When approaching the French, by all means avoid aggressiveness. Be humble, respectful and self-effacing. And be nice to everyone—the porter may have a son who is your age, and sweetness in women is highly prized in Europe. The aim is to be more polite than the natives.
Most younger Parisians speak English. However, making an effort to speak the native language is always appreciated, and helps to alleviate the image of the Ugly American. It will often gain you an entrée that other methods of striking up a conversation will not.
In a cafe, you could try: “Is the café au lait here good, or should I try something else?” (Est le café au lait ici bon, ou devrais-je essayer quelque chose d’autre?) Take advantage of the French use of food to bond with friends and strangers alike. Try the Web Bar for activities and bonding with fellow geeks.
In a museum gallery, learn enough French to say something intelligent about art, like: “What do you think about the artist’s use of light?” Be sure to work on your pronunciation: (Que pensez-vous à l’utilisation de l’artiste de lumière?)
Besides the Louvre, try the Musee d’Orsay, an abandoned railway station in disguise. The Centre Pompidou is known as the “most avant-garde building in the world.” The Cluny is the ultimate collection of medieval art.
Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone who looks approachable, especially if they are the same sex. European ideas about women traveling alone might seem old-fashioned, so think about bringing another singleton if you are female. Men need to come off as sweet and clueless.
On the other hand, many Frenchmen (and women) really like to practice their English. If you are in a café reading your International Herald Tribune and smile at a promising stranger, you may find yourself caught up in a heated political debate in no time.
Two spots that have a reputation as meeting places are Café Flore and Deux Magots. The only downside is that these two are quite pricey. If you want to go at dinnertime, remember that in France, that’s around 9 pm! You could also try a sushi bar. Between the sushi chefs yelling out the orders and greeting patrons, and diners trying to grab their choices off of the little boats, it’s easy to start up an exchange.
In early fall, take a walk through Luxembourg Gardens, and take in an early evening concert. You will be seated next to a pleasant fountain, and conversation will come naturally. Singles often pair up informally for tennis games in this park as well. If your partner invites you home for a drink, use your best judgment.
If you’re shy, embark on a walking tour. They’re listed in Pariscope guide (available at any news kiosk), and some are in English. Ride the Bateaux Mouches or a guided bus tour, and meet up with fellow single tourists who could become your dinner companions.
Americans living abroad tend to frequent readings at the Village Voice bookstore. You can also take a one-day class at WICE to rencontre like-minded English speakers. WICE is a non-profit Anglophone group that is volunteer run. Its free events include WICE World Watch, Writers on Writing and Upstairs at Duroc, which sponsors readings and special exhibits.
If you want to plan ahead a bit, consult Eventful for a listing of singles events that includes theater excursions, concerts, rencontre for drinks, boat shows and expositions. If you just can’t leave the office at home, network with other professional singles at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles or the Paris Espace Champerret.