Oh, Paris! Every little girl who grew up watching Anastasia (or any other Disney movies that features Paris), has that dream to visit the beautiful city of love!
If this is your first time to Paris (as it is mine), you would probably want to give this post a glance through to ensure that you know what you’re in for. A foreign country is never easy to navigate, but with loads of research and proper planning, you’ll never have to really worry about language barriers or getting lost, ever.
Note: Please know that I’m not an expert, but I’m sharing my knowledge based on my own research, preparations and experience.
GETTING TO KNOW PARIS
The beautiful city is split into sections, what they call ‘arrondissements’. There are a total of 20 arrondissements, and each has its own unique landmark/attraction. Granted, there would never be a dull time in Paris, no matter which arrondissement you go to – but you should at least plan your destination ahead of time.
If you look at the photo below, you can see that the order of the arrondissements are arranged like a seashell. Number 1 starts from the middle, and spirals outwards like a shell, until number 20.
A general safe tip from my Parisian friends for tourists: Stay within the 1st – 11th arrondissement. The outer arrondissements are more prone to crime at night and that’s where riots happen too. Of course, this is just a local’s generalisation, one should always practice caution wherever they are.
Now, how do you know which arrondissement you are, or the location of the places you want to go? The post code, of course! Parisian addresses are very simple, they go by number, street name and post code.
An example post code for the Eiffel Tower is 75007. The last number is the one that determines that the Eiffel is in the 7th arrondissement, the post code’s first 3-digits ‘750’ never change. The only exception to the rule if for the 16th arrondissement which has two post codes: 75016 (south) and 75116 (north).
WHERE TO STAY IN PARIS
Staying in arrondissement 1 to 7 can be really pricey, but you will get a nice view of the Eiffel Tower in certain spots. We opted to stay in Hotel Clauzel, which is in the 9th arrondissement. It wasn’t one of the best hotels, but summer means that most places are already fully booked. Also, the lift in this hotel was so tiny! It would only fit one large luggage bag, with one person squeezing tightly with it.
The silver lining to this hotel was that it was along Rue des Martyrs, which is popularly lined with markets, restaurants, cafes and diners. There are also 2 stations nearby, about 10 minutes walk away. You can also opt for an AirBNB accommodation, I heard that most places in Paris are really dreamy to live in.
GETTING AROUND PARIS
The Paris Metro is the easiest way around. I personally used ONLY the Metro, so I cannot comment on their taxis or buses. The Metro can seem quite complicated, but it’s actually colour coded for your convenience. Refer here for Metro maps and navigation tips – I found this site really useful when I was doing my research.
To make things easy, plan and know where you want to go to first. Then, use Google Maps to find the closest Metro stations (each station has its own unique name). From there, pin-point the locations between where you will be and your destination. Some areas might require changing trains a few times, so note down which stations you would need to get off to change. Again, the colour coding here would come in use – each line has its own unique colour.
Tickets in Paris are very simple – they are all single use tickets, or what they call “t+” which cost only EUR1.80 for use within Paris’ main zone, no matter how far you need to go. You can also opt to buy a whole book of 10 tickets called a carnet (car-nay) that is discounted to about EUR1.37 a ticket.
Of course, there are other ticketing methods like 3-passes, Navigo cards and so on, but I found that the t+ tickets are good enough and fuss-free. The Metro’s exit turnstiles do not require you to insert any tickets, you only need to push the doors open. Which is the reason why I managed to keep all my tickets as souvenirs.
Not everyone in Paris speaks English, but quite a lot of them has since started to pick it up, due to the amount of tourists. However, I find it prudent to always be prepared when it comes to travelling in a foreign country. I created a detailed travel hack for language barriers, and what you can prepare in advance before going to any foreign-language country.
It is usually the cafe wait-staff, retail sales assistants and tour guides who are more well-versed in English due to the nature of their job. I would assume this is true only within the popular and touristy arrondissements ONLY. However, I noticed that they do not have translation for their menus, so you should definitely know your food words. (We accidentally ordered a fromage omelette – forgetting that fromage meant cheese – and it was almost too much cheese for us to bear.) Most words are quite decipherable though, like jus d’orange which is obviously orange juice.
So, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, be well-prepared with maps and directions of where you want to go, so that you would not have to rely on passersby for directions.
THE PINK ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
I was deciding if I should even blog about this – and I’ve decided it is necessary. I find that this could be useful for those of you who are also worried about it, but are unable to find an answer elsewhere. If you are reading this however, you should also be open-minded and understand that this is not true to all Parisians, just a certain few.
The topic here is racial discrimination. Over the years, I have heard stories of Parisians treating Asian tourists with hate, to the point where there were cases of mugging and beating up passersby at night, just for fun. I understand that A LOT of the mainland Chinese (who are rude, loud and a nightmare to be around) have caused a lot of distaste for Parisians. These mainland Chinese are known to be unnecessarily demanding, lacking in class and mannerisms. I dislike them, and I don’t blame the Parisians for it, I really don’t.
However, my mom and I are Malaysian Chinese – so although we are definitely not of the same Chinese ‘breed’, we are still Chinese in appearance. We worried a lot about being discriminated for what we look like, and that the locals would not be as warm towards us or worse, get hurt on those terms. We discussed a few back-up plans of what we would do in any situation and also places that we would avoid.
After our trip, I noticed that there are actually two ways Parisians look at Chinese tourists (no matter where you’re from). #1 Good for business – true to all cafe/restaurant servers, tour groups, retail sales assistants and street pedlars. We are the target of all who are looking to make a good sale. Mainland Chinese are associated with wealth, even if they are rude, so that’s what most of them associate us with. #2 Polite indifference – this comes from those who do not seek to gain anything from us. Passersby, shoppers, train-riders and guests at eateries.
From my experience, I’ve concluded that Parisians do not technically hate all Chinese, unless you display an attitude that deserves it. Parisians will not tend to strike up small talk with you (unlike in London where at least 4 strangers just randomly made conversation with me), but will not bother you if you do not bother them. Some are really nice if you do happen to need help with directions, but some would just wave you off to the nearest officer.
Like any European country, pick-pockets and thieves are common. We didn’t get pick-pocketed or mugged, thankfully, but it has happened to many people. A collective of advise and tips from friends, family and the internet proved to be useful for us. I hope that you might find these useful too:
- Don’t flash big and expensive handbags. Stick with small, practical ones instead, preferably cross-body slings.
- Leave all expensive jewellery behind. In fact, don’t even bring them on this trip.
- Watch out for your cameras, they can be snatched off your neck/hands.
- Do not place or leave phones unattended on the table, keep them in your hand or bag.
- Always place bags on your lap or securely next/under your seat. (My friend says he hooks the straps to his chair legs.)
- Try not to wander out alone at night past 8pm in quieter areas, especially in the outer arrondissements.
- Avoid common pick-pocket tactics like someone asking you to sign a petition, hippies trying to put bands on your wrists, someone asking you about a missing ring, and so on.
- Know that MOST of the pick-pockets are local teenagers, working for syndicates.
- Know how to say NO firmly (in French, it’s pronounced non) and say it loudly if they persist.
- The Metro is a popular pick-pocket haunt – move backpacks to your front, avoid getting into packed trains, be wary of wallets and phones in your pockets, try not to use the Metro at night.
- Scan and print a coloured copy of your passport to bring out with you. Leave the real passport locked securely in your luggage bag. Most retailers accept coloured photocopies of your passport.
VAT REFUNDS IN PARIS/EUROPE
Whenever you shop in a store, be sure to ask the sales assistants for a VAT slip. They usually do not remind you or tell you about it – some stores do not even offer VAT slips! We bought two bags in Longchamp, but purchases need to be over EUR70 before they would even bother to issue you a VAT slip. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks as well, but they do not offer VAT. The only place we got our VAT forms are in Swatch – where we bought two watches, and the sales assistants there were all really nice.
I have already written on VAT returns and how to do it on my UK tips post, so feel free to look it up if you would like to get some money back.
Alright, I think that should have you covered for your first trip to Paris, and if you have any further concerns, you can always ask me or comment below. I will try my best to help, of course.
*UPDATE – Ooh Lala, Paris!