11 Signs You Definitely Belong In Paris
You like cheese, huh?
Few cities are as divisive as Paris. For some, it’s an earthly paradise, truly living up to its reputation as the city of both love and light. For others, it’s a slight disappointment: expensive, crowded, and even slightly condescending. The easiest way to find out if you belong there is to visit, of course, but if you’d like to be sure you’re making the right decision before dropping some cash on those return flights, check out the following signs to see if the city of love will love you right back.
#1 You don’t mind sharing with others
Paris isn’t just a big city – it’s positively huge. Twelve million people – over half the population of Australia! – live within the greater Paris area, and on top of that the city receives over 22 million visitors annually. Like to imagine a little one-on-one time with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, or a moment of solitude in the Jardin des Tuileries? Nope, not going to happen. But if you get a thrill from being in a buzzing, vibrant metropolis, Paris is the place to be.
#2 You like a bit – okay, a lot – of culture
Fun fact about the Louvre: it contains over 35,000 objects. That is, by anyone’s measure, a lot of art. (For that reason alone you’re probably better off checking out the Musée d’Orsay if you’re in Paris only for a short time.) That’s before you consider the other museums in Paris, or the incredible music scene, or the must-visit monuments and cathedrals, or the haute couture studios and fashion houses, or the famed writers’ and philosophers’ haunts. If you like the arts in general, you could spend a lifetime in Paris and never get bored.
#3 … But you aren’t an architectural history buff
Bad news for lovers of architectural history and maze-like European old towns: most of Paris’s historic architecture was cleared by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, under the command of Emperor Napoléon III, in the late 19th century. There are a few remaining very old buildings, such as the Notre-Dame (commenced in 1163), but the vast majority of Paris’s grandest buildings, as beautiful as they are, are under 200-years-old. The closest thing to truly ancient architecture in Paris is the Crypte archéologique du parvis de Notre-Dame, directly below the Notre-Dame, where visitors can see excavated ruins dating back to the earliest Roman occupation of Paris. But if you like your buildings old old, better head elsewhere.
#4 You love good food and good wine
I don’t know quite what they do to make the bread so freaking amazing in Paris, but the cliché is true – Paris’s bakers are some of the best in the world, and even the average neighbourhood boulanger cranks out baguettes that are the equals to those produced by Australia’s swankiest artisanal bakers. Then there’s the produce: gorgeous, organic fresh fruit and vegetables available in every Bio C’ Bon that put the fruit and vegetables in the average Aussie supermarket to shame. You like cheese? Paris is cheese heaven, thanks to centuries of cheesemaking tradition across France and the European Union’s less intrusive regulations about the use of unpasteurised milk in cheeses. Care for a drop of wine? Thanks to lower taxes and a robust domestic market, quaffable wine starts below 5€ per bottle, and you can get some amazing drops if you splurge and buy in the double figures.
#5 … But you don’t give a damn about coffee
If there’s one area where Paris’s foodie bona fides fall far short of the mark, it’s in coffee. With a few notable exceptions, nearly every Parisian bar or coffee shop is going to serve you a cup of coffee that wouldn’t pass muster at an Australian service station. The average Parisian espresso – café or café noir to the locals – is a thin black shot that tastes like battery acid, made from crappy, over-roasted robusta beans. Don’t think about adding milk to smooth out this abomination because it will usually be UHT milk steamed near to death, which makes the average café crème – France’s analogue to the Australian flat white – drinkable only in the most dire of circumstances. It’s not all bad news, though: a handful of excellent coffee shops, most taking their cue from Australian coffee culture, are leading a slow-growing coffee renaissance.
#6 You know how to mind your manners
The French gave us the word etiquette, so it stands to reason that the average Parisian is a touch more formal than the average laidback Aussie. For example, if you’re invited to dinner, it’s a big no-no to show up in very casual dress or without a gift (and there are some tricky rules about what kind of gift to get). Politeness is even baked into the French language: ‘you’ is either vous or tu, depending on how well you know the person and whether it’s appropriate to be informal with them, and which one you choose to use will determine the way you conjugate your verbs when talking to them. If you’re a short-term visitor, don’t freak out too much about this stuff: Parisians tend to overlook etiquette shortcomings as long as you’re making an effort to fit in. On that subject …
#7 You know at least a little French
It sounds obvious, but if you’re going to spend some time in Paris, you’ll need to know a little French – at least enough to say “Je suis desolé, je ne parle pas français. Puis-je vous parler en anglais, s’il vous plaît?” [“I’m sorry, I don’t speak French. Can I talk to you in English, please?”] Most of the Parisians you encounter will speak very good English, and will be happy to do so with you – as long as you make an effort to converse in French first and show due deference to the fact that you’re not in an English-speaking country. On a related note, try not to take it personally when you work up the courage to order a beer in French and the bartender replies in English: they don’t mean to be rude, they just deal with a lot of tourists (remember, 22 million per year!) and are trying to make things as easy as possible for you.
#8 You know how to spot – and avoid – a tourist trap
With so many visitors traipsing through every year, there are more than a few tourist traps in Paris: dreary bistros serving ready-made meals, or dodgy accommodation providers relying on increased demand in the peak season. Then there are the real gems: beautiful little coffee shops and bistros serving great food and drinks at a very reasonable price to a mixed crowd of locals and tourists alike, boutique hostels, and so on. If you’re going to have a good time in Paris, you’ll need to be able to spot and avoid those tourist traps. (Menus in English are a dead giveaway.) For similar reasons, it’s worth boning up on some of the city’s most common scams before you go, because you will certainly encounter at least one of these.
#9 You like a little bit of urban grit and diversity
Because Paris is so well represented in books, film, and TV, most tourists arrive there with a romantic, and set, idea of what it’s like – which the city will then completely blow away. Expecting the charming city of whimsy depicted in Amélie? The real Pigalle neighbourhood in which the film is set contains dozens of sex shops and seedy bars. Expecting a monoculture of quintessential Frenchness? Paris is home to many immigrant communities, and the average Parisian is just as likely to munch on felafel (a favourite in the trendy Marais district) as they are on skinny loaves of bread and runny cheese. And like any city with a population in the tens of millions, it has parts that are downright dirty and ugly. The real Paris isn’t anything like the twee fantasy version from Madeline – and thank God for that.
#10 You don’t mind a little naffness
Everyone knows that Paris is cool, but the kind of cool it deals in is just a little … well, naff. The city’s unofficial mascot might as well be designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, whose work is both impeccably tasteful and a little bit daft. Or consider the cult status of Air’s Moon Safari, an album that somehow managed to make cheesy Bacharach brass cool again. Or just go check out the famed Champs-Élysées, a rather soulless temple to mindless luxury. (It’s worth going just to check out the Arc de Triomphe, though.) Paris knows that it’s très chic, which in many ways blinds it to the rich vein of cheesiness (not the smelly, tasty kind) that runs directly below its cosmopolitan surface.
#11 You possess a real sense of joie de vivre
Even for those who love it, Paris can be an infuriating city – busy, crowded, dirty, contradictory. If you’re going to get the most out of your time there, you need to possess an curious and open-hearted attitude, one that can cheerfully shrug off hours-long queues for the Louvre or the frustration of having to dodge gold-ring scammers in the Champ de Mars. If you come to Paris with a rigid mindset, you’re bound to leave disappointed. But if you’re flexible, humorous, a little street smart, and open-minded – if, in short, you possess a real sense of joie de vivre – then you’ll have an amazing time.