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Avoiding the

Does anyone have suggestions on how not to stick out like a sore thumb in Paris? I do not wish to be treated differently because I look like an American. I thought of buying most of my clothes there. I know not to be obvious by reading a map on the corner, carrying my camera around my neck and asking out loud why no one speaks my language but I'd appreciate tips on how to blend in. What is it about Americans that stands out? I went to Dublin once and a guy nailed me as a Southern Californian immediately. I'll be turning 50 in Sept. and would like to go placidly amongst the crowds without being targeted by thieves or taken advantage of. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Posted by
3313 posts

It's not worth worrying about. First of all, everyone at the places you're going to go to is also a tourist. Second, Paris is remarkably diverse, so there's really no "blending in".

What you already know is just fine - be polite, learn the basic pleasantries in French and you'll have a great time.

Posted by
7205 posts

I think people are too worried about trying to not look like a tourist. It really matters very little what you wear, most Europeans will be able to spot you in a second as being American. I've only been able to fool a couple of people in my last 7 European trips...and I wasn't even trying.

Posted by
203 posts

I believe that "not looking like a tourist" is over-rated. Most of the places that you will visit will be filled with tourists. Taking pictures is my favorite thing, and actually taking pictures brings people together. I've offered to take photos for other tourists, and before you know it, a bit of conversation begins. And you do need your map most of the time. Also, taking Rick's suggested precautions are better insurance against thievery than any clothes you wear. My husband and I are sometimes mistaken for being Dutch or Danish while in Germany--We might not "blend in" completely--but don't stick out as Americans. Fashion is universal these days; however, I did notice that I dress totally differently in Europe (with clothes purchased in Minnesota) than I do in my small Minnesota community. As I sit here, I'm wearing jeans shorts, a "Renfro Valley Kentucky" t-shirt and no make-up. In a few minutes I will run some errands. This would be INAPPROPRIATE in Paris!

Posted by
4 posts

There are so many tourist in Paris anyways, really the only way to avoid looking like a tourist is to be either working, speaking french, or both.

A small tip: Buy a local french newspaper and stick your map in between a couple pages. ;-)

Posted by
138 posts

Kari,
My French teacher is hosting a 19-year old son of her friends for the summer. He is a student in Paris. He was present at my last lesson so that I could practice my French and he, his English. So here is his advice and opinion. He told me that I say "Sil vous plait" and "Merci" way too often. He warned me not to smile at passers-by on the street. He approved my haircut, my all-black outfit with red shoes (French Arche, no less;). He told me I look 37 (I am really 42, yes!!!). And he told me to never say "Comment allez-vous" to anyone. He advised me to look surly and self-absorbed:) And I told him there is no way in the world I would look surly in Paris, are you kidding, I will be singing and dancing from joy, and I don't give a heck who is going tho think what! Of course, I will look like a tourist, gawk at everything and take pictures!!! Although I wonder if French will think me American - I am a Russian. But after so many year here - what am I?

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you so much for your replies. I know I'm being a little paranoid. Good points were brought up. Love the newspaper suggestion. My mom wants to wear her Crocs and fanny pack. I think I have her talked out of her fanny pack but the Crocs might be staying. I still plan on buying clothes in Paris. My french is pretty good but no one would mistake me for a local. On one of my visits to England I was charged more for a room than the native Brits. I felt a bit discriminated against and was hoping that if I learned a few tips I could avoid this in the future. I look forward to more suggestions if you can think of any.

Posted by
8976 posts

I'd love to know why my reply to this tread has disappeared? I believe from Al Nottingham UK also gave a reply and that post is gone as well? Is there a technical problem with the message board? If not, would the RS employee that deleted the replies please give an explanation?

Posted by
1568 posts

Michael NY. The original post was also posted in "General Europe". I responded to that thread and did not respond to this thread in "To the West", perhaps they removed the other thread.

That said, I am proud to be an American; therefore, I am not ashamed during my travels if anyone identifies me as an American.

I live near SF and see many tourists. I do not judge them in any way.

We must remember the US is a little more than 200 years old and consists of people from all over the world.

In my opinion, a person should be proud of who they are and whatever country they come from.

Posted by
2000 posts

Kari, you can't go wrong wearing black.
I hope you mom gets rid of the fanny pack too, and if she has to wear crocs, they are black!
That said, I am a middle aged woman who has been to Paris often and it is always my goal to blend in. It's not about being ashamed to be an American or a tourist or whatever, it's just about respecting the environment. I don't treat walking around and going places in Paris as if I was at Disneyland -- in shorts, t-shirts, and the other litany of casual dress atrocities well documented and debated on this site. No one is right or wrong, you just have to decide what camp you are in. Interestingly Rick and his family seem to go the more respectful route in dressing -- follow their lead.

