Paris is such an interesting place. I love that city! It’s super-easy to get around and aside from being perhaps the most iconic and romantic city on Earth, it’s a place you’ll walk around and occasionally get the notion that you might even like to live there one day. Aside from being filled with nostalgia, expectations of grandeur and romance, Paris, France is a lot like most other major cities. It comes with its quirks, idiosyncrasies and subtle little surprises all of which combine for some great scenarios that you’ll inevitably encounter while you travel in Paris, France.
Here are some of the most unexpected surprises I’ve encountered in Paris, France
1. The people are beautiful, but not for the reason you may think
I could not get over how beautiful the Parisians are. Everywhere I looked this natural beauty was everywhere! These people have beautiful long limbs, they’re svelte and statuesque with striking features and have beautiful dark hair and amazing accents. Then I realized something. They’re just thin and natural. Yea…not fat and fake. They look pretty much like everyone else I’ve seen in my world travels, but they’re thin and prefer their natural appearance over caking on make-up, dying their hair, excessively tanning, injecting their lips with fat and packing on excess muscle to look like a superhero or excess fat which otherwise hides the body’s naturally appealing features. It was in Paris where this worldly American first realized that all the beautiful international women I’ve known over the years weren’t as different as I had thought, it is we Americans who are different. The women, with plenty of exceptions of course, tend to be thinly built giving them a tall appearance and have long, straight and dark hair. Their clothing is not overly-revealing but fits their figures nicely so that you can see what each person’s body looks like without seeing much skin. The men are the typical “tall dark and handsome” you might have in mind. Closely trimmed beards are the norm as are their great clothing and thinly muscled physiques. It’s a beautiful city with beautiful people and they’re beautiful because they are humans who walk a lot, eat tasteful foods without overdoing it and pursue a peaceful loving existence. I love it!
2. Paris has a big immigration challenge
Every country has cultural challenges and the storybook photos you’ve seen of Paris don’t exclude France from that list. France has a great history as being a haven for immigrants throughout time. You would be hard pressed to name a prosperous modern country who did not have a rich history of immigration. What I had not expected was to have so many groups of young aggressive men trying to force their trinkets, prostitutes and drugs on me. That was a big unexpected surprise I got while traveling in Paris. I have no idea what to make of Paris’ immigration situation but having spoke with a number of Parisians over the years and as you may expect, many of them are concerned with their current state of affairs. It seems that people are immigrating from impoverished nations in Africa and the Middle East to access France’s economic advantages and their social entitlements. Many are also coming in from other European nations for work and for educational purposes. According the the Parisians I have met, they’re concerned not because people from different nations are flocking to France (that’s nothing new), but because it is their opinion that many of those people have no interest in assimilating into the current French culture, but simply intend to transplant their native beliefs and cultural expectations from their homelands right into the middle of French and Parisian culture. This is more than likely a gross generalization, but I can tell you that it is a tangible feeling that you get when you see people of different cultures interacting on the streets of Paris. The tent villages that dot the Paris landscape are not only saddening and a bit of a safety concern but also something you may not expect to see when you plan your first trip to Paris. To say the least it can make a person uncomfortable and I can honestly say that this is the most unpleasant aspect of my visits to Paris, France. In the end, pretty much everyone is just as they are in most places, eager to live well, find work and contribute. It is my observation that the challenges of immigration in Paris have more to do with inability to house, feed and find jobs for all of the immigrants than with anything else.
3. The Louvre Museum is a human traffic jam
Who hasn’t thought about visiting the iconic Louvre Museum, located in the heart of Paris, and standing in front of the Mona Lisa? Well that’s not exactly what you’re going to experience when you go to the Louvre. First of all, regardless of what famous sites you plan on visiting, you need to get the Paris Pass. Failing to do this means that you are going to pay full price to enter most facilities but that you will also have to wait in line – for hours! The Paris Pass will help you avoid high costs and long waits.
The Louvre is massive, beautiful and partially underground. It’s amazing! However, you must go there with the full understanding that you will be one of thousands of people flooding through the doors to experience this famous museum. And, if you’re from the United States where we enjoy more personal space than most cultures on the planet, you need to be prepared to have people literally pushing you aside so they can get the photograph they’re wanting to get. Many Asian cultures specifically have very high populations living in very small areas which gives these people almost no sense of personal space. I personally didn’t mind it much because I just went to people watch anyway, but I would bet some little man or woman pushed me aside at least 30 or 40 times without apology so they could take a picture of the artwork I was looking at. You have to remember, their culture is not your culture – be open to it. I’m not saying the crowding is good or bad, I am just telling you to be prepared for a major human traffic jams.
4. Everything will be under construction at some point
This is true of anything that is historic. But don’t be disappointed if you expect to get that perfect photo of Notre Dame Cathedral and show up to find it covered with scaffolding as workers perform restoration work. This happened to be in Barcelona, Mexico City, Lima, Antwerp, Cusco, Rome, Zurich, Munich, Amsterdam…everywhere! It’s going to happen, just know that and be prepared for it. I have seen so many tourists getting upset because their favorite Paris landmark was under construction when they arrived. Just take it all in and go with the flow. Paris is amazing and Paris is beautiful, but it’s also old and needs some upkeep. Be prepared for construction.
5. Taxis and the metro are super cheap and efficient
I love the taxi and metro systems in Paris! The taxi drivers are well paid and well dressed and you do not need to tip them. Getting around Paris by metro is amazing as well and there are clean, easy-to-access metro stops everywhere. I admit that the taxi experience was an unexpected surprise for me because it’s really nice to be in a major metropolitan city where the taxi speed and service is of high quality. The only time to avoid taxi transportation in Paris is during rush hour. If traffic is backed up, you’re not going anywhere very quickly so rely on the metro for the vast majority of your movements around Paris and rely on taxis for short, cheap and quick trips around the city.
6. Parisians like Americans
When you are walking down a busy Paris street and get shoulder bumped about 400 times you can take it personally or you can do as they do in Paris, keep walking. The sidewalks can be narrow and they’re packed with people who have places to go and things to do. Bumping into each other comes with the territory and it doesn’t mean anything. It means nothing! People are just getting where they need to go and there isn’t always a lot of room to move around. So bump shoulders and keep moving. That being said, I have found that Parisians tend to like Americans quite a lot. Every Parisian I have met is immensely interested in American culture, the cities (especially New York for some reason), the overall experience and the way we live. I admit that attempting to speak French before blurting out “do you speak English” is endearing to the Parisian people. Even though they’re going to tell you plainly that your French is awful and you should avoid using it, they’re usually glad you tried and will then talk with you in a friendly manner. Just push through the apparently snooty, snobbish exterior and you’ll find that people in Paris are very friendly, cordial and interesting. They’re people, they are from a different corner of the globe than you and I. It makes perfect sense that we would have untrue preconceived notions about them. Parisians and incredible!
These are the 6 most surprising things I have encountered on my trips to Paris. All-in-all, the city is amazing! The romance, the lore, the expectation, it’s all there and you get to be part of it if only for a brief moment. If you are a human being living on this amazing green and blue ball we call Earth, you owe it to yourself to breathe, eat, drink, love and laugh in Paris, France at least one time during your brief time on this planet.
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