I know it’s the strange thing to say but I don’t really like Paris all that much. It’s expensive, dirty, the traffic is mad and people on the subway look like they are about to have a nervous breakdown. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is beautiful: the French people, the quirky little shops, the gardens and gorgeous architecture everywhere you look. I must have walked over 20km in one weekend, just looking around and taking pictures. I bet shopping in Paris is also pretty amazing – if you can afford it.
What perturbed me most during my visit was the amount of sexism swamping the streets: unsavoury men goggling, making offensive comments and smiling sleazily with a salivating mouth when you dare to wear something even remotely sexy. No wonder Parisian girls all wear black and grey! On the other hand I absolutely enjoyed seeing so many men who pay attention to their style and looks. Paris must have the highest concentration of good looking men with super clean haircuts and outfits thought out down to the last button. Pure eye candy!
Walking around the streets you’d think the French only eat pastries and sandwiches as those are the most popular fast foods readily available on every corner. But it’s all a big trick for tourists; Parisians need to maintain their figures so they mostly just live off coffee and cigarettes.
Which brings me to smoking. This is another tiresome factor in Paris. At least a third of the French adult population smokes regularly and it seems they all reside in Paris. Walking around narrow streets becomes insufferable because there is always someone puffing away in front of you. Crowded streets are perilous because you never know if the rush of crowds will leave you with cigarette burns on your clothing. Going through little streets lined with pubs in the evening is nearly impossible because all the smokers are cramped outside in their toxic cloud. The worst of all is that everyone constantly throws their butts on the ground. As if they are just magically going to disappear into thin air! Knowing that cigarette butts are the #1 thing polluting our oceans this negligece really makes my blood boil.
As you may know the French have a certain reputation regarding their cultural particularities, especially relating to their attitude. And having lived in France for 5 years I am always the first person to defend them because it is indeed a misperception. But even I had to be unpleasantly confronted with several specimens who seemed to be bent on actively reinforcing this prejudice against the French as being conceited and arrogant.
I’ll give you an example. When walking around Paris I came across a few interesting galleries (and as the goal of my trip was networking I was hoping to start some conversations). In one of them the lady was on the phone with a friend as I walked in. I took my time looking at everything in great detail, waiting for her to get off the phone so I could ask some questions. Waiting and waiting. Then a well presented couple walked in [read: they looked like they had money] and to my great surprise the lady was no longer on the phone. I didn’t even hear her say “I’ll call you back” or anything, she was just suddenly available to customers. The couple left soon after, so I went to have a chat with the lady. I asked her questions about the works, about the artist and even found a friendly example of something I had in common with her. All I got in response was closed off body language and single word sentences. Basically she could not give a sh*t if I loved the works they were exhibiting or that we had both worked at the Strasbourg Art Fair because I didn’t look like someone who would actually buy anything from her and thus there was no point in talking to me.
The worst part is that this was not an isolated case, it happened several times just within the short few days I spent there. Another gallery I walked into had this really amazing painting (I even exclaimed out loud when I first sawit, which I never do!) I was about to ask the gallerist all about the artist and the painting, when I turned toward her and saw she had put her coat on and was standing next to the door clearly indicating that it was time to leave. I will always remember that beautiful painting but I’ll probably never find out who made it and thus the artist unknowingly lost a wannabe-collector. And that is just tragic.
I also came across a couple of boutiques & cafes where the shop keepers were so immersed in their conversation they couldn’t be bothered paying attention to the only customer in their shop. A little“how can I help you” would have gone a long way but I can only stand around looking at things for so long; and I am not one to interrupt a private dialogue just so I can waste some money. So I walked out scratching my head.Of course to be fair there were instances of absolutely wonderful customer service and very friendly people. Especially cute was a young soft spoken hair dresser in rue Beaurepaire who cut my fringe – he was adorable and considerate and had prison tattoos on his knuckles. Or the owner at Hank Restaurant Bio who saw my camera and notebook and thought I was a food blogger. He was extremely kind and helpful and he also makes amazingly delicious vegan burgers, which I highly recommend. So when in Paris you’ll know where to go for lunch!
Those people (as well as meeting a couple of old friends) are what really brightened up my visit. Because once you get used to (or even anaesthetised by) the beauty of a place it’s the people and personal connections that make your travel experience truly unforgettable. But this story is something to keep in mind wherever you are: positive experience and unexpected connections only happen when you are kind and take interest in others.