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How to be a Parisian!

Want to know how to be a Parisian? Ever wondered what makes Parisians different from the rest of the French? We caught up with French comedian Olivier Giraud, whose one man show in Paris “How to be a Parisian in one Hour” has been seen by more than half a million people from around the world. And he explained all!

Olivier Giraud is a Parisian, a comedian, an author, and a legend. He’s a man who makes people roll off their seats laughing in the packed theatre he plays to in Paris with his one man show where he’s taught more than 1 million people how to be a Parisian too – in just one hour. And if your parents taught you to grow up to be a kind person with values such as politeness and punctuality, well forget all that because if you want to be a Parisian Olivier says, you just can’t do that. His brilliantly fun show ‘How to become a Parisian in one hour’ at the ‘Théâtre des Nouveautés’, at Boulevard Poissonnières, is an absolute essential Paris visit. It will explain the cultural differences between Parisians and well, everyone else. And it will make you laugh out loud. And I promise you will look around you in Paris with renewed awe. So students, sit back, pay attention and get ready to find out more about life in the Parisian jungle according to Olivier Giraud.

Are Parisians arrogant?

When it comes to Parisians – it’s almost like we think of them as a separate race from the rest of the French, maybe the rest of the world. But what’s myth and what’s reality. Let’s look at some of the cliches starting with the famous arrogance of Parisians. Is that true? Or false? Are Parisians arrogant?

Olivier Giraud We Parisians are all arrogant. I mean, we live in the most beautiful city in the world. We speak French without any accent. We have the best restaurants. It would be such a pity to be a nice person. So yeah, of course we are all arrogant.

Janine Marsh You say that, but I have to say that most of the Parisians I’ve met are nice!

Olivier Giraud Most of them are nice? Hmm but most of the time, if you see a nice person in Paris, if you ask them questions and they answer nicely, they come from the ‘provinces’!

Are Parisians all slim?

Janine Marsh This is what everyone believes everywhere around the world. And actually, I believe it too, because I was once in Paris having lunch at the Cafe de la Paix, near Opera Garnier. And it’s a famous restaurant. It’s very gastronomic. And I was sitting there having a delicious steak chips. And a woman sat next to me at the table. And she was clearly French, and clearly Parisian because she ordered a bowl of lettuce for lunch, just a bowl of lettuce, nothing else. And then she said: “Can I have the ketchup please?” And she put some ketchup on it. And she had nothing else for the whole lunch that I was there, anyway, so true or false? Are all Parisians slim.

 Olivier Giraud I would say that Parisians are quite slim. I used to live in America for five years. And when I came back to Paris, I was very shocked about the Parisians. And I checked all the numbers. Like, in Paris, there is only 10% of the people who are overweight. And I think it’s because the people run all the time. We are walking like more than five kilometers per day with the Metro and all the steps. And Parisians are very careful about food. Even at the food market they try to find like a good product, organic product. And we do not snack. And there is a cliche of the Parisians every morning with the croissant, the French baguette, the jam… all the charcuterie and the cheese. We try to be very careful about the food and the way we look.

Janine Marsh It’s a really strange thing because everybody around the world think French people just eat croissants and, and chocolatines or pains aux chocolat and Nutella spread thickly on toast and baguettes and cakes and wine and cheese all day long. But actually…

Olivier Giraud No, it’s not. It’s wrong.

Janine Marsh So what do you have at breakfast?

Olivier Giraud Only a coffee. A ‘cafe allongé’ which is like a kind of American coffee. It’s like espresso with hot water. For Parisians – coffee only, though sometimes if I have guests in my house, I’ll buy some croissants – maybe three times per year…

Janine Marsh 3 times a year!

 Olivier Giraud Yeah. Or 4 times.

Janine Marsh Who eats all the croissants then?

Olivier Giraud Who eats the croissants? I think that the young people, I think the youngsters like the kids they love the pain au chocolat. Or you say pain au chocolat in Paris or otherwise in South of France is chocolatine. It’s like a big war in France. There is the team chocolatine and the team pain au chocolat, who are always fighting. The kids have the pain au chocolat you know after school. They love to have one. Otherwise, tourists love the croissant and the pain au chocolat, but Parisians, not very often.

Janine Marsh I love a croissant for breakfast!

Olivier Giraud You don’t live in Paris.

What do Parisians wear?

