I was exposed to French culture for the first time in my early teens when I heard the song “Si la vie est cadeau” (“If Life is a Gift”) sung by Corinne Hermès, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 1983. I learnt the French language and a lot about Paris a decade later, but I didn’t set foot in Paris until another decade later and, as the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait”. Paris did not disappoint me. It was and remains my greatest passion.
There is, however, a well-known surprise called Paris Syndrome, with its symptoms experienced by first-time visitors who realize that Paris isn’t what they expected. Even though the symptoms such as derealization, depersonalization, dizziness, and sweating may sound exaggerated and only 20 out of 6 million Japanese tourists to Paris have been affected, I would believe that a decent portion of tourists who visit Paris for the first time may experience some disappointment. A vivid analogy would be that of a girl whose mind is full of fantasies of romance who eventually marries her “perfect” Prince Charming; unfortunately, there’s no perfect prince, nor perfect Paris.
If Paris is a once-in-a-lifetime destination on your bucket list, you do need to be well prepared and informed beforehand to ensure an amazing experience there, just like mine.
Is Paris Clean?
The characters of Paris are its art, history and culture, and French people are creative. For this reason, cleaning up is not a necessity but a chore that pales into insignificance when compared to their creative work.
On the other side of the planet, Japanese people are willing to spend a good 30 minutes cleaning up to happily see their job through to its conclusion. In this way they are polar opposites to French people.
This difference in character explains the reason that these two cultures have so much friction towards each other and that Japanese cities are super clean while Paris doesn’t excel in this regard.
However, Paris does take measures to clean up the city. Overall, Paris is a beautiful city as clean as any other moderately clean city in Europe; just please, please don’t expect it to be the world’s cleanest city.
Do Parisians Speak English?
In Paris, in France, people speak French, but not English. Imagine a French speaker traveling in your country who speaks French to you. How would you react? If you speak a little bit of French but definitely not fluently, you may be afraid of communicating with him. If you don’t speak French at all, you may even be irritated.
However, if the French tourist tries to speak your language, you will surely be happy to talk to him and may even start to speak some French.
The magic works the same in Paris. If you start to speak some French, Parisians will be happy to help you and even speak English to you when it’s necessary. Yet if you approach Parisians directly in English, they will probably answer “non”.
Do French people speak English? Unlike Americans, French people wouldn’t claim that they know a skill until they think that they have truly mastered it. But they do speak English.
Learn some basic French greeting phrases, and you will be fine in Paris.
Are Parisians Friendly?
In Paris, the customer is not King. We have become used to the cliché “the customer is King” so much so that we take the service for granted; we’re no longer used to not being treated like a King, and when this happens we immediately regard the service personnel as rude.
Service personnel in France silently declare by their actions that the customer is not King but an equal human being. In the French capital, The Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” applies to the service sector as well. When in Paris, do as Parisians do. Thus, Paris is a place to experience equality, its national motto, but not one to enjoy King-like Experience.
Is Paris Safe?
A gang at Promenade d'Australie in Paris deluding tourists into gambling
Just like any popular tourist destination, Paris has its expected share of crowds, tourists, traffic, queues, noises and crime. Paris is the 23rd safest city in the world, but this doesn’t mean that it’s crime-free. The most common crimes in Paris are pickpocketing and scams rather than robbery and violence. Hence, Paris is not dangerous, but while you’re in Paris, please don’t invite theft by carrying your wallet in your hip pocket or wearing a bag over your shoulder.
One of the most culturally rich and beautiful cities, Paris is testimony to the Egyptian proverb that a beautiful thing is never perfect. You may experience shock if you expect Paris to be a perfect city, like one in a fairy tale. Paris is real; Paris is gritty. Parisians are genuine, working people. Paris has its fair share of imperfection. This is actually the very reason that makes the City of Light unique and will make you more likely fall in love with it and its people—the Parisians.