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First Time to Paris - Where do I go? So overwhelmed!

I'm going to Paris for the first time next week. Paris has so much to see and do that I'm totally overwhelmed with trying to map out every place I want to go. Now that I've put together a tentative itinerary, I have to start thinking about food. Restaurants are even more overwhelming than the sights!

I'm staying in a hotel on the left bank, right across the Seine from Notre Dame. Hubby and I are going to spend our days unapologetically being photo-snapping, fanny-pack-wearing, English-speaking TOURISTS (minus the actual fanny pack though). We will be in all of the major tourist destinations: Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Musee D'Orsay, Champs Elysees, Arc De Triomph, etc.

Our food budget is not huge. We are going to be there for our anniversary, so we definitely want to splurge on one special restaurant, but we don't want to break the bank every day and night. I have been told that places without English menus are cheaper. Is this true? I have never learned French. My husband is valiantly trying to relearn his high school French. I want to know that I'll be treated as human if I have to whip out a phrase book to read a menu now and then.

I know I'm not the first person to start a thread like this and I'm sure I'll still be overwhelmed by suggestions, but CH is the one place where I know the suggestions will be spot on.

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  1. Whoa, dude, you are overwhelming us too! Help us help you. Tell us where to start. I believe in helping out all tourists who do not wear a fanny pack. Let's talk turkey.

    "I have been told that places without English menus are cheaper. Is this true?"
    I have not heard of this. But places without English menus are likely to be better as they are not catering to the tourists.

    When are you coming?
    This makes a difference because as you say your budget is not huge, if you are coming during warm weather, you can go to the wonderful markets and shop for a picnic then picnic on the Seine or in the parks.

    Ceci dit, a good bistro near your hotel would be Le Reminet. Others not far are Aux Fins Gourmets, Les Papilles and L'Agrume. Try to reserve at least a week in advance.
    They are inexpensive bistros serving good food. Aux Fins Gourmets and Les Papilles are more traditional.  LP has an emphasis on wine.

    The second part of the planning can be done by you. You can look up the location of the bistros above on Google map and decide when best to go when your busy sightseeing brings you nearest them.

    "I want to know that I'll be treated as human"
    Excuse me, that is an odd worry. Why wouldn't you?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Why wouldn't I be treated as human? I've just heard all of the awful stories of Parisians who can't stand it when Americans don't speak French.

      I'm leaving Saturday, so I hope that bit about needing reservations a week in advance is a bit exaggerated?????

      1. re: Avalondaughter

        Smile, be polite, and don't act like you expect THEM to speak English. You'll be fine. Parisians are not ogres, they just hate to be treated like cretins if they don't speak English. And if you try to use your high school French, that's okay, too. Just apologize profusely at the outset for your execrable French. Works for me.

        1. re: Avalondaughter

          Absolutely true. My kindergarden level French gets me royalty treatment at all restaurants. Don't be the typical fanny pack American demanding an English menu at restaurants. Learn the basic French phrases and you'll be fine. Brush up on what beef, chicken, duck, etc is in French. Respect the French and they'll respect you. We're all human after all.
          Better yet. Stay away from tourist traps and you'll be fine. Theres a wealth of info on this site. This site has transformed my past 2 days here in Paris so far. 12 more days of chow hound and Paris! Le cinq tomorrow!

          1. re: Avalondaughter

            Some of the war stories about Parisians are true. When you demand rather than request help, no one can put you in your place more succinctly than a Parisian. It's the result of French politeness butting heads with American efficiency.

            There is usually at least one waiter in a restaurant who speaks English and you will probably be seated in his area of the dining room. Make him your friend by showing how much you enjoy the food and appreciate his help. Smiles and nods of approval are universally understood. Making your meal a pleasure is his job.

            I remember the first time I confronted a completely French menu. While I understood the animal names, I hadn't a clue to the more esoteric parts, such as frechure or souris, the latter my dictionary defined as mouse. Our sweet waiter saw my panic and patiently patted parts of his body as he guided us, line by line, through the menu. We ate spectacularly that night.

