Parisian Living

How To Be a Parisienne: 10 Golden Rules

by Tory Hoen
How to be Parisienne is all about going for a natural style of hair and makeup, like this girl, leaning on a bridge over a Paris canal, who's wearing minimal makeup.Dave Bloom

I can already tell I’m going to get into trouble with this post, but I’ve never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers (especially of the French variety), so here goes. As a female ex-pat, living in Paris is no guarantee that you’ll automatically become a local. If you’re not a Parisienne and you want to be, these are the rules.*

1. Cultivate austere beauty. Today’s Parisienne has natural beauty down to an art: very little make-up and a fresh-faced complexion. Hair should be un-“done” (bonus points for bangs and / or a careless ballerina-inspired bun) and brown. With a few rare exceptions, blond hair is a red flag that screams foreign and/or fake. Beware! You want your look to seem unstudied—even though we know it’s not. For inspiration, look no further than Jane Birkin and Jane Birkin 2.0 (her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg).

2. Don’t smile much. You might be surprised to learn that smiles are, in fact, a limited resource in Paris. They’re not to be wasted on the undeserving, and they play no part in most daily interactions. When deployed, a well-timed smile is a Parisienne’s deadliest weapon, but your default expression should always be set somewhere between deadpan and “subtle scowl.”

3. Nail the “I don’t think so, but I guess if you do…” look. When someone says something you find wrong / distasteful, don’t openly object. Passive judgment is much more effective. Just raise your eyebrows, and look down / sideways to see if anyone else is noticing how absurd the statement was. Note: This is also a good way to establish solidarity with other true Parisiennes in the group, who will undoubtedly be giving the same look.

How to be Parisienne is all about not being afraid to have a coffee or to eat on your own like this woman sat on a cafe terrace smoking alone, lost in thought.Lisa Weatherbee

4. Be thin. But not just thin, a particular kind of thin that I like to call “healthy frail.” Other than a few moments spent standing on a mysterious vibrating plate from time to time, Parisiennes don’t really exercise. As a result, they don’t really have muscles, so they’re diminutive but vibrant, waifish but not gaunt. Damn them.

5. Indulge in moderation. Of course, you occasionally have to eat something very small and decadent—a sliver of foie gras, a single macaron—so that you can then talk about how good it is while you subsist on Diet Coke (Coca Light).

6. Look sober, even when you’re not. Unflagging composure is the mark of the Parisienne. Drinking is fine; showing how much you’ve been drinking via sloppy behavior is not. It’s unbecoming; plus, it can lead to gratuitous smiling (see Rule #2). In Paris, visible drunkenness is best left to foreign study-abroad students.

7. Smoke. Instead of eating or drinking, just smoke a lot. It’s sexy, it burns calories, and it’s socially acceptable at any hour of the day or night. (Alternate option: be a non-smoker and act slightly self-righteous about it).

It's sad to say, but many Parisiennes smoke cigarettes, like this girl smoking out of a window, and wearing a black hat that covers her eyes.Janelle Mentesana

8. Don’t stay single. It’s not done. Singleness is suspect, and being en couple is much more fashionable (see: The Kooples, a hot new Parisian brand dedicated to couples who wear each other’s clothes. High-concept!). Get a boyfriend, date him, and then eventually, marry him. Then, get a lover—it’s the best way to ensure a happy marriage.

9. Adore New York. Even though you’re a Parisienne through and through, talk about how much you love the “energie” of New York, and vow to live there someday.

How to be a Parisienne is also about loving other places in the world like the energy of New York.Dave Bloom

10. Know where to shop. We all know Parisiennes have an innate sense of chic that can’t be learned, but knowing where to shop can give you a leg up. For the younger set, it’s all about the magical triumvirate—Sandro, Iro, Maje—mixed with pieces from A.P.C. and “It”-designers Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno. If you can swing it, take a trip down Avenue Montaigne for some big-ticket items from Chanel, Chloe and Barbara Bui. Your shopping motto should be je ne regrette rien (“I regret nothing”); after all, these are not purchases— they’re investments—and they are your inalienable right. Round out your wardrobe with non-investments from Zara and H&M. Bonus points for vintage items culled from your elegant grandmother’s closet. And if you’re not lucky enough to inherit good taste, fake it by scoring vintage pieces at various depots ventes (consignment stores) around the city.

*Note: These are sweeping generalizations best taken with a large grain of salt (or better yet, fleur de sel).

While living in Paris, I must admit: I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. As a makeshift Parisienne, you must pick your battles. #10 was no problem, #6 I could manage (usually), #7 didn’t work out, #2 forget it. In retrospect, #2 is a complete Catch-22. How can you live in Paris without smiling? Through my foreign lens, nearly everything is laugh-inducing; I am constantly giving myself away.

