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Parisian Culture Guide: 23 Things To Know Before You Go 2024

Travels On Point Affiliate Disclosure Statement

Are you going to Paris and unsure about the Parisians? Worried about rude Paris waiters? Want to know more about Parisian culture for a rich travel experience?

No worries! I will tell you what you need to know to understand Paris and Parisians, dispel myths and give you tips for an excellent visit to Paris for a few days or a week.

I lived in France for a year and have visited Paris many times for weeks at time plus I’m a bit of a nerd about French culture! I’ve been studying it since college. I speak French, talk to local Parisians in French and English, and have stayed with Parisians and many discussions about our different cultures. 

It is my pleasure to share my experience, knowledge and tips on Parisian culture.

👉 Quick Practical Tips on Parisian Culture:

  • Always say Bonjour to store workers, waiters, taxi drivers, etc.
  • Tipping is not expected at restaurants or for taxis, except one or two euro for excellent service or help with luggage.
  • Lingering over a meal/coffee/wine is expected; you don’t need to rush
  • Parisians dress well all the time
  • Watch for dog poo on the sidewalks
  • Personal space is much less than in the US

🍷 Local Cultural Experience: An excellent way to immerse yourself in Parisian culture is to cook dinner with a local. Try the Cooking with a Parisian Chef at Home Experience. (More of my top cultural experiences are at the end of this post.)

Parisian Culture

Vintage poster "La Vie Parisienne" at one of the stalls of the Booksellers along the Seine, Paris.
“Parisian Life”, vintage poster at one of the historic booksellers (Les Bouquanistes) along the Seine, Paris.

Paris is still my favorite city after many years of world travel.  I have had many interesting experiences in Paris and have of course seen the famous sights.

Is it a perfect city?  No. 

Is Paris a beautiful city with deep history and rich culture? Yes!

Armed with the tips and cultural information in this post you will be able to understand Paris and Parisians better.

👉 Culture Tip: When we the take time to learn about people and their culture, we often make more personal connections, feel more comfortable and come home with wonderful memories.

23 Things To Know About Parisian Culture

Parisian cafe; people sittling outside

If you only remember one thing from this list, remember to say Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur to the store owner, taxi driver, waiter when you first meet them.

This will level-up your Paris experience, I promise!

Now let’s dive into the list, which will give you details on greetings and so much more:

 1. Manners – Hello and Goodbye

Manners are incredibly important for Parisians and in french culture in general.

When Parisians enter a store, they always greet the store owner/salesperson with hello. If the store is small, they usually also say goodbye. 

🥇My #1 Tip for Paris: Say hello and goodbye to store owners, taxi drivers, hotel workers and waiters when you fist see them!  This will show them that you care about their culture and respect them and possibly open the door for interesting conversations.

👉 What to say:  Bonjour Madame (Bohn-Joor Ma-Dam) or Bonjour Monsieur. (Bohn-Joor Muh-Syoor). Say this after you are greeted or right when you enter the store, see the person, etc.  

It is also polite to say goodbye, Au Revoir Madame (Oh-Ruh-Vwah Ma-Dam) or Au Revoir Monsieur (Oh-Ruh-Vwah Muh -Syoor).

  

2. Parisians don’t often smile –  It isn’t  personal

When you are in a shop or at a cafe the staff will not usually smile and Parisians won’t smaile at you on the street. This can feel unfriendly when most people smile in the US.  Don’t take it personally.

However, they do smile when they have reason or if they know you.  (this is similar in Russian culture, btw) 

👉 Personal experience: I was trying on coats in a small shop. The owner heped me try them on and said little and never smiled.  I started talking to him in French I tried to make a little joke, Still, he did not smile! BUT, a day later I was walking by his store he saw me and gave me a warm, authentic smile! I realized clearly the culture difference; he smiled because he knew me.

3. Parisians dress well. All the time.

Parisians dress well even if going out for a minute. You will not see sweatpants, yoga pants, wrinkled clothing or dirty shoes. 

David Lebovitz, the famous American chef who moved to Paris, said in his book, The Sweet Life in Paris, that the defining moment when he knew he was more Parisian than American was when he put on a clean shirt and pressed pants to take out the garbage!

