A light-hearted take on the 14 golden rules to behave like a Parisienne/Parisien

Bastille Day has finally arrived. And to celebrate, how about a post on the golden rules to behave like a Parisienne.

Golden rule number one ladies: less is more

For a Parisienne, in term of clothes, the golden rule remains “Less is more” or just a small dose. The Parisienne woman has natural beauty down to a fine art. Very little make-up and a fresh-faced complexion. The Parisienne also wears lipstick to go to the bakery on Sunday morning, just in case she comes across someone she knows. In Paris, it is all about red lips. That’s the identity of a Parisian woman. It’s how you wear a crimson or scarlet shade that makes it fully French, red lipstick is almost a fashion accessory. Bed hair is way cool! Hair should be “undone” exactly as though you have just woken up and finger combed those tresses. Yes, it takes effort to look like you have just hopped out of bed! You want your look to seem unstudied—even though we know it’s not.

Attends, j’hésite encore entre le rouge Scarlett and le rouge Parisienne, c’est pas du tout pareil ! 

Translation: “Wait a minute, I’m hesitating between the red Scarlett and the red Parisienne, they are not the same at all!

Golden rule number two: don’t smile too much!

You might be surprised to learn that smiles are considered a limited resource in Paris.  Happiness could be perceived as a high dose of candid naivety. Weird, isn’t it?! It’s an unyielding mystery: how is it that France, known all over the world for its “joie de vivre,” can be plagued by so much doom and gloom?. This gloominess has pervaded all aspects of French life. However, things are changing at the moment. The new President Emmanuel Macron wants to restore optimism, and so he should!  Before being elected, he claimed, “I will carry on with optimism and enthusiasm.” Let’s hope that he will manage to change a character trait that is inherently Parisian!

To sound like a Parisian: 

Now, whilst a newcomer to Paris finds the city so enchanting, put on your game face and try not to laugh when saying:

“Ouais ca va, mais j’en ai marre de Paris. J’ai envie de prendre l’air”

Translation: “Yeah, I am fine, but I am fed up with Paris. I need a break.” NOW, you are sounding like a true Parisian!

Golden rule number three: Comment on the last exhibition as the “must see” now!

For a Parisienne woman, her “thing” is art, culture and politics. Parisian’s love to spend part of their week-end at the latest exhibition that you cannot miss andmust be seen to be perceived as “civilise” (civilised). Don’t forget that French are conversationalists and they can spend hours debating on any topic. The current “must see” exhibition is Rodin. At Le Grand Palais they are celebrating the centenary of Rodin’s death with an exhibition that reveals his creative world. Caroline De Maigret YouTube video is hilarious, especially regarding the “must see” exhibitions and fashion shows. Click here to see it! 

To sound like a Parisian:

“Tu as vu Rodin au Grand Palais?” – Have you seen Rodin’s exhibition at Le Grand Palais?

C’est une superbe expo!” – It’s a wonderful exhibition!

Golden rule number four:  Shhhh – Plastic surgery, don’t tell anyone.

In her book, Mireille Guiliano (French woman don’t get facelifts,) she believes that attitude is most effective in appearing and feeling younger. Referring to attitude as a “magic pill” to looking younger, Guiliano says French women approach aging with a different mindset than women from most cultures, and that is what makes the difference – not clothing, nutrition or face and skin care. By only “attitude”. But does attitude itself only eradicate traces on aging on your skin? For Olivier Gerbault, a plastic surgeon in Paris, French woman have as many facelifts as in the States but with differences. First, they don’t tell. And nearly all French woman want a very natural result. They don’t want to look “plastic”. In Paris, plastic surgery goals are to maintain natural beauty and individuality, rather than to follow some current beauty ideal.

To sound like a Parisienne woman:

“Tu as vu Charlotte Rampling en couverture du Monde, sans maquillage? Elle assume totalement ses rides, son âge, c’est courageux. Elle est magnifique!”

Translation: Have you seen Charlotte Rampling on the front cover of Le Monde, with no trace of make up? She totally accepts her wrinkles and her age. It’s brave. She is gorgeous!


Golden rule number 5:  Being able to speak for 30 minutes about your cheese shop or your food market

The latest restaurant to open near you, the best food market selling organic products, get a Parisienne started on topics related to food and you will see that it can last for ever. French love to talk about food, so, if you are invited to a meal, it is appreciated to comment on the different dishes served. French people can speak with passion about their best pâtisserie, boulangerie, fromager and from personal experience, it can last at least 2 hours! Read more on all things foodie related here in one of my recent blogs.

To sound like a Parisienne:

“Tu dois gouter les petites tomates cerises bio de la nouvelle épicerie au coin de ma rue, elles sont vraiment tops! je suis totalement accro.”