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Written by Tory Hoen,  for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

A few words about our featured photographers: Janelle Mentesana was born and raised in Australia. She lives and works in Paris as an illustrator, and she enjoys taking pictures of people outside her window with baguettes in their hands. Lisa Weatherbee is a New York based photographer and designer, currently eating and shooting her way through Paris.  Dave Bloom is a tepid consultant and aspiring expatriate; born in the Midwest and working his way east via D.C., he is hoping to join Paris for grad school shortly.

Written By

Tory Hoen

After attending Brown University and spending two years in New York, Tory bought a one-way ticket to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a writer (and of drinking wine at lunch). During her time in the City of Light, she chronicled the euphoric highs and the laughable lows of ex-pat life on her blog, A Moveable Beast. Though she's now based in New York, she travels frequently to Montreal and Brazil, and she'll use just about any excuse to jet to Paris ("I ran out of fleur de sel"). A regular contributor to Hip Paris, Tory also writes for New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and she is a co-author of Gradspot.com's Guide To Life After College. View Website

52 comments on “How To Be a Parisienne: 10 Golden Rules

Sorry sweetie, you can’t be a parisienne just with the attitude, there are cultural reasons why we are like we are and it can’t be faked 😉

Rick, who has been to Paris and St Petersburg

I believe that France is one of the countries where the frequent smiling is considered to be the sign of idiocy 😉 In Russia it supposedly is a sign of insincerity.

In general, I think Americans come across as too familiar, we would say we are “outgoing” or “sociable”. They think we are too quick to make “friends” and don’t know what a real friend is.

One habit we have that I am sure is shocking is our habit of talking about very intimate things in a cafe when there is a table of people nearby, as if they weren’t there at all, but can hear every word we say. Like the British upper class treats its servants. 😉

Like the post, but why the hell would I want to be a Parisienne? I’m proud of my nationality, heritage and most of all, my differences. Bien sur, mettre un grain de sel (take it with a grain of salt). I live here now but never want to become Parisienne nor does my dog Henry!:). My $.02

Isabel Marant Sneakers

i just like this!

Michael McCarthy

Fun post! There is a wonderful theatricality to Parisians. For sure there’s a lot of superficiality but while their “jeux” is quite different from that found in Italy, being in the streets in Paris is as much a performance as in Rome or Milan.

Great post. I’m curious, how do French women feel about tattoos? For or against? It seems out of control here in NA but maybe it’s just me thinking that.

croqueuse_de_macarons

Gosh, what a cliché ! But… true for most part, I must confess. I’m not a parisienne parisienne, more like a suburban one, but I could observe lots and lots of them.

First, I must agree to your point about smoking. Quite true. Quite trendy to drink your coffee at a terasse, a cigarette between your lips.

Clothes are essential. Like really essential. But the first thing to be a parisienne is TO BE Parisienne. I won’t ever be, because I don’t live IN paris – even if I’m located 20 minutes away (for parisians, France = Paris. Surburb = Cows eating the grass. So false I thought my classmates were fooling with me at first ^^). They have some codes you see. Like places, rituals… etc etc. Living habbits.

Next, moving : metro is your first way to travel. Taxi – well not much. Except the night. Lastly, the car – and that’s an open subject, because Paris has different rules from others cities in the world concerning the traffic ^^. I don’t know about the velib’. New trend, surely, but will it last? Bus is half-has been.

The must, know very well le Marais, St Michel, St Louis, la butte Monmartre…

And concerning your way of seing parisiennes’ hair, well, brown is the most seen, but only because that’s the most common. Having blond hair isn’t a “problem” ^^ Well, that’s right, it is more rare, but that a big plus ! 😉

But, yet again, the vision is a little bit of a cliché. Confidence, yes, but that’s only a facade. Moreover, you’re only speaking about the rich parisiennes.

For New York, that’s true, but for the “fashion victim” type only. The parisienne is before everything else someone who loves Paris. They can depict how their city is the best the world has ever known of during hours =) Oh and they love talk about themselves, their lifes, their loves. I think that’s a characteristic of the parisien – men and girl – if we continue to be in the cliché – is that they are too much self-centered. Honestly. If you want to speak about yourself, you must stop the other from telling his story, speak more loud than your friends, try everytime to get to your point. Being a Parisien is a question of challenge, always trying to prove yourself to the society, to your pairs, trying your are someone worth knowing, worth kissing, worth loving.