Janine Marsh My friend Vanessa is a true Parisian. And she was born and bred in Paris, and she will never ever leave Paris, she says. She also will never ever wear any colour but black. Seriously, I’ve known Vanessa now for I don’t know, maybe 12 years and I’ve never seen her wear anything but black trousers or black suit or a little black dress when we’re going out in the evening. Is this a Paris thing?

Olivier Giraud Yes, it is. For me too, I wear only black. And sometimes someone is like, let’s be crazy,  put on some grey or dark blue. But I think Parisians try to feel invisible, you know. And you can see in the Metro, the tourists with the flowers and black and red, like red, pink, yellow… But Parisians yeah, they like to wear a dark colour.

Janine Marsh Wow, to be invisible. Is that because it’s such a busy town? Well, you know, it’s not really a busy city compared to London, I suppose, or New York, which is, you know, quite a bit bigger. But I guess in terms of France, it’s quite a busy big city. So being invisible is a good thing?

Olivier Giraud I think it’s a good thing. And like Coco Chanel used to say, I like any colour as long as it is black.

Janine Marsh Do you wear black pyjamas?

Olivier Giraud All the time? Black or grey.

Olivier Jauffrit What about pants?

Olivier Giraud Pants? Dark blue jeans

Janine Marsh Wow.

Olivier Giraud Only. And then in the theatre it’s only in black.

Janine Marsh So you push the boat out with blue jeans and some flash of colour amongst all the black shirts and pants and socks. I must say when you’re in Paris, you do notice a lot of people wearing black. So right now I must assume that everyone wearing black is a Parisian and everyone not wearing black is either from outside of Paris or a visitor.

Olivier Giraud Next time you come to Paris Janine, only in black.

Janine Marsh I’m actually going to Paris on Wednesday, and I’m gonna wear black and see if anyone thinks I’m Parisian.

Olivier Giraud You have to.

What is a Parisian BoBo?

Janine Marsh  Okay, this is a question from a friend of mine, who lives in London and she said she went to Paris and she was overhearing people in a café and they were chatting and they were saying: ‘Bobo’, il est ‘Bobo, elle est ‘Bobo’. What is a Paris Bobo?

Olivier Giraud So the term bobo is a mixture of two words. Using the first letters to each word. First ‘bourgeois’ which means a rich person. And then ‘boheme’ as in Bohemian. The two first letters of each are ‘bo’, so it’s bobo. Translation: a rich person who lives like a poor person.

Janine Marsh So does a bobo eat croissants for breakfast?

Olivier Giraud They can eat croissants but I think they love the croissant with some pumpkin seeds! This is really bobo and the bobo is kind of ‘we have to fight to save the planet’ for example. They go on holidays like 10 times per year. They go to the Reunion island, they go to America, they travel a lot. So I think that they save the planet only you know with friends… talking like this, but not doing that too much.

Janine Marsh Do they wear black? Because that’s not very bohemian.

Olivier Giraud Yeah, they put some colours the bobo! A bit more colour and a bit of flowers. You can find some bobos close to Canal St Martin, in the 11th arrondissement. You can find them every Sunday morning in a market buying like 10 euros a kilogram apples. But they’re so happy like ‘yeah, it’s a good quality’, of course for 10 euros! You find some of them in the 19th arrondissement, the 20th and now in Montreuil. It’s a suburb with a lot of bobos!

Janine Marsh So, if you want to go bobo-spotting, head to Montreuil or the 11th arrondissement. And spot people wearing black clothes with a splash of colour and maybe eating croissants, for a true sight of Paris.

Are Parisian waiters rude?

Janine Marsh: Right, now this might be a tough question actually. Because I think there are two different answers to this personally. But there is one answer that I have experienced and it’s about Parisian waiters. You know if you read any magazines, if you read any websites about Paris, people will go ‘oh, Parisian waiters, they are so rude. They are also arrogant to clients.’ You would think that going into a restaurant spending money by buying food, buying wine and dining there that you would be treated really well. But how true is it that a Parisian waiter will be rude to a client?

