 posts

Right. The number of visitors who can afford European travel is going to increase over time. Are the museums just going to cynically adopt the position that: it doesn't bother museum management if visitors are willing to stand in line for hours to get in, or have mobs of people between them and their favorite paintings? Or are the museums going to take proactive steps to improve visitor experience?

Posted by
5192 posts

Kent, I may be wrong, but I thought the Louvre issue was that the Louvre workers were striking due to having to deal with what they felt were to many visitors.

Posted by
42 posts

Thanks to all for the interesting comments.

Fred, I quite agree that if you know the ropes at CDG, how to find the RER and what stop to get off at, and don't have a lot of luggage to lug, by all means use the RER. My comment was from the perspective of someone who hadn't been to Paris in many years, had never used RER, and had a lot of luggage. Dealing with all that was the last thing I needed that bleary-eyed morning. My view is that there are always ways to scrimp; maybe this doesn't need to be one of them if it spares you some heartburn and gets you to your home-away-from-home faster.

I also agree with those who noted that many Parisians are as eager to use their English as we are to use our French. There were definitely a few who indulged me good-heartedly until the necessity of communicating clearly intervened. God bless 'em. I sense a general consensus that we can do away with the "French people secretly hate Americans" canard. It just ain't so. (I will also note that
during our two weeks in Provence, knowledge of French was considerably more useful.)

I have a different take on the way the French approach who goes first on the Metro, etc. I've seen this all over Europe, and I attribute it to a form of basic assertiveness that I actually find healthy and refreshing. I've encountered any number of Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, you-name-it, whose basic approach is: "There is a spot closer to the door. If you take it, it's yours. If not, I will & then it's mine. I won't be put out if you grab it first and I won't feel obliged to apologize if I do." It's not rude at all, it's just functional. I think Americans are by nature much more deferential, which is fine though it does lead to some Alphonse/Gaston "you go first no you go first" situations.

Posted by
14015 posts

"...they get a piece of his mind blown back at them....No one ever continues in English with either of us." Bravo! My compliments on that level of linguistic skill. I wish my knowledge of French were as adept.

@ blattner... Your points are well taken. Thanks for the clarification but I see it differently from you.

Posted by
139 posts

@ Jules m. You are correct. We were in Paris when the Louvre closed and it was due to a strike by the security who were overwhelmed by the crowds. It completely closed for one day and then opened late a few days that week due to the strike. I have been to Paris numerous times and have never seen the crowds as bad as they were the last week in May and the first week in June. Lines were incredibly long everywhere. We were happy the we had the Paris museum pass. It worked for us during this visit. I am not sure why the lines were so long. It could have been a combination of French Open, women’s world cup in France and 75th anniversary of D Day as well as Ascension Thursday which is a national holiday in France. As I was told at Giverny....the French “fait le pont”..... make a long weekend out of holidays. Or it could be simply that tourism is up. Interestingly, we encountered a lot of people from New Zealand in France this time. We went to Giverny on the Saturday after Ascension Thursday and the lines were as bad as at Versailles. I have experienced crowds at Giverny but that day they were like nothing I have ever seen and we arrived at 9:15, before it opened. We were sorry we went there that day. It was not enjoyable. It took us 45 minutes just to get into the house! It was crazy!!!

Posted by
9721 posts

@Fred "...they get a piece of his mind blown back at them....No one ever continues in English with either of us." Bravo! My compliments on that level of linguistic skill. I wish my knowledge of French were as adept.

Thanks for the compliments about linguistic skill, but it's not so difficult when it's your native language and you grow up in a neighborhood where you hear argot spoken by adults.

Posted by
14015 posts

@ Bets...I always understood it was your hubby's native language but not yours, still that means your acquired skill in the language is at fluency level.