Flâner has always been one of my favorite French verbs. The dictionary definition reads “se promener sans but précis” (to walk without a precise goal). Since aimless wandering is basically my raison d’être in Paris, I appreciate that the French have a word dedicated to the act.
But here’s the kicker: they don’t have just one word for it. My thesaurus indicates that flâner has twelve synonyms. TWELVE synonyms, all of which convey the idea of slowly walking for the sake of walking. I’m the first to admit that walking rules—in fact, I do it quite often—but twelve synonyms? Surely the French have crossed the line into excess.
But no, my friends, no! Spend some time in Paris and you will quickly understand how many different types of strolling there are—I would argue that twelve is, in fact, a vast understatement. In addition to flâner, we have déambuler (to stroll), errer (to march here and there, at random), se promener (to walk oneself… as if you were your own French bulldog), vagabonder… you get the idea.
And in addition to the twelve official ways of walking, I’ve developed a few of my own “walks” that don’t yet seem to have formal labels:
The backwards walk
This comes in handy when I need to head east, but the Eiffel Tower is doing its sparkling thing, so rather than turn my back on it, I just walk backwards until it’s done, trying my best not to stumble off a bridge.
The “I’m not lost” walk
Naturally, I do this one when I’m lost. The key is to walk really slowly so you appear to be flâner–ing (just taking it all in… nothing to see here), but really you are retracing your steps, or turning in circles, or wondering if that’s the same Franprix you passed twenty minutes ago. It’s ok; wherever you’re going, you’ll get there eventually, and in the meantime, you’re lost in Paris. How romantic!
The walk of NO shame
The sun is up, and yet, having hopped from bar to bar, I have not yet gone home for the night, and my outfit now seems highly inappropriate. Rather than running for cover, I simply stroll through whatever open-air market I come to, eying the produce like the savvy early-morning shopper I am pretending to be. (Then I buy a baguette and eat it in bed before I fall asleep for the rest of the morning).
The post-dinner walk
It’s sloowwww. It’s happy. It sometimes stumbles off the curb a little bit. It leads you to your bed, where you may or may not collapse without taking your shoes off. Oh well.
But no matter how I’m walking, or where I’m going, there’s no other city I’d rather be doing it in. What about you, readers? How do you walk in Paris?
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Written by Tory Hoen; updated by HiP Paris. 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.