How to Avoid Acting Like a Tourist

Embracing French Culture and Acting Like a Local

Pavement Cafe in Paris

Bruno De Hogues / Getty Images

When in France, if you do as the French do you will probably have a much more enjoyable experience. A few lessons in French culture will help you understand why things are a certain way in France, and how to stand out less as a tourist.

Besides, is it really so bad to enjoy a long lunch? Or have your coffee in a delightful pavement café instead of rushing around with a to-go cup? Don't fight the French system, embrace the culture, and you will look far less like a tourist.

Here are a few ways to look like a local and not act like a tourist:

Enjoy Your Meals, Don't Rush Them

What's the rush? Aren't you on vacation? If you are American, it might be a culture shock to eat a meal at a French restaurant. While it's possible to find importer (to go) signs at restaurants, this really goes against the French style.

If your waiter doesn't rush over to bring you your check the moment you eat your last bite (he or she probably won't because they don't want you to feel rushed), don't be surprised. Enjoy a little more conversation, sips of wine and, if you're at a café, people-watching.

You might decide it's going too far to embrace the French love of offal, snails, frog's legs and the likes. But just in case you're thinking of going down that path, check out the disgusting French dishes to avoid unless you are French, and then decide.

Speak a Little French

You don't need to take an intensive six-week French course, but you will stand out as a tourist much less if you can at least express some niceties, like "hello" and "do you speak English?" in French. It's not difficult, and you will create a really good impression from the beginning. And the French probably will realize that you are not fluent, and switch to English easily. 

Don't Leave Huge Tips

While it might seem polite to leave a huge tip for great service, this is not very French. If you're at a restaurant, the tip is already included anyway. There's one sure-fire way to stand out as a tourist in France, which is to then leave another 15 to 20 percent on top of that. It is more customary to leave the change or some other small amount over the included tip. 

If you're sitting having a coffee in a bar or café, again you should leave a very small amount; maybe round it up to the nearest euro. 

Dress Like the French

If you wear a Yankees tee-shirt and sloppy tennis shoes, you will quickly stand out as a tourist. While the French are increasingly wearing clothes like jeans and sneakers (particularly the young French), their casual dress is still dressier than American casual dress. You will blend in with the French more if you go with something casual but elegant.

Go With the French Schedule

If you hit the attractions at lunchtime and the eateries at 3 p.m., you might find both closed and look like a tourist. The French tend to eat meals at mealtimes, taking a leisurely meal between noon and 2 pm. And you'll find that many shops take long lunch hours. In the hot south and in rural areas you will find shops open from something like 7.30 am to 1 pm then 4 to 7 pm, so make sure you are not caught out. Some attractions can also close for lunch but only the smaller attractions and in villages.

You will have a much better experience if you just know this before you go, and plan your days appropriately. Also don't make ambitious shopping plans for Sunday, when the government mandates that nearly all shops be closed.

Food shops can catch you out as well by shutting on Mondays. Again, a little pre-planning will help you, and you can always ask at the Tourist Office (though those are frequently closed for lunch as well!)

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