👉 Culture Tip: If you want to blend in, (which is good for not being an obvious target for pickpockets), wear clean and neatly styled clothing, no t-shirts or scuffy sneakersWomen might wear a scarf or trenchcoat. 

4. Strolling – Walking for pleasure

The French have a specific word for strolling without a goal except to experience your surroundings, “flaneur ” or “flaneuse” for females. Paris is especially known for this kind of walking in the moment, enjoying one’s surroundings.

 You will see people walking slowly in parks and particularly on Sunday. 

👉 Local TIP: The Jardin de Luxembourg is a great place to be a flaneur, or any of the less crowded cobblestone streets in Montmartre or Ile de la Cite.

5. Personal space – bumping into you

Crowded outdoor tables at a cafe in St. Germain des Pres, Paris
People sitting at a cafe in St. Germain des Pres

This is two-for-one:  First, personal space in France is much less than in the US. People will be close to you in stores, in lines and in cafes where tables are touching. 

It may feel uncomfortable, just remember it is normal in this culture.

Second, Parisians may run into you. On the street. They walk fast (when they aren’t being a flaneur) on the way to work, etc. and I have heard they themselves consider this rude but do it anyway!

6. Paris is Multi-Cultural

Paris is multi-cultural, very much so.  There are many people from North African countries who have been there for generations. Also a Chinese area amd Jewish area. Many Pakistani people and people from African countries that were former French colonies live in Paris. 

This makes Paris very rich and interesting,  You can find any kind of cuisine here. Also music and cultural offerings.

7. Funky Smell

Paris has a smell to it. And it is pee. 

Sorry to say, just the truth!  Why? I think mostly because in Paris (and France) men use the back of a discreet wall or fence to do that kind of business. I have witnessed this.

It has less common in recent years, but to my nose, still a thing! Also homelessness, especially in certain areas and metro stations contributes.

8. Public Gardens – Parisian use them!

People sitting and talking at the Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris
People sitting and strolling at the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris.

Paris has a lot of green space, many gardens throughout the city. People have access to them in every neighborhood I believe.

After school and on weekends families are there with children, it is part of the Parisian lifestyle. People play chess and read and sun themselves.

Pétanque (french boules game) is an old tradition and many parks have sand areas where you will see men (mostly) playing pétanque as they have done for generations.

9. Parisian men flirt

This is also a thing in Paris. Waiters sometimes flirt with women in a lightly teasing way. Men look at women.  I’m in my 50s and it is still happening! 

There is an appreciation for all ages and looks and this behavior is considered normal and it is not aggressive or considered rude.

👉 Culture Tip/Opinion: From my observation of visiting Paris since 1992, the culture in Paris has not changed as significantly in the last 50 years like it has in the US. It is a traditional culture still in many ways; valuing personal life and family over work, slow food, relaxed living and family heritage, although this is changing. See next entry…

10. Metro-Boulot-Dodo – the Rat Race

If you ask a Parisian what they do, the answer is often, “Metro-Bulot-Dodo” (commute, work, sleep).  Parisians complain about the time they spend at work and commuting, the “rat race”:

  • Metro (commute on the Metro)
  • Buolot (slang term for work)
  • Dodo (baby talk for sleep)

11. Visiting Museums and Galleries

Painting by Renoir of a couple dancing at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris
Impressionist painging by Renoir, Danse à la Campagne, at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris

Parisians value art and culture highly and start visiting museums as children. I have seen elementary and kindergarten classes at museums with their teachers many times.

There are more Impressionist paintings and museums in Paris than any other city in the world and many museums in Paris located all over the city.

The national museums in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month (including the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay) and there are many other museums that are free every day.

Things To Know About Parisian Food Culture

Paris is famous for food and culture around food. Parisians take pride in and expect high quality, local and fresh ingredients as a rule.

You will find excellent traditional french cuisine and some of the top chefs in the world doing innovative fusion cuisine. Plus a large variety of ethnic cuisine throughout the city.