Posted by
970 posts

Being proud of your country doesn't mean dressing like a cartoon character. "Fitting in" isn't about trying to disguise your nationality. It's about cutting through stereotypes.

Posted by
932 posts

I sometimes get the feeling on this website that people want to go to Europe and disguise the fact that they're from the US. I'm proud of my country. If someone looks at me and thinks, "she's American", I won't be offended, I AM American! That being said, that doesn't mean that when I go to Europe I'm going to be obnoxious. American does not ALWAYS = obnoxious. My husband keeps making jokes that we need to buy Canadian flags to sew onto our backpacks. It's irrelevant where we're from, it's how we behave. I've never been treated poorly by any European because I was American. (Then again, I've never been to Paris...) My parents used to tell us before we went in public that we should behave so it would reflect well on our family. It's the same when traveling to other countries -- represent our country well. And maybe I can help a few Europeans rethink their stereotype of Americans!

Posted by
152 posts

I have read that as Americans we should avoid airports and train stations as much as possible. We will be doing that. When in Paris we treated great. We couldn't find our hotel and a lovely lady actually led us to it in her Mercedes. I was a banchee about my daughter and friend to be on the lookout for being robbed. I was obnoxious with it. Guess who was robbed. ME! I was so ashamed. The hotel clerk laughed and said he knew that I never knew it. I didn't. My new digital camera was taken out of my backpack. Get a lock and use it.

I am proud of being an American, but do not want to draw attention to us. One sure sign of being an American is jeans and sneakers. I can always tell a European by their footware.
Hope all stay save and use caution. There are terriorist out there that hate us.

Posted by
57 posts

I'm just back from Paris and my kids and granddaughter and I were often mistaken for locals by other tourists. We all had several laughs when poor Americans or other English speakers tentatively approached and asked us directions in French as bad as our own. They shared a relieved laugh when we answered in our perfect English. Even shopkeepers thought we were Spanish or French and were surprised when we said no American. Why? Well my family all look very Latin - (Italian Americans) but I'm a pure Celt and look it. But, we Merci'd and Sil Vous Plait'd ourselves to death and kept our voices down and big smiles to a minimum (for the most part). Our only breach was getting overly excited when the French Blue Angels were practising for Bastille Day. Oh and we did were a lot black and the closest we came to tennis shoes was a pair of white sketchers. No cameras around the neck and guide books in bags until we needed them. Respect and appreciation go a L O N G way.

Posted by
57 posts

I'm just back from Paris and my kids and granddaughter and I were often mistaken for locals by other tourists. We all had several laughs when poor Americans or other English speakers tentatively approached and asked us directions in French as bad as our own. They shared a relieved laugh when we answered in our perfect English. Even shopkeepers thought we were Spanish or French and were surprised when we said no American. Why? Well my family all look very Latin - (Italian Americans) but I'm a pure Celt and look it. But, we Merci'd and Sil Vous Plait'd ourselves to death and kept our voices down and big smiles to a minimum (for the most part). Our only breach was getting overly excited when the French Blue Angels were practicing for Bastille Day. Oh and we did wear a lot black and the closest we came to tennis shoes was a pair of white sketchers. No cameras around the neck and guide books in bags until we needed them. Respect and appreciation of the culture go a L O N G way.

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you for all your responses. I am extremely proud to be an American but as my post indicated, I do not like being discriminated against because of it. I have been charged more than locals in other foreign countries because of my nationality.I am not in any way ashamed of my homeland. I would just like equal treatment. I know I may be expecting quite a bit. That's why I asked for suggestions on how not to stand out like a sore thumb. There have been some great recommendations. It's great to hear from the woman that hosted a frenchman. Why is smiling at others on the street considered un-Frenchlike? Thanks again.

Posted by
138 posts

Kari,
Smiling at strangers on the street or anywhere else is not only un-French-like - it is un-any-other- country-except-Amerika-like. One does not smile not because one is a mean person. A smile is a very personal and special thing and therefore is reserved only for those you love, period. I think this is the biggest cultural difference between Europe and Amerika. My father (Russian) used to say that only dumb people smile all the time, and I later heard the same sentiment from my Swiss relatives. I remember how shoking it was to me having strangers smile at me when I first got to America. Huge cultural shock. I did not like it, and I especially did not like it when others would say in a very demanding tone to me, "Why don't you smile?" - "Why should I smile at you, who are you to me?" I used to fume. Having said that, after 16-plus years in America, I smile left and right now and I LOVE it and wouldn't want it any other way. Americans are the friendliest people on Earth!!!

