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Just Returned from Paris...

We just returned from my first trip ever to Paris and want to thank all on CH for their advice. I had great expectations which were easily exceeded across the board. During our stay, we dined at Le Violon d'Ingres, Aux Lyonnais, Hidden Kitchen, Le Cinq, 404 and Joséphine Chez Dumonet. All were excellent - both service and food. Before my trip, I was a bit concerned before my trip because I'm not fluent in French and my wife lacks some of my adventure in dining (i.e. well done meat and potatoes preferred). I brushed up on some very basic French conversation and basic food vocabulary just in case. While I think my attempt to communicate in French was appreciated, almost every server asked us (in perfect English) if we wanted to communicate in French or English.

I was most concerned about Joséphine Chez Dumonet as I had read several stories of servers who were less than helpful for American diners. Our experience was delightful, the waitstaff was fun and the food was amazing. The foie gras, the duck confit, beef bourguignon, cheeses and souffle were all wonderful. During our desserts, Chef came by our table and we had a delightful exchange despite his English being apparently as limited as our French.

I have read many posters in CH who are about to go to Paris and, just after concerns about the quality of food, many seem to share common concerns: dress code, language, quality of service. As an American who enjoys wonderful dining fresh from his first trip to Paris, I offer the following:

1. Dress up a bit. Those in Paris are typically smartly but well dressed. Even during the day, dark slacks and dress shirts are typical and jackets / suits common. Nobody wears shorts and tee shirts - even to walk around Paris and see the sights. If you are going to dinner, at least wear slacks and a dress shirt. If you are going to spend more than $100 at dinner, wear a jacket. I'm not saying it's the dress code but I would have felt underdressed if I hadn't. And I think my experience was better because I was wearing nice slacks, a dress shirt, dress shoes and a jacket at each of the above restaurants. I wore suit and tie at Le Cinq but I was the only diner who did - all the rest only wore slacks, dress shirt and jacket.

2. Learn a little French. Nothing outrageous, not enough to be conversational - just some pleasantries and as much vocabulary as you can absorb. Especially food vocabulary which will help navigate the menu to at least know if you are looking at beef or fish or lamb or lobster.

3. Go with the flow and ask for what you want. I expected slow service with small portions. Instead, we had surprisingly fast service and either huge portions or so many courses that they added up to huge. But if you don't ask for something, you may or may not be offered. If you want water, ask for water. The only wait we'd ever experience as at the end of the meal as the check would not come until we asked for it. Not bad service but instead just the French being polite. But a single "L'addition, s'il vous plait" and voila, we had our check. Now, I'm not suggesting we were in and out of dinner in less than an hour. In fact, dinner typically lasted around 2.5 to 3 hours. But we were never sitting there with nothing to eat or drink and wondering what / when was next either.

Again, I thank all for their wonderful advice and wish all going to Paris can have as much fun there as we did.

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  1. Thanks for your good observations, TB. It's lovely that you "got it", seeing and understanding and being able to enjoy a different culture. Well done.

    1. Your post should be incorporated in the France board permanent announcement: "New to the board? Read this first."
      You are a great diner and a great traveller. No wonder you had a great time.

      1. Nice post, glad you had a good experience in Paris !

        16 Replies
        1. re: Rio Yeti

          Your description of the waiters at Josephine's is spot on!

          1. re: DaisyM

            Yes. This is key. I particularly agree with dressing nicely and learning some French.

            1. re: t19103

              Paris is so beautiful it would be sacriligious not to dress up and everyone looks wonderful. It is so great not to see t-shirts and shorts!!!! I'm going in February and have totally new clothes for the occasion. By the way, I am going to Tour d'Argent and Le Grand Vefour so I am really going overboard!

              1. re: bronwen

                You have the right idea.
                "I'm going in February and have totally new clothes for the occasion. "
                A better idea: leave some room in your suitcase and do the winter sales.
                I love the Grand Véfour. And don't forget a stroll in the Palais Royal garden and admire the vintage haute couture gowns at Didier Ludot.

                1. re: Parigi

                  I'm going in June and, given the positive "local" reaction to the dress aspects of the OP, what's common in the warmer months? Thanks!

