Ten tourist mistakes to avoid in Paris

photo of person s hand getting a bread

Tourists are coming back to Paris and I think it’s wonderful.

After all, without tourists, I’m not sure I’d have a job as a Paris podcaster. And I really do enjoy seeing all these people who’ve travelled to Paris, and who are clearly so happy to be here.

But, I’m afraid to say that the current influx of tourists has highlighted some bad habits that need to be addressed. So, after careful observation, here are the ten mistakes you should avoid if you want to be a good tourist in Paris.

The written list is below if you’re in a rush, but click play below to enjoy the story told properly via the podcast. Today’s guest is my wife, Lina – she is my wife and the woman beside me in most of the pics I’ve shared below.

1. Falling for the scams

The main one I want you to avoid is the three-cup monte, that one drives me crazy. These short cons have been around since the 15th century, so I doubt they’ll disappear anytime soon.

But hear me out: If there’s a ball and three cups, with an excited crowd around the dealer… if it looks like easy money, if it looks too good to be true: You’re about to get scammed. You can’t win that game. And do you really, really think some guy on the street will give you 50 euros because you guessed the right cup? Not gonna happen, move on. (Or, stand back and watch for five minutes. You’ll see just how many people are insiders on the scam trying to take your money. It’s fascinating and frightening.)

While I’m at it, don’t get the cotton bracelets, don’t sign the petitions for “deaf” people, and if someone says you dropped your golden ring – just walk away. Spend your hard-earned cash on something better (like a book about Paris or an Earful Tower membership, perhaps).

2. Sitting at the cafes (without a waiter’s blessing)

When you approach a cafe and you fancy sitting on the terrace, make eye contact with a waiter first. You might irritate the staff if you simply plonk yourself down. And then, imagine this: if the waiter gets irritated, they might come across as rude. Then you’ll be sitting there thinking “Well goodness me, the stereotypes are all true!”… when in reality, it was you who started on the wrong foot! Seeking out the waiter before sitting down is good Paris practice, be sure to do it.

3. Talking too loudly 

I get into this one in the podcast a whole lot more, but there are some nationalities known for talking very loudly at the dinner table. The French speak quite quietly and they don’t enjoy having to hear you too. Check yourself, or you might be asked to be quiet by another customer. I’ve seen it happen many times, and I’ve even been in the offending group before.

4. Planning every detail of your trip

This is an important one. Lots of people come to Paris with every second of their trip planned. Don’t! The city is best enjoyed at a leisurely wandering pace. Leave at least an afternoon or morning with nothing on the itinerary. You might stumble upon a treasure.

5. Stopping on the sidewalk

Never, and I repeat, never stop abruptly on the sidewalk. Parisians move quickly and the sidewalks are narrow. If you stop to admire a facade, to check your phone, to open your map, you will risk maddening a local. Imagine you’re in a car on the road – do a little shoulder check first 🙂

6. Crossing at red lights

Public safety announcement: Unless you’re used to the little red men and little green men in Paris, never cross when the red guy is flashing. Especially not after he has been flashing for a while. Might sound like common sense, but I have seen frightening numbers of people trying to dash across a busy road on foot, on scooter, on a bike, and then get into an accident or a near miss as a result. Just wait!

7. Not learning 10 words of French

This is just a polite thing, really. Learn ten words of French before you come here. Any ten will do, but I suggest these ones: Bonjour, parlez vous anglais, s’il vous plait, merci, bonne journee, au revoir. Those will get you through most situations. And as I said on the pod, don’t be afraid that French people will respond in rapid-fire French. Believe me, they’ll know from your accent that you’re not a fluent French speaker, but they will be glad you tried. More French language tips from me here.

8. Dressing to impress

There’s nothing wrong with dressing well in Paris, but I’d advise against dressing to impress if you’re planning to explore the city. Dress for a long walk, not the cat walk. We’ve seen lots of people, especially women, come to Paris wearing clothes that would suit a nightclub rather than the Jardin des Tuileries. Wondering what to wear in Paris? I’ve got you covered.

