How to spot tourists in Paris (a few simple tips and guidelines):
10) Look for couples – it is my estimation (and I have absolutely no evidence or any way to back this up) that 60-70 percent of the lovey-dovey couples wandering through this city are from out of town. Paris is pretty high on the list of romantic vacation spots for couples and frankly, most Parisians are just too cranky to be seen showing any sort of public affection. If 60 percent of the couples in Paris are not from Paris, 90 percent of the couples kissing on, walking hand-in-hand over or gazing over the railing of a bridge are foreigners too.
9) Look for anyone carrying a Starbucks cup (or any sort of food for that matter) – this is not a country where people eat on the go. In fact, even going into a Starbucks you’re likely to be pegged as a tourist – the one time I bought coffee at the avenue de l’Opéra Starbucks, the barista started speaking English to me before I’d even opened my mouth.
8) While quite a number of authentic French people frequent the Louvre, from families to art students to groups of école maternelle children on field trips, there is a certain route through the museum that anyone who actually lives in this city is going to avoid like the plague. You may know it as the “Louvre lite,” the quick stroll-through that steers the museum-goer around to view certain famous works of art. If you can make it through the onslaught of camera flashes and awkwardly posed photo ops, you’ll be able to tell everyone back at home that you saw not only the Winged Victory, but the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
7) Keep an eye out for anyone snapping pictures of the inverted pyramide at the Louvre or Saint Sulpice cathedral – these folks are in the city of light to follow in the footsteps of Robert Langdon, and if you’re lucky you may hear them muttering “the priory…Jacques Saunière…Silas…the rose line…” to themselves as they crawl around in the corner of the church or pose cheesily with the pyramide. These are also the few who are willing to pay the 5 euro to take the Da Vinci Code audio tour of the Louvre.
6) Parisians don’t wear backpacks, so this is a dead giveaway. For school, a chic leather or darkly colored canvas bag is the usual choice. French people also don’t wear anything North Face. Columbia sportswear is imported here (I was pretty surprised the first time I spotted it in Go! Sport), but I’ve never encountered an article of North Face anything for sale in Paris. It does seem to be quite a coup though, to come back from a study abroad with a North Face backpack, so it’s easy to be fooled if all you have to base your assumptions on is a bag.
5) Anyone on the Champs Elysées, be it in a restaurant, a shop or walking down the street, is most likely not from around here. It’s a different story at night, when Frenchies and tourists alike don their swankest outfits and line up to try and get past the bouncers at Le Queen or VIP Room, but for the most part, Parisians avoid the hordes of foreigners strolling between place de la Concorde and l’Arc de Triomphe like their lives depend on it.
4) True Parisians have the metro system down pat – they store their Navigo passes in outside pockets of their purses or jackets and swipe themselves briskly through the metro turnstiles without ever actually pulling out the card. Some who take the metro less often use individual tickets instead of the rechargeable passes or cartes oranges, monthly passes formatted as reusable paper tickets, but even these publicly transported persons are nothing but business as they breeze through the gates with no hesitation. Those too cheap or lazy to buy passes or tickets simply hop the turnstiles. Usually adolescent guys, these freeloaders saunter up to the barriers and, without batting an eye, hoist themselves up and over the structure with nothing but their arms. Any one of these types is probably French, or has at least lived in Paris for a while. Any one else, though – the families nervously studying the giant maps on the walls, people nervously poking their tickets through the machines and stumbling uncertainly through the gates, or the few who are too befuddled by the weight-sensing mats to figure out how to trigger the doors to open and allow them out of the stations – anyone holding up the metro commute for any amount of time is probably an out-of-towner.
3) Although there is a growing number of runners who frequent the quais de Seine and the few large jardins scattered throughout Paris, most of the people seen exercising in the city are either just visiting or are foreign imports. There are gyms and there are those who try to keep in shape, but in the words of a French friend, “the French hate exercise.” Any kind of exercise (except for rollerblading, oddly enough) is pretty detested, but none more than the street run. I never receive stranger looks than when I’m out for a jog. Usually I’m someone who gets stopped a lot to ask for directions by Frenchies and foreigners alike (something I’m perhaps a little too tickled by), I guess a combination of the fact that I don’t look stereotypically American, and that I don’t walk around with a scowl on my face. When I’m running though, I either get “hey sexy” in English, or “Arrrriba!” A jog through the city in stretchy yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt practically screams “America!”
2) Anybody spotted actually giving money to the hundreds of beggars slumped around the city, on corners, in metro stops or in parks is probably not Parisian. After living here a while, you become so jaded at the number of homeless in the city that the easiest thing to do is ignore the cups they shake at you. It’s so hard to tell who is really in need and what they’re actually going to use the money for – and there are so many of them, that ignorance is the typical choice. After a while you begin to recognize the regulars – the man who kneels on a pillow on St-Germain with a dirty sign that reads “j’ai faim” (I’m hungry), or the woman with the deformed foot who sets up shop underground in the Châtelet metro stop every day. Even glancing at one of these people will set you apart from the hordes of city-dwellers, much less giving one of them a few coins.
1) There’s a certain quality possessed by true Parisians, that outsiders, no matter how hard they try, can not emulate. Those endowed with the elusive je ne sais quoi, stand out in a city of camera-clutching tourists by this intangible but very noticeable carriage. You know someone is from the city if they can manage to lean casually against the door of the metro while it careens around corners, expressing only boredom through facial expression. An authentic Parisian strides from place to place “with a purpose,” with the goal to get from point A to point B without being distracted or side-tracked by any of the beautiful sights or interesting people that fill this city. It’s a quality near impossible to describe – hence it’s ambiguous name, the je ne sais quoi (I don’t know), but spend even a few days in this city and you’ll know without a doubt who belongs here and who is merely passing through.