Quality of food, presentation, and time to savor and enjoy are key elements of Parisian food culture. Read on for more info and tips.

12. Pride in Cuisine

Plate of fired goat cheese, bread and water at cafe in Montmartre, Paris
My appetizer of fried goat cheese, salad and bread at a humble restaurant in Montmartre

Food is taken seriously in Paris and in France in general. The quality of the ingredients, care of preparations and style of presentation are all valued highly.

Parisians especially value high quality, local, regional cuisine and seasonal use of ingredients.  It is expected and they will look down on fast food.  

👉 Restaurant TIP: Avoid obvious touristy restaurants if you want some authentic high quality Parisian cuisine.  Be careful of the very high end restaurants.. Make sure they are not sacrificing food quality for fashoinable presentation.    

👉 Restaurant TIP:  Read reviews carefully and go for smaller places with French-only menus. Some larger bistros can be excellent.  See our hidden gems in Paris post for 15 excellent restaurants.

13. Parisians never eat while walking

Parisians do not eat while walking.   I have seen French comedies where an American in Paris can’t understand why the Parisians knew he was Amercian without saying anything. He was eating a sandwich while walking on the street 🙂

👉 Local Tip: If your goal is to blend in or to show respect to the culture, consider sitting down to eat your crepe or sandwich to go.

14. Lunch is sacred and long

Lunch and lunch hour are long and sacred.  Some businesses close. Standard lunch hour is 12-2.  

Parisians enjoy a long lunch and you will see locals talking with friends over lunch in bistros and cafes. This is part of the cafe culture in Paris.

👉Tip:  You may have trouble finding a sit-down place to eat between 3 and 6, at least possibly some of the better places may close.  Of course street food is available and many places now cater to tourists.

15. Those Parisian Waiters!

Parisian Waiters:  Are they really rude?  Waiters are professionals and take their jobs seriously and with pride in Paris. Sometimes they may be rude, but I think that is actually uncommon. Hear me out

Parisian waiters don’t smile and laugh and engage you like wait staff in the US. This is normal.

Their mission is to make sure you get what your order in a timely manner and that the food is excellent.  I miss Parisian waiters now that I am back in the States. I felt well taken care of in a Paris by the waiters, even though they are not chatty.

Tipping is not expected in restaurants, although you can leave a few euros if the service is excellent. There is usually no way to leave a tip on a credit card slip.

👉 Culture Tips:  1. Say Bonjour or Bonjour Monsieur/Madame to the waiter. Ask politely if you want something on the menu explained in English. 2. Parisians are quieter than Americans and Brits.  If you are loud and boisterous, this may be offensive and thus get you stares or rude treatment by waiters. 

16. Lingering

Lingering over a meal or drink is part of the culture in cafes in Paris. You have as much time as you like to eat; you will not be rushed out as soon as you are finished eating.

Long lunches and dinners are normal. Also you can linger over a coffee or wine in a cafe. This is part of the slow style living of the French, even in Paris.

You can read, people-watch, journal or visit with friends and enjoy the moment. Even if you are in Paris only for a weekend, I hope you save time to linger in a Parisian cafe and enjoy the atmosphere, people and the moment.

17. Fresh food daily

Food near a window in Parisian apartment
Fresh fruit, cheese and bread in the window of my classic Parisian apartment in the 20th arrondissement

I stayed with a French host in the non-touristy 20th arrondissement and participated in the daily routine of shopping for fresh food on my way home every day.

Parisians have easy access to fresh food of all kinds at all hours and they will buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and breads from many small shops along the streets and near metro stations.

18. Drinking Water

Typical Parisian lunch in a cafe on a red and white checkered tablecloth. French onion soup, bread and mineral water.
My lunch in a neighborhood Parisian cafe; French onion soup, baguette and mineral water.

I have two tips for you about water in Paris:

  1. In Paris (and most of France) drinking bottled water is the norm. If you ask for water in a cafe, you will likely get a bottle of water and a glass, not free tap water
  2. Ice is uncommon in drinks and water in Paris. If you want ice, it is best to ask for it and some places may not have any.

