Get to Know Paris Guide Richard Nahem

A decade ago, Richard Nahem of Eye Prefer Paris Tours did what most only dream of: he packed his bags and moved to Paris. Not only that, he said goodbye to the world of cooking and catering and became a full-time sightseeing guide.

But Nahem doesn’t guide in just any fashion: read on to learn about his unique sightseeing guiding style, how he has adjusted to life in France, and what his favorite flavor of macaroon is. By the end, I guarantee you’ll be wanting to meet this man of endless intrigue in person.

From the name of your company I take it you prefer Paris to New York, where you lived before. Why the move?

Ever since I visited Paris for the first time in 1977 at the ripe young age of 20, I’ve dreamt of living here; I just fell head over heels in love with the city. I returned over and over again for years and years, and each time I left for New York, my desire to return to France for good was stronger. Almost three decades later, in 2005, I finally decided to make the big move. It was time to fulfill my dream, and once I sold my apartment in NYC, things got real: I was Paris-bound forever.

When did you decide to take up guiding?

In New York, I was a chef and caterer for 21 years, but with moving countries, I also decided to transition jobs; I was in the market for a complete makeover! Once I landed in Paris, I took a year off to find my footing and to decide what I ultimately wanted to do.

When my friends and family heard that I was spending my days learning the ropes of the city, they inundated me with requests for information on where to go and what to see, or requests to straight-up show them the ins and outs of Paris. With all this new-found knowledge, I started a blog, primarily to give people the inside scoop of Paris. After the blog came guiding.

What did your first tours look like?

When people would visit me in Paris, the first thing I did was show them around my neighborhood, the Marais, one of the most historic sections of Paris, but also one of the hippest areas, what with its beautiful architecture, former palaces dating back to the 1600s, fun shopping, and great food. Everybody loved my tours, and many said that even though they had been to Paris and the Marais countless times before, they had never seen the things I showed them. The message: I had a unique guiding talent that I should do something more with! 

Soon after this realization, I decided I would lead small, private tours just like the ones I did with my family and friends. I wanted my guided trips to be relaxed and informal, rather than overwhelmingly factual and generic, and I emphasized modeling them after going on Parisian explorations with an in-the-know friend, versus a know-it-all tour guide. My main goal was to point out hidden gems most people wouldn’t find on their own, like secret gardens and alleyways, and award-winning bakeries and boutiques with artisanal merchandise. I wanted to be unique, and I wanted to show people unique.

In your opinion, what makes Paris that much better than New York? Do you think you’ll ever move back?

I wouldn’t say Paris is much better than New York, it’s just different. Each city has incredible attributes, and I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in New York. That said, there is a beauty and grandeur about Paris that is unparalleled, and I have traveled extensively enough to be able to make this claim soundly. Also the food, culture, museums, and shops are in a league of their own.

What has been the biggest highlight of working for Eye Prefer Paris Tours?

Hands down the incredible and diverse people I get to meet from all over the world. In just one week, I had two women from Cape Town, a jet-set couple from New York who came on their private plane and asked me to take them shopping at the most exclusive Paris boutiques, and a family of five who live on a ranch in Wyoming! I’ve become friends with many of my “clients” over the years, and I often receive invitations to visit them wherever they may live. In fact, I have already visited some of them in New York and California.

I’m a sucker for French markets as well as the country’s age-old architecture. What are your top three things about Paris, or France in general?

Shucks, you already gave away a few of my favorite things! Others include the parks and gardens (for example, the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais Royal), as well as the fantastic museums, like my favorite, the Musee Decoratifs, that is all about design, decoration, and fashion.

Do you speak fluent French now that you’ve lived in Paris for a decade?

Surprisingly, I am not fully fluent yet; conducting my tours in English and blogging in English have held me back a little. However, I have found that watching French television and listening to French radio are good ways to absorb the language, as is reading simple things like local newspapers. I tell visitors it’s okay if you don’t speak French, but knowing just a few phrases and making the tiniest bit of an effort to speak the language helps you connect that much better with the locals. Many foreigners are intimidated by the language barrier, but they shouldn’t be; they should rest assured that many Parisians speak English, especially shop workers, waiters, hotel clerk, and those who work in cultural institutions. Just don’t assume everyone speaks English: always ask first.

At this point, do you consider yourself more Parisian or American?

I define myself as a New Yorker living in Paris. Yes, I am Parisian, but I still have my New York roots. The bottom line is that my New York ways will never leave me!

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I wake up early and do some social media for my blog (I publish Monday through Thursday every week), answer emails, do Yoga, and prepare for my morning tour, which usually starts at 10:30AM. After my morning tour that usually ends at around 1:30PM, I have lunch in a café. Later, I either write my blog for the next day, or I lead another tour. Never a dull moment.

What is the best trip you have ever lead?

I find it very rewarding to lead tours with families and children. I think my favorite tour was in 2008 when I showed around a group of 10 Girl Scouts and their troop leaders from High Point, North Carolina. They were teenagers, and for many it was their first trip to Paris; Europe even! It was such a delight to see their reactions and the smiles on their faces when I took them to all the wonders of Paris. The most fun was taking them to a pastry shop to taste their very first éclair or macaroon. Many of the girls worked part-time jobs or sold cookies for two years to save money for the trip, so they were incredibly grateful to be in France, and, in turn, they were enthusiastic about everything I took them to. Actually, I ended up contacting their local newspaper, and they ran a story about my tour and the girls’ visit to Paris. I am still good friends with the troop leader, and I lead another group of her scouts on a tour in 2012.

Have you ever had a bad guided trip? If so, why?

I have been very lucky in regards to clients, and I would say 99% have been very nice, easy going, and courteous. I wouldn’t say there have been any bad or terrible experiences, but there have been a few tours where I didn’t feel there was any chemistry, or the people just weren’t used to my style.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve ever had on a guided tour? Ever had any odd requests from clients?

As a matter of fact, yes: Leading up to his tour, one client told me his sexual preferences (in explicit detail, no less!), and he asked me where he could go to fulfill them. I also had a request from a client who was in a rock band for a pair of red patent leather shoes. Fortunately (and surprisingly), I actually knew of a place that sold them, so he merrily bought a pair, and two other funky pairs in addition.

On your St. Germain de Pres Tour, you take guests to one of Paris’s best bakeries to taste macaroons. I recall French macaroons come in spectacular flavors, like rose, pistachio, and lemon. What’s your favorite?

My favorite macaroon place is Pierre Herme in St. Germain (he also has branches in other parts of the city), and my favorite flavors are passion fruit and chocolate.

Since we all know no job is perfect, would you mind sharing some of the downfalls of guiding in Paris?

The only downfall is the weather, and only sometimes. But, like show business, the tour must always go on, even if it’s pouring rain and very cold. On wet days, I simply adjust the route to incorporate more indoors activities. The good news is, in Paris, the indoors are as much fun, if not more, as the outdoors!

As an experienced guide, can you think of any tips people should know before going on a guided tour?

I think visitors can do the mainstream touristy things on their own, and should book guided tours for more unusual things that only a local would know, like where to get the best food, where to learn about fascinating history, where to buy the best clothes, and so on. This is where food tours, neighborhood tours, shopping tours, etc. come in handy.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Tough one: there are so many places! I would have to say the Galapagos and South America, especially Buenos Aires. Also, Istanbul. When I travel, I either like visiting cities or going to exotic places that are completely different from Paris. I would love to see the wildlife and nature of the Galapagos, and I hunger for Buenos Aires because it’s considered the Paris of South America.

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