Enjoy gay Paree but donít let it overwhelm you, says Tim Thomas, Sr. VP, AXA
You feel it in the air, the heady mix of instant glamour and old culture, ancient and modern, European without being stuck up. There is a sense of being on screen, people move around like a camera is following them, like being in that city qualifies you to a bigger drama of life. Even bottled water looks poignant in a wine glass. Paris has derelict elements, like any other city, but there is an air of self conscious, unapologetic style even in its poorer neighbourhoods.
The grand hotels on the Right Bank are expensive. There are lots of boutique and design hotels on the Left Bank near the Latin Quarter. Rooms in most business hotels are tiny and breakfasts can be disappointing (only bread and cheese). The Bristol is wonderful. I normally stay at the Sofitel, near our headquarters on Avenue Matignon. I like the old world charm, and very prim and proper service.
I think French food is more fancy than tasty. Splurging? Try Les Ambassadeurs: Luxurious 18th Century décor, silverware and candlelight. Lots of boulangeries and bistros around the corner wherever you are. Most places serve a pretty decent bouillabaise (fish soup) and steak frittes. To go more hard-core French try the foie gras, cheese fondue or the escargots bourgogne (little snails baked in the shell, covered with herbs and butter). Don’t let cocky waiters intimidate you.
The best way to commute is by foot. Taxis are expensive; they’re the only option after 1 a.m.
People sit at every corner with their tasse de café, discussing politics. It seems like all the French do is talk. Long lunches go well past 3 p.m. The whiling away of time would seem wasteful anywhere else on the planet.
Stroll down the Champs Elysee if all you have is half an hour between meetings. Listen to a busker even if you don’t understand French. Visit the Moulin Rouge, but if you haven’t arranged tickets before arriving, there are plenty of smaller shows throughout Montmartre and Pigalle. There are endless varieties of bars in every corner of Paris, from avant garde to outright weird; lots of plays and
operas if you are highbrow.
- The Eiffel Tower is overrated. The further you are, the better it looks.
- Don’t try and do Paris on a budget.
- Avoid the main tourist sights on public holidays.
- Be generous with ‘bon jour’ and ‘merci,’ even if you get them mixed up.
- Appreciate the French but don’t be in awe of them.