Anyone who’s visited France has heard about the country’s legendary rudeness – even the Mona Lisa only cracks a half-smile. That’s why Paris Greeters, a volunteer group of enthusiastic locals-turned-tour-guides, has made its raison d’etre to shatter the snotty stereotype once and for all.
These multilingual welcomers lead free, private tours of the city to make you feel like “a Parisian for a day.” The tours, as I learned in December, show you behind-the-scenes neighborhood gems that you probably wouldn’t find on your own.
My one-and-a-half-hour walk with greeter Christiane Perrin – a longtime Parisian who wore, of course, a green beret – took us through the morning bustle of Rue Mouffetard in the fifth arrondissement, one of the oldest parts of Paris. Perrin pointed out interesting scenes, such as a lively open-air market selling still-writhing lobsters and a hidden square with a rare, historic fountain.
It’s such insider’s knowledge that really make these tours worthwhile. Perrin, for instance, has a weathered Sorbonne ID that sometimes allows her visitors a peek inside the halls of the prestigious university.
For Perrin, the tours also give her an opportunity to learn more about the city she loves. Inevitably, she said, someone asks her a question about Paris she doesn’t know. (I inquired about the burial place of famous French queen Marie Antoinette. Within a minute, Perrin had found the answer – Basilica of Saint-Denis – and whipped out her map to show me exactly how to get there.)
If the concept of becoming a local for a day sounds just your speed, you can find similar groups popping up in the U.S., including ones in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Sure beats looking like a tourist.
To sign up for a tour, submit a request on the Paris Greeters’ website at least two weeks before your trip.
Photo: Christine Dell’Amore