Olivier Giraud  I will say that in Paris, we have different kinds of restaurants. If you go to a really high class restaurant, most of the time, I mean 95% of the time the waiter will be nice, because they have a big reputation, and they have to be nice. But if you go to a Brasserie, even for Parisians it’s very hard to find a nice one that is like, when you arrive: “hello, how are you? Welcome!” I think it never happened to me in the past five years. So yeah, okay, I’ll sit, and their facial expression means, ‘ahhh, another guest, I’m fed up with this job.’ We’re used to this in Paris. But yes, so so many tourists are very shocked about the way they are treated by the waiters. But that’s a Paris thing, it’s like this, and they are not too nice, but they can be fast. And you eat well. And the problem is – the tips are included in Paris, and in all of France. So that means that they don’t have to be nice, because the service is paid already. In America: ‘hey, welcome to the Cheesecake Factory!’ They’re very nice and then you give them a 20% tip. In Paris, perhaps you can give one or two euros if the service is good. But most of the time you leave nothing.

Janine Marsh You could go into a restaurant and they could just be absolutely awful for you. And they’re still going to get a tip, whether you like it or not.

Olivier Giraud Yes! There are some visitors you know, they think the tips are not included. So they add like 10 or 20%, even if the service is bad, but, reallly they don’t have to be nice.

Janine Marsh I haven’t really had that many bad experiences. But I’ve had the look that you described, you know where I’ve walked in and just asked for a cup of coffee. And then they look at me as if I’ve I asked for something really unspeakable, rather than a cup of coffee. But you’re right – they’re fast. And you get what you want.

I saw a sign once in a cafe and it said if you ask for a coffee and you say ‘Bonjour un cafe s’il vous plait’ you’ll get it for one price. And if you walk in and just go ‘un cafe!’, you get it for a much higher price. I don’t know if that’s true.

95% of the time, you’re not going to get a rude waiter in Paris. Simple as that. Smile, say Bonjour. Say ‘s’il vous plait’. You’re probably going to get a really nice happy waiter. Yeah, yeah, that’s what I reckon.

Where to go shopping in Paris?

Where does a typical Parisian go shopping for clothes? You know, I suppose we all think it’s going to be the Champs-Elysées, which is always full of shoppers, but I’ve to be honest, most of them do seem to be visitors. So I’m assuming that Parisians go somewhere else.

Olivier Giraud Yeah, Parisians don’t go on the ‘Champs-Elysées’ because there’s not too many shops, it’s only like very expensive shops. Parisians go to ‘Les Halles’, close to ‘Chatelet’. It’s a place where you have many shops. Rue de Rivoli, now it’s better than because there’s no more cars. And Rue de Rennes as well, in the 6th arrondissement. If you have a lot of money you can go close to the Champs-Elysées, to Avenue Montaigne, for Dior, Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier… you know expensive shops.

Janine Marsh Millionaire’s row huh? So the Parisians never leave Paris to go shopping? Do they ever leave Paris?

Olivier Giraud Of course we have friends in the suburbs. But for us, it’s horrible to go to ‘Banlieue’ (suburbs). It’s takes so long. It takes less time to go to Greece than going to the suburbs, with all the strikes! No, I’m kidding, but it’s hard for Parisians to go to the suburbs. It’s not easy for real Parisians.

Janine Marsh So from your experience. I mean, you said you lived in America for five years. So is shopping in Paris a bit different from shopping in America or anywhere else for that matter. Is Paris shopping, you know, a special thing?

Olivier Giraud Yeah. In Paris, a lot of people like going shopping on Saturday. And the service is like it is in restaurants. It’s funny. You know, if you go to America: Hey welcome to H&M, welcome. My name is Tracy.’ They’re very nice. In Paris, it’s different I mean, you, you get in, you don’t have to smile, you know, you look for what you want, and then you leave. It’s kind of different.

Janine Marsh It’s very different. I mean, I went shopping in Paris, and I saw this beautiful dress. And I went in – and it was in the shop window. And I said, Oh, I really love that dress in the shop window. Do you think you have it in my size? And she just looked me up and down and said ‘non’.

Olivier Giraud Non – c’est pas possible

Janine Marsh This is what she said. She gave me a look that said, I don’t want you to wear my beautiful dresses you are not worthy!

Olivier Giraud When you’re Parisian and you go shopping, if the sales advisor ask you ‘you need some help?’. Even if you need some help, just say ‘non je regarde‘. You need to be alone, you know, you don’t want to be disturbed by somebody. And, if later, you need some help you say ‘yeah, oh, come on, I need some help.’ And then the person comes and will help you but just look alone – and don’t ask for any help.

Janine Marsh Just look at the clothes where everything is black in the corner.

Olivier Giraud Completely. Then you leave.

Where do Parisians go on holiday?

