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When in Paris, Do as the Parisians Do

A staged, furnished room from Design Miami in Paris


Very recently, the annual meeting of the homeowner association took place for the building that houses one of our Paris Fractional Ownership properties. Our concierge attended on behalf of the owners, of which there are 13. They come and go from the property every two weeks as the usage changes among them.

Prior to the apartment being “fractional,” it was a short-term rental owned by Americans. When short-term rentals became illegal for secondary residences, it converted to the “mobility lease.” (A mobility lease is a lease signed between the owner of a furnished dwelling and a tenant considered as a temporary occupant [student, employee on temporary assignment or vocational training…] with a term that is for between 1 and 10 months. Renewal of a mobility lease is prohibited.)

The other owners in the building, being of upper age and having lived in this particular “bourgeois” building for many years, were opposed to such transient activity and were always complaining and rather unpleasant. During this annual meeting, they became particularly vocal about it and interrogated our concierge. She was afraid of saying anything that might stir them further and kept quiet, offering little information that would pit them against the owners.

The next day, the managing agent (“Syndic”) called me, as I am the official manager of the apartment, to fully understand the nature of the ownership of the property. I explained to him with full disclosure how a property of this kind is structured and why this is not at all equivalent to the rentals or even “time-share.” I explained the difference and why the owners would be every bit as responsible as a single-person-owned property and why and how this was perfectly legal in France (which the other owners questioned).

He made it very clear that it was not his job to make the owners “feel comfortable,” but it was his job to take care of the building, however, he did ask me to write him a simple letter that he could present to the “Conseil syndical” (board of directors) to assuage their fears about the apartment being a “revolving door” used by people who didn’t care about their home…and so I did.

The other owners in the building complained mostly about the noise these people make as they are crossing the common areas—in the entry, in the elevator and on the stairwells, and in their doorway. This is not at all surprising to us, as we know that generally Americans speak very loudly (unconsciously), are openly friendly (even wanting to knock on their neighbors’ doors to be “neighborly”) and aren’t necessarily clued-in on the “rules” of behavior expected by the French.

None of this means that our owners are being rude in any way, at least not purposefully. They are just behaving in their own default mode, as are the French. As they say: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, when in Paris, do as the Parisians do.

What that means is: learn the French “politesse” and remember that you’re an outsider in their home, so respect it.

Voltaire's comments on Ploitesse

According to Superprof  “Shyness is a form of politeness.” How unAmerican is that? In an Ipsos survey carried out for La France Mutualiste, 85% of French people believe that politeness and good manners are the most essential qualities to pass on to the younger generations. It’s been around for a long time—as far back as the Middle Ages, although disguised then as “courtesy.” Rules of manners and behavior were then accepted according to one’s status in society. Much later, the rules of politeness were mainly established by the 19th-century bourgeoisie. To set themselves apart from other social classes, the bourgeoisie began to “codify rules of behavior.”

Are you catching on here? “Codify rules of behavior!?” We’re talking about a kind of law!

As society evolved, so did the first bourgeois rules of politeness. And as society changed, new ones were created. Today, although many rules still exist and persist, the trend is more towards freeing oneself from existing social conventions and constraints…and that’s us Americans! We don’t have a history of all those rules, so how are we supposed to know what they are or how to follow them? And let’s face it, it’s not in our DNA to follow such rules, anyway.

Cover of Le Petit Prince on Politesse

Here’s what you can do to start: Learn these “magic” words before you come to France and use them many times in any sentence you utter: Bonjour, Au revoir, Merci, S’il te/vous plaît, Désolé, Pardon.

Never pass a person in the hallway or courtyard of your building without saying “bonjour.” In fact, improve on that by saying, “Bonjour, Monsieur/Bonjour, Madame” if you want to be thought of well by your neighbors. And before you part company, if you have the chance, say, “Au revoir/Bonne journée/Bonne Soirée” and they will really think even more highly of you!

But, don’t get too personal with your neighbors, either. You must also respect their privacy, which is essential. The French are very private people and may be very reluctant to share their space, or even their thoughts with you, especially if you are a stranger to them. And truth be told, the less they know about you, the better, too!

