Safety and Diplomacy for Travel in France.

Paris is a safe city, even for a woman to be alone in.  Trip Advisor backs me up in this belief, as do many other websites.  Yes, it’s true. I swear it.  If you don’t believe me,   maybe you’ll believe TripAdvisor.  Here’s an example of what Trip Advisor has to say about the subject:  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187147-s206/Paris:France:Health.And.Safety.html  Check it out.  It has a list of what neighborhoods and areas are perfectly safe to wander around in, and you know what?  It’s most of them, and certainly the ones you’ll be in if you’re visiting Paris and staying in a hotel.

As I always tell my kids, be aware, not afraid.  Here are a few tips, some that are just plain common sense, some from my myriad of safety briefings from my time as an Air Force officer, and some that I’ve learned the hard way (or listened to friends’ stories on things that they’ve learned the hard way.  I prefer to learn by others’ mistakes).

  1.  One of those pouches that go under your clothes for your passport is a good idea, along with an extra credit card tucked in just in case. I’ve actually never done this, but have met several women who’ve had their purses knocked from their hands and thus I’m rethinking that approach. Petty theft doesn’t feel so petty when you’re having to camp outside the US Embassy in order to get a new passport, as one friend had to do.  However, the crossbody bag that you can keep a hand on at all times works equally well, in my experience.  Whichever you’re most comfortable with is fine- just don’t be wagging a Brooks Brothers handbag along at the tip of your fingers.  True story, and it’s the one that involves the camping outside the Embassy (NOT by me)…
  2. No American logos* of any sort- we’re women, and we don’t need to make ourselves stand out as foreign.
  3. Walk with confidence like you know absolutely where you’re going, even when you don’t.
  4. Keep a card with the hotel address in your purse or pocket. Worst case, you can hand this to a taxi driver to get you back there if you get lost!
  5. City Face when you’re walking around outside. This means no eye contact, no smiling, for the most part**. Use your discretion and feel free to smile at cute babies or darling old Frenchmen in their berets carrying baguettes.  This probably seems like common sense to anyone who is not from Texas or much of the south, where we are accustomed to smiling and waving at nearly everyone.

So, those are my basic safety tips, and now here are my diplomacy tips that can help you not be the “ugly American,” which sadly does exist (and I have traveled with them.  Sigh). It’s really only one tip, the one thing that can make a huge difference in how you are treated while in France (though don’t be surprised at some Parisians’ rudeness- it’s kind of like being in New York and it’s rather shocking to us Texas people.  It’s just their thing.  They can’t help it. Don’t take it personally- they’re rude to other French people too).

  1.  The formal greeting is paramount:  When you enter a restaurant or shop or bakery or a market stall or want to buy tickets at the museum or ask directions or ANYTHING at all, you should always, without fail, greet the person in the shop, bakery, or restaurant with a “Bonjour, Madame” for a woman or a “Bonjour, Monsieur” for a man. It’s considered the height of rudeness not to greet someone formally, which is odd to us even with our perpetual waving and smiling. They will mark you instantly as a barbarian if you skip these three little words! Even if you speak no other French at all, learn these three words! And it’s okay to smile when you say it!

And that’s it, really.

They will forgive so many things if you greet them properly.

I can’t explain it, but it’s just how it is. This is a big deal to them.  A really, really big deal.

So there.  You may now feel free to wander Paris both safely and politely.

You’re welcome.

*Really, guys shouldn’t do this either.  You know who I’m talking to here, Mister I-nearly-ended-up-in-Turkish-prison.  

**This probably seems like common sense to anyone who is not from Texas or much of the south, where we are accustomed to smiling and waving at nearly everyone.

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