Paris-bound and clueless
Hi, I'm going to Paris in two weeks with my mom and I am not prepared at all. She kind of just bought the tickets impromptu yet neither of us speak French or...know anything about the city. I have planned the typical attractions for us to visit yet I have a feeling the Metro will confuse me. We are staying in the Montparasse area. Plus, how are we going to know which places to eat at/what to order off the French menus?
An impromptu trip to Paris - how lovely!
1. Do not worry about the language. We don't speak French and fared just fine. I would suggest learning some basic greetings and phrases as a show of respect. But, most Parisians will quickly figure out that you are not French and switch over to English in about 5 seconds.
2. Get a metro map of Paris online and that will tell you all you need to know. The Paris metro is one of the most user friendly in the world. The metro map will also give some idea of Paris neighborhoods.
3. There a great restaurants all over Paris, and you will easily be able to get to many of them by Metro. If you would like suggestions about Montparnasse specifically, search this board. If you have specific requirements about food, price, etc., Chowhounders are likely to provide suggestions.
4. All restaurants in Paris have their menus posted in the entryway, visible from outside. The best places typically have their menus posted in French only. If the menu is posted in six languages, or if they serve pina coladas, you are at at tourist trap and are likely to have an overpriced, bad meal. Do not worry if you cannot translate the menu; the waiter is usually happy to help. Also, for many bistros, it is a good idea to make a reservation for dinner, even if same day.
Souphie will surely be along shortly with his excellent suggestions. He knows Paris like the back of his hand!
I also suggest getting yourself a French phrase book, and memorizing a couple of phrases such as How much does it cost? and Where is the toilet?
You should also know that proper Parisian etiquette has you always starting out with "Bonjour, comme ca va?" when you enter a shop, and "Merci, au revoir" when you leave.
Read and print out the thread on Chowhound entitled, "Poor and hungry visitors to paris." It has great advice.
Also, when you get to Paris, stop at any news stand and buy a copy of "PARIS PRATIQUE PAR ARRONDISSEMENT ...L'INDISPENSABLE" (4.5" x6.5" white letters on dark blue and orange) and never leave your Paris home without it! You will always know where you are and how to get to where you want to go. Also, charge whatever you can to your credit card and use your ATM debit card to get cash; that's the cheapest way.
Check out this thread. Some nice suggestions as well like La Cerisaie, L'Opportun, etc.
Also, have a look at the nice cafés right on Place Edgar-Quinet.
Do not miss the famous brasseries on Blvd. Montparnasse like Le Select, La Rotonde, Le Dome or La Coupole. Best places for a drink and/or people watching.