The Paris myth

Don’t get me wrong. I like Paris, it is a great city that is well worth visiting.

However, reviews of "Paris in Love" made me realize that people have all sorts of ideas about Paris. Yes, Paris is lovely, it is wonderful, beautiful when the cherry trees are in bloom (if there are cherry trees, that is), the people are friendly, the food is gorgeous and the people have an unequalled sense of fashion. Yes, but this is so in every other city on the planet when you go to the right spot, the orchard, the right restaurant, when you are in the right frame of mind and when you are off (and preferably everybody else is, too).

I don’t know what it is about Paris that people seem to think that it is different from any other metropolitan area on Earth. I am sorry to say it is not. Not every Parisian ambles down the street to meet his friends for a Pernod and spends two minutes kissing before settling down to chat for hours. Not every Parisian gets up leisurely before slowly taking a stroll to his local boulangerie to get a delicious croissant and then go home again to enjoy his French pressed coffee and breakfast on his cast iron balcony looking over the roofs of Paris while the sun is slowly rising on the horizon, bathing the Eiffel tower in a soft light.

Instead people are just as pressed for time as in every other part of the world, they hurry to work, complain about rude waiters, get mugged and spend hours in a tunnel in a stinking subway squeezed in between cursing commuters during rush hour because some miserable sap has committed suicide on the tracks ahead. I am talking from experience.

So, yes, there are picturesque scenes in Paris, just like there are in New York, Copenhagen, Riga and Tokyo. Please, don’t give me all that stuff about Paris being the ultimate romantic lovers’ city with rose petals scattered in the streets.  It is perfectly fine to project your dreams about the perfect place into Paris and conjure it up in your head, but don’t make it sound as if this was reality. Because it is not.

Animum debes mutare, non caelum. ~Horace, and later Seneca

Just to counteract all that Paris glorification I am giving away a used copy of “A year in the merde” by Stephen Clarke today.

Sorry – the giveaway has ended.  


Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job – and finds out what the French are really like.

15 Comments Write a comment

  1. I’m not sure whether you know that I’m orginally from Paris and lived there for a long time. I think it is the most beautifuly city in the world and the only place where I feel at home BUT I really agree with you.
    I left because living there on a daily basis is a nightmare. It’s my hometown, I miss it and it is a city full of history but why every American I meet who hasn’t been in Europe thinks Paris – that’s why we come to Europe? No clue. What about Rome, Berlin, Prag… just the name a few of my favourite cities. On top of that Parisisnas do not like foreigners, they are rude and unfriendly.
    The strikes are a nightmare, the many times you wait for a métro and it doesn^t come or – the suicides indeed.
    And the aggression. Plus chaos.
    I think it is one of the most beuatiful cities if you don’t have to work, for freelancers and tourists. Not for elderly people though , mind grandmother got robbed so many times… in the end she hardly left the appartment anymore.
    Caroline’s last post ..Nina Sankovitch: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair (2011) A Memoir


    • Caroline, I knew that you were from France and am sure I have read that you were from Paris, but it slipped my mind. I’m glad you realized I didn’t intend to make Paris look bad in any way, but that I just would like to put things in perspective.
      I don’t understand either why Paris is this ultimate touristic goal for everybody. Yes, it is worth visiting, but so are dozens of other places.

      Every city is great if you don’t have work to do and can spend your days as you wish with no concerns and worries. I very much enjoyed basically every place I have ever been to BECAUSE I was on holidays. Go to Florence or Key West (or any other location) to work and live there and you will find it is a totally different place.


  2. I am going to Paris for the fourth time this July, and except Venice, it is the city I love the most. I stayed there as a tourist as well as a student who was always pressed for time, but Paris is so full of beauty that you can so easily forget about the cons that might make it less interesting. I can hardly think of any place more beautiful that a sunny day spent in Jardin de luxembourg, or sipping a coffee a cafe just outside Sacre Coeur 🙂
    Ally’s last post ..Always Jeanette


    • I am not disagreeing with you, Paris is a beautiful city. I am merely criticizing the glorification of it. And, to be honest, I could come up with lots of places where I would enjoy the time just as much. But I suppose, in that respect, we will probably have to agree to disagree, ;).


  3. I’ve never been to Paris and it doesn’t particularly appeal to me, I mean, not more than any other capital cities. I’d love to go there sometime, but I’d love at least as much to go to Lisbon or Stockholm. So, yes, I agree with you.

    In my student days, lots of couples would go and spend a weekend at Paris, it was just the thing to do. I went to Luxembourg. 🙂
    Leeswammes (Judith)’s last post ..Book Review: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu


  4. It’s interesting because I recently moved from a big city to a small town and I totally glorify the place where I came from. I think I just miss my friends and the shopping the ability to get all the ingredients I need for dinner, but there’s something mysterious about most large cities that I love. I don’t necessarily think that the city I came from IS the best place on earth, but I’ve certainly said things like that about it before!


    • I agree, large cities have something appealing. And it is also true that most of us glorify a place that they have lived at for a long time or when they were little. Nothing wrong with it.
      In books, however, a little more realism wouldn’t be a bad thing.


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