May 222010
 

Some personal observations about Paris…

  • I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again: Paris is just incredibly beautiful. The city feels like one huge museum; everywhere you look there are spectacular stone sculptures or ancient monuments or ridiculously ornate buildings. To quote the Lonely Planet, Paris has all but exhausted the superlatives that can reasonably be applied to any city. Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower have been described countless times, as have the Seine and the differences between the left and right banks. But what writers have been unable to capture is the grandness and the magic of strolling along the city’s broad avenues, which lead from impressive public buildings and exceptional museums to parks, gardens, and esplanades. I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s definitely a place everyone should see at least once in their life.
  • On the other side of the coin, Paris seems to have quite a problem with homelessness. There were far more beggars than I saw in any of the preceding cities: each and every church, museum or monument had at least one woman on her knees shaking a change dish both at the entrance and exit, and a very common “scam” was for a woman in a veil to run up and ask “do you speak English?” If you say yes, they’re ready with a notecard carefully filled out with a sob story. If you say no, they immediately walk away and continue roaming about, approaching as many tourist-looking individuals as possible. Most subway stations had at least one or two homeless sleeping against a wall or by a vending machine. And perhaps the most interesting scam – which was run on me not once but twice – is to have someone just in front of you quickly bend over and pick up a gold ring, as if they’d just found it. “Whoa! How lucky you are!” you say in response to their delighted eyes. They look over it for a moment, then offer it to you with a smile. How generous of them, right? Now that they have your attention, the next line is invariably “Money for food?”
  • The Paris metro is great. It’s a bit like Tokyo’s where u can get anywhere in the city by staying inside the one system and transferring as much as necessary, except that the fare doesn’t depend on how far you need to go – anywhere within Paris, regardless of transfers, is only about a buck fifty. The only issue is that stations can be rather far apart, so unlike Tokyo where 5 minutes of walking is certain to find you a station, in Paris you actually need to know where you’re going.
  • One of my biggest issues traveling here in France has been pronunciation. Usually when in a place with a language barrier I can at least blurt out the name of a metro station or street and the local will point me in the right direction – but here I butcher the pronunciation so badly they often have no idea what I’m trying to say. Take “Jules Joffrin”, the station where I’m staying. It’s pronounced something like “Juule Joe-fraugh.” In the end I’ve resorted to typing things on my phone and just showing it to people.
  • Along the lines of language, it really is true that far fewer people in France speak English than in the rest of Western Europe. Granted it shouldn’t be their obligation to speak my language while I’m in their country – but I do think it’s a bit strange considering that so much of the rest of the world has jumped on the English bandwagon, and that nearly everyone in nearly every surrounding country is at least functionally conversational. Most – but not all – of the French youth does speak, but many many adults don’t seem to understand a word. And some actually seem to look down on you if you do speak it. Alya, the girl who invited me to her birthday party on Friday night, offered as one of her first tips: “When going into a bakery make sure you say “bonjour” and never “hello.” Even if you don’t speak French, make an effort not to just blurt out English – or you’ll be certain to get the worst croissant in the house.” Not very nice if you ask me.
  • Paris is incredibly WiFi-accessible. In fact, Europe has been incredibly WiFi-accessible. It’s something I’ve noticed in all three countries thus far – but Paris in particular seems to go above and beyond. Not only does every fastfood restaurant offer it for free, but even many outdoor public gathering places – parks, etc – have it as well. It truly is getting easier and easier to be a Digital Nomad.
  • The women in Paris aren’t nearly as attractive as I’d expected. Personally I found the Dutch to be far nicer. Maybe this is because I was unlucky to arrive in the middle of a cold streak, when people weren’t generally outdoors and those who were had bundled up to keep out the icy wind. Still, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected.
  • Someone in Paris had what I consider to be one of the best transit ideas ever: Velib. Velib is a self-service bike scheme where you pick up a bike from one roadside Velib bikerack, pedal wherever you’re going, and park it at another. They cost virtually nothing to use – less than the metro – and the Velib bikeracks are literally everywhere. It may take a few minutes longer than hopping on a metro, but the ability to cycle from anywhere to anywhere else at the drop of a hat is just priceless.
  • So here’s my overall verdict: I know countless people who’ve fallen in love with Paris. It’s simple to see why, and I get it completely. BUT, personally, it didn’t quite strike me as a place I’d want to live. Maybe if I were there in the summer it would’ve been different, or if I’d had a bit more time to learn my way around and really get a feel for the city. Or maybe if I spoke French. But unlike some places I’ve visited, somehow it just never quite grabbed me and said, “get an apartment and see what its like to live here for a year!” That being said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I made my way back at some point in the future 🙂

  9 Responses to “Paris Observations”

  1. They’ve started a Velib like idea last year near Tokyo station. It’s supposed to be used in the Tokyo, Yurakucho and maybe even Shinbashi areas. Not sure if they’ve expanded it or what the deal is, but it really is a great idea. Can’t remember it’s name for the life of me.

  2. That’s awesome! I wish they had that when I was there.

    Are the racks common enough that it’s actually convenient at this point? Because if it’s just in a few areas (i.e. right around the station), and u have to search just to find a place to return it, a lot of the convenience is lost.

  3. That whole temporary bike thing always seemed like a decent idea to me

  4. Community Cycle?

    http://www.jtb.co.jp/e/tabichari/c-cycle/

    Says it was a trial from Oct to Nov 2009. Not sure if they have extended it or not….

  5. So…you think they speak good English in Japan? :-p (Oh, and I know what you’re gonna answer here)

    We have the same metro system here, and you can use the same ticket to transfer to buses, trams and ferries too.

    And we also have the same bike system. The people that want to use them pay a very small annual fee to have their names registered, and the racks are everywhere. Since most people use them to pedal downhill into town, the bike racks themselves have a special integrated cellphone system so they sms a central when the racks start filling up. When this happens a big truck comes along and drives all the bikes to the racks high up again. Pretty convenient.

  6. @Scott: Awesome! I hope it survives 🙂

    @Peder: Re:Japan, No…but how is this related to Europe? 😛 (In any case though, they do *try* to speak English – almost everyone – they just suck at it because they’re too shy to practice 😛 In France it seems like they don’t *want* to)

    Re: The bikes, that’s awesome!! It would be nice if you could just stick a credit card in the machine and grab a bike without having to register annually, though 🙂

  7. @Scott That’s the one. I hope they extended and or expanded it.

  8. Re: The bikes: Well, this is a theft issue too you know. If you could just do that then anyone with a stolen credit card could check out a whole rack of bikes and stick them in a truck bound for east Europe. Since bike theft is a huge problem in Scandinavia, they prefer that people register.

    Re: Japan: Oh cummon! You’ve hardly spoken a word of English to anyone in Japan lest it was at bars with me. Since I prefer to use English, I see a much different picture than you do. And that is people that shake their heads frantically and RUN away from you, rather than even trying to understand or help. In France I have the opposite impression than yours…but then again, I speak French 😛

  9. Well there ya go…

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