Translation: You must taste the little organic cherry tomatoes from the new grocery store at the corner of my street, they are great! I am totally addicted to them!

Golden rule number 6:  Knowing all the best addresses

There are secret locations, well-kept addresses that exude an aura of exclusivity. Parisiennes always have good addresses that they will unveil if you insist: boutiques, food markets, inventive restaurants and other hidden treasures. If you wish to solve the mystery, you should have a look at My Little Paris: the best kept Parisienne secrets. 

To sound like a Parisian:

Est-ce que tu connais la meilleure épicerie bio du 14è? “

Translation: Do you know the best organic grocery store in the 14th?


Golden rule number 7: Being independent-  French women want their own income

Only a fifth of French women find it acceptable to be financially dependent on their husband’s income compared to half of all women  in 1991. Regardless of age, most of French women can’t imagine not having their own income. Some 89 percent among the under 25-year-olds and 78 percent among the under 50-year-olds wouldn’t want to rely on their husband’s money. The employment rate of French women is just above the European average. The most active Europeans live in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and of course in Germany.

To sound like a Parisienne woman

“Etre autonome financièrement, c’est essentiel”

Translation: Being financially independent is essential.

Golden rule number 8: First and foremost, you are a woman before being a mother

You have heard of the cliché of the sexy French mother wearing stilettos and holding two kids’ hands?.  Let’s be honest, the Parisienne can also be selfish. She can be a loving mother, yes, but nonetheless incapable of forgetting herself. Do French mothers put marriage or love life before motherhood? These days French women perform multiple roles: wife, professional, mother, juggler, and all round superhuman and they don’t give up anything. According the French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, the French maman has long been party to a “woman before mother” policy, she says; it was the French who invented la crèche for children aged two and three.

 To sound like a Parisienne

“Ce soir j’ai un agenda serré: j’ai une réunion jusqu’à 19h, ensuite je vais chercher les enfants après le cours de tennis et je me prépare pour la soirée de Sam et Lola.”

Translation: “Tonight, I have a tight schedule: I have a meeting until 7 pm, then I pick up the kids after the tennis lesson and after that I get ready for Sam and Lola’s party.

Golden rule number 9:  

Small is beautiful : cherish the word Petit 

In the USA, bigger is better. It’s quite the reverse in France. For Parisians nothing is “ huge, fabulous, awesome, amazing or tremendous.”  In Paris, big is not beautiful . Petit in French means “small” or  “little.”  Petit conveys images of simplicity, moderation, cheapness and conviviality. It usually designates pleasurable activities. Parisian are not known for grandiosity of life. They are more impressionists of entertainment, a little touch at a time. That’s why Parisians use the word P’tit (petit) for everything : “un p’tit restau”, “un p’tit café,”, “un p’tit diner”, “un pt’tit ciné”and also “un pt’it week-end”  If you wish to sound more Parisian ask your French friend if they fancy un pt’it café.

To sound like a Parisienne

 “J’ai réservé  un Airbnb avec des amis passer un p’tit week-end sympa à Barcelone avec des copains en Mai .”

Translation: I reserved an Airbnb with friends to spend a little week-end in Barcelona with friends in May.

Golden rule number 10:   Ladies, always turn up late!

French people don’t arrive exactly on time. I know, it totally annoys foreigners, right? If you are invited for dinner, always arrive fifteen minutes later than the agreed time. If you do arrive on time, you are likely to be met by someone without make-up and an uncooked dinner. While in the US it may be considered rude and it is advised to arrive right on time, in France this is a golden rule for social events- always arrive 15 minutes late!  But be warned: for company meetings with French colleagues, this rule obviously doesn’t work. In this situation, it will be very appreciated to arrive right on time. Same thing with dinner reservations at restaurant.

To sound like a Parisienne

“ Quoi ? Paola et Enzo t’ont dit à 8h30 ? Il est seulement 8h40, ca va, relax, il n’y a pas le feu ! “

Translation: What? Paolo and Enzo told you to turn up at 8.30? It’s only 8.40, come on, relax, no rush at all!


Golden rule number 11:  “Chut” – silence please

The life of a Parisian is paradoxical: at a restaurant, he may be practically sitting on his neighbour’s lap due to the lack of space, but he will never, ever speak to him! But, why? Because there is nothing more sacred to a Parisian than anonymity! Even if you feel very excited about something and want to share, try to temper it, especially with strangers. If you are in a lift, don’t go further than “Bonjour.”  At a grocery store, if the wait is long, a French person might throw a look of exasperation, you might also hear “rrrrrroh!” (which is a mark of exasperation and for you- a good opportunity to practise your rolling R’s !  The French rarely strike up a conversation with their neighbours in the queue or discuss some intimate detail of their personal life. The French like to preserve their privacy and will respect yours.

