How to Street Signs in Paris

An exit sign at a Metro station. Photos by Theodora Brack.
An exit sign at a Metro station. Photos by Theodora Brack.

Hit the ground running in Paris! Don’t let a little language barrier trip you up, not when there is so much signage to lend a guiding hand and make your transition as smooth and exciting as a Johnny Weir solid gold triple axel!

A street sign

A street sign

1. “Sortie”

Exit signs are clearly marked by the word, “Sortie,” which can also mean “military action” or “flight.” Think about that as you fight for your turn on the escalators at the Printemps department store during sale time! (And once you get on, remember to stand on the right, pass on the left!)

2. Digital signs of the times

Most metro stations are now equipped with digital countdown clocks indicating the next two incoming trains. If the first train looks too crowded and the next is only a moment behind, it may help you decide whether to give the first a pass. (By the way, Paris is on the 24-hour clock format. 19hr = 7 PM.)

The green cross marks a Paris pharmacy.

The green cross.

3. Street smart

You’ll find the iconic blue street signs on the sides of buildings, usually at intersections. Just above the name of the street, the signs will also list the “arrondissement” (1-20) that you’re in. Often they’ll include a historical tidbit, too, about the person or event the street is named for.

4. Pharmacy signs

Pharmacies are easily recognizable by their flashing green cross signs, dressed in neon and super cool LED. In each neighborhood at least one remains open through the night (and a closed pharmacy will post a sign directing you to the nearest open pharmacy).

French pharmacists are licensed to diagnose and treat minor illnesses without doctors’ prescriptions. (Eye opener: this is also where you’ll pick up contact solution, eyedrops, and contact lens cases. Grocery stores don’t carry them.)

A happy hour sign

A happy hour sign

5. Green man walking

Always wait for the pedestrian crosswalk green man to give the signal to walk. However, note: On many of the wider streets and boulevards you’re supposed to cross in two stages, waiting for a second set of signals to indicate when it is safe to continue the rest of the way.

6. “Happy Hour” signs

Poking out of nearly every nook and cobblestoned cranny, chalkboard signs with their seductive hand-written descriptions still have a commanding presence in the city. Happy Hour specials and fixed-price set meals tempt passersby from restaurant doors, terrace tabletops, and windows. (Cheapos, the “formule” is normally the cheapest version of the fixed-price menu.)

A Morris Column

7. Banner Day

Keep your eyes peeled for banners stretched over streets announcing free concerts, festivals and “brocantes” (itinerant flea markets). Need eyeglass repairs? Look for neon spectacle-shaped signs.

8. Sign, sign everywhere a sign

You’ll find countless publicity signs for department stores, movies, and museum expositions on classic Parisian “Morris columns” (rotating cylindrical billboards) and plastered on poles, café windows and Metro station walls. Take note, Cheapos—spontaneous planning just got easier!

About the author

Theadora Brack
About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.
Posted in: Paris Planning
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Cheapo Comments

One Response to “How to Street Signs in Paris”
  • paris is heaven in europe like Friedrich Nietzsche said ‘an artist has no home in Europe except in Paris. As an artist paris appeals me a lot but still language problem some times create a lil big mess. thanks for sharing this informative knowledge about paris. these small points can help a lot to understand many daily things over there in paris.

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