“Are Parisians Really That Rude?” “Is Paris Expensive?” And Other Legitimate Questions About Paris

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Even though I was born and raised in France and despite having travelled to Paris dozens of times, I had a few unanswered questions before our trip to the French capital. It had been a while since our last visit and I haven’t had the chance to be an eager tourist in Paris that often.

My French friends in Ottawa were as clueless as me. “It may have changed…” was the motto. So, this is what I discovered after a few days in Paris—just keep in mind my own experience is very anecdotal!

“Is Paris expensive?”

Renting an apartment is both expensive and difficult, buying real estate is a goal even well-paid professionals can’t achieve. In such tight market, a large chunk of a trip-to-Paris budget is devoted to temporary accommodation—hostels, hotels, short-term rentals, etc. We ended up booking with Expedia. Most apartments on Airbnb were in the same price range, sometime with added cleaning fees and many with questionable reviews.

Other than that, we visited Paris on the cheap—we grabbed food from bakeries and supermarkets, we took the express train from the airport and the subway within Paris, we didn’t buy anything and the only paid attraction we did was the Grande roue.

Our hotel room was small but renovated and super clean, it’s probably the most comfortable stay in Paris I’ve ever had—and a functional place does make a difference, because…

“Is Paris dirty?”

“Dirtiness” is a very subjective concept, but there are cities where I’m desperate to take a shower at the end of the day—Valparaíso feels dirtier than Santiago, Rio feels dirtier than Floripa, Hong Kong feels dirtier than Beijing and yes, Paris feels dirtier than Nantes.

The lack of clean, public bathrooms doesn’t help—if only I could wash my hands properly once in a while when I’m out and about all day! But French are super weird with bathrooms, it’s like they never feel the urge to pee or poo. Malls or chain restaurants don’t always public bathrooms and when they do, you may need a code, you can be asked to pay a fee and good luck finding soap and toilet paper.

Bring hand sanitizer, do expect dirty sidewalks in some districts and plan your bathroom/hand-washing breaks strategically.

“Is Paris safe?”

One day, I’ll dress like a madame or a respectable 36-year-old woman but for now I wear jeans and t-shirts or shorts and cropped tops—perk of being a freelancer, I don’t have a dress code. I’ve never had major issues so far anywhere in the world, but I wondered if I’d be okay in Paris given the alarming reports of street harassment on social media. I’m happy to report it was just fine and that I didn’t stand out. Parisians are stylish but they show skin as well when it’s hot.

On another note, I didn’t find people super paranoid about terrorism. It’s only been four years since the last two major attacks after all, but Parisians still take the subway, gather in public places, party, etc. I only saw extra security around the Palais de l’Élysée (police forces, blocked streets, etc.) and the Eiffel Tower (with the new bulletproof wall).

The biggest safety threat I’ve seen? People riding these damn electric scooters on the sidewalk!

“Are Parisians rude?”

There are dozens of jokes about rude Parisian waiters on international travel forums, and even the rest of France doesn’t find Parisians a happy, welcoming bunch.

French can look rude to foreigners because they don’t smile politely and customer service is… ahem, not exactly a priority. That said, it’s often a cultural misunderstanding. French people don’t do small talks with strangers but they are loyal to their relatives and friends. They are also used to Kafkaesque red-tape issues North Americans, for instance, wouldn’t tolerate (“I’m gonna sue!”).

I was pleasantly surprised this time. I found the atmosphere pretty relaxed in Paris, probably because it’s hard to be in a bad mood on a sunny week of July just after Bastille Day and also possibly because there were more tourists than locals. Still, I met plenty of very friendly Parisians—they don’t all hate foreigners who mispronounced subway stations and street names.

“Is Paris gimmicky and full of tourists?”

You probably won’t eat the best meal of your life in the Latin Quarter or Montmartre and chances are, someone will photobomb your first few shots of the Eiffel Tower. Oh, and if you want to buy a Vuitton bag, well good luck beating rich Chinese tourists to the latest model.

