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Sep 28, 2010 03:49 PM

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.