Three months into my life in Paris, and I’m still constantly surprised by how different Parisian life is to what you see in tourist brochures. Whilst I didn’t exactly believe everyone would wear onions round their necks, a lot of expectations have turned out to be mere clichés. So, what is true of Paris? And what’s plain faux?
“Parisians are rude and arrogant”
It wouldn’t be over-exaggerating to say the Parisians are hated: they’re depicted as self-centred characters who rush around getting irritated by everything they see. Now I’m not completely denying this, I won’t pretend I wasn’t once scolded for carrying a suitcase in a train station…
But over the last three months I’ve been blown away by how KIND everyone is! Having the door held open for me on the metro, receiving free snacks in bars, and being wished a ‘wonderful’ day are strangely frequent occurrences. The Parisians are always ready to help you out, you just have to return the favour! Expect them to be rude and moody, and blimey they will be… but give them a smile and thank them for their little gestures, and they’ll spend five minutes explaining “no no, it’s me who should thank you” or “please, have a great day”.
“The best monument in Paris”
You either just thought of the Eiffel Tower, or you’re lying. It’s true the Eiffel Tower is pretty damn impressive; catch it after sunset, and (spoiler alert) every hour it displays a sparkly light show that’ll take your breath away. But I really don’t recommend the experience of climbing the tower: a minimum of two hours waiting to pass security checks; a choice of endless steps to climb or a lift crammed full of tourists; and a view from the top hindered by wired fencing. It’s not the magical experience tourist guides make it out to be.
The Montparnasse Tower. Whilst from the bottom the tower resembles an ugly skyscraper, the top of the tower offers the best view of Paris.
Pay half the price, wait a fraction of the time, have a lift to yourself, and enjoy an unhindered 360 panorama of the city, including an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower (a view ‘La Tour Eiffel’ herself couldn’t possibly offer!!)
“Parisian chic: berets and stripy shirts”
This HAS to be an untrue stereotype, right? I’m not sure whether it’s intentional, but the Parisians really DO love pairing their maroon or mustard chinos with one of the few hundred striped t-shirts they must have in their wardrobes. And when the weather gets cold? Obviously, they throw on a beret. It’s perfectly normal to walk the streets wearing a beret (usually a red one) and you can find them in most accessory shops!
“Parisians take two-hour-long alcohol fuelled lunches”
In smaller towns of France, it may well be true that businesses shut down for half of the afternoon whilst workers take their time over several plates of food and bottles of wine. But in Paris, the locals barely take time away from working. Boulangeries offer “formule” lunches to eat on-the-go, and fast-food chains are becoming more and more popular. Don’t get me wrong, the Parisians LOVE their food, but unfortunately, I’ve never been allowed to abandon my office for an à-la-carte feast…
“Don’t eat out, the tourist restaurants are a rip-off”
This one couldn’t be further from the truth. The Latin Quarter of Paris is one of the most reasonably priced areas I’ve ever encountered in a big city, especially considering it’s a stone throw from the spectacular Notre Dame cathedral. The majority of restaurants offer three course meals for less than 16€, with an amazing variety of choices like duck, steak, cheeseboards, mussels, frogs-legs, onion soup… what was I saying?
If you stick to this area, there’s absolutely no need to break the bank for a lovely meal. And if you fancy treating yourself to a drink afterwards? Just a ten-minute walk over the river is the area Châtelet, full of bars offering Happy Hour all evening!
“Paris is a city of magic and beauty”
Spend just a few hours here, and I promise you’ll fall in love with the place. It’s quirky, enchanting, mysterious, charming. Whilst evidently a lot of Parisian stereotypes are outright false, this perception of the city is far from wrong. Whether you come for a six-month work placement like me, or just a weekend mini-break, Paris and all its weird and wonderful clichés certainly cannot be missed.