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Packing for Paris


Jackie Graves

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 
remains unrivalled. 

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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