To do une soirée or not to do une soirée?

What exactly is this rather elegant and mysterious sounding soirée? And, how should it be approached by mere Anglophone mortals?


Noun: soirée: party or gathering, with a sophisticated name to impress  the uninitiated, taking place in apartments across the glimmering city of lights (usually accompanied by beaucoup de alcohol,  yummy food and much merriment).

Still all rather vague? I’ve tried to break down the process into nice easy steps and here’s what I came up with…

Step 1: Getting there

There are several key points to bear in mind. Under no circumstances should you arrive on time – keep it carefree by arriving fashionably late.

Watch out for complex digicode systems designed to keep guests out and lift-less 6th floor apartments in distant Parisian destinations.

Step 2: La Bise

Remember the essentials:

  • Smile (not too much in order to remain mysterious)
  • Perch two dainty kisses one on each cheek
  • Compliment the host (it always goes down a treat)

I recommend arriving bearing wine. Don’t worry about breaking the bank – surprisingly, even inexpensive supermarket plonk is still very drinkable.

Step 3:  Chit Chat

Eek! Now that the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to mingle!

After much trial, a little terror and plenty awkward silence, I’ve concluded that Parisian small talk is… well, in fact, rather what it isn’t. It isn’t all that different from our own Anglophone variety. Conversations boil down to the following questions which are designed to place you within the rich and varied Parisian tapestry.


  • Where do you live? Which arrondissement? (Bourgeois St Germain? Trendy Canal St Martin? Cosmopolitan Belleville?)
  • What do you do? (A typically anglophone teacher job? A student? This is natural curiosity: why exactly have you ventured beyond the anglophone bubble to the French argot*loving whirlwind of Paris?)
  • What/ where did you study?  (Background info that’s helpful to establish common ground).

Final words of wisdom?

When in Paris do as the Parisians do.

Borrowed proverbs aside, I can but sing the virtues of Parisian soirées – give one a go if you have the chance. Who can say no to pungent cheese, fine wine and lively conversation? Don’t worry if your French isn’t great, it’s all about taking part. I can assure you that grammar gets forgotten once the Bordeaux starts flowing!

Simply be yourself and bonne soirée!

Related links:

*French slang

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



Victoria Wall

Following 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.


  1. Have read this with great interest. My Parisian experiences has been quite contrary to yours regarding conversation. I have been informed by my Parisian friends that it is a faux pas to ask folks where they live or what they do for a living. I was discussing this with one of my French friends one day and she told me that one of her closest friends moved 2 years ago and she still doesn’t know what her friend’s new address is! Obviously, if they offer this information, they’ve opened the door to talk about it. I find if you are wondering where to start you can always ask a question about the food. The French are so passionate and knowledgeable about their food and are always happy to share when a foreigner is interested.

  2. I think I am ready for a soiree. The holidays were fairly quiet!

    Wishing You and Yours all the Best in 2012!

    I hope you will enter my Giveaway from Serena & Lily.

    Art by Karena

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