Predictably, very popular spots like the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-cœur and several bridges across the Seine River are crowded. It’s actually funny to see some cultures seem to favour specific landmarks—Russians on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Chinese around the Arc de Triomphe and at Lafayette Haussman, British along the Seine River and Italians at the Louvre Museum.

It’s hard to go completely “off the beaten track” in Paris—it’s pretty compact, after all—but it’s easy to escape to less sought-after areas. Similarly, if you want a more “French experience,” avoid restaurants right around a landmark. They are hundreds of cheaper, better and quieter eateries in Paris.

Also, if you really hate crowds, note many spots in Paris are just busy hubs—Les Halles, the big train stations, etc.

Four final tips

  • The hotel room was our largest expense. Food was cheap enough, we grabbed snacks and dinner from bakeries (sandwiches, savoury pies, etc.). There are also plenty of “city” (i.e. smaller) version of the main supermarket chains where you can buy bread, salads and simple meals to eat cold or to warm up.
  • The Grande roue was a great splurge to see Paris from the top. If you want to avoid the lineups at the Eiffel Tower and simply want to see Paris from above, consider it!
  • Skip the subway, walk. Not only you will save money but you will probably discover spots you would have missed riding the métro from point A to point B.
  • Beware summer construction delays! Subway service can be suspended for weeks on some lines and access can be difficult. In such cases, look for the (free!) shuttle bus replacing subway service.
Latin Quarter, a lady complaining about someone riding a foot scooter on a sidewalk

Latin Quarter, a lady complaining about someone riding a foot scooter on a sidewalk

Buskers and the police on the side of Notre-Dame, Paris

Buskers and the police on the side of Notre-Dame, Paris

Monk inside the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Paris

Monk inside the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Paris

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Place Vendôme, Paris

Place Vendôme, Paris

Place Vendôme, Paris

Place Vendôme, Paris

Saint Germain Des Prés, Paris

Saint Germain Des Prés, Paris

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

Saint Germain Des Prés, Paris

Saint Germain Des Prés, Paris

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. Vive la France! I felt so free and happy there even with my crappy French and can’t wait to visit again. Can you see I have stars in my eyes for your birth place?

    • I see the Eiffel Tower-shaped stars in your eyes! 😉

      France is a cool place to visit. Living there is another story… much like many, many places!

  2. Former Parisian here (I’ve been in Montreal for ten years, but still go back a lot since my family lives there). This is great advice. Another suggestion is to consider taking the bus instead of the subway. There are so many bus lines and they are pretty easy to navigate (main attractions connected by a line are listed on the side of the bus, and all stops are announced). It’s more relaxed than the subway and you get to see the city while sitting down (unless it’s rush hour). Tickets can be purchased directly on the bus for 2 euros.
    And I swear we can be nice! Paris is crowded and it can be overwhelming so people care about their “bubble” in a way that is very alien to my friendly Canadian husband. But underneath that we are just normal people, I promise.

    • I always pick the subway over the bus because it seems more straightforward but I’ll keep that in mind! Bus services seem cryptic at first (not just in Paris, anywhere!) but after all, you do get to see where you’re going…

      I do find Parisians pretty normal overall 😉 Nantes is close enough (only two hours by train), we never developed strong anti-Paris feeling 😆

      Were you born and raised in Paris or did you live there as an adult?

      • Nope, born and raised! (well, I was technically born in a close suburb because my parents couldn’t afford a place in the city proper until I was about 2.) I left at 19 to study in Canada. I really love it though – I’m not one of those people who wanted to escape at all costs, I just kind of happen to meet someone and stay in Montreal.

        • Oh, you’re my soulmate! Like you, for me moving to Canada kind of “just happened”. I didn’t want to stay in France (not because I hated it, mostly because I wanted to see the world) and I ended up staying in Canada because of Feng and because I could become a permanent resident (i.e. have a legal status in Canada).

  3. There are plenty of fabulous restaurants in the Latin Quarter and Montmartre. You just need to leave the tourist areas.

    • I agree! I just accept that I don’t know where to go and I’ve had enough terrible food experiences in Paris to admit it 😆

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