            1. re: mangeur

              You were lucky he only had to mimic "souris".

            2. re: Avalondaughter

              "I'm leaving Saturday, so I hope that bit about needing reservations a week in advance is a bit exaggerated?????"

              It is not ! ! ! ! !
              It is what I do with those restaurants I recommended above. But good luck.
              Lastly, the reputation of the French who bite tourists is highly exaggerated. When one travels, it helps immensely not to have an attitude colored by negative biases and not to expect to be ill-treated everywhere one goes.

              1. re: Avalondaughter

                ,I've just heard all of the awful stories of Parisians who can't stand it when Americans don't speak French.>

                More important than speaking French, is learning some of the French customs. For example, in France one doesn't walk into a store and say "I'll have..... " or "Do you have..." One starts by saying Hello, how are you." Most Americans, if they know this, don't practice it. After you exchamge pleasantries, then you ask for what you want.

                Since you're goin next week, that doesn't leave too long for making reservations, but don't worry. Get on the phone now and see what you can arrange. And between now and when you leave, maybe practice a few phrases in French that you can memorize..

            3. I would plan the "splurge meal" very carefully, but we have usually had good luck following our noses and reading menus when we get hungry. We never eat close to tourist attractions, but get off the beaten path. I'll never forget the incredible onion soup my grandmother and I happened upon on my first visit. Cost about $.50 back in the day, and I've never had better. It's so much fun to make your own food discoveries, and a city like Paris just begs you to try.

              1. The French are very polite and expect others to be polite as well. If you follow the basic rules of courtesy (saying "bonjour" every time you enter a shop--really, this is mandatory-- and asking politely if they speak English rather than just launching into your request), then you will be well-treated. People will be happy to give you suggestions on places to eat. I suggest you eat at Lescure, where you will see actual French people enjoying their meal and encounter amazingly friendly waiters. I have too much to say about Paris to post it here, but I suggest you go right away to the Rick Steves helpline website for info about security, attire, etc.


                Lescure is in the 7th at 7, Rue Mondovi, a little street off the Rue de Rivoli. You should also have the hot chocolate at Angelina, right on the Rue de Rivoli, if memory serves. The chocolate is so thick you can stand a spoon in it as it cools.

                1. We all have lots of questions for you: Your age, any food quirks, what you consider a splurge and what is not. That said my guess is you want some recommendations. That said you have probably been trolling this board to find lots of wonderful places to go. Oh the places you will go! The mister and I like Les Cotelettes in the Marais because they have always treated us well. We splurge at Josphine, Chez Dumonet and if you call today you might get a reservation. Get the Duck Confit (mine was unbeliveable crispy). Les Philosphes, not too pricey. On the Place de Vosges we went to Cafe Hugo and had dessert and coffee late one night but the dinner looked good. We stopped at Eric Kayser for lunch on Rue de Bac (near the D'Orsay) and had wonderful sandwiches and pastries. Cheese plate at La Fromagerie 31, 64 r de Seine, with a glass of wine for lunch? DaRosa next door for ham plates and pimandes. (Please bring some home I am running out of my stash of them.) Near your hotel is Rotesserie du Beajolais, a favorite for the spit roasted chicken or duck. Look at menus on teh boards, ask to see a menu, if you go by a place that looks good ask to come back that evening and make a reservation and keep it. I have never been ill treated, I am always a tourist, and I feel at home in Paris as much as in NY, where I live.

                  1. To mix in some "cheap eats" try L'As du Falafel in the Marais, and a Beaujolais with charcuterie at Les Rubis (couple blocks off of Jardin des Tuileries).


                    6 Replies
                    1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                      I was just in Paris 2 weeks ago, and I have to say that your idea of the French is just not true, I speak no french at all, amy wife speaks about 10 words and we were always treated with respect, like others have already said always say Bonjour and ask politely if they speak any english.
                      Oh and the food and wine there is great, just drinking a some wine that I brought back.