👉 Pro Tip: If you want the free tap water, the key is to order a carafe of water (une carafe d’eau). Check out this article for more on the culture around drinking water in France.

Things To Know About Parisian Fashion Culture

Paris is famous all over the world as a fashion capital.

19. Haute Couture – Luxury Fashion

High fashion (Haute Couture) and luxury have been associated with Paris for many years. The term haute couture is protected in France, and only a few designers meet the qualifiations to call their works by the name.

The famous designer labels display their fashion in elegant shop windows on the avendue des Champs-Elysess, Avenue Montaigne, in the St-Germain des Pres district and in boulevard Haussemann department stores. You will see Yves-Saint-Laurent, Chanel, Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, Hermes and more.

20. Parisian Style – Effortless Chic

When I first visited Paris I was curious and a bit amazed at the beauty and style of the Parisians, especially the women. Parisians are known for classic, understated, effortless style. How do they achieve this? I don’t have an answer, but I suspect it is part of the culture that Parisians learn from childhood.

Parisians dress well and dress their children well. Classic, good quality simple pieces and very little bling. Stores dislplay clothing in windows and you will see couples and singles window shopping on Sundays.

21. Paris Fasion Week

Paris hosts one of the Big Four fashion weeks in the world, along with Milan, London and New York. Paris fashion week is held twice a year in spring and fall; the big fashion houses (Chanel, Christain Dior, Gevenchy, etc) show their new collections in famous Paris locations like the Grand Palais.

The smaller houses show collections in lower-profile but trendy locations like nightclubs and warehouses. There are hundreds of exhibitions. Celebrities and fashionistas from all over the world come to Paris for fashion week.

Things To Know About Parisian Traditions

Both winter and summer bring special traditions to Paris. I’ve listed some of the major summer and winter cultural traditions below.

22. Winter traditions in Paris

A chestnut in a hand with the Seine River in background, Paris.
A freshly roasted chestnut I bought from a man roasting them on a bridge over the Seine in November in Paris.

Christmas markets pop up all over Paris from late November to January. The large notable ones at Notre Dame, The Jardin de Tuiliereis (part carnival/part market) and at La Defense. Mulled wine, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts are traditional winter fare. I found freshly roasted chestnuts in mid-November.

Christmas tradition in Paris, a Christmas market with Eiffel Tower in background
Paris Christmas market

👉 Click here for a map of Paris Christmas Markets

In winter, the grounds in front of the Hotel de Ville turn into an ice-skating rink. There are many concerts throughout the city.

A traditional French dessert at Christmas is the Bûche de Noël. Also fresh oysters are plentiful around the city. The department stores have gorgeous displays and the city is generally decked out in lights.

23. Seine River – Summer Beach Day

Beaches along the Seine River in Paris

The Seine is part of Parisian life. People walk along the banks to relax, picnic, catch some sun and read. Also you will see romantic couple snuggling on benches.

From early July to September since 2002, the banks of the Seine become like a beach resort, called Paris Plages. Lounge chairs, green spaces, free sports and cultural activities and pop-up cafes line the Seine

NOTE: August is when French people take vacation. Many stores close in Paris and tourist lines are long.

👉 In 2024 Paris Plages is cancelled due to the Paris Olypmics, but will return in 2025.

Best Cultural Experiences In Paris

Male hand with whisk, preparing sauce, a chef preparing meal.

There are so many wonderful cultural experiences offered in Paris. Both in the form of tours and on your own.

Below are my best pics for experiences that are local, authentic and give you insight and/ or cultural immersion in Paris

✔️Montmartre Cutural Food and Wine Walking Tour – Best Overall

Best overall tour for history, culture, food, meeting local shop owners and an authentic taste of Paris in Montmartre.

Meet some of the most passionate food artisans in Montmartre and try fresh cheeses, charcuterie, wine, pastries, and chocolate paired with wine on this guided cultural food tour in Paris.

➡️Check availability for Montmartre Cultural Food and Wine Tour

✔️Cook with a Parisian Chef at Home – Best for Local Experience

Male hand with whisk, preparing sauce, a chef preparing meal.

