Paris! Just Another City?

Is Paris all it’s cracked up to be or is it just another city?  If you’re a fan of Sex and The City you know how much Carrie romanticized life in Paris.  She turned down flying off to Paris with Mr. Big but did, after much deliberation, accept the offer to go with Alexandre Patrovsky and Paris was in fact all she dreamed it would be, until it wasn’t.

Remember the scene in which Carrie is once again alone, walking the streets of Paris, in her $400 shoes when she steps in a fresh steamy pile of dog poop and the local men laughing at her as she tries, in vain, to wash the poop off of her shoes?  Well, my friends, let me tell you those not so lovely piles are on pretty much every sidewalk in Paris.  As explained to us by those in the know, Paris supposedly is not a dog friendly city and yet I saw them sitting next to their people in restaurants and I definitely saw the evidence on the sidewalks.  Apparently, there is a mindset among some who feel they pay taxes and those piles are what the street cleaners are paid to clean up.  We learned very quickly to pay attention to where we were walking!  So, is this the Paris of your dreams?  Maybe not, but don’t rush to any decisions just yet.

Beautiful private courtyard

Beautiful private courtyard

Not so pretty!

Not so pretty!

This is a timely and informative article about the not so pleasant topic: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/26/170321680/not-just-a-fashion-hot-spot-paris-is-also-the-capital-of-dog-mess

Paris is an enigma.  Breathtakingly beautiful, historically astounding and known as the city of lights and love, Paris also has a side that is not so pretty.  With a population of 2.2 million that swells to 16 million throughout the year, with the spring and summer tourist seasons attracting the largest crowds, there are a LOT of people and personal space is hard to find.  A dinner table in a neighborhood cafe would be classified as a cocktail table in the U.S.  Want to have a private conversation over dinner?  Stay home, unless you want to spend BIG money at a larger upscale restaurant.  And yet, the Parisians handle it beautifully.  The neighborhood cafe can seem loud and crowded but if you pay attention everyone is engaged in their own personal story and seemingly unaware of those sitting at the next table which is less than 8 inches from them.  Our best dining experiences were found at the tiniest tables in the tiniest cafes!

Charming boutique hotels

Charming boutique hotels

Homeless Hotel

Homeless hotel

Traffic in all forms moves at warp speed in Paris, whether it be foot traffic, cars, bicycles, trains, you name it, it moves fast!  If you want to stroll along the sidewalks and window shop you’d be well-advised to stay to the side or risk being bumped aside.  And while strolling the Champs Elysees stirs up all kinds of romantic images, and is far less crowded, the reality is it is an avenue of ridiculously overpriced retail venues visited only by those dressed to the 9’s whose sole purpose is to be seen.  There are 100 better ways to spend your time; such as take the super fun Fat Tire Bike Tour!

The Fat Tire Bike Tour

The Fat Tire Bike Tour

Is the stereotype of the so-called ugly American still prevalent in Paris?  I think the answer is like so many other things about Paris; not easily defined one way or the other.  We found most people we asked were willing to help point us in the right direction while others we asked just looked right through us, but don’t we all find that pretty much everywhere we go?  What we tried to do was pay attention to what the locals were doing and then follow suit.  If we weren’t sure of our next move, we just held back for a moment and watched.  For example, at the train station when we weren’t sure how to validate our tickets; we waited less than a minute and we were able to watch someone else validate their ticket.  Blending in is key to successful travel, we believe, especially if you don’t want to be “labeled” as anything.  Don’t wear a brightly colored t-shirt with the U.S. (or any nation) flag emblazoned across the front.  You can be proud of where you come from but you don’t need to put it in their faces. You are, after all, a guest in their country.  Don’t speak the language?  Talking louder and slower doesn’t make anyone understand you more, it makes you stupid.  Don’t do it.  Learn a few key phrases, say them politely and with a smile and it will glean a pleasant response.

Traveling in the off season definitely has its perks, the city is not as crowded, the locals are a bit more relaxed and one can walk in to just about any museum or historical site without standing in line.

The tomb of Napoleon

Historical site – Church built for Louis XIV, known more often as The tomb of Napoleon

When I asked someone in the know about the graffiti he said it has gotten much better.  I could argue the point

When I asked someone in the know about the graffiti and why it was everywhere, he said it has gotten much better. I could argue the point.

With no disrespect to anyone who is a smoker, Paris is…. let’s see, how can I put this nicely…. well, let’s just say the tobacco companies love Parisians.  I have never in my life seen so many people smoking and as soon as they’re done with one, they’re lighting up the next one.  And sadly, so many young people smoking like chimneys but one should not be too surprised as so many mother’s smoke while pushing their baby in the stroller, they are raising the next generation of smokers. They finish their meal and before they pay the check they have a cigarette dangling from their lips in anticipation of getting outside and lighting that cancer stick.  And they are die hard smokers, sitting outside in 30 degree weather chain smoking and as Abi says, “making love to a tiny cup of espresso.”  And, unlike in the U.S. there is no 10′ from the property law so employees and customers alike stand with one foot inside the door and one outside while they smoke and there are those who will actually light their cigarette before they’re out the door. For someone such as myself, who is highly allergic/sensitive to tobacco/smoke, it’s a pretty tough place to be as it is difficult to get away from the smoke.  Another perk of traveling in the off season (winter) is that there are less people in the cafes and I could not imagine being in Paris in the spring and summer because I believe even more people with cigarettes would be outside.

