The truth about Paris no one tells you
Paris is known more for being the most romantic city in the world than for its urine-scented streets and dog-eat-dog metro system.
1. It’s kind of grimy
Paris is the City of Light, the fashion capital of the world and the most beautiful city on earth – and also happens to be chock full of urine-scented alleys and cobbled streets strewn with (mostly) dog feces. Not so chic, eh? Don’t worry, though, put a filter on it and the people back home will never know.
2. Everything is expensive
Apart from bread and the bottom-shelf wine at the supermarket, nothing in Paris is cheap. Sure, there are some decent happy hours and several bars with cheap beers all night long but all the other stuff – rent, conditioner, blueberries – requires a baller bank balance.
3. Finding a decent, affordable apartment is hard
To rent an apartment in Paris, you need to prove you have more than enough money to pay rent, as well as a guarantor to cover your derrière should you fall on hard times. Not only that, but landlords can be seriously picky about who they deign suitable for their minuscule and often shabby flats, with little to no natural light and a lifetime’s worth of plumbing disasters waiting to happen. Some prefer students with super rich parents, while others favour yuppie couples with a combined income that could support a family of 10. Funnily enough, no one wants a recent graduate with only a three-month internship lined up, and overdrafts in two countries. Trust me, I tried.
4. You’ll probably get mugged
You might get pickpocketed either in a classic grab-and-run incident or as a result of some elaborate distraction technique scam, like the 'lost tourist' routine. Some muggers even operate in groups, lifting their victims off the ground in order to rummage through their pockets before returning the newly wallet-less individual to the pavement which, like hangovers, is a lot funnier when it’s happening to someone else.
5. Drinking in public is completely fine
In the park, by the Seine, on a bench, on a bridge, there isn’t really anywhere that’s off limits when it comes to boozing in public. The best part about this is that when you forget to bring a corkscrew, someone drinking nearby will have one you can borrow.
6. You’ve never heard of the coolest places
Tourists don’t know anything. The best places in Paris are nowhere near the Eiffel Tower or the seven rings of hell, sorry, the Champs Elysées. Cheaper, more pleasant places include Bellville, by the canals, the parts of Montmartre that are closer to Barbès than the Sacré Coeur and anywhere in the 11th arrondissement. The beer tastes better in these areas for some reason, perhaps because it doesn’t cost upwards of EUR 6 for a half pint.
7. The metro will make you ruder
The metro is a dog-eat-dog microcosm, and only the toughest survive (get a seat). After a few weeks of trying to be polite, or diplomatic at the very least, you’ll stop caring about not annoying people. Without strictly pushing other commuters out of the way, you will start to push past them, scanning for empty seats as if your life depends on it, before nabbing the first one that comes up, even if somebody else’s backside is already poised to take it. Don’t be naive, however, because this works both ways. You’ll be shoved, trodden on and clobbered with multiple bags and umbrellas, all of which entitle you to call out the idiot who did it and create an exaggerated display of pain.
8. Not everyone speaks English
A lot of people arrive in Paris sans much in the way of the local lingo, expecting most of the city’s inhabitants to speak English. While many of them do, a lot of Parisians are reluctant to use anything but French, especially if you’re doing something important like opening a bank account. Conversely, they will respond in English if they decide your Français isn’t up to much.
9. You won’t venture beyond the 20 arrondissements very often, if at all
Central Paris, everything within le périphérique, is where all the interesting things happen. Well, that’s what you’ll start to believe anyway. As a result, you’ll rarely make it beyond the confines of the 20 arrondissements, shunning invitations to parties in the suburbs unless you can sleep over or share a taxi back to civilization with at least two other people to spread the cost.
Originally from Devon in the UK, Kathy has spent the last six years as a student, babysitter and writer in Paris, as well as a pizza connoisseur and writer-on-location for a year in New York City. She has a thing for pine trees and enjoys drinking too much coffee, especially if it’s in a really big cup. Photo credit: Angel James de Ocampo.
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