I find this blog funny, as a nearly parisienne, I can’t help but think that it show kind of a french dream. I’m french, living near Paris, but I don’t like this city. I don’t deny it is beautiful – for some parts only – a treasure of culture, a treasure of history, but there are too much people, sound pollution, the air is just so stiffing, and I hate its sky. Seriously, I hate it. It’s like there is none at all. Only a unique color, grey, grey, or an unbereable blue when it’s hot.

Anyway. Thanks for your analyse. Despite the cliché side if it, it’s quite accurate ;)Especially the not rest single. But the thing : “look sober even when you’re not”… well, looking drunk isn’t a problem. It’s being ridicule while being drunk, throwing up, that sort of things that are better not done =) And when it is, or your friends are not your friend and laugh at you behind your back, or they are and they kindly forget the embarassing event =)

I loved this post !! 🙂 However, #1 should be the smoking. It is utterly frightening for me to see how many people smoke on the streets! I’ve been here for 2 weeks and it’s hard to breath here!!!

After living in Paris, this article is right on and cracked me up. I also never had a chance with number 2. How can you not smile and laugh in Paris?

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the one-man play “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour” that is playing in the Bastille. It is absolutely hilarious and light heartedly makes fun of both cultures. Both Americans and Parisians were rolling in their seats. Here’s a link:

http://www.oliviergiraud.com/UK/

I am not giving up my red hair for anyone, not even for Paris. Fake brown hair just looks fake. And anyway, the most chic Parisians always have the perfect tan and natural red hair, in my(completely unbiased) opinion.

c’est très funny, I love it!

Dashfield Vintage

Ha ha ha I know I’m a little late in commenting on this but oh my goodness it’s brilliant! I will be in Paris in a few weeks (my first time in 5 years) and it is a nice reminder of what to expect while I’m there. I live in New Zealand where everybody is super casual, very friendly, are crazy about food, rather more ‘healthy’ looking than thin and the more drunk you appear here the better… ah yes I can’t wait for a more refined Paris again!

Absolutely! Love this article! Last time in Paris, these were all the things I just loved, more than the sights. Going back shortly and looking forward to all that chic-ness…faint!

Excellent, excellent, sooooooooooo good!
In fact, it’s so absolutely true that I shall now forward the link to my ultimate Parisian girl friend…
And funnily, I spoke to her, her husband and to my husband about smiling only about a week ago: We stated that the true Parisian hardly ever smiles and if she/he does, he/she combines it often with that vacant look just 5cm next to you (your points 2 & 3). The fab photo proofs all points from 1-4 & 7…. I am not only smiling, I am grinning widely! 🙂
Oh sorry, just outed myself as being not a Parisian, szut alors!

sup, Im traveling from ATL to LA and checking this blog on my blackberry and its coming out sorta crazy so Im leaving a comment so I can come back and continue to view it when i get off the plane.

im digging this post. I’ve been looking the internet for more info related to this. much appreciated!

Haha, just moved to Paris and loved this post!
C’est trop vrai!

But I’m always smiling, I’m so happy to be here – it must be why people are always staring at me!! Does anyone know where the best vintage shops are?

x

Genevieve Sandifer

Hi Leila,

You should check out Kiliwatch, at Etienne Marcel! Also, Thanx God I’m VIP at Jacques Bonsergent. The downstairs (where the real deals are) is only open on the weekends though… Enjoy!

Only just found this blog and absolutely LOVE it! Fun, truth, well written, well observed and quite easy to follow….
I live near Paris for the past two years and can mostly underline every rule here.
Rule 2 about smiling is the one with the most discussions…. not for nothing. That was one of the first things I observed and still question: WHY don’t Parisians not smile?! It enhances every face, makes life more bearable, fills the receiver with happiness and renders the smiler more beautiful…. I DO smile and I think it pays in the end. Some people smile even back – hurrah! And that makes me feel good.
I am not thin, and I am not very fashionable, but I dress well – always did. Another hint: Wear a scarf – AROUND THE NECK NOT OVER YOUR HEAD! In Paris weather and conditions change all the time, it’s ice cold in air-conditioned shops and rooms, hot outside or, the wind is howling and you get the droughts right in your system. It looks and feels SO cool to have a flattering silky or light linen ‘shawl’- you can drag it very fashionably behind you and if it rains, you can even ‘just so’ pile it over your head for a moment or two… 🙂
I am a natural blondine too, or rather WAS… I am an early grey-hound 😉 and I do NOT die my hair blond. Now I get the reaction that people touch my curls and say: You make me want to not die my hair any more… How good does it get?!
Having said that; I would go blond again at the drop of a hat – but my Hero Husband always knew me ‘grey-ish’ and he wouldn’t recognize me in blond or brunette!!! He might think he’s got himself a blond girlfriend, LOL 🙂
LOTS of smilies here… oh dear!