What could be more culturally enriching that cooking with a Parisian in their own home? I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful and authentic cultural experience.

From one of the thirty-three 5-star reviews:

Truly excellent. Transformative excellent. You know how a good friend brings out the best in you? Claire just does this naturally. Her flat is amazing, she is so interesting and grounded, so comfortable in her own life, which is 1000% modern French. Cheap at twice the price. The food was amazing, loved everything and inspired me to push my local producers to meet her standards. Just book it!”

➡️Check availability for Cook with a Parisian Chef at Home

✔️Paris like a local bike tour – Best sightseeing like a local

You can see Paris up close and see more than on a walking tour with this super- highly rated bike tour. See the charming hidden streets, neighborhoods, hidden gems while also visiting the iconic landmarks.

Plus insider info and stops for local treats.

➡️Check availability for Paris Like a Local Bike Tour

✔️How to Become Parisian – Comedy Show

Learn about Parisian culture while having a great time laughing. One hour show in English. Over 1 million have seen this hilarious and culturally enriching show.

➡️Check availability for How to Become Parisian Comedy Show

✔️Learn How to Play Pétanque – French Cultural Experience

Enjoy a glass of French wine during the match while soaking up the lovely surroundings of Dauphine Gardens for a true Parisian experience. This is one of the most unique cultural things to do in Paris.

➡️Check availability for Learn How to Play Pétanque – Paris Experience

✔️Gypsy Jazz (Manouche Jazz) in Paris

Paris Gypsy Jazz is an old and rich cultural tradition, coming out of the Romani families, and especially originated by Django Reinhardt.

You can catch an authentic Gypsy Jazz jam session or show in one of several locations.

✔️Oldest Traditional Folk Cabaret – Au Lapin Agile

The oldest traditiional cabaret in Paris, part of cultural heritage, Au Lapin Agile
Artistic cabaret Au Lapin agile, which was founded in 1860 and was a favourite spot for struggling artists and painters, including Picasso, Modigliani, Appolinaire, and Utrillo.

This is a truly rich cultural experience for people willing to step outside the tourist box. Au Lapin Agile is more like an interactive, local folk music experience. You can’t reserve in advance and the songs are all in French.

The crowd sings and claps along to traditional French songs from another time. The place is cozy and funky and welcoming and part of the heritage of Montmartre and Parisian culture from another time. Very welcoming and friendly.

👉 Go here for times, information and location: Au Lapin Agile

FAQs about Parisian Culture

Dog in the doorway of a small shop in Montmartre, Paris
A dog watching from inside a small shop in Montmartre, Paris

Questions and answers about Parisian culture:

What does it mean to be Parisian?

First, it mean one lives in Paris but also it means one has adapted to the Parisian lifestyle.

Why is Paris culturally significant?

Paris is known worldwide as a center of fashion, arts, historic architecture and culture.

What is Paris famously known for?

Paris is most famous for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, as the City of Lights and City of Love, but Paris is well-known for much more.

What is Parisian lifestyle?

Parisians eat well, dress well, and value the arts and music. Parisians commute by metro, scooter, bicycle and walking. Long and slow meals at cafes with friends and family are an integral part of the lifestyle.

Visiting museums and relaxing in the many beautiful parks and gardens is also part of Parisian lifestyle. I hope these tips and cultural information make your next trip to Paris extra special. Enjoy!

The Wrap-Up: Parisian Culture

What can you say about Parisian culture in a nutshell? I would say a focus on high quality of life that is reflected in the arts, architecture, cuisine and fashion.

Also a respect for good manners and the importance of family time and simple living. Parisians are a little aloof until they know you. Paris is multicultural and in general different cultures are respected and integrated. The city is also a little gritty and a little dirty.

Hemmingway called Paris a “moveable feast”, and I would say this is absolutely true. I hope this post has given you tips and information on Parisian culture to better understand and enjoy the City of Lights!

👉 RELATED READING:

21 Hidden Gem Restaurants In Paris: Authentic and Off-The-Beaten-Path

Safety Travel Guide for Paris-Solo Travelers

Paris Cafe Culture