By Pat Rich
While it may come as a surprise to those anticipating that the whole world now speaks English, they do indeed still speak French in Paris. However, Parisians are now far more accommodating to unilingual English tourists than they were in the past. Those speaking English only will no longer be greeted with distain, and English is almost universally understood in tourist settings. Attempts to speak French by anglophones will be appreciated, but the visitor will generally find their Parisian host/server will instantly recognize a non-native accent and switch to English.
People still smoke in Paris to a degree that may come as a surprise to North Americans. There are definitely fewer smokers than a decade ago, but they are still present everywhere. While restaurants and cafes are now non-smoking in Paris, this means that smokers congregate just outside eating and drinking establishments. Those wishing to enjoy outdoor cafés will, therefore, find that they often have to put up with cigarette smoke from their neighbours.
The café culture is alive and well in Paris. Sitting outside and enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine or beer is something that still defines life in France, and tourists would do well to try this on a frequent basis. You will not be rushed and need to make a conscious effort to request the bill.
Don’t think about what you are paying or at least pretend that one euro equals one Canadian dollar (which it certainly does not). Realizing you are paying $12 for a glass of beer or $15 for a glass of wine can destroy the romance of the moment.
Coffee from espresso machines is what you get in Paris. Drip coffee does not exist. Café crème is what you now request if you want milk in your coffee. Café au lait, which is really a large bowl of milk with coffee in it, appears to have gone out of fashion. Real decaffeinated coffee is now much easier to find than in the past. The instant coffee you can get in your hotel room is actually better than you would think.
All of the famous sites in Paris – from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame Cathedral – are all within walking distance of each other. The public transit system is fairly seamless and efficient, but if the weather is good, there is no reason why you can’t walk everywhere. By European standards, those who venture to drive in Paris are not as maniacal as in some other countries (Belgium immediately comes to mind) and usually obey traffic signals. Jaywalking, however, is standard procedure for locals.