It’s time to address a theme that has become a highly controversial component of my Parisian life: the smile. When I first moved to Paris, I couldn’t figure out why people seemed to pick up on my non-French status before I had uttered a word. Finally, a friend informed me: “You smile too much.”

Apparently, I was blowing my own cover. And it’s true: just as Parisians have a reputation for being particularly scowl-y, the French think Americans are too quick to put on a happy face. From the French perspective, the law of diminishing returns applies to smiling. The more often you do it, the less potency it has.

Left: Young Parisians pose for a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower at night; Right: A Parisian male poses at night while his female companion sketches him with the Eiffel Tower lit up in the background.
Top: A smiling Parisienne, photo by Samuel Regan
Above: Friends posing for a selfie the Eiffel Tower, photo by @iamrusselryan / A young woman sketchers her companion by the Seine, photo by Alex Azabache

But despite having spent a considerable amount of time in Paris, I can’t seem to train my facial muscles into submission. It doesn’t help that I have a LOT of inside jokes (with myself). So it’s not uncommon to see me cracking myself up on the Metro or as I walk down the street. I understand this makes me look like a crazy person. It might be confusing to outside observers, who often stare at me as if to say: “What’s so funny, American interloper?”

The answer: pretty much everything. (Except French advertisements, which try to be funny but are actually just weird and / or creepy).

Left: a smiling woman strolls down Paris streets; Right: The streets of Paris in daylight.
A woman smiles while strolling, photo by Edward Eyer / Parisian streets in daylight, photo by Matt Hardy

Last time I was in Paris, I stopped at a tabac for an espresso. This was a legit tabac—the kind where grizzled old French guys convene to drink beer at 10am. I could tell the men at the bar didn’t really know what to make of me. It was definitely a “one of these things does not belong” situation. And while I’ve thought a lot about what it means to assimilate in Paris, I also get a kick out of subtly taunting the French and making them feel confused on their own turf. So I am pretty much in my element when surrounded by perplexed, drunk, old French guys.

We exchanged some banter. As I left the tabac, the owner said, “Gardez toujours votre sourire” (always keep your smile). That won’t be a problem. I’m subversive by nature and enjoy challenging French societal structure—one wry smile at time. Plus, I didn’t suffer two years of hideous braces for nothing. (The French may be super chic, but Americans have the best teeth. We just do).

So on that day, I resolved to make peace with my unshakeable facial habit. Because while a nervous smile or idiotic grinning can be a handicap and a dead giveaway of one’s non-French status, an infectious smile is also the expat’s greatest weapon. In a sea of local scowls, a big smile opens doors. And sometimes those doors lead to bars where people buy you free drinks. So I say, work it.

A woman displays an infectious smile while posing by the Palais Royal.
A woman with an infectious smile posing by the Palais Royal, photo by LAHBABI Abdel

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Written by Tory Hoen. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? 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 our marketplace shop and experiences.


Tory Hoen

Tory Henwood Hoen has been published by New York Magazine, Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Fortune, and others. She was Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur, where she founded the brand’s digital magazine, The M Dash. Her debut novel, The Arc, is available in bookshops near you and online.


  1. I love Toni Hoen’s article on smiling in Paris. I can’t help smiling when I’m there. Paris just seems to trigger my happy face!!!

  2. Hi Tory,

    I absolutely have this smiling issue in Paris as well. I’m so damn happy to be there it’s hard to stop.

    This is the second article of yours I’ve really loved. The last one I liked so much that I bought your book The Arc. I just received it yesterday. Looking forward to hearing you chat to me for days and days. Thanks so much! : D

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