Parisian Living

How To Be a Parisienne: 10 Golden Rules

by Tory Hoen

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for supporting HiP Paris in this way so we can continue to provide you with fabulous content.

HiP Paris has brought you fabulous content since 2008! We’ve peeked through the archives to revisit some of our most loved articles. We’re excited to republish this piece by Tory Henwood Hoen, an early team member at HiP Paris. She wrote about her misadventures as an expat in Paris, and now she’s written her first novel, The Arc. Below, Tory gives us tips on how to seem like a local and a vrai Parisienne!

Left: People walk past a beige café towards the Eiffel Tower. Right: A woman with black heels leans her legs upon the railing of her balcony.
Top: A street in Paris by @carlasmacedo15 / Café du Marché by @lapresqueparisienne
Above: Au Canon des Invalides by @carlasmacedo15 / Parisian balcony by @lapresqueparisienne

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.”

Left: A woman walks alone in the Quai of the Seine. Right: The figure of a woman is blurred as she stands in front of a window.
Walk by the Seine by @lapresqueparisienne / Château de Tocqueville by @hifromalix

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.

4. Be thin. But not just thin, a particular kind of thin that I like to call “healthy frail.” Other than a few moments 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.

Left: A woman wearing a red beret drinks wine and smokes a thin cigarette. Right: The facade of a Parisian building with adorned balconies.
Parisienne by @cottonbro / Parisian building by @deareverest

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).

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.

Left: A woman and a man stand close together under an umbrella. Right: Two empty chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Lovers under an umbrella by @romanodintsow / Empty chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg by @deareverest

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.

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, IroMaje—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.

Left: A blue sky and a rooftop view of the Sacre-Coeur. Right: A stylish couple walks down Avenue Montaigne with shopping bags in hand.
The Sacre-Coeur in the distance by @deareverest / Avenue Montaigne by @maison.villeroy

*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.

Related Links:

Written by Tory Hoen for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide,  Haven In and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out marketplace shop and experiences.

Written By

Tory Hoen

Tory Henwood Hoen is a former Paris resident who now lives in Brooklyn. Her debut novel, The Arc, is available in bookshops near you and online View Tory Hoen's Website

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe without commenting

Join the HiP Paris Community
Receive our exclusive newsletter w/special offers, deals, giveaways, unique recipes from published authors plus insider travel tips and insights only for HiP readers.