Advice and impressions for fellow Jews visiting Paris

By David, Petach Tikva, Israel, September 2003

This is going to be just a personal mixture of advice and impressions based on our own trip to Paris. Some will be aimed mainly at the ultra-Orthodox, some may be useful to any observant Jew, and some may be useful to anyone going to Paris.

I. Planning in Advance.
What to wear: I normally wander around Eretz Yisroel in a suit and hat, without a tie, and with my tzitzis showing. Mr. Cohen pointed out that however I walked around Paris wearing a suit during the hottest summer in years I was going to look odd, so I walked around Paris the same way. Many people, both Jews and gentiles, recognized me instantly as an Orthodox Jew, but I had no problems as a result, even the one time I walked around a poor North African neighborhood near nightfall. (I wouldn't recommend that, though; too scary. If you want to go to the flea market at St Ouen, for example, go early.) Two people did take my picture, though, one while he was riding a bicycle and one in the Louvre. I wonder if I was really the most interesting object in the Louvre at the time.

Kashrus: You will find it easier if you plan in advance what kashrus certificates you are going to accept, how you are going to handle food without a kashrus certificate, and what you are going to do about questions which have not been brought to an absolute conclusion in the halacha, such as bishul akum in certain items, or milk milked without Jewish supervision. It may be easiest to discuss these questions in advance with someone who both knows the halacha and has been in France for a while. You may also want to calculate before you book your hotel room how many beds you will need, and how you are going to solve the problems with automatic gadgets which might arise on Shabbos.

Getting there: We bought a package including our hotel stay and a charter flight. From an experience in the past, I knew that our chances of really getting the glatt meal we ordered (and which I heard the travel agent order from the package company) were small, so we brought our own food for the trip. Sure enough, we didn't get the glatt meal, though some people on the flight did. We were warned by the guidebooks that the taxi drivers from the airport would try to cheat us, and that we were better off taking one of the airport shuttles. We reserved places on one called Parishuttle. Don't make the same mistake. Among the many problems we had with them AFTER WE LANDED, they just didn't show up. After being stranded, frustrated, and trying to get hold of them for two hours, we took a taxi, asking the driver in advance how much it would cost. He quoted us a number which we had seen on one of the travel-advice sites, and was helpful and pleasant. So much for the guidebooks. For the trip to the airport on the way back, another guest in the hotel recommended someone called Mordi. (I'm afraid that we've lost his phone number, but the staff at some of the hotels might know him.) Apparently noone mentions his shuttle service because they don't have a website. Their driver was also helpful and friendly. Speaking of the drivers in both directions, we might as well talk about languages. We were warned that the French would purposely refuse to speak any language than their own, out of both nationalism and a desire to be difficult. It wasn't true. With my extremely bad French, our English and Hebrew, some Yiddish and German, and my wife's Arabic, we managed to get along everywhere in Paris without the slightest difficulty. All that one has to do to get the French to communicate in some common language, or in easy-French-for-talking-to-foreigners, is to start any conversation with a smile, a "Bonjour", and an attempt to speak to them in French.

II. Some Impressions.

Hotel, Restaurants,etc.:
We stayed at the Hotel Relais du Marais. Very friendly and helpful people. They have air conditioning, which many Paris hotels don't have. Mechanical things tend to break down, but all of Paris is like that, and the people in the hotel are helpful about finding solutions. The only problems with Shabbos involved the electronic key to our room; the gentile lady at the desk already knew about the problem, and suggested that we put our valuables in the safe and then leave the door open. They had no objections to our lighting candles in our room, and to our bringing our own milk and utensils to their breakfast room. At various times of day they know at least French, English, and Hebrew; many of the guests speak Hebrew as well. Although the hotel isn't especially well located with respect to the Jewish neighborhoods or the main artistic attractions, it is a few minutes from a major Metro station, which means that on weekdays it is very close to everything.
We ate breakfast most days at Korcarz in rue des rosiers. It is a dairy restaurant attached to a patisserie with classical French and Oriental pastries. Good food, very friendly people. In addition to French, some of the employees know English, Hebrew, and some Polish and Yiddish. Some probably know Arabic, too, but we didn't try.
We ate once at Manne in rue de Trevise. It is now dairy, and seems to specialize in pizza. Our salade nicoise was fine; large portions. Service was good; in our experience, service in Paris is always good. They seem to speak French only. We ate several times at Micky's Deli in rue des rosiers. The meat was wonderful and the portions were large. The service was also excellent. They speak French with some English, and even have a menu in English.
We ate once at the Darjeeling in rue des Colonels Renard (or something like that). This was the only restaurant we tried where the atmosphere was elegant, where you could take someone you wanted to impress, for example. The food was excellent; this was one of the few restaurants I have eaten at in the last few years where they cook better than I do. The service was also excellent. They speak French and English, and one of the waitresses seemed to speak fluent Hebrew.
We ate once at Mika Home Sushi. I thought that the food was good enough; my wife didn't. French and Hebrew; they may know English also, but we didn't try.
We bought groceries mainly at a grocery store in rue Pavee; the sign said Epices Delices, or something of the sort (It may be at 14 rue Pavee, but in any case all of rue Pavee isn't all that long.) The gentleman there was very nice, and the other customers, including many bochurs from the local yeshivas, were very helpful about local kashrus questions. The cheeses were wonderful, and the sausages were at least better than we get in Eretz Yisroel (which, of course, is not saying much).
We found Damyel chocolates to be nothing special.
The supermarket of the Monoprix next to our hotel had a very small kosher section, were we could at least find a tolerable selection of strictly kosher wine, etc.

Odds and ends: Despite what is said in our guidebook, it is not true that one can get a Carte musees & monuments at any of the larger Metro stations. You can get it only at a few of the very biggest, like the Gare Saint Lazare. Speaking of museums and monuments, the days and hours listed in various places for various exhibitions have no connection with reality. Even the official signs on the walls in the Louvre are not correct; neither is the weekly Zurban, which is otherwise excellent. If you especially want to see a certain exhibition or certain works, the only way to find out the truth is to telephone. One art site which was not mentioned in my guidebook, at least as an art site, was the complex of La Samaritaine department stores on rue Rivoli (including some which now house their competitors). They are wonderful examples of art nouveau architecture. Especially worthwhile is wandering around inside what seems to be their main store there, which one gets to by entering their men's store on rue Rivoli and going out again by the back door.
We loved our week in Paris, and are hoping to go back.

More information for Tourists and Kosher in France