Did you silently scream “quel horreur” when you saw the bill after downing a couple of drinks at a restaurant? Or get frustrated when you can’t find affordable grub near the Eiffel Tower? Chances are, well, you just didn’t find the right places to go. Or know the rules. Don’t be put off- Paris can be affordable, and often in the most unexpected arrondissements. So stop trying to sweet-talk your way through with the waiter. Just take the bill, pay and don’t look back. Unless the waiter/waitress is breathtakingly cute and somehow asked you for your phone number.
Mind you, I’m no expert, but after living in Paris as a stagiare for almost 2 years and living on a pittance, one is bound to know a thing or two about hanging out in the city with 5 €(fine, make that 10) in your pocket.
Here’s a few tips on how to live cheap (whether for a day, a week, or more) in Paris.
We all know how the French (and francophiles alike) are obsessed with their daily Joe. The rule of thumb is obviously trying out coffee in a Parisian cafe. The most important thing, however, is to know where you stand in a bar. If you are that short on cash and still want that Parisian-cafe-experience, drink your coffee au bar. Going straight up to where the bartender/barista/owner is and drinking your coffee there can save you anywhere between 50 cents to 2€. Often there are stools at the bar- and no Parisian dozes off into space at their coffee like people at Starbucks do, anyway. Stay more than 20 minutes at the bar and er…well, pay up is your option. Call me a know-it-all, but I’m the only person I know who’s stayed more than 20 au bar (because I am terribly, terribly cheap).
Second thing to keep in mind: call. it. right. Ask for your coffee the way a Parisian would. I haven’t seen anyone getting ripped off because of lacking access to this lexicon, but I have certainly seen the quality of their cafe decrease as a result (indicator: amount of chocolate sprinkle or whipped cream on a cafe viennois. Very scientific). Don’t ask for an espresso unless you want to buy a Nescafe machine, for god’s sake. That cup of magic black brew is a cafe. A macciato is a noisette. A latte is a creme. And cappucino is well, a cappucino. If you want a latte with lots of whipped cream on it? It’s not creme avec…er, creme, but a cafe viennois. And a carafe (jug) or a verre d’eau should come for free with every coffee. You might need to ask for it, but every Parisian restaurant should serve tap water for FREE, coffee or no coffee with the order.
If grabbing a cafe and people-watch on a terrace in Saint Germain is your thing, be reminded that it IS an expensive area of Paris. If you insist on going to Les deux magots for your cup, a cappucino there is probably 5€. A salade probably at 15. So make sure you got bills in your pocket. Some restos (that’s right, they call ‘em resto!) don’t take credit card if your bill is too small. There are other options, too. Take a walk around the area. From the exit of metro Saint-Germain de Pres, Near the Cathedral and the rue de Rennes there are quite a few cute bars. Hop in during happy hour and you might be pleasantly surprised. The true finds, however, lies near the Academie Nationale de Medecine and the Ecole des beaux arts. You’ll be happy to find a 1.2€ espresso (“Café”) in the bar aux deux academie; or, a 1.50 € machiatto (“noisette”) in a cute little bar on the corner of rue des beaux-arts. And there are few others like them, too. There’s a secret joy to be surrounded by students and researchers from the ENA or the Academie while stealing a peek at the cute guy scribbling in his sketchbook on the stool next to you. Yes, I am that shallow.
And on your way to get there, don’t forget to hop in Ladurée- the French landmark of dessert heaven. Go to this location to buy macaroons and you’ll skip the line at their store on the Champs Elysée.
The best thing about hanging out in the Saint-Germain area, however, is having a picnic on the Pont des arts. A wooden bridge normally filled by young people and beer-sellers, it is the best place for a relaxing picnic, a read, or a short break- all for free- while enjoying a magnificent view over the Seine River and the Rive gauche of Paris. Keep in mind, however, that there are no supermarkets near the Pont des Arts, so go with a sandwich (better yet, bread and cheese and wine) to enjoy a lovely evening before ka-chingin’ it in the Parisian night life.
Let’s continue with beer, grub, sandwiches, fromage and everything in between in our next encounter. Mais oui.