Daily Life and Little Necessities
Some folks have asked for some information on how to carry out basic tasks, such as going to the post office, checking your email, and dealing with the inconveniences that inevitably accompany living in or visiting a big city. Here's a start. Let me know what other sorts of information might be useful.
Emergency Phone Numbers
|European SOS (free: all emergencies)||112|
|Call collect international||098|
|Préfecture de police||01.45.31.14.80|
|English language crisis line||01.46.21.46.46|
If calling from a mobile phone, the general SOS number is 112.
I've always been perplexed by the number of Americans who say that the French are rude. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who say the French are rude have been (perhaps inadvertently) rude first. There are a number of things you need to know in order to keep the wheels of polite and effective social interaction well greased.
First, any time you initiate a transaction of any sort—be it commercial or social—always, always begin with "Bonjour" (or "bonsoir" if it's evening). This includes restaurants, and it also includes the cashier at the grocery store. Even if you don't speak a word of French, you must at least eek out this much. Failure to do so will make you look like a rude, unmannerly person, and you should not be surprized, then, to be treated that way in turn. Upon departure, always, always say "au revoir" or "bonne soirée" (but you will find that not everybody observes this rule). You will note that people at every level of society observe these rules—including children and even unruly teenagers.
Second, if you bump into someone, step on a foot, jostle a passer-by, or whatever, always say "Pardon" (which is pronounced with the two syllables equally stressed, and the second syllable pronounced nasally: just do your best). If you do something more serious, then say "Excusez-moi."
Third, when you meet someone, shake hands, and when you encounter that person again—no matter how often you see that person again in the future, even if it's every day—shake hands again. A French handshake differs from an American one in that it is quick, light, and typically accompanied by a look in the eye. Do not shake someone's hand up and down repeatedly: that does not convey enthusiasm or warmth so much as lunacy.
The green cross you see here is the sign for pharmacies in France (and Belgium, too, I think), although you shouldn't expect them all to look just like this one here. Often they're very stylized, but you'll always recognize a green cross, regardless of the particular form it takes. Pharmacies in France carry pretty much what you'd expect—but don't go there for basic toiletries and things like that. Those are things you'll get in a department store such as Monoprix, or even in a corner bodega. If you have a specific ailment, go to the pharmacy and tell the pharmacist what's wrong. He or she will recommend an appropriate medication for you (and often these are things you normally wouldn't know about as typical over-the-counter medications in the US). Pharmacists in France tend to be very helpful, for things such as minor injuries, mild to moderate illness, and chronic conditions.
Paris is a pretty well-connected city, and if you bring your laptop with you you'll probably be able to get on line, especially if your hotel is even marginally not creepy. There is also free Wi-fi throughout the city, with something like 400 hotspots, so it's pretty easy to connect. Check out the City of Paris' web site for instructions (in French).
However, many people prefer to travel without the extra burden of a computer. Here's a list of internet cafés where you can go check email or do whatever else it is you do when you're on line. This list is valid as of June 2009. These places tend to spring up and fold pretty quickly, though, but I'll keep this as up to date as I can.
There's a chain of internet cafés called "Milk," and they're all easily recognizable (they usually have an orangeish and white front). You'll find them in the following locations:
31 blvd de Sébastopol, 1st arrondissement (metro Châtelet or Rambuteau; there's also a KFC here if you get homesick.
28 rue du 4 septembre, 2nd arrondissement (metro Opéra or Quatre-Septembre)
17 rue Soufflot, 5th arrondissement (RER Luxembourg or metro Cluny-La Sorbonne)
53 r de la Harpe, 5th arrondissement (metro Cluny-La Sorbonne or Saint Michel)
20 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 12th arrondissement (metro Bastille)
Other, one-off internet cafés are interspersed throughout the city. Here are the ones I've noted (and, again, these open and close pretty quickly, so you might be disappointed [or surprized!]).