Employee/waitress, smoking just outside the door of the cafe

Employee/waitress, smoking just outside the door of the cafe

Cigarette butts on the sidewalk

Cigarette butts on the sidewalk – we suspect someone emptied some kind of cigarette receptacle, but it is an accurate reflection just the same.

Street cleaners, they have a daunting task!

Street cleaners, they have a daunting task!  I’m not sure why they’re all strolling along together.  Divide and conquer would seem to be a better approach?!

So, why write a post such as this one?  Well, here’s the thing, I love Paris!  At first I was a bit taken aback by some aspects that were less than clean, definitely.  And, I will admit I was a bit disappointed because like everyone else I had my romanticized images of Paris.  But then it dawned on us, hey, Paris is just another big city… it just happens to be Paris and you have to make it the experience you want it to be. If you want to focus on the negative, then you probably won’t enjoy the city very much.  I think it’s a lesson in keeping it real and not setting the bar so high that your destination of choice can’t possibly live up to your expectations.   It’s okay to  be a bit disappointed, as I was, and then get over it and look beyond the obvious and fall in love with Paris.  It can be incredibly romantic and at the same time historically fascinating.  I think the French should be applauded for their culture and holding on to their history.  I think the Parisians are very proud of their city and their language and it’s their city so they have every right to act as they please.  But I also think that before you leave home you should do your homework and as a guest of the city, figure out the best way to go with the flow and you’ll do great!

The village square, in Montmartre, picture perfect!

The village square, in Montmartre, picture perfect!

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12 Responses to Paris! Just Another City?

  • Hi Patti – just a note to say how much I enjoyed your trip to Paris – my facebook newsfeed just wont be the dame each day without your daily adventures and pictures of delectable croissants. Great insight into the difficulties of other cultures and those smokers, well they aren’t for me so may be paris can wait!
    Don’t beat yourself up about the language too much though – My favorite story came from an American guest, traveling in the UK, who had asked a guide with a very strong British regional accent for some information about an historic castle and as she said “I stood there saying ah Ha, Ah ha, for ten minutes and when i got back to my husband he said “Well what did he say?” and she had to reply “I haven’t the faintest idea!” but wasn’t it kind not to disillusion the guide!

    Take care an on to the next adventure Christine

    • Patti says:

      Christine ~ That is so funny because a couple of times we’d ask for directions and the kind person would rattle off directions in perfect French as if we understood every word he/she said. We would smile and nod and say, Merci, and head off in the presumed right direction. They were kind enough to answer, we weren’t about to say we didn’t understand! And there are a couple of more stories still to come, I just could not get them all written while we were in Paris!

  • Patti,

    I really enjoyed reading your recount of Paris. I’ve been to Paris three times now, and I think I’ve liked it more each time. I had similar feelings to you about it at first. When I first went there we bought the city museum pass and the pass got my friends and I to visit all kinds of tucked away neighborhoods, we got to see some of the behind the scenes life. If you have a chance to go back at the end of May or June, I think that is the best time in the city, strolling the streets hand in hand late into the night with the Tower all lit up! Thank you for sharing! Glad you had a good time. Back to Oregon now? :-)

    Maria

    • Patti says:

      Maria ~ We also bought the 6-day museum pass and made full use of it. I don’t know that we’ll return to Paris anytime soon because we were there for 3 weeks and there is always somewhere new to go, you know?! But, never say never! We are currently in Washington, D.C. visiting our son and his fiance. We fly back to Oregon on Tuesday and start the process of gearing up for the 2013 tourist season. Thanks for reading!

  • Sarah says:

    I think Paris is one of the most romanticised cities in the world, it was great to read a different perspective, to get a dose of Parisian reality. If I got the chance i’d still go but i’d be holding my breath a lot while obsessively watching where I walk.

    • Patti says:

      Thanks for reading Sarah. I wouldn’t hesitate a minute to return to Paris some day, it is a fabulous city. I just thought it would be interesting to share the other side of the story.

  • Kim says:

    I love Paris too. I don’t remember the dog poop problem but I DO remember the smoking problem. Ah, but that’s just a part of Paris I suppose.

  • Talon says:

    I keep hearing about the poo, but this was my 2nd visit there and I still only saw it once, and that was when a dog was actively engaged in leaving its mark, which, thankfully, was right next to a tree and not on the walk. How weird!

    • Patti says:

      Thanks for reading Talon! I guess it depends on where you’re walking but we saw the not so pretty piles on many a sidewalk. Too many other amazing things to focus on though! :o)

  • amy says:

    Yes, the dog poo is the worst! You get that in the UK too, but at least if you’re caught not picking up after your dog you’re fined – it seems to be an acceptable part of the culture in France to leave your dog waste in the street. From what I’ve heard about China though, they go one step further and let their toddlers do it in the street too! Love hearing about the ‘other’ side of cities – great post!

    • Patti says:

      Seriously? No?! Apparently, one does get fined in Paris if one is caught and judging by the number of piles I doubt that one gets caught too often. It’s really too bad because it is such an amazing city, but as I wrote in the post, it has its issues just like any other big city. Thanks for reading!

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