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Paris Picnic Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Dining Al Fresco

Parc des Buttes Chaumont (Celine NYC)

If you’re in Paris in summer, you’ll pretty quickly realize that as soon as the sun starts to glimmer, Parisians grind into picnic gear. However, despite informal appearances, there is a complex and unspoken code of conduct to be adhered to in order to avoid unforgivable picnic faux pas.

Do dress appropriately.

It is important to give the air of not trying very hard. For girls: a categorical ‘no’ to heels and look-at-me makeup.  For guys: forget smart suits or bling sportswear, it’s all about skinny jeans and scarves. Subtle colour and pattern coordination are à la mode. Hats highly recommended.

Gail Tang

Do arrive late.

It is useless to turn up anywhere near the appointed picnic hour. It is best to saunter up several hours in, give a slightly (don’t overdo it) apologetic smile, whilst simultaneously giving the impression that your diary is over-spilling with très fun engagements and that the organiser should therefore be delighted that you’ve managed to squeeze them in.

Karigee

Do invite lots of friends.

The concept of ‘the more the merrier’ is de rigueur. Whereas the biting winter winds keep Parisians at home or drives them (penguin-style) into crowded, sweaty bars, the warm summer weather democratizes social gatherings, which are known to take on gigantesque proportions!

Do not buy ready-made sandwiches.

It is unacceptable to pop to the supermarket and pick up a long-life cellophane-encased creation that deigns to call itself a ‘sandwich’. A fresh baguette, some cheese and charcuterie are the bare minimum.

A delicious french picnic (Scorbs)

Do prepare elaborate dishes.

I.E., quiches & salads. Always present the dish while mumbling something along the lines of, ‘Didn’t have much time, just a little something I threw together…’ As with the dress code, it is important to make it all seem oh-so effortless.

Do experiment with people-meeting techniques

Concoct a (mildly) plausible excuse to approach the targeted stranger(s) and casually wander over. I suggest ‘The forgotten corkscrew’, ‘The over-inquisitive dog*’ or ‘The do-you-have-any-spare glasses’ scenarios, but your imagination is the limit! Although Parisians usually frown upon general interactions with strangers, come summer, icy propriety starts to melt – well, just a little.

*Please note that bringing a dog to culinary gatherings is not considered unhygienic or inappropriate.

Canal Saint Martin, typical picnic supplies (Thatgirl; Matthew Kebbekus)

Do choose the right location.

Here’s the lowdown on some of my favorite places to picnic:

- Buttes Chaumont, 19ème (Plus: largest park in Paris with trees, waterfalls & a lake. Minus: hilly and thus lots of potential for spillage & bottle rolling).

- La Seine (Plus: picture postcard setting. Minus: loud tourists on boats, the occasional wandering bum.)

- Canal St Martin, 10ème (Plus: Trendy hotspot, great people-watching, plentiful surrounding bars for après-picnic festivities. Minus: very little grass, quiet or room to spread a blanket/do acrobatics).

Presta

Further afield (well, beyond the safe confines of the 20 arrondissements):

- Bois de Vicennes (Plus: huge and green with lots of trees, 2,458 acres to be precise – that’s 3 times bigger than Central Park & 4 times bigger than Hyde Park. Minus: Far away from the center of it all (in Parisian terms) and beaucoup de getting-lost opportunities).

- Bois de Boulogne (Plus: same as above, although a little bit smaller with its (still very) respectable 2,090 acres. Minus, doubles up as Paris’s red light district at night!)

With these tips, we hope you’ll have everything you need to be a smashing pique-nique success. The best of luck and bon appétit!

Joe Shlabotnik

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

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Written by Victoria Wall

Victoria WallFollowing hours of foreign dictionary studying at university and a tapas-and-cerveza filled year in Madrid, Victoria decided it was high time to put her French and la belle vie Parisienne to the test. This Brit from near-London initially worked as an enthusiastic-yet-underpaid English teacher and has now become a translator-copywriter-community manager for a French website. Two years after arriving in Paris, she has had ample opportunity to fall amoureuse with every single arrondissement of the city of love and light, from picture postcard Montmartre to the winding backstreets of the almost provincial 20ème.

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Posted in Green, Parisian Living | 17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Paris Picnic Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Dining Al Fresco”

  • LOVE THIS! Great inspiration:) and it inspires me to even picnic IN!

  • Erin - HiP Paris says:

    Thanks everyone for the great comments and suggestions! And goldenlotus – we agree that confidence and comfortability are definitely key!

  • goldenlotus says:

    I really love reading this blog. I just want to say, living in Paris and traveling to Paris is wonderful and romantic and lots of places to go and cultural experiences to be had. I guess tips for trying to be a Francophile is fun to read and should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because one is in Paris does not mean one has to try to be Parisien. I live in Paris though maybe not as long as most of the contributing bloggers and I have observed how locals dress and how locals act. So what if one is ‘over dressed’ or ‘has too much makeup’ I think it’s a matter of confidence and not trying to conform to someone else’s opinion.

  • carrie says:

    Truly appreciate your insight into etiquette will dining in the park. I’m really looking forward to seeing Paris this Sept and will definitely pack my own home-made picnic!

  • Yves says:

    Ni l’endroit, ni le contenu de votre panier, ni les vêtements que vous portez: rien n’est plus important pour un pique-nique réussi que la personne qui vous accompagne. No matter the place, what’s in your basket or even the clothes you’re wearing: nothing is more important to your pique-nique that the person you are with. Paris in fall is so romantic, so…… Makes me want to jump on a plane and cross the ocean to spend an entire week to pique-nique or a month….
    Je ne me lasse jamais de cette perle et elle sait toujours me le rendre gracieusement.

  • Lil says:

    For an option to the left bank, may I suggest Parc Montsouris? ;)

  • Justine says:

    These are spot-on. And Christine, thank you for pointing out the issue if showing off everything. Definitely have made that mistake of opting for a dress attempting to be chic and really just being uncomfortable!

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  • Hilary says:

    It’s that time of year – I just did an entire series on picnics!

    Tres fabulous advice. I love your site!

    GourmetStyleGirl.wordpress.com

  • Vicky says:

    The weather seems to be working against us, but remember that true Parisian picnicing doesn’t require brillant sunshine – a small glimmer suffit. Tip: there’s some perfect rain-sheltering seating under the Pont des Arts bridge.

  • Tara says:

    I love Canal St Martin! Such a great place for people watching and it’s a nice alternative to the crowds that are often along the Seine. Fun bars and restaurants in that area, too.

  • Melody Thomas-Morgan says:

    Sounds magical.

  • We all all waiting to be able to picnic in Paris this year. One must have things to look forward to!

  • There’s been so much rain, I can’t think of picnic – wish I could.

  • Nira DeLuna says:

    I think I’m in love with your blog. Especially when you put up posts like these. These photos make me salivate. I’m off to buy some brie!

  • Christine says:

    Leggings are key: what else is comfy enough to sit in on the ground without showing off everything?! Great tips, totally missing picnics in Paris!

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