To appreciate the City of Light as locals do, you can start by learning some of the daily rituals of Paris life. These simple pleasures will get you into the swing of being Parisian.
Shop Like a Parisian
Parisians prefer the boisterous atmosphere of bustling street markets to the drab supermarchés. We do too. Among our favorites is Le Marché d’Aligre, just off the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine beyond the Opéra Bastille. Open Tuesday through Sunday, the market has fruit, veggies, cheese, meat, fish, and poultry, as well as a host of other products. The best selection is on the weekend.
If flea markets are your thing, Paris has three that can satisfy any bargain hunter. At Les Puces de Montreuil (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, 9 to 7:30 pm, métro Porte de Montreuil), dig through the heaps of old clothes til you make a find, probably for less than £3. Les Puces des Vanves (weekends, 9 am to 7:30 pm, métro Porte de Vanves; avenue de le Porte de Vanves and rue Marc Sangnier) is two-in-one: in the morning, collectors revel among old furniture, stamps, postcards, and almost everything else imaginable; in the afternoon, merchants of new and vintage clothing take over.
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 9 am to 7:30 pm, métro Clignancourt), otherwise known as the Clignancourt flea market, is a little more expensive, but a real treasure trove. Bypass the noisy stands near the métro in favor of the buildings beyond the elevated highway, where antique dealers and vintage clothing boutiques provide a real blast from the past.
Drink Coffee Like a Parisian
Le café in Paris isn’t simply a drink that begins the day: it’s a way of life. Though Parisians do stop at the counter to order a quick café expresse, bien serré, s’il vous plait (“good and strong please”), more often people treat the café as an extension of their apartments, with laptops precariously balanced, cell phones ringing, and business being done; in Paris the café is the place to work, read, and chat with friends, any time of the day. Think of Simone de Beauvoir, who spent more time at the Café de Flore (172 bd. St-Germain, 6th, 01-45-48-55-26) than in her chilly apartment. Choose a café with a patio or good windows for people watching, or pause at the nearest counter, and you’re in for a dose of Parisian café culture.
Walk Like a Parisian
Paris was made for wandering, and the French have coined a lovely word for a person who wanders the streets: le flâneur, one who strolls or loiters, usually without a destination in mind. In Paris the streets beckon, leading you past monuments, down narrow alleyways, through arches, and into hidden squares. As a flâneur, you can become attuned to the city’s rhythm and, no matter how aimlessly you stroll, chances are you’ll end up somewhere magical. Some of our suggestions for wandering are along the Seine, into the streets of St-Germain, or into the tangled lanes around the Bastille and Canal St-Martin area. Strolling is a favorite Sunday pastime for the locals — but you’re on vacation so you can be a flâneur any day of the week.
Eat Baguettes Like a Parisian
The Tour Eiffel might be the most famous symbol of Paris, but perhaps the true banner of France is the baguette, the long, caramel-color bread brandished at every meal. Locals take inordinate pride at finding the best baguette in the neighborhood. To find a worthy boulangerie — a bakery that specializes in bread, as opposed to a patisserie, specializing in pastries — look for a line outside on weekend mornings. Three faves in Paris are Arnaud Delmontel (39, rue des Martys, 01-48-78-29-33), Jean-Pierre Cohier (270, rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 01-42-27-45-26), and Boulanger de Monge (No.123 rue Monge). Note that some boulangeries follow the traditional three-step customer service protocol: first you place your order at the counter and receive a receipt; then you pay at the caisse and get your receipt stamped; finally, you return to the first counter to exchange the stamped receipt for your package of edible art. As you’re leaving the bakery, do as many Parisians do — nibble the end of the crust to taste the bread while it’s still warm.
Eat Pastries Like a Parisian
High prices are making luxury all the more elusive in Paris, but there’s one indulgence most people can still afford, at least occasionally — fine pastries. As you’ll see when you stop in at any of Paris’s extraordinary pâtisseries (pastry shops), a universe of French treats await. Tops on our list are the deliciously airy and intense macarons — nothing like the heavy American macaroons you might be familiar with. Ladurée (16 rue Royale, 8th, 01-42-60-21-79) claims to have invented these ganache-filled cookies, but two Left Bank pâtissiers also have devoted fans — the flavors at Gérard Mulot (76 rue de Seine, 6th, 01-43-26-85-77) include pistachio, caramel, and terrific orange-cinnamon, while Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte, 6th, 01-43-54-47-77) has exotic ones like peach-saffron, olive oil, and white truffle. The classic opera pastry — almond cake layered with chocolate and coffee cream — can be found at Lenôtre (61 rue Lecourbe, 15th, 01-42-73-20-97) but devotees also flock to the fine-food emporium Fauchon (26 pl. de la Madeleine, 8th, 01-47-42-60-11).
Another traditional pastry is the mont-blanc, a mini-mountain of chestnut purée capped with whipped cream, best rendered by Jean-Paul Hévin (3 rue Vavin, 6th , 01-43-54-09-85). And those really in the know watch for anything from the Tokyo-born Sadaharu Aoki (35 rue Vaugirard, 6th, 01-45-44-48-90). His green-tea madeleines and black sesame éclairs are heavenly.