An American's Guide to Parisian Life

Crystal Hammon

Minneapolis resident Lane Rosenthal was first smitten by Paris on a two-week vacation that came as a birthday gift from her husband. That trip led to a remarkable four years of living in Paris at irregular intervals for several weeks each year. There, the lifelong Francophile steeped herself in French culture and meandered along neighborhood streets with no particular agenda other than to notice.

When Lane wasn’t in Paris, she was thinking about how to keep it in her life. Ideas percolated until 2016, when she took stock of her life. She had helped two grown children launch their careers and provided end-of-life care for her parents. Finally, she was in a position to ask, “What is my third act?”

The answer was Paris Off Script, the company she founded to let travelers experience Paris in an intimate, convivial setting, away from throngs of tourists. Like many small businesses in the travel industry, Paris Off Script was sidelined by the pandemic in 2020. Lane rebooted in 2021 and returned to Paris in preparation for 2022, when she will once again lead groups of five people on five-day, all-exclusive explorations of the city’s hidden gems.

Well-known sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre-Dame de Paris are not on the circuit. Instead, Paris Off Script focuses on sharing sensory experiences that make travelers feel like insiders rather than tourists. “Paris is like an onion,” she says. “It has layer after layer of history, and it would take more than a lifetime to know it all. Every time I’m here, I put together more pieces of the puzzle."

Travelers who choose Paris Off Script benefit from Lane’s love of research, which uncovers obscure bits of history. Her well-honed mannerisms and language skills provide unique advantages for travelers. “When I was solidifying the concept, I had a brainstorming session with a focus group,” she says. “People told me they wanted access to real French people, to their homes and their tables. At the time I wondered how in the world I would do that, but I figured it out.”

Lane combines boots-on-the-ground experience with a vast network of Parisian friends and an insatiable curiosity, a trifecta that lifts the curtain on French culture in ways travelers seldom manage on their own. “I think a lot of people are afraid to go to outlying neighborhoods,” she says. “Maybe they just assume nothing is there.”

Paris Off Script’s clients tend to be women. “A lot of women want to travel, but they don’t want to be completely on their own,” she says. The idea of traveling in the safety of a small community is appealing. In addition to five-day excursions, Lane offers day tours, which are more likely to be mixed groups.

As her brainchild, Paris Off Script reflects Lane’s personal philosophy of travel. “In order to feel refreshed, I need to leave my daily life behind and open myself to where I am,” she says. “It’s that type of thinking and awareness that can help you capture something of the spirit of where you’ve been and incorporate that into your daily life at home. To me, that’s how the memory is kept alive—in moments.”

Paris has a creative energy that can inspire people who feel creatively blocked or hindered from moving forward on their personal journeys. “If you are looking to shake things up, or grab life by the horns rather than letting it grab you, Paris can be huge,” she says. “I don’t think everyone has to have the same transformative experience that I did for [Paris] to be meaningful.”

Every group is distinct, and because of that, each Paris Off Script tour varies. “A lot of it depends on what’s going on at the time,” Lane says. “I had a group of women from New York, and they were all very interested in fashion. Their trip overlapped with an exhibition of Christian Louboutin shoes, and I knew they would love it. That’s the kind of thing I can tailor around a group’s interests.”

On her 2021 return, Lane found Paris bustling with tourists. As with many things, Paris is a standard bearer for how to approach life during a pandemic. France has a high vaccination rate, and masking is the norm. “Even on the street, you’ll see people wearing masks, and they do it with style,” she says. “The French people are very practical. They have figured out how to live their lives with some semblance of normalcy.”

Traveling to Paris is something many Americans aim to do after they retire. Lane feels travel is too important to postpone. “People work all their lives to do one thing they want to do,” she says. “Save your shekels and find a way to do it now. You’ll never regret it.”

Learn more about Paris Off Script at


Bring your walking shoes. “You never know what you’re going to see, but you’ll almost always see something extraordinary,” Lane says. “Paris is like outdoor theatre, and you’ll miss all of that if you don’t walk.” Prior to the pandemic, the city began a concerted effort to reduce vehicular traffic. That trend has continued with a mayor who is determined to increase bike lanes. “You really can’t navigate in a van or a limo,” she says. “It’s like there’s a barrier between you and the city.”

Bring your best manners. French people are very polite. At a minimum, learn to say, “excuse me, thank you, hello, please and goodbye,” in French. If you ask for directions, greet first. Then ask questions. Turn down the volume. “Parisians are not loud,” Lane says. “Americans tend to be open, and Parisians admire that, but tone it down a little bit.”

Bring your sense of humor. In Lane’s view, travel is comparable to a wedding: something is bound to go wrong. “Leave your entitlement at home,” she says. “You’re a guest in someone’s country. You aren’t there to impose your views.”

Plan ahead. The pandemic has squelched spontaneity. “You’ll need a reservation for everything, even the free museums,” Lane says.

Put your diet on a sabbatical. “French people eat bread and dessert,” she says. “Don’t come with a list of dietary restrictions.”Dine with locals. “Americans think Parisians dine in fancy restaurants,” Lane says. “They don’t. Typical French restaurants that serve French food to French people tend to be solid rather than fancy.” If you’re in doubt about ordering, ask, “What’s good tonight?”

Dine with locals. “Americans think Parisians dine in fancy restaurants,” Lane says. “They don’t. Typical French restaurants that serve French food to French people tend to be solid rather than fancy.” If you’re in doubt about ordering, ask, “What’s good tonight?”