                      1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                        I wouldn't recommend Le Rubis for anyone wanting to avoid rudeness. They have some pathological staff there.

                        1. re: Busk

                          Re: Le Rubis....but it isn't bad if you become a regular. I used to live around the corner and it made a big difference.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Ok, so the wait staff at Le Rubis don't know how to smile and are a tad abrupt; personally, I'll take that over "Hi, my name is.........and I will be your server tonight". They sell quality stuff at reasonable prices, and provide a visit back to the post war era in terms of ambiance etc.

                            1. re: Oakglen

                              ...or a visit to a Victorian-era insane asylum, staff dressed in rags, missing teeth, mopping floors and cursing randomly at whoever walks in...

                              1. re: Busk

                                Once we were sitting at a table at Le Rubis, and M.E. looked around and said "this place looks like Central Casting for a period movie". She was refering to the habitues imbibing at the zinc bar. PhiD is probably right about regulars; but you won't find anything like this place back in the States. And Busk, a full set of choppers can be overrated.

                      2. I'm sorry if this sounds a bit rude, but with a comment like "I want to know that I'll be treated as human if I have to whip out a phrase book to read a menu now and then", why would you even bother with a vacation to Paris? It sounds like you're bracing for the worst, so why would you even want to go there? And again, I'm sorry, but with an attitude like yours, you are likely to attract bad service, just as you would in any city in the world, including in the US.

                        For full disclosure, I have family in France, and have been to Paris several times. And while I've heard the "war stories" several times, I've never seen or experienced that type of treatment. I usually stay in the Marais district and find small out-of -the-way restaurants to eat at. For lunches, I highly suggest the baguette, ham, cheese, and pate route. Go to any chacuterrie, point if you have to (or ask for 250 grams - half a pound - of jambon fume or jambon de campaign [ham], same amount of a fromage, and some pate de campaign, and then go to the boulangerie and ask for a baguette, and you'll have 1) one of the best meals, 2) one of the cheapest meals, and 3) you'll eat as many locals do.

                        Stay away from any restaurant within 4 blocks of any major attraction. It's a rule of thumb - there may be exceptions, but just as it's unlikely you can get a good and reasonably priced meal in Times Square, ditto with the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc (again, there are definitely exceptions, but they're hard to find).

                        Lastly, my two favorite areas are the Marais (3rd and 4th) and the farmers market at Rue Moufettard in the 5th, up from the Natural History Museum (a must see!), which is in your general area.

                        IMO, while many visitors to Paris focus on dinner, or one special dinner, the true being of French food - as with many countries - isn't in one dinner at a great restaurant, but rather in the little things, like going to the same little corner coffee shop, getting fresh ham and local cheese for lunch, and fresh baked goods from a corner baker. I've had fantastic dinners in Paris, but some of the best food memories cost less than $5 and came from little shops. You can find them - they'll be all around you. But you also gotta be adventurous.

                        Have a blast!

                        Oh, lastly, for what it's worth, the last time I was there, on the last day, my significant other and I made a deal, and she did all the food ordering for the day. I speak fluent French, she speaks very little (read: almost none). I waited outside each place until she came out with the goods. On every occasion, she came out with a smile on her face, and a great assortment of food. Inside, she'd say "bonjour", have a smile, and was willing to work with and laugh with the shopkeepers. It worked out great - she came out with some great surprises I wasn't expecting. We both still remember that day, and what we had, even several years later.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          Fantastic advice. I will be in Paris next week and have planned out places to eat, but will also just find what I find. There is no perfect experience that can't be ruined by trying to find a perfect experience. I speak almost no French (German I can do). You just have to dive right in and not worry about not being understood. You're not likely to be the first non-Francophone foreigner the locals have encountered.

                          1. re: ChewFun

                            Wow. Didn't mean to offend you so much Forever Hungry. As for your question, why does anyone ever want to go anywhere? Art, culture, etc. I live in right outside NY and people still want to visit NYC despite the reputation of NYers being rude, which I think is 100% true! I think my genuine fear of not making some kind of "Ugly American" faux pas is hardly the xenophobic crime you are making it out to be. I'm not out to offend your relatives. Sheesh!