Posted by
22 posts

Kari, I am getting ready for Paris this October and I also am concerned about "fitting in". The only thing I'm really worried about is the smiling...I smile at everyone. So to all that have been there, I know smiling with the mouth is a no-no, but how about smiling with the eyes (or should I not make eye contact at all)? I'm so intimidated by cultural differences, I just don't want to be a "rude" American.

Thanks!
Cathie
Eugene, OR

Posted by
334 posts

I know I can't "fit in" in Europe (especially with a husband who doesn't even try), but I do wear mostly black in the fall/winter and carry a small black purse (without anything of great value in it - small camera connected to the strap so not easily taken).

That said, everyone wears jeans in Europe anymore - I just think they are too heavy and hard to wash/dry.

While no one greets anyone on the street in France, you do need to greet a storekeeper with a "bonjour" when you are ready to buy - they will wait for your greeting.

All big European cities are full of tourists from all over. We just returned from Vienna where it seemed like you rarely heard German being spoken on the streets (our daughter said there was lots of Russian). The Austrians are generally more outgoing -in small towns greeting you with "Grus Gott" as you walk down the street, but not so much in Vienna.

Posted by
2000 posts

Parisians are reserved people. They behave quietly on the metro, on busses, in restaurants, etc. They are not loud and gregarious like many Americans are. But they pretty much expect that everytime you enter a shop or restaurant you will greet the salesperson, etc. with a cheery "Bonjour Madame" or whatever and say goodbye when you leave. It's a cultural difference that's all. When visiting another country, and expecting to be treated with courtesy you have to make an effort to be courteous also. When you do you will usually get a wonderful response from the French.

Even in America I can't imagine walking down the street in a major city smiling at everyone I encounter. I don't understand the point of this? Does it mean you love everyone you see, they are your best friends, or it's really going to make their day -- probably not.

Posted by
932 posts

Even in America our cultures differ so much! I live in Tennessee, and it would shock you how much people look in the eyes of strangers who are walking by and smile and say hello or ask how you're doing. Although it may not be a custom in other countries, who cares if you smile at someone??? If it's a habit of yours, good for you. I can't imagine being offended by a smiling face.

Posted by
34 posts

Wow, I had no idea smiling was such a hot topic. I was raised in the midwest and in my town if you didn't greet an oncoming person on the street YOU were considered rude! I walk every morning and no matter who passes, I acknowledge with a smile and a "morning". It's funny to me to see someone walking toward you and knowing you are going to pass within 2 feet of each other and they look away just as you get close without at least acknowledging each other. It seems so out-of-place for me to do that. It will be truly interesting to try and tone it down. But as some others have mentioned...it's hard to change a childhood pattern and besides we'll probably never see each other again. I really appreciate the other perspectives, though. I would have never thought others saw it as intrusive or as being somewhat "touched" in the head. When I started this topic I thought I'd just get ideas of what to wear and suggestions on how not to draw attention to myself. I have received much more. Thanks

Posted by
852 posts

Kari, you probably don't stand out as much as you think. We all magnify our apprehensions when in strange surroundings. I recall hearing of a man from someplace in the US, who upon visiting NYC the first time, hid his money in his shoe! Overkill? Obviously. I suggest you just relax. When you do, you will enjoy yourself and Paris. bon voyage, P.

Posted by
138 posts

I found this under Favorite Gestures heading, rings true for France as well:

The default facial expression in most of Germany is none at all. If you smile with out some really obvious reason, most Germans will either A) think you are not right in the head or B) immediately pick you out as a foreigner.
Bergisch Gladbach, Germany 01/16/2007

Posted by
31435 posts

Kari,

I don't worry too much about being spotted as a tourist, as the "locals" always figure this out very quickly. The petty thieves are also very adept at spotting tourists (given the number of tourists in Paris, I'm sure they get lots of practise). You should assume you'll be targeted by thieves, so be sure to wear a Money Belt!

You might want to have a look at Rick's "France" Guidebook. From what I recall, he provides some tips for Americans travelling in France.

Try to make an effort in the local language, and you shouldn't have any problems.

Have fun in Paris!!!