To sound like a Parisienne

 “ L’autre, je la connais même pas et elle commence à me raconter sa vie à la caisse du supermarché. Franchement j’aime pas ça !”

 Translation: I don’t know her at all and she starts to tell me about her life while queuing at the supermarket’s casher. Honestly, I don’t like that too much!

Golden rule number 12:Tolerate the potent smell of cheese!

It’s a cliché but sorry it’s true: all  most Parisians eat cheese, all sort of cheeses and not only Camembert. At any time of the day. But be aware. The stronger or smellier, the better it is! This one is especially dedicated to Americans, who can hardly keep from fainting the first time they venture into one of our smelly cheese shops. So, one must be prepared psychologically before inhaling for the first time the ‘sweet’ aroma of an Époisse or a Munster cheese. 

To sound like a Parisienne


“L’autre j’ai acheté un pt’it Chèvre frais bio chez mon nouveau fromager, trop bon!”

The other day, I bought a little organic goat cheese at my new cheese shop, so good!


Golden rule number 13: Cherish little imperfections!

The Parisienne retains her little imperfections, cherishes them even (the gap in her smile or her slightly crooked tooth, her prominent eyebrows or strong nose): these are the signs of a certain strength or character and allow her to feel beautiful without being perfect.
The Faux Pas: over-plucking your eyebrows, having lip augmentation or wearing too much make-up. Always choose between a red lipstick or strong make up on your eyes and not both.

To sound like a Parisienne

OK, Vanessa Paradis  a un petite espace entre les dents mais elle l’assume totalement et c’est super !”

Translation: “OK, Vanessa has a small gap between her teeth but she totally accepts it and that’s great!”

Golden rule number 14: A politically incorrect suggestion- Smoke

Bonne cuisine, bon vin et cigarettes” (Good food, good wine and cigarettes). This has been the accepted trio of France ever since Gainsbourg and Bardot graced TV screens, smoking Gauloises. Why do French people seem to smoke conspicuously more than the Brits, or Americans? My students visiting France frequently list smoking as the first culture shock they experience when they arrive in France.  Only 26 % of French women smoke (at least one cigarette a day) in France.  If you want to be a hipster as well as a Parisian, try vaping! Or not, and forgo number 7 on my list- cosmetic surgery!

To sound like a Parisian:

“Est-ce que vous avez du feu s’il vous plait?’ – Do you have a lighter please?

J’ai besoin d’une clope “(familliar) – I need a “fag” or a “ciggie.”


A safe kit of 10 essential words in French

La bise: (the kiss) The French do la bise when saying hello and good-bye. Both parties lean in so that only their cheeks graze. In Paris, it’s always two bises.

Le vin rouge: (red wine) Most of French people drink red wine. As a Parisienne  may be  a little bit “snobbish,” she might say “I only drink Bourgogne “or “what I prefer is Saint-Emilion.”

Le psychanalyste: (the shrink) Many Parisiennes have a “psychanalyste “(a shrink) and talk about it without embarrassment.

Le p’tite épicerie bio: (the small grocery store) As the organic food scene in Paris is becoming fashionable and trendy, the Parisienne woman who loves everything natural, loves organic food. You’ll find these products in most local chain grocery shops and at all bio markets.

Le rouge à lèvres rouge: (red lipstick) If you imagine that the Parisienne women only wear red lipstick for big occasions, you are wrong. The Parisienne also wear lippie to go to the bakery on Sunday morning, just in case she comes across someone she knows.

Le croissant: (croissant) no need to remind you what is a croissant. Un croissant is a croissant, that’s all!

La lingerie: (lingerie) She wears nice lingerie because you never know what’s could happen! She is always a girl scout: Be prepared!

Le marché: (outdoor market) Parisiennes love to go to the market on the week-end, to find fresh produce.

Le café: Coffee or café, depending on if you mean the product or the place where you drink it. When you arrive in Paris, repeat until you get it perfectly: expresso, double, allongé, noisette and all the other diverse types of coffees you will find in a café.

Un verre “boire un café “– to have a coffee with friends or by yourself. Whether you drink it in 2 minutes or you spend 2 hours chatting with your friend on a terrace. 



“When Paris becomes your classroom”

If you’re learning French in Paris, whether you’re in Paris for a short stay, for business or you’re an expat building a new life in France discovering the city while conversing with your private French teacher can be an enjoyable and a far easier way to improve your skills, understanding, speaking, and accuracy. Explore private French lessons Paris here http://www.private-frenchlessons-paris.com/