Friday, 9 September 2011

Myths and Facts About Paris

September is a big month for tourists in Paris. Actually, every month is big for tourists in Paris. Every day of the year, thousands of vacationers of all kinds (sneaker-backpack-combo wearing, suspicious multimillionaires travelling in matte Ferraris and of course normal people too) land in Paris with a formed idea of what this city is supposed to be. Everybody knows Paris is the city of light, the city of love, the city of fashion, the city of art... Once one is here, there are certain things that must be done and places that must be visited. It's mandatory. Period. And that doesn't just apply to tourists: many Parisians are actually foreigners who moved here motivated by the fact that Paris is the city of fashion, the city of love and so on and so on. The other day, as I gave instructions to an exhausted-looking bunch of Spanish tourists on how to go from the Galeries Lafayette to Notre Dame, I realized that, after having lived here for 4 solid years, I can give you my own version on some of the most extended myths about Paris. And I wish someone had told me all this when I first arrived here!

MYTH: Parisian women are the most stylish and sophisticated on the planet. No matter what. 2 years after we first met, my friend Vanni confessed to me when he first moved here he hoped every woman would be dressed like Marlene Dietrich in Desire. He was obviously deceived when he realized most girls are strictly Converse-jean-trenchcoat. No renard stoles, no feathered dresses, no extravagant hats. Of course there are some outstandingly stylish girls, but so are there in Stockholm, Moscow and Tokyo. It's not easy to be sophisticated in Paris: you get funny looks, men bother you on the street and you have to take off your heels, furs and bright red lips when you go to the Metro. Not practical.

FACT: Parisian girls are big on lingerie. The variety of brands, bra shapes, styles, colours and kinky accessories here is overwhelming. Your average girl will be wearing jeans and a marinière, but you can bet underneath she's wearing some hoochy coochy Chantal Thomass silk- lace lingerie. That's what I call empowerment from within.

MYTH: Parisian men are the most charming and irresistible on God's green earth. Of course there are lovely, handsome, sexy boys here, but I regret to inform that's not the norm. It's not like Alain Delon clones invade the city.

FACT: there is an exaggerated amount of perverts. When I lived behind the Moulin Rouge with my friend Anne-Claire, I used to have to ask taxi drivers to wait at the door until I was in the house. And I still managed to get bothered in the 2 metres that separated the car from the door. If anyone could tell me why this happens in Paris I would be thankful. Meanwhile, mace or a good watch dog seem like a good idea depending on what area of the city you find yourself in.

MYTH: there are bohemian little attics perfect for penniless artists all over town. Of course! If you don't mind sharing your bathroom and living in 8 square metres without a fridge and a kitchen. I don't even know why these kind of flats (called here chambres de bonne) are legal anymore. Let's face it, if you want a cute, artsy little studio you have to pay good money for it. Period.

FACT: this city has the highest ratio of amazing interiors on earth. Contrary to the Spanish, the French hardly ever draw the blinds, so if you're walking on the street at night you can see all the fabulous interiors. In my years here I have seen more sublime apartments than in my whole life. Parisians just have a great taste and enormously enjoy interior decoration.

MYTH: Montmartre is the bohemian epicentre of the city, so arty and alternative. The days of Picasso and fauviste artists are long gone. All you will see today if you go to La Butte will be hordes of crazed tourists getting their portraits done. Please, never ever set foot on Place du Tertre during daytime. Your romantic idea of Montmartre will collapse forever.

FACT: However, there are still some magical, unspoiled spots at Montmartre. Places still not discovered by mass tourism (so let's keep this strictly petit comité): in the lower part of the hill there are some great clothes shops and restaurants frequented only by the locals. If you really really want to experience 1900's Montmartre, I suggest a you go to the Lapin Agile at dusk: it was the first cabaret built in Paris and it still looks fantastic and holds a cool act of singers. No tourists go there and when you get out you can see the vineyards at midnight!

MYTH: The Moulin Rouge is the place to be. I'm sure the Moulin Rouge was a-may-zing in the times of La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec, but nowadays it's basically a very expensive clichéd attraction situated in an area filled with sex shops (the seedy kind, not the glamourous kind).

FACT: The Crazy Horse is the place to be. Situated near Avenue Montaigne, this cabaret holds a thoroughly modern and exciting burlesque act, sometimes featuring Dita Von Teese. Seriously worth it.

MYTH: What with all the parties, the nice food and the champagne, life in Paris is quite relaxed. I'll never get tired of repeating it: we don't spend our lives partying and drinking champagne! Well, maybe champagne flows more than elsewhere, but I can assure you we drink less champagne than Patsy Stone. I think.

FACT: Paris is taxi hell. I could write a whole book on taxi-related misfortunes. I'll never understand why it is so damned difficult to find a taxi here! I'm going to give you the best tip ever if you come to Paris: never expect to catch a taxi on the street. Keep the number of a taxi company on your phone so you can call at any time and get picked up wherever you are. Otherwise you might find yourself at 2 am stranded on the other side of the city for 3 or 4 hours and end up having to walk all the way home in your heels escaping from the perverts (remember your mace too- and I repeat: this is a fact).

MYTH: No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I've been once on top of the Eiffel Tower. I can't remember any mind-blowing views or unforgettable love scenes- just a "breeze" that blew my skirt over my head, endless queues and a very annoying girl dressed in pink Juicy Couture yelling in the elevator that she thought the French were like so weird and stuff.

FACT: You should visit the Tour Montparnasse. Yeah, that ugly black tall building. It's taller than the Eiffel Tower, there are no queues and... you get to see all of Paris including the Eiffel Tower instead of all of Paris including the Tour Montparnasse.

MYTH: Parisians are obsessed with chocolate and cakes. No, we don't all behave like Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and spend our days shovelling chantilly cream in.

FACT: Parisians have the most refined taste for all things good in life. It's not an obsession, just a long-established taste for gourmandises, which, in my opinion, equals a taste for happiness and life.

MYTH: Parisians are the most arrogant people in the world. Not true. They just have their own way of behaving towards strangers. Granted, a bit disconcerting (when I first came here I was astonished at how they could get super mad at you and still say mademoiselle, merci and bonne journée). But hey! You've read all the previous myths and facts: by now you can see how Parisians have to cope with a lot of stuff in their everyday lives.

FACT: Parisians make great friends. They don't become your BFF's in a day, you have to work a bit and scrape under the surface. But it's worth it! Once you've done that, you'll find Parisians are genuinely funny, lovely, caring people!


  1. I just wanted to say how much I always enjoy reading your blog. Your posts are always so well thought through and written - a real joy to come across!

    Olivia xx

  2. This post is so good!! Now I want to travel again to Paris :)

  3. Wonderful post! I haven't been to Paris in about ten years, but if I make it back, I'll be keeping these tips in mind. :)

  4. thank you for sharing the wonderful things about Paris. It's great you've cleared some of the myths. The warning against perverts is helpful. I will keep that in mind.

  5. Formas y colores muy neoplasticistas los de Prada! :D

  6. Marta, Thank you for backing me up on the cakes thing. My other blog is subtitled 'Paris is not a big pink macaron' because I am so sick of the cutesie macaron bloggers out there. One thing I noticed right away about Paris were the panhandlers and so many suspicious people at Les Halles, and Gard du Nord. Also the French love to demonstrate at the drop of a hat.


Thanks for your lovely comments.