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Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in Europe, France, Latest Posts | 14 comments

One coffee, two prices


Upon entering Paris by train from London, it felt like we had entered another world. Kuala Lumpur was the first country I ever visited whose primary language was not English. I remember never really noticing this fact though as most people spoke very good English. Standing on the station platform in the Paris was a different story. All around us were unfamiliar sounds and signs I could not understand. With no accommodation booked and the afternoon drawing to a close, we had to figure something out fast!

Now one thing familiar no matter where one ends up in the world is the high golden arches of the world’s biggest fast food chain, McDonald’s (or Macca’s as us Aussies say). While I’m not a huge fan, Macca’s is a great place to leech free internet, a little trick we picked up on our six month US road trip. Inside, we took out our laptop and looked up some last-minute hotel deals sites and found a quaint little hotel known as the Splendid Etoile. Now all we had to do was hail a taxi and get to the hotel located fifty meters from the Arc de Triomphe.




Finding a nearby taxi rank we got to talking to an older couple from Melbourne, Australia who informed us the French find it a little rude if you do not attempt to speak their language. We had heard similar things before arriving and this was something playing on our minds. We knew the basics: Bonjour, Merci and… nope that’s pretty much it. The rest I was planning to bluff my way through and with my ability to mimic accents from all over the world I thought I could pull it off. Let’s just say the taxi ride was a rather silent one. Until we reached our destination that is, at which point I pulled out my bank card to pay. Then, in a tirade of both English and French the driver explained he did not start the meter or something and would only accept cash. To me it was the oldest trick in a taxi driver’s book but what were we to do. He conveniently (for him) drove us one block down the road to an ATM and once paid zoomed off leaving us a little unhappy with our first interaction with the French.

Thankfully, upon entering the little hotel with its shiny gold entrance and old style furnishings the welcome was far more… welcoming. The concierge congratulated us on our poor attempt at speaking French and offered to help us with anything we may need. Upstairs in our small but stylish room studied up on our French in preparationfor our four days in Paris.

Splendid Etoile Paris


The following morning we headed to the Arc de Triomphe for some photos and while waiting for Jen to return from the hotel with her jacket I wandered down to a small restaurant and espresso bar. It was time to practice my French, what little of it I knew. Approaching the bar I said in my most believable French accent:


The woman replied with a much longer phrase than this. I nodded and carried on:

“Un espresso s’il vous plait” (meaning: one espresso please)

The woman nodded and turned to make the coffee. It had worked! Gone off without a hitch. Once she returned with the coffee I paid her the 1.20 Euro said “merci” and returned to the Arc de Triumph feeling rather proud of myself and a bit more confident with this new language, even if I had only used but a few words.


Arc de Triomphe at night, Paris


The next day, Jen and I both returned to the same place for breakfast and on the way out I approached the same coffee bar and ordered the same espresso from the same barista. Only this time I asked for my coffee in English. When the woman placed it on the counter she told me the price was 2.40 Euro to which I was shocked. As I paid I looked around wondering if I had mistaken the place, nope this was definitely the same espresso bar. As I sipped on my coffee now double the price, I noticed a handwritten list pinned to the wall next to the register. There were two price lists and what looked to be the names of drinks. The only other recognisable word which appeared was “touristo”. Could it be? A price list for tourists and one for locals? It was!

Leaving the bar I was not angry, far from it in fact. Only a day earlier I had pulled it off! I had passed as a local and the price was the proof! So whether the French find it rude if you do not attempt to speak their language or not I cannot say. But one thing I can say, is they will charge you less for your coffee if you can talk the talk.


  1. Whoa! Congratulations Ardun. You must be extremely good to learn a sentence in another language off the internet and then camouflage yourself as a local with a right accent.

    On the other hand you have just proven that double pricing is not exclusive to developing countries, which is commonly believed. No wonder it was so expensive when we visited Paris with Agness 😀

    Thanks for sharing this story!

    • Haha well it was hardly a sentence but I was happy with the result 🙂 I guess imitating my workmates all day has paid off!
      You are right about developing countries too, but I think they are even more blatant than in Paris. I loved Paris but we found it expensive too, would love to go back.
      Thanks Cez 🙂

  2. Really? Two different prices?? Haven’t noticed this last time I was in Paris… thank goodness! It would have made me angry! 😉

    • You’re lucky Miret! I didn’t find this to be the case everywhere, just this one but I have a feeling it might be the case at any places overlooking the most popular monuments etc. I was a little insulted to find the list (touisto/ locale) posted right next to the counter!

  3. The same happened to me in Rome where they cherged tourists 5.00 Euro for a cappucino…for the locals it was 1.50 Euro…pretty annoying if you consider that tourism is their major income and they just blatantly take advantage of that!

    • Five euro! That’s outrageous. I agree they shouldn’t take advantage like that. We found in most cities it is best to find the cafes off the main strip or away from the main tourist traps and noticed the prices dropped dramatically. Still, tourist prices versus locals is not cool!

  4. Way to go as passing for a local on the first day and WOW what a rip off! I’d be annoyed too….I’ll keep this story in mind when I visit Europe.

    • Yeah I was pretty pleased with myself Mei 😉 keep an eye out for it wherever you go. I’m sure it is not just europe

      • Haha yeah I remember my philosophy professor telling us about a trip that he took to china (he’s white but speaks chinese). At the great wall there was one price for tourists and one of locals…he asked in chinese why there was a difference and instead of answering they gave him the local price!

        • Haha nice story Mei thanks for sharing, I can imagine that sort of thing going on everywhere 🙂

  5. We’ve been to Paris many times and have never heard of the two price story. That’s very interesting. Our rule of thumb is to order coffee at the bar, anywhere in Europe, it’s usually half (or less) the price of ordering from a seat at a table. We learned the hard way after being charged €15 for two large coffees at a table in Rome, the frustration set in when we saw people paying €1 while drinking their espressos, standing at the bar.

    • Wow 15 Euro is steep! Thanks for sharing your story. We did notice it was a lot cheaper at the bar than sitting down. Happy travels 🙂

  6. Wow, that would have irked me, just poor hospitality if you ask me. However, that said, congratulations on passing for a local 🙂

    • Yeah it was a little annoying but I was stoked I passed for a local 🙂 Will be on the lookout for this again though

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