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Packing for Paris
Leave the sweats at home
(practical tips for a Paris vacation)
Take them out of the suitcase right now. Unless you are planning on pursuing
a physical activity such as running or tennis, leave your sweats at home. If
you are planning on tennis or running, bring the attire appropriate for these
Instead of sloppy sweats, bring a skirt and a pair of slacks. Corsairs, the
old Capri or pedal pusher pants, are very popular in Paris right now. Jeans
are acceptable, as long as they are not your favorites - that comfortable
pair you've had for ten years. I used to put mine on the minute I walked
in the door but my two daughters constantly criticized them, so I had to
break down and buy a new pair. These are now in their second year,
comfortably frayed at the edges -- only eight to go.
Black or charcoal is good any time of the year. Of course, in summer light
colored slacks are fine. Pants that fit well are much better than pants that
are baggy and wrinkled.
Another item to leave at home is the tee shirt with the name of the last
vacation spot printed across your chest. This list includes advertising,
funny sayings, recent or not so recent movies, anything with writing.
If you are traveling in summer, leave behind your shorts. They may be
comfortable, but they are not attractive street wear, and on vacation in
Paris, you want to be attractive. It is, after all, one of the most romantic
cities in the world.
Bring an umbrella. If you don't bring one, you'll probably end up buying one.
I have not seen them in the states, but an umbrella with a shoulder strap is
stylish and convenient.
Check your purse before you travel to make sure that it is pick pocket proof.
If you are not carrying a bag, put your wallet and passport in an inside
pocket of your jacket. Paris is no different from any other large city and
the American consulate has a large number of people at their door requesting
replacements for stolen passports. This can easily be taken care of, lost
money is another matter.
Comfortable shoes. Bring comfortable shoes. Europe grew up long before the
car, so you walk more than you do in the States. It is amazing the amount of
pain a newly used foot can generate.
Bring a sweater or light jacket, no matter what time of year you travel.
Most of Europe is as far north as Canada, so if you don't bring one, you'll
probably have to buy one.
Remember, we are essentially a casual country. Parisians dress more formally
than we do in the states. My husband has a French friend who has a story of
her first trip to America. She was invited out to dinner by some American
friends, who made a point of telling her that they would be going home from
work to change before dinner. Naturally, she wanted to fit in, so she
changed as well. When they met at the restaurant later, she was wearing a
dinner dress while her friends had put on jeans and polo shirts.
This does not mean that every meal requires a change of dress, it just means
that people are concerned with details, which is why French style and food
In Paris, dining is taken seriously. Have fun with this and dive in. Order
wine and bottled water with dinner. Have the cheese course. I have a
friend who asserts that in a good restaurant, you will not be taken seriously
if you do not order an aperitif. She is always taken seriously.
Also, when dining in a restaurant, use the knife and fork. Even with a
hamburger and French fries or pizza, it's standard to use utensils rather
than picking up your food with your hands. The exception is when you are in
a fast food restaurant. This is an American enclave and it's accepted to
eat with your hands. You can also get a sandwich or crepe at lunch and eat
it on the street with your hands.
Everyone knows about the Continental Breakfast. Bread and coffee. Maybe
juice. You don't have eggs, potatoes or toast with breakfast in France.
Even if you find a restaurant that offers American Breakfast, it is not the
same thing and you are better off with what is locally consumed. The French
do not snack very much and eat at very regular times, lunch is from noon
until two or two thirty. If you are eating at three or four in the afternoon
you are most certainly either in a tourist trap or a fast food place. Plan
to eat during standard hours. Dinner really doesn't get going until seven
thirty or eight o'clock and eating at nine is never a problem
If you are traveling small roads to villages and beyond, it is acceptable to
be more casual. Also, if you are just out of school and looking for
adventure, throw on a backpack and have a good time. But give your parents
an itinerary of where you plan to be and when, and use the cyber cafes
to-mail home often.
Finally, if you really want to fit in Paris, dress in tailored black clothes,
walk rapidly; stop where you are, even if it is in everyone's way, when you
meet a friend - if they are of the opposite sex, kiss them on both cheeks two
or three times, talk to them very intensely using your hands but never loud
enough for a passer-by to hear what you are saying. Remember what is normal
here is loud there. Bon whispering!
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