Shopping in France
- The French are really “thingey” about their shops. They regard them as we would our lounge rooms.
- When you stroll in to a person’s shop it is absolutely expected that you will say BONJOUR to them. Don’t be shy or they’ll think you are being rude. Say BONJOUR whilst looking at them and mean it.
- When you leave you must also always say MERCI, AU REVOIR even if your accent is appalling.
- If you don’t they’ll think you are rude. It’s their custom
This is the traditional name of the bar or counter upon which French (usually men) lean when drinking their coffee or aperitif and it can also mean a neighborhood café as well (it is pronounced Le Zanc)Technically the bar should be of galvanized steel, but they also come in other products like wood, brass, stone and stainless steel – even laminex or Formica. Zincs are those places you’ve peered through the window at a million times without ever quite making it through the door despite desperately wanting to. Hesitation usually has to do with the patrons looking too scary, the proprietor too imperious, the cigarette smoke too dense, the housekeeping too questionable.
But be brave.
Take a seat. Chew on a confit of pig’s liver or maybe home-made crêpes with chestnut cream (Nutella). Or you can “boire quelque chose au zinc” literally to have a drink up at the bar.
There are still some silver zincs to be found such as Le Relais in rue Lamarck in Montmartre, La Palette on rue de Seine, Le Cochon à L’Oreille (Pig’s Ear!) at rue Monmartre in Les Halles. Another interesting and renowned little bar in the Marais is called Au Petit Fer à Cheval (At the Horse-Shoe) as the zinc here although of stone, is horseshoe shaped and the café next door to it Les Philosophes (both on rue Vieille du Temple) has a toilet through whose window you can peer at the books in the National Archives next door.
This may sound odd but there are two things we always warn our friends about when they arrive in France.
1/. It is extremely easy to be killed by a car in Paris because in Australia and the UK we are used to them coming from the opposite direction. Be very careful to look LEFT then RIGHT then LEFT AGAIN.
2/. Do not expect anyone to stop for you at a zebra crossing.
Zebra crossings in France are just strange paint markings on the road that everyone ignores.
No one knows why they are there
As over 2 million French people reside inside this small area of Paris plus another million tourists there is always a scarcity of toilets. I think the French must have different bladders from Anglo Saxons –and no sense of smell. Expect less and you may be pleasantly surprised Often in parks and by the Eiffel tower or Notre Dame etc you will have to pay 1 euro to use the amenities and there will always be a woman cleaning the loos or talking loudly on her mobile whom you must pay. The homeless pee in the metro which can be pungent -but at least clears your sinusesThe Duke of Wellington when asked what was the most important advice for a Commanding General in any conflict answered: “Piss when you can.”So….do what the Duke suggested – as it may be your last for a while
- Paris is a beautiful city; mainly because it was almost entirely re-built by Napoleon 1 & 3 between 1810 and 1850 to be grand and impressive. Napoleon III’s engineer Baron Haussmann trashed a lot of medieval Paris and built huge boulevards (like the Champs Elysees) and all those typically 6-8 storey-high limestone apartment blocks with the long black wrought iron balconies that shriek Paris architecture.
- Parks were designed and built around the place too. Paris has lovely parks big and small but as you can imagine with all those people everywhere it is nearly always prohibited to sit on any grass in Paris because if they allowed people to sit and walk on it then there would be very little grass left. And the homeless would use it as a convenient toilet too.
- The signs forbidding sitting say PELOUSE INTERDITE
- Sit wherever you are permitted to – as it may be your last sit for while
There is an old French saying that ‘le client est roi’ – the customer is king. But we all know what the French did to their royal family. They guillotined the head of Louis XVI at the Place de la Concorde as a few thousand Parisians laughed at it – and those chuckling spectators were the ancestors of today’s French waiters.
- People say French waiters are rude.
- We love most of them – hopefully you shall too.
- Be patient.
Some Paris waiters don’t like tourists as they appear dumb (that language thing) and these tourists don’t tip and won’t be back again so why make much effort? You don’t come across this very much but it is a bit understandable when you do.
You’ll get served in the end – you’re in no hurry. By the way: remember learning French at school to say “Garçon” to the waiter? Never say that. It is literally like snapping your fingers and yelling “Boy!”at him.