By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
While many essentials in Paris, like hotels and macarons, or even plastic bags and shopping carts, come with a price, other items are surprisingly free. Knowing when to ask for basic Parisian rights can be tricky, so here’s a list of a few things for which you should never have to drop a centime.
Just ask and you shall (hopefully) receive:
1. Water at meals
All meals, from the ritziest restaurant to the lowliest donor kebab, should come with a free pitcher of tap water. Even an espresso comes with a glass of room temperature hydration.
If you don’t have a pitcher when your food comes, simply ask for “une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait,” and don’t hesitate to ask for refills.
2. Bread at meals
Bread is also a staple at the table, so don’t hesitate to ask for it. In typical restaurants, mustard, salt, pepper and bread will be put on the table before you receive your meal. Of course there are many exceptions, but if you’re having a sit-down meal, asking for bread (“le pain, s’il vous plait”) will surprise no one. This is the birthplace of the baguette, after all.
Tourists hitting the streets of Paris with their guidebook maps are often disappointed by the missing streets and tiny Metro maps printed inside the cover of their books. Fortunately cartography is a big business in Paris. Metro maps, in both large and small formats, can be obtained for free at most Metro stations. (Simply ask for “un plan de Metro, s’il vous plait.”)
And the Galeries Lafayettes, one of Paris’ famed department stores, prints free city maps (“plan de Paris”) that can be found in the reception areas of most of Paris’ hotels and hostels, along with other major tourist sights.
This one’s delicate. Free samples are abundant in Paris – if you know when to ask. Many chocolate shops will offer a taste if you linger long enough, but play your cards right. If the shopkeeper can tell you’re going to buy something, he or she will have fewer qualms about offering up a sample to help you decide. And sometimes not.
When you stroll through outdoor markets, merchants are all too eager to have you taste their pineapples and mangos, so just say “Merci!” and taste away. Cheese shops will also be fairly willing to cut you a sliver if you ask to taste the difference between two choices, if you’re clearly going to purchase some fromage.
While there are many free public bathrooms that look like small space pods located throughout the city, bathrooms are also available with any purchase at a café. If you purchase a café or a Perrier at the café bar (remember, it’s cheaper at the bar than at a table), you can ask for the bathroom without worries.
Note: If the bathroom door looks like it is coin-operated, simply ask for the “jeton” (token) from the server and he or she will hand you a silver coin that will open the door.
6. ATM withdrawals (for Bank of America clients)
Free money? Well, almost. If you want to avoid paying pesky bank fees, you can withdraw without charge from the BNP Paribas bank if you have a Bank of America account. If this applies to you, you will curtail any travelers’ checks or foreign exchange fees that have troubled travelers for so many years. (Read our guide to ATM bank fees for Americans abroad.)
I’ve said it once and I’ve said it again: paying for the internet in Paris is a scam. With Paris’ public Wi-Fi program, and the various wireless networks available in cafés and McDonald’s, there is no reason to drop a dime to check your email.
For more information, read my previous post on where to find free Wi-Fi in Paris. Trust me, it still works as long as you have a smart phone or laptop.
Your favorite free things in Paris?
What other freebies have you found in the City of Light? Tell us, Cheapos, in the comments section.