What Paris is Really Like!
I just travelled to Paris for the first time. Even though the buildings and monuments are really nice to see let me tell you what my actual experience was like.
I got scammed the minute I got off the Thalys train trying to buy a ticket. The hotel was good, but the service was lousy. There are tourists EVERYWHERE even in the week!!!! I think Paris is one of the the most travelled cities. Tourists are constantly in your face with their annoying buggies with children, and cameras!
Most of the French smoke, and I swear I could not find ONE single non-smoking section anywhere unless it was on the street or by the toilettes/kitchen, and even then the table next to me had a smoker attached to it!
The tourist bits are great, but the awareness of pick pockets, and scam artists spoil it all. There are thugs on the street after dark, and it's not safe to take a stroll.
The metro plays host to Gangs, and make-shift musicians on the train begging for euros after playing you a little ditty that sounds crap even if it's a minute or two long.
Everything is so expensive because it's near all the tourist attractions. You're better off going to a supermarket like G20 and buying a sandwich and coke for a fraction of the price.
Besides all the millions of smokers, I had never seen so much dog Poo in my life!
Hardly anyone speaks English, though you'd think they'd learn the language as 90% of the tourists are English. And let’s face it! We fuel their economy! It's not like croissants and Siggies are the only commodity needed to keep them afloat!
Paris and its surrounding areas are not very clean, and quite dirty. Then of course there is the ever present sewage smell that fills your senses on the Metro underground since the sewage line runs under the city. Oooohh yes.. it's charming!
Most Romantic city in the world... I think not! Go to Belgium if you want romance - you'll be safer and it won't cost you a bomb! Having a cheap sandwhich under a tree whilst the sun set... no smokers near by, or any children wailing about something! Just nice for a minute it was. Din't last though.
Sous le ciel de Paris... (Under Paris skies)...
Paris is a city of smokers - restaurants, cafes, railroad stations, internet cafes, cinema lobbies, you name it, people will be puffing away.
Yes, your clothes will smell of smoke in some places; yes, people at the next table will light up the minute your food arrives. Some places will have a "zone non-fumeurs" but that's few and far between. I've been a smoker and a non-smoker in Paris, and the cigarette smoke to me is still part of the charm of the city. (Yes, fumer tue...I know the facts, but preach all you want. Paris sizzles....and Paris smokes.) 2007 update, or should I start by saying "the forecast for hell is falling temperatures and probability of significant snowfall." After just returning from Paris, I not only found non-smoking restaurants, but found out the no-smoking laws that NY, California, Ireland now have in place...are coming to France later in 2007.
So give a Gaullic shoulder shrug, roll your eyes, or shake your head and say "incroyable," but I've seen the sign of the times, and it's "Zone Non-Fumeurs."
First metro rides...
OK... I said earlier that I hadn't dreamt of anything Parisian. Now, I remember I had dreamt of the metro rides. I imagined it... Imagination triggered by the tales, explanations adults gave.
I was expecting the first metro rides. For Tana, my home and birthcity, not having any metro system, I'd never ridden any metro... By the way, except for the flights, these were the first times in my life I used public transportations. In fact, I've never used public transportations in Madagascar, except planes and two taxi-brousse rides in 1986.
Then, it was with excitement that I took those metro rides... In some stations, there were those machines where to find your way. Passengers just had to push on a button with the station they are heading to... then the whole ride (connection included) was on display on an electronic map... I was very interested in pushing the button, kind of kinetic type of person... :)
I also noticed that the metro was not that young. I liked the sound of the door opening. Like a metallic door opening sound the younger & more modern Brussels metro cannot produce. For who coming from a country without any underground system, this is something to experience.
In fact, I was impressed. How could a kid imagine being able to circulate below pavement surface ? During some of those rides, I was imagining the worst: that soil would fall on the metro trains.. and that passengers would die suffocating.
Since I've never had similar events occuring, it became obvious that I liked this way of travelling. Nowadays [author's notice: in Brussels since this tip was written while still living in Brussels], metro is my best transportation means in Brussels. Quick, underground, no traffic jam... In Paris, I have to say it, metro stations & corridors stink. Don't know why (well, I know, I saw people peeing in the corridors: bums and non-bums alike)... so do some stations in Brussels but you really have to choose them to experience the smell.
Also, I have a memory of Châtelet station, because there is this long "tapis roulant" there. Very long for me... and fun to "ride". Strange enough, I was not the only kid to like this station.
Some other metro scenes kept engramed in my mind: the sight of clandestine vendors in metro stations. They used to sell flowers, some plastic toys. As soon as when cops got close, I saw all of this vanishing in thin air ... that was impressive.
People in glass houses...
Yes, I had a bad experience (read my sports tips) with people some people in Paris. It was pretty crappy, but you know what, that was a few people out of a whole country and I'm not going to condemn the city of Paris because of the actions of two.
People are the same no matter where you go. Some are nice and some are not. Please get over the stereotype that Parisians are rude or snotty. And don't encourage the stereotype by approaching a local with a chip on your shoulder.
Look, before you go to any country where the main language is something other than English you should take it upon yourself to learn 4 or 5 simple phrases. It's not to appease the locals, but to help you along on your trip. Learn to say Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You, and for christ's sake, learn how to ask for help. This is for your benefit, but it also makes local people happy to see that you are trying to speak the local language. This will make for helpful and pleasant interactions.
Finally, the only reason I was able to go to Paris at all was because of the generosity of a Parisian. I was introduced to a girl from Paris through a friend and she invited me to come and stay in Paris with her in her apartment. That's some pretty incredible hospitality from someone who only spent a few days with myself and our mutual friend in the states. I stayed with her and she took time off of work and school to show me around her city. It was a huge demonstration of hospitality on her part and that's something I can probably never repay her for.
Batteries cost a ton
Bring a jacket....we figured it would be nice so we just brought light jackets or a sweatshirt and ended up freezing...especially at the top of the eiffel tower. Batteries are like 5 euro for 4 so make sure you have some extra..I of course ran out and had to buy some.