Janine Marsh Where did Parisians go on holiday? I mean, we read in magazines that Parisians go to ‘Ile de Ré’ or they go to Deauville. Nowhere else in France do they go. Occasionally Provence…

Olivier Giraud Provence? Yeah, but it’s more common to go to Deauville or Trouville in Normandy. I don’t like Deauville. It’s all the rich Parisians going there you know with the Chanel and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s shops everywhere, and the beautiful cars. But if you cross the bridge you have Trouville, which is like Deauville, but when you have a bit less of money than Deauville. The weather’s not amazing there, but Parisians go there for a weekend or a long weekend. They also go to ‘Ile de Ré’. And Brittany is very famous now – everybody wants to go to Brittany and, it’s funny when the Parisians go to a Brittany, they dress like people from Brittany you know the ‘marinière’, a shirt with stripes, you know? And also the plastic boots…

Janine Marsh I think we call them crocs.

Olivier Giraud Oh yeah, the crocs. It’s kind of funny. You can see the Parisians in Brittany: all look the same.

Janine Marsh Wow. So Parisians go on holiday and they fling off their black clothes and they put on black and white instead.

Olivier Giraud And then for the bobo, they love camping, you know. The Parisian bobo, they go camping. They spend so much money for a little space in the country. No water or electricity – they pay so much, but they’re very happy. We all take August holidays all the time. That’s why everything is closed in Paris, if you’re looking for a bakery or even a bank – everything is closed in August most of the time.

Janine Marsh It’s astonishing, isn’t it? I can’t believe it. Sometimes I go on holiday. Or I go out for the day in July or August and restaurants are shut and there’s a sign on the door saying ‘we are on holiday’.

Olivier Giraud C’est ferme !

Janine Marsh This is peak tourist season. How can you be on holiday? Hotels close in July and August too!  I love that in France you are either a July person or an August person. And there is a name for this and I find it almost impossible to say August in French.

Olivier Giraud If you go on holidays in August, you are an ‘aoutien’. If you go on holidays in July, you are a ‘juilletiste’.

Janine Marsh Wow, I’m beginning to get a picture here. It’s either Pain au chocolat or Chocolatine. You either go on holiday in July or you go in August, so there are two different tribes going on here.

 Olivier Giraud And August is even more expensive. Everything is so expensive in August. More than July.

How to be Parisian!

Janine Marsh Is there one thing that you should do or that you shouldn’t do to make you look more Parisian and less a tourist when you come to Paris?

Olivier Giraud The way you dress – you know try to put some black or grey. So many times I can see like tourists and you can see they’re tourists they’re wearing like a shirt with like ‘God Bless America’ with the cap ‘In America we trust’. No don’t take this cap, keep it at home. And if I see very smiley people on the street, I’m sure they are tourists. Don’t even move your eyes or lips or whatever, just try to be depressed… And the way you speak as well you know. When you go to a bakery (a boulangerie), and this is something that makes me laugh all the time, the tourists say: Yeah, we would like the crapes, crapes. No, come on, crêpes when you say crapes, you’re making three mistakes. It’s not a cray. It’s crrr crrr, it’s Crêpe. And it’s one crepe, 2 crepes. Even if you’re right theres an  ‘s” at the end. You don’t pronounce it. So when you say crapes, you’re a tourist. And, the biggest mistake people can make is like: Yeah, we love Macron! Macron is our president. Macaron is a pastry. You know, that’s a big difference.

Janine Marsh I’m guilty of having friends who call him Macaron as well and Mrs. Macaron…

Olivier Giraud Emmanuel Macaron and Brigitte Macaron. Hmmm…

 Janine Marsh You’re saying about don’t smile, because sometimes I have to go to meetings with French people. And they always say to me, you smile too much. People won’t trust you. But I like to smile. I’m happy.

Olivier Giraud You know, when you’re walking in Paris in the streets, and you see people smiling, you’re like, what happened? Why did they smile? What happened? And we feel like the person is weird. So yeah, don’t be nice.

Janine Marsh So now we have learned from this: always wear black, have a cup of coffee for breakfast and nothing else. Never eat a croissant, never a pain au chocolat. Don’t smile, don’t wear a baseball cap. And you will be a Parisian in Paris.

Olivier Giraud You can smoke as well.

Janine Marsh Yeah. Well, you know, I don’t think I can condone that, actually, Olivier, on this on this show…

Listen to our podcast with Olivier Giraud on How to be a Parisian in less than one hour

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Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.

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