We go Inside Paris to scotch some of the myths that have built up about the city over the years.
MYTH #1: Paris is really, really expensive.
Explanation: In any city of the world, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can pay for things. Compared to most other major tourist destinations in the world, in fact, it is very possible to get by quite cheaply in Paris. Admission costs for museums and attractions are extremely reasonable, public transportation is a downright bargain and many restaurants feature attractively priced set menus. The main staples of life in Paris are plentiful and cheap: baguettes, wine, cheese, fruit, and patisserie desserts. Where expenses can add up is having lots of drinks in cafés and bars. But since the café culture is one of the great pleasures of being in Paris, our advice is to once in a while pay the price, sit back and watch the world go by.
MYTH #2: Paris is not safe.
Explanation: In general, European cities are safer than North American ones, since guns, gangs, personal property/bank robberies and drugs are not as common. The most common hazard in Paris, particularly for tourists, is pick-pocketing in highly populated tourist areas. Parisian thieves are very skilled and usually you would never even know if you were ripped off until much later. They search for easy opportunities to snatch a purse, wallet or cell phone. Simply don’t provide these opportunities or make it easy to be a target, and you will be fine.
MYTH #3: Paris is a non-stop high fashion parade.
Explanation: While there are frequent sightings of funky and high fashion, Paris on the whole is a casual city and anything goes. Jeans are worn by everyone, even Galeries Lafayette sales staff! Parisians generally have a knack for looking well put-together, including being able to layer outfits in cool ways, accessorize smartly and mix colors and patterns that you may not think to blend in one outfit.
For example, in winter, Parisians can be seen on the metro and in the streets combining blacks, browns and greys and different patterns such as checks and stripes, all together. It works. The obligatory scarf is often featured in French ensembles by men, women and kids alike. Exercise wear as fashion is usually never demonstrated on the street by Parisians, so you may want to reconsider wearing your Lululemon yoga pants, exercise bra-top and running shoes there. In fact, very few Parisians exercise yet the vast majority of them are slim. They walk and take the metro stairs daily and eat well, but don’t over-eat. If they over-indulge one day, they will cut back for the next few days to compensate and balance the weight equation.
MYTH #4: It is unsafe to take the metro, especially at night.
Explanation: The Paris metro system is filled with tourists and Parisians at all hours of the day and night and is considered safe. Likewise with buses and night buses. Something to be aware of: some people try to bypass buying a metro ticket so may squeeze up against you and try to come through the turnstile with you. Usually, they just want to get through the turnstile without paying, however, this could also be a ruse to pickpocket you. Again, as noted before, keep everything close to your body with an arm or hand over your bag or don’t have a wallet in your back pocket, as it could easily be lifted.
MYTH #5: Parisians are unfriendly and rude.
Explanation: Yes, you can certainly encounter rudeness and downright unfriendliness by Parisians but it has been our experience that generally people are kind, helpful and friendly. Upon first meeting, Parisians can appear to be less casual and reserved, however this does not translate to unfriendliness. Be aware that often what you put out is what you get back, so if Parisians are approached in the right way from the beginning, chances of a more pleasant interaction increase. An attempt to speak the language goes a long way with Parisians. Always begin a conversation with ‘bonjour’, especially when entering a store. Asking immediately ‘Do you speak English?’ without a small attempt to speak French can start you off on the wrong foot. Think about it, if foreigners are constantly asking if you speak their language in a country where English is the official language, then how would that make you feel? Use your best school French and have fun with it; Parisians love to correct and help people with their admittedly difficult language!
MYTH #6: Paris operates the same as most other modern cities catering to large numbers of foreigners and tourists.
Explanation: Yes and no. On one hand, service is generally competent, however, there are often long lineups and service can be slow to downright not good. Keep in mind that Parisians still pay for groceries, pharmacy and restaurant tabs with personal checks. The bottom line: Parisians are more concerned with lifestyle than with the pursuit of commerce. Let that be your guide. Relax, have fun with this cultural difference and enjoy the less stressful pace of life.
MYTH #7: The food is weird/bad.
Explanation: As is the case everywhere in the world, you can get weird, strange or bad food in Paris. Generally speaking though, the food, ingredients, cooking techniques and presentation are of a much higher caliber in Paris, considered the culinary capital of the world. ‘Bad food’ can translate to ‘you ordered the wrong thing’ and probably a dish that your palette is not used to such as tripe, for example. Establishments almost exclusively catering to large tourist groups may not be your best dining bets. Observe the plates of patrons at cafés/restaurants and ask them what the food is like. Portions can often be surprisingly large. Generally, the French have more than one course, they eat slower and the food is of much better quality (farm-grown, less chemicals and preservatives etc.).
Eating and drinking in Paris is a divine culinary experience.
MYTH #8: Paris should be similar to how it is back home.
Explanation: It’s not, and why should it be? For some reason, visitors to Paris are particularly intolerant about differences such as laissez-faire service, less than pristine, modern washrooms, and the fact that another language is spoken (in other words, not their language). When people go to another country, they expect and accept that differences exist but for some reason, perhaps due to its leading reputation in so many areas, these things seem to not be as tolerated in Paris. The best rule of thumb to remember is that you are on another continent, in another country, where another language is spoken and where the culture and customs are different.