If you’re slim, young and gorgeous, scowling and sneering at people can’t hurt your looks too much, but if you aren’t, a sour expression can rob a plainer, older, fatter woman of what appeal she has. A smile makes people feel good, both the one smiling and those who see it. If you’re not French, you never will be, so why not give it up and rock those differences? Be the girl who has what others lack–blonde hair, a winning smile, and the health and cleanliness that are associated with being a non-smoker.

Great Post. I’m writing a book and the main character must be charismatic so got some great tips here. I also leave for Paris in the morning so hope to do a similar post 🙂

C’est tres jolie-mes la fumer-non non est seulement une macaron-c’est impossible.

Bardot in Blue

These are really funny and for the most part true. However I have found nothing has led me to meet more people and have more success here in Paris than staying just as I am and never trying to be Parisian (with the exception of the language). My favorite compliments are when Parisians tells me to stay just the way I am.

xoxo Bardot in Blue

I adore this post – how very true, everything. And useful! Now, if only I could find a french other. The men in the Marais were very handsome, but perhaps it was my smiling that scared them off?

SWEET INDEED

Merci for these
wonderful petite
french secrets♥

Love this post. Really wish I had written it 🙂

Not sure I agree with #8 although I’m married so I’m probably not one to talk.

Cute post. Avec fleur de sel, naturellement. 😉 The irony is that the Parisienne would think it totally gauche to use a list of rules to look chic. 🙂 And #4 is as hard as #2 living in Paris.

J’adore Paris. I worried before i went there- what to wear and wanting to look fashionable. It was mid June, and many woman were wearing open toe sandals However, I was the only one with a proper pedicure and manicure. ALL the french woman on the metro! I could not believe how disgusting french woman keep there feet! ALL the hype about how fashionable they are, and I was gobsmacked.

Funny – French men keep telling me how much they prefer smiles to the Parisiennes’ eternal scowls. And really now, haven’t you noticed all those fausse blonde French women with their dark roots and eyebrows?

I loved this post! I am so in love with Paris. I need to get back there. I may have too much muscle for them though! ha ha 🙂

AH! I am so happy to have found this blog! What a wonderful excuse I now have to legitimately dream of being in Paris a little bit every day. Confidence-sapping Parisiennes notwithstanding… I will be back again and again – such a good idea and so nicely executed – I love that you have multiple contributors.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Is there a cult of the young in Paris as there is in America? Or can us old broads manage to look right? After all, even if the doctor told us to stop smoking, we scowl and sneer a lot by nature. Thin is tres diffficile, however.

Oops, sorry I meant to say in my last comment that I dye my natural blonde hair auburn.
x

Is red/auburn hair ok? I’m natural blonde but dye it a natural blonde colour 🙂
I love this blog, it’s like a little treasure shop.

I would say it’s pretty much all true… Smoke, look sober, indulge in moderation… The smoking part is amazing. I don’t think women that smoke look attractive, most of the time it just looks very not-classy. But in Paris all the women that smoke look so elegant. It just fits the “role” of being a Parisian woman! Fun post, fun blog!

Ah, this is a good post … I keep working on that thin thing a lot.

Thanks a lot for this post, I must totally agree! So true. Is it alright if I tell about it on my blog and link the post? This is too good to not be seen of everyone.

sean rené janelle

I love it, but I need advice as “un homme”…

sean rené janelle

I love it, but what’s your advice for “Les Hommes?”

Ohhh my gosh, I LOVE it! Mastering the scowl is key, as is the whole “I’m beautiful and skinny but of course I’m not trying to be” phenomenon. Talking about where you bought something, if it was on sale, how much you hate your thighs–thoroughly un-Parisian.
I’m living in Nice right now, so it’s like the cowtown version of Paris–more casual, but still lots of smoking and Coca Lights 🙂

re #3 I never meet a Parisienne who’s unafraid of expressing her disagreement. It’s part of the frankness with which they ask you about your family, emotional and sex life without batting an eyelid – and it’s a frankness I can only admire – but you’re right, the look goes with it too…

very interesting, and I must agree! however, as much as I love Paris and France I choose not to fit in this category. As a natural blonde, I enjoy more attention from French men then I would imagine as a Parisienne. France is great, but do not lose yourself! French people pretend they are the best, but secretly envy New York, English tea parties and Scandinavian girls 😉

I have to say…this is so very funny, but so very true!

Simply Luxurious

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Based on my limited experience in Paris, I found myself nodding along with you as I was reading. Well said. The smiling part would be very difficult for me as well. =)

erin :: the olive notes

oh, just love this list! very entertaining post…made me smile *whoops, guess I broke rule #2 😉

Tres drole Je t’aime ta mere

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