The Art of French Window Licking


Boulevard Haussmann Printemps Paris

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.


Laduree on Champs-Elysees

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.


Macaron beautifully displayed in Laduree's window

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.


Photos courtesy of Bonjour Romance

Printemps Department Store

Printemps Department Store

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 (MadameMademoiselle, 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.



  1. Pondside says

    What a magical little interlude this has been. I’ve never tried one of those delicious looking macarons, but have seen them all over Blogdom – I can only imagine!
    When we lived in Germany, one of the nicest things to do on a Sunday afternoon, after lunch, was to walk through town to look at the shop windows. The shopkeepers took great care to dress the windows – and the doorways – of the shops, sometimes with vignettes, to tempt the window shoppers.
    Loved your suggestions for shopping in Paris!

  2. says

    I almost put your post on “hold” while I donned my little red velvet coat (ha!), white furry hat and matching muff so I could, once again, enjoy the experience as the child I once was. My hometown offered three magical stores–Miller & Rhodes, Heironimus and Pughs. Then we enjoyed Marshall Fields for many years. Sweet memories!

    Bonnie recently posted..Charleston News and Courier-December 3, 1986My Profile

  3. Lynn says

    I love the thought of “licking the windows” by window shopping. I remember as a child the great window dressing that we used to see when we would go to the city near us; especially at Christmas. Thanks for sharing this Cathy.

  4. says

    Having lived in France for almost a gazillion years, I can easily say that I miss Christmas holidays in the States. Nothing beats the Americans for decorating and except for the two huge department stores (Printemps and Galleries Lafayette) there is little going on in the way of decorating. Many shops do decorate and always so beautifully and elegantly, but there is nothing like the gaudy, over-the-top decorating like the Americans do it and I sooo love and miss it. But I do love window shopping in France.
    Jamie recently posted..FRANGIPANE ÉCLAIRSMy Profile

  5. says

    Paris is really one of a kind. Go outside of the city, especially in the countryside and one no longer feels like xmas is coming up. For pure celebration, go to Paris, for xmas diner France remains the world’s capital of gourmet food.

  6. says

    When I was a little girl, living in Dallas, we did the same thing. Going downtown to Neiman Marcus, Sangers, other big department stores with their windows all decked out to delight every child’s eye that saw them. So pretty and so exciting.
    Thanks for reminding me of a great memory of my childhood. :))
    bj recently posted..THE GINGERBREAD MAN ♥My Profile

  7. says

    gosh, what a wonderful experience, such BEAUTIFUL displays! great tips. it’s so important to get to know what kind of culture you are entering before diving in. every region plays by different rules.
    teresa recently posted..Turkey Fried RiceMy Profile

  8. says

    Wonderful memories of a magical time for you. I remember as a kid going into Boston to look at Macy’s windows which were also animated and it was a special time for us as well. I did go to Paris but I was much younger and did not appreciate things like those beautiful window displays you have shown. I would love to go back now because I would definitely immerse myself in licking those beautiful scenes:)
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  9. says

    I have been to Fance but never been to Paris. Les vitrines sont tellement belles. You surely have beautiful memories and that what life is all about. Really enjoyed reading you.

  10. says

    Oh, Cathy, I love the phrase too! I definitely was guilty of licking the windows of the patisseries and the chocolate shops! I would love to try it at Christmas time. I imagine it is as wonderful as NYC!
    How fun to read the etiquette. We did well in Paris too and felt everyone was so kind but I have many friends who didn’t have the same experience.
    Jacqueline recently posted..Gingerbread House CakesMy Profile

  11. says

    What wonderful photos, Cathy! I’ve never been to Paris. I have to admit I’m slightly intimidated by it, as I do not speak French, but I do hope to visit one day! I think no matter where one travels good manners and a smile will make everyone be friendly. Learning customs and culture before hand helps, too, so these are valuable tips!
    Pat recently posted..It Smells Like Christmas!My Profile

  12. says

    I think I would have a hard time with those rules! No one does me a favor taking my money, LOL!
    Last year at this time my son was in Paris on business. He was at a dinner meeting at a very fancy restaurant. He gave his coat to the cloak room girl and when he returned for it, it had been stolen. The restaurant called the police, and the police said he was a stupid American not to keep his coat with him. I guess that is something else they do differently there. So he had no coat, and it was snowing, a rarity. Maybe that is why someone stole his brand new coat.
    Kathleen recently posted..Something New~Something OldMy Profile

  13. Jacquie says

    Your post brought back such wonderful memories. I grew up in Portland in the 1960’s and I too, LOVED the window displays at Meier & Frank, as well as toy land, santa and the monorail on the top floor. It was magical to us! Thanks for posting a “blast from the past”!


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