When I was a little girl one of the most anticipated events of the holiday season was the unveiling of the store windows at the largest department store in downtown Portland, Meier & Frank. It was a big event for us, one that we dressed up for and looked forward to for weeks before Christmas. The windows were animated with familiar holiday figures and there was no problem in those day about depicting the religious significance of the season. We slowly walked around the entire block and discussed the merits of each and every window. My parents and grandparents then took us to lunch at the tea room on the top floor of this beautiful department store. Toyland was there along with Santa and Mrs. Claus and after lunch we always rode the little train that circled the entire floor. I can’t think of an experience today in my city that could equal the wonder and awe of our day downtown. But I’m not six years now old either so that probably makes a difference.
I’ve never gotten over my love of looking at beautifully decked out store windows at holiday time, and one of the best places to indulge this passion is in Paris. From tiny boutiques on winding cobble stoned streets to some of the largest department stores in the world, Paris is a shopoholic’s dream. The French phrase for window shopping “faire du leche-vitrines” translates to “licking the windows,” and even if you don’t live to shop, I guarantee that you’ll be entranced by the wonderful displays.
I had no problem licking windows at one of my favorites stops in Paris, Laduree. Their windows are beautiful. The French phrase for window shopping takes on a whole new meaning when one is browsing the windows of the many patisseries in Paris.
A note about macarons: Don’t confuse the French macarons—two delicate dome-shaped meringue cookies with a flavor-infused cream or ganache between the cookies—with the macaroon (double o) —a dense cookie made with coconut or almond paste. They are completely different.
Rick Steves, in his Paris guidebooks, comments that window shopping, or window licking, is an important part of French culture and he offers some etiquette tips for a successful shopping experience.
Before you enter a Parisian store, remember the following points:
- In small stores, always greet the clerk by saying “Bonjour” plus their title (Madame, Mademoiselle, or Monsieur) and say “Au revoir, Madame/Mademoiselle/Monsieur” when leaving.
- The customer is not always right. In fact, figure the clerk is doing you a favor by waiting on you.
- Except for in department stores, it’s not normal for the customer to handle clothing. Ask first.
- Forget returns (and don’t count on exchanges).
- Saturday afternoons are busiest.
- Observe French shoppers. Then imitate.
- Don’t feel obliged to buy.
Keep these suggestions in mind if you have the opportunity to shop in Paris. I don’t speak French and have always found the French to be very kind and helpful. Window shopping and stopping for a glass of wine or a cold drink in one of Paris’s many cafes is a wonderful experience and one I look forward to again soon.