Côté Cyber Jardin
5 rue La Sourdière, 1st arrondissement (metro Pyramides or Tuileries)
1 Place de la République, 3rd arrondissement (metro République)
46 rue Roi de Sicile, 4th arrondissement (metro Saint-Paul or Hotel de Ville)
(I don't know the name)
8 rue de Jouy, 4th arrondissement (metro Saint Paul)
81 Boulevard St Michel, 5th arrondissement (RER Luxembourg or metro Cluny-La Sorbonne)
14 rue Descartes, 5th arrondissement (metro Cardinal Lemoine or Maubert-Mutualité)
80 rue de Rome, 8th arrondissement (metro Rome)
(I don't know the name)
49 blvd rochechouart, 9th arrondissement (metro Anvers or Pigalle)
42 Rue Raymond Losserand, 14th arrondissement (metro Pernety)
215 rue Vaugirard, 15th arrondissement (metro Volontaires or Pasteur)
I've made reference to this unusual and, I believe, ideosyncratically Parisian phenomenon in numerous spots throughout Tom's Guide. A change crisis occurs when the amount you owe is not a whole number of euros, but something with change, such as 4 euros and 55 centimes. Does this happen a lot? Of course! Does it produce a crisis? Often.
Many of the people you are dealing with will want and/or expect you to produce the centimes (in the above example, 55 of them, even though it would make so much more sense for you simply to hand over 5 euros). Sometimes it makes sense; other times it's preposterous. Do not be surprized if a line comes to a standstill because a customer doesn't have or will not produce the odd combination of centimes that the clerk demands. It could happen to you. You're on your own on this one.
Paying with Credit Cards
People pay for everything with credit cards, so much so that you'd think cash was obsolete. (On the other hand, there always seems to be somone using the ATM that I want to use, so go figure.) Your American cards will work here, but since many American credit cards still don't have the chip embedded inside that European cards do, you'll have to sign a receipt (pretty much exactly the way you do in the US). (And as an aside meditation: what in the world is wrong with the cheap, stupid American banks who refuse to bring their US customers up to the standards the rest of the world enjoys? These chips are not the future—they're the present!) You'll see Europeans swipe their cards through a machine and then enter a PIN (it's called a 'puce' [flea] in French), but your card will show up on the cashier's or waiter's terminal as requiring a signature (and sometimes they won't even ask you for it, but be prepared). Once in a great while they'll ask for ID. Sometimes you'll want to use your card in automated devices, such as at the airport or to buy metro tickets. Newer machines will generally (but weirdly not always) work; the older ones won't. You'll learn to recognize which is which pretty quickly (the ones that have roller balls for you to select on screen which option you want are the old ones). And by the way, when you're using an automated payment system (such as buying an RER ticket at the airport), follow the instructions on the screen. Typically you have to leave your card in the reader for a longer time than you might expect. It will tell you when it's OK to remove your card ("retirez votre carte"); don't do it before that or it won't work.
You'll find Amerian-style breakfasts at nicer (i.e., more expensive) hotels, and they will, in fact, be much more expensive. A typical French breakfast might consist of coffee and/or juice, a croissant or a tartine (bread with jam and/or butter), yogurt, and/or fruit.
Typically bigger than what you might have in the US, but you don't have to gorge out if you're not hungry. You'll see menus featuring two and three courses, and you'll see people eating them, too (and then you'll wonder how the French stay so slim). Order what you want and don't feel pressured to get some huge meal, because no one will care what you eat at lunch (but dinner, well, that might be different). Get a croque monsieur, which is a great invention: a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that will really blow you away.
Weird Odds and Ends
Don't wear sneakers with jeans, unless they're stylish; try not to let your suitcase block a seat on the metro; always say "bonjour" when you begin any sort of personal or business transaction whatoever; say "au revoir" when you conclude a transaction, but say it in a nonchalant fashion; yes, you can, in fact, wear shorts in Paris, whatever your sex may be (and you'll see it all the time in the summer), but avoid the sneaker phenomenon; legally, you should have your passport with you a all times, and you can by stopped by police and asked to produce ID (but you probably won't be); more stuff as I think of it.
More to come...