                  1. re: ZJY82

                    Ahhhh, June. Great time for dressing.
                    It is ok to show skin, lots of skin. You should see the first warm day of the year in Paris. All the women, as though they had had enough of the long winter, come out with one décolleté prettier and lower than the other.
                    The f**k-me-pumps fascism is finally behind us, thank god. Repetto ballerine pumps rule, which Michelle Obama had already intuited before others.
                    Skinny jeans.
                    Dress design - length, flare-non-flair, etc., - is all over the map. Very generally, French women wear skirts and dresses more than women from other continents. In short, show legs.

                    For guys, ties are back, but loosely knotted. At least that's the Pep Guardiola look. And how o how can he be wrong?

                    In short, for women It is ok to look good. So what if you get admiring looks.
                    It is not cool to get non-admiring looks because you are for example carrying a mineral water bottle everywhere, even in, gulp, restaurants and cafés. I am forever traumatized by the sight of the woman who walked into Spring sporting a mineral water and putting it on the table. - Is there a permanent drought in North America or something?

                    1. re: Parigi

                      For the guys:

                      Everyone told me that they can spot an American tourist because of his weight. French guys (20s/30s) are generally in great shape and very well dressed.

                      Well tailored dark jeans are fine but not when your female companion is properly dressed. I hate to even see that in the US. Drives me crazy....

                      Please also avoid the white sneakers and fanny packs and water bottles. There is no where to use the bathroom so I don't know why we go over there and drink gallons of water in the street anyway....

                      1. re: t19103

                        This is very helpful and somewhat amusing. I'm going w/ my girlfriend, so the male and female suggestions are appreciated. I don't want to get this thread to far away from food, but after reading these responses I am curious about something. As you can imagine, if someone is visiting they will invariably sightseeing, i.e., they will be walking a lot, which is why I can easily understand people choosing function over form with regard to clothes. Are these suggestions aimed at a nice lunch/dinner in a restaurant (see, back to food!) or at all times?

                        1. re: ZJY82

                          not just for nice lunch or dinner, but for everywhere. The French don't wear sneakers except in the gym. At least, that's my observation. There are lots of other shoe choices for walking comfortably.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            Another thing
                            At (faaaabulous) lunch toda chez l'Ami Jean, the 3 very hip young men sitting next to us yakked on the phone a lot, but they always stepped outside instead of screaming into the phone inside the resto.

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              I have to say I don't really agree with that... Although I only wear leather shoes (except for doing sports), around me I see more and more young people wearing sneakers, and bright kitsch colorful ones with that... I think older people may not wear sneakers (like they do in the states), but younger ones certainly do...

                            2. re: ZJY82

                              Why not all times? My husband and I walk miles daily on our old feet both at home and in Paris. Our shoes are leather Ecco, Mephisto, Rockport, Clarke, Reiker. None are sneaker style. Why have to go back to the hotel to change into "eating shoes"?

                              1. re: mangeur

                                Exactly. Comfortable shoes don't have to be ugly and loud.

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  Ladies, ballet flats are all the rage in Paris and they are sometimes cute enough to wear to a mid level restaurant. BUT, they are NOT comfy for long food crawls. Be forewarned.

                                    1. re: Parigi

                                      I put an enormous amount of thought into my daily outfits when we were in Paris last April - almost as much as I put into the choice of restaurants to show off said outfits at! As I posted in my trip report, we experienced very warm and helpful service in every restaurant we went to. I put this down to a combination of the way we were dressed (Mr M wore lovely shirts and dress pants at night, good jeans and decent shirts during the day) and our efforts to speak (fairly dreadful) French in preference to any English.

                                      My gym shoes were reserved for the early morning walk along the Seine. Otherwise I wore good flats or mid level wedges which were fine for walking up to 7 hours a day. My proudest moment was getting stopped in the 2nd and asked - by a young Frenchman - for directions!!

                                      Research is not just about finding out which museum to visit each day. For me (and Mr M) clothes went with the whole experience. I adored it. AND I want to start a blog with pictures of older French woman - ooh la la - what an inspiration to this forty something...