                            So, anyway, to recap, I spent 99% of the time in my own area just because I would spend so many hours and hours touring (mostly on food) during the day that I had no energy to venture beyond my own neighborhood at night.

                            During the day DH and I would usually grab a crepe on the run. We rarely had time to sit and have a leisurely lunch. When we did, it was usually a random cafe.

                            We did all of the wrong things. We ate in random restaurants in the Latin Quarter, often listening to whomever beckoned us inside. We ate in touristy places like Sergent Recreteur and La Coupole (the latter seemed occupied only by French people desipte the reputation). We tried Atelier Maitre Albert and also (as recommended here) Rotisserie Du Beaujolais.

                            Yes, everyone was nice to us. Even though I only knew the words "Bonjour" which I said to everyone, and "Merci" and my husband only knew a bit more.

                            We were able to get reservations everywhere the day we dined in the establishments. Many of them we just walked off the street.

                            Sory that so many of you found my post ignorant and offensive. I guess I'm a dumb American after all!

                            I'm sure food snobs will turn up their noses at my choices, but we enjoyed every single meal we ate at.

                            1. re: Avalondaughter

                              Thank you for writing and proving the point that, contrary to your expectation, the French were not out to humilate a non-French speaker like you. Those of us who felt offended were offended by that attitude, not by which resto you chose or did not choose.

                              1. re: Avalondaughter

                                "Sory that so many of you found my post ignorant and offensive. I guess I'm a dumb American after all!"
                                Neither, not me.
                                We've been eating (Collete et moi and cousin D.) at ordinary places the last few days - 104, Ze, Moustache, Le Gaigne - and he, father of a great Calif chef, thinks our places, as well as his brasserie/bistro across the street are quite fine.
                                We'll try to help - not put you down - on Chow as opposed to other websites, but the advice to say Bonjour, Merci, etc is spot on. That's all you need.
                                Parisiens are not rude - I lived in NYC for 25 years and here for 22 and I've been spoken to rudely several times - only by non-French folk.
                                As for "Stay away from any restaurant within 4 blocks of any major attraction." today's Figaroscope had an article (actually a Dossier) http://www.lefigaro.fr/sortir-paris/2... about where to eat in such regions and I love their recs: the Cave Beauveau, Volnay, Mon Oncle, l'Avant Comptoir, KGB & Les Delices d'Aphrodite.
                                Courage, my friend, courage.

                                1. re: John Talbott

                                  I'll throw in that it is a great help that the menu is posted outside of nearly every restaurant, and often the specials, making it possible to do your translating and phrase-seeking before you enter. Though it is true in most places you are free to take as long with your meal as you would like, and a single cafe-express can buy you a cafe table for seemingly hours, in my experience there does often seem to be a desire to take your order as soon as possible (in many places a single waiter is covering a great number of tables). Once you are past that, however, the pressure is off and you can relax and enjoy the lively dance that is most Parisian restaurants.

                                2. re: Avalondaughter

                                  I'm glad you had a great time seeing the sights and enjoying the food in Paris. It is one of my most favorite cities. I just read your post today and felt bad that you were scolded by so many people. You were just repeating what you had heard - we've all heard that the French are rude. I have never found that to be true - though I have never tried to eat as a true "gourmand" in any country. I did what you did and wandered into restaurants that were recommended at my hotel or by people I would meet. I went to some of the places you mentioned close to 20 years ago and it brought a smile to my face that they were still there. I think most of us who travel to countries where we don't speak the language or know the customs have some level of aprehension that we "won't do it right". Don't let that stop you from new adventures. The "Bonjour and Merci rules" work everywhere! It is just being polite and acknowleging everyone as human and hoping we get the same treatment in return. Thanks for sharing your trip and a belated Happy Anniversary!