9. Staying outside the city

If at all possible, stay as centrally as you can. I realize this may be tough for some, but if you can juggle your finances, it’s really worth it to stay in Paris (and not in the outskirts). The possibility of ducking home to change clothes, or to take a rest, will make all the difference. You don’t want to spend your days in Paris commuting!

10. Not embracing your inner tourist

This last tip might sound out of place, but I really think it’s important you have fun while touristing around Paris. I explain this way better on the podcast episode, but I explained how I saw tourists on an open-air bus looking shy and embarrassed. You’re in Paris. You’re on a tourist bus. You’re taking pics of the Eiffel tower for goodness sake. So if you see me waving at you from the street, don’t be shy, wave back. Embrace your inner tourist. After all, it’s very difficult to blend in with the Parisians anyway, you may as well have some fun 😉

OK that’s enough tips from me, but let me add something. I put out a very specific challenge in this podcast episode, which will explain the cryptic messages people have been leaving on this Instagram post. Join the listeners, see what all the fuss is about.

And lastly, with the money you’ve saved from avoiding the three-cup monte scam, why not buy my PDF guide to Paris? Or any of my books really 🙂 They’re all linked below and we’ll send them directly from our own stock. Merci 🙂

10 thoughts on “Ten tourist mistakes to avoid in Paris

  1. My favorite of your tips is making eye contact with the waiter. So true and helpful! While I recognize that my fellow Americans can be obnoxiously loud, I tend to find the Chinese at least as guilty. I’d include “Pardon,” as an oft-essential bon mot, though my favorite useful expression is “Excusez-moi de vous déranger . . .” (my 2 centimes worth).

  2. Love all your tips for the cafe, and to see all the cool stuff, I might add that French people can understand English even if they don’t speak it well. So, besides the talking loudly (at a cafe or in the metro) new to Paris folks also want to avoid talking about the folks around them. And Kairosia’s additiion of “Excusez-moi de vous déranger…” is brilliant. (also my 2 centimes, or euro cents)

  3. Great tips Oliver and Lina. Thank you.
    My tip is to take a walking tour with a local. You pick up fun facts and these are great if you are travelling solo.
    Où sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait (where are the toilets, please) is a phrase I have found very useful.

  4. Informative article! I don’t know if my affront (when we visited from USA) is “severe” enough to get on your next list…we sauntered into a fromagerie, and picked up our own cheese! It didn’t occur to me that we shouldn’t, until we got momentarily “scolded” by an employee! Well, I’ll know better next time, but it still makes me chuckle…

    1. Yes! The “Ne touchez pas!!” rule—happened to me in a Baccarat store my first visit many moons ago.

  5. If you are traveling overseas, make copies, front and back, of your credit cards should you be pickpocketed. That suggestion saved me valuable time when I was pickpocketed (and my wallet was in my front pocket with a lot of loose coins).

  6. I sat down at any cafe I wanted to, and never had rude service or was made to suspect that it was not the right thing to do. Also, there are any number of Youtube Paris advisors who swear that the worse thing you can do in Paris is not dress chic. The over-dressed tourists may be the result of that. When I was there last fall everyone was dressed in the same gray, black or navy everyone wears everywhere. I didn’t see anyone who dressed like Audrey Hepburn. And if someone has ambitions to be a flaneur, forget it. Nobody watches anyone, nobody strolls to be watched, everyone has their face buried in their phone like everywhere else.

  7. I loved what you said and find about all of it on-point. Texans spoke too loud in Guatemala. The henna ladies in Marrakesh grab your hand and quickly henna it and ask for money. I try to remember not to stop dead in my tracks in Barcelona but fail periodically and feel bad for the person who runs into me. And in Paris, 1st time, I was so excited to find a passion fruit outside of Ecuador and Guatemala that I grabbed it at a weekly market and quickly learned Do.Not.Touch.The.Produce. But those passion fruits 😉

  8. Great List. I use these often when I do Travel to Paris photowalks here in the States. I”m pretty adamant about learning some French. I ALWAYS ask if they s peak English after my Bonjour. I think it’s polite to not assume that they do. If they say yes I am always very appreciative. If not, I plow ahead with my little French, franglais, and sign language. I’m from the South so I smile a lot, and believe it or not usually get wonderful French smiles back. V

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