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The Imperfect Beauty of Paris – What to Know before Visiting Paris

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.

The Eiffel Tower by the River Seine - Perfect Paris
The Eiffel Tower by the River Seine – Perfect Paris

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.

A Paris street
A Paris street

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.

Post it notes in French on the wall inside the Beaugrenelle Shopping Mall
Post it notes in French on the wall inside the Beaugrenelle Shopping Mall

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.

Paris Café
Paris Café

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.

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Min Min

There are different kinds of artists. Some are more focused and others are more all-encompassing. I would count myself as the art-everywhere type of artist. To me, art is a way of looking at things, of applying creativity in my life. I am a frequent traveler who truly appreciates every tiny beauty of life and have traveled extensively around the world. Different cities inspire me in different ways. My passion is Paris which I have visited more than once, living as a Parisian. I have walked big streets and small alleys in Paris, and every inch of the city has given me inspiration. When I first arrived in Paris it was as though all my senses were heightened, then as I became familiar with the city I learned to see subtleties that I missed at first.

5 thoughts on “The Imperfect Beauty of Paris – What to Know before Visiting Paris”

  1. I love this reality check post 🙂
    I totally agree on the claim that Paris is not perfect in a standard, fairy tale definition of this word – perfection of Paris lies in its sincerity – there is that feeling that nothing is fake, and if it is fake, there is some kind if irony behind it. 🙂
    Maybe this is one of the reasons why every artist in the world feels this place as its natural place to be – never-ending space of authenticity always opened for something new, different and beautiful.

  2. I love the way you present Paris because you really try to portray it as closely as possible to the reality. And yes, Paris is like any other city in the world, it means that is a city built and inhabited by humans; and just like us, imperfect, our cities are. But besides its imperfections (which actually make it even more perfect in its own way) Paris is a splendid place to be in. There you would definitely connect with a world of wonder and beauty.

  3. Romance and art are what usually comes to mind when I think of Paris. At least that’s what I thought before going there. You put it just right when you say that a girl’s mind is on cloud nine whenever they dream of going to Paris.
    I remember the first thing our guides said to us when we arrived in Paris was to watch out for our purses and wallets.
    Even with all of the beautiful art and wonders that Paris offers people nowadays don’t always have the time or patience to fulfill our expectations as tourists. Nevertheless, that didn’t diminish the sense of enchantment I felt when I was there. 🙂

  4. I always have been surprised by the success of these scammers in the streets. The ones acting like they are betting on glasses or cups and you have to bet where the ball is.
    We call that “bonto”. Don’t be fooled all the persons around them are in their “clan”.
    I wonder how the tourists can still be tricked into this. Come on!

  5. Paris is not perfect because Parisians live in it! This is crystal clear.

    But it is also why we love it! We’re not perfect, and more thant that, we (the French) have Mediterranean roots!

    The Mediterraneans have a “cool” character and way of life, being naturally more relaxed than Anglo-Saxon people for instance.

    So, some things in Paris may look “weird”, for foreigners visiting the French capital for the first time.

    At least with this article, we know what to expect: Paris is not the perfect city you might be looking for!

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