“Etranger = Danger.” Ever hear this saying? “Stranger = Danger.”

If they invite you in, then, that’s another story! But, I’ll bet if they do, they aren’t French! Ha!

And that’s just the beginning. If you’re planning on holding a party, that’s your right. And if it’s a one-off, your neighbors probably won’t hold it against you, at least if you’ve been thoughtful enough to let them know a few days in advance (with a note in the elevator, for example).

Graphic depiction of polite behaviors with one's neighbors

If you’re accustomed to long boisterous evenings, at least be polite enough to turn down the music from 10 p.m. onwards. And if a neighbor comes knocking to ask you to mute it, just do it, to avoid the police turning up to unplug your sound system (and they will!).

And btw, speaking too loudly is our American Number 1 “faux pas” in France…whether it be in the hallways or restaurants or even on the street! No one wants to hear what you have to say, and as long as the person you are with heard you, that’s all that matters. This goes for yelling at someone across the street to get their attention! Have you noticed? The French don’t do it!

When in Paris, do as the Parisians. Learn the “rules” of “politesse” before you come to France and I promise you will have a better experience. You might even make a few French friends as a result!


Design Miami came to Paris this past week (October 18-22) for the first time and set up in the Hôtel de Maisons, an 18th-century lavish mansion that was once home to several generations of the distinguished Pozzo di Borgo family, as well as celebrated fashion designer, creative director, artist and photographer Karl Lagerfeld.

the Hôtel de Maisons

The Hôtel de Maisons

Twenty-seven premier design galleries from around the globe showcased a captivating array of both historic and modern furniture, lighting fixtures, and art objects. It was tough to decide what we loved most—the furnishings, the Hôtel Particulier or the people watching. Regardless, it was all a treat, finding ourselves smiling throughout the meandering tour of it all.

Furniture art at Design Miami in Paris, France

We found too many objects we wanted to take home, but never looked at a single price tag, assuming these one-of-a-kind works of functional art would rarely be in our budgets. If you missed it this year, then be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s event…because you won’t want to miss it.

Furniture art at Design Miami in Paris, France

SPECIAL NOTE: Paris Photo is coming to Paris November 9 through 12, 2023. I will be there and writing about it, but if you love photography, this annual exhibition is not to be missed!

Logo for Paris Photo in Paris

A la prochaine…

Adrian LeedsAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

P.S. We host or speak at a number of events each year. To see what we’re up to next, please see or Events page on our website.



  1. Ann Ottanelli on October 23, 2023 at 8:37 am

    Dear ADRIAN,
    On the subject of politesse, I must somewhat reluctantly add that my experience with Parisian neighbors has been occasionally negative. The latest, a lawyer cum small offspring on the floor above mine, who rather rudely affirms his right to encourage the child to run races on uncarpented floors, to vacumn at 3 a.m.after a party, to wage vociferous battles with his partner (presumably wife) at all hours and to wear heavy boots everywhere and always in the apartment. I am too old to go on battling; I have just sold the apartment – with due warning – and retired to my hilltop home in Florence.
    I shall continue to read your interesting newsletters as a way of keeping in touch with the city that has been an integral part of my life since 1951.
    Ann F

  2. Libby Schnick on October 24, 2023 at 12:31 pm

    I am a true Francophile. I went to university in Aix, and have visited France several times in recent years following my retirement. Every time I have visited I have been appalled, embarrassed, and horrified by so many American tourists who are loud, rude, and generally oblivious to how disruptive they are wherever they happen to be.
    So Adrian, I truly appreciate your article reminding Americans how to be polite. However, I think we Americans have hit a new low when–as adults–we need to be reminded to speak softly in public places, say please and thank you, good morning, good evening, excuse me, and I’m sorry! That should have been firmly drilled into all of us by the time we were heading off to grade school!
    So, as much as I am disappointed to have to read an article about how we Americans need to mind our manners when visiting a foreign country, please keep it coming. It’s obviously something that needs to be said, over and over and over. Sigh…

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