Compared to New York or London, Paris isn't a particularly noisy city, and nightlife rowdiness is relatively rare in a culture where most locals drink and party moderately.
But since the 2008 smoking ban took effect in France and smokers were pushed to congregate on sidewalks outside bars and clubs, noise complaints have skyrocketed. This has in turn prompted the local police to issue fines more stringently, effectively all but forcing popular bars and clubs in the capital to close earlier.
As a result of this crackdown on noise, dispirited DJs and club owners are reportedly fleeing Paris in droves for more noise-tolerant places like Berlin, claiming that the city of lights is fast becoming the city of sleep.
Pros and Cons
Particularly for many residents in Paris' most-frequented nightlife districts, the recent regulations have come as a relief. Since Paris is one of the world's most densely populated cities, and many ground floors of residential apartment buildings house bars and restaurants and lack good insulation, it's easy to see why neighbors get irked by the noise. On the other hand, lively neighbourhoods such as Oberkampf would lose much of their charm and appeal were the lively nightlife scene to fade: in areas like these, the lively bar and club scenes are some of the qualities that make them attractive. Also, earplugs can be amazingly effective, especially against chatter.
So who's in the right? Let's take a closer look at the regulations themselves.
What exactly do the rules say?
Examining nationwide regulations regarding nighttime noise, they actually appear pretty reasonable. Between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM, bars, clubs, and other nightlife establishments with outdoor seating must work to try to keep noise levels below three decibels, and "ambiant" noise levels (the kind you hear when a group of people is talking normally) can be much higher-- which means people can generally talk comfortably late into the night even if they're sitting outdoors (no whispering required).
Between 7 AM to 10:00 pm noise levels should be kept below five decibels. What's more, fines are generally assigned only if excessive noise continues for a long stretch: a momentary shout here or there won't earn bar or club owners tickets.
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Secondly, establishments playing live or recorded music are required to install appropriate insulation and keep doors closed; they can earn fines of up to 1,500 € and have their equipement confiscated should an infraction occur.
The good news? In no cases are patrons themselves fined! This isn't something visitors have to worry about, but it is a good idea to be mindful of the neighbors and try to keep voices down to mellow volumes after 10pm if you're sitting outside.
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Obviously, nightclub and bar owners aren't happy with the more stringent regulations, and those who want to enjoy a night out often complain that the crackdown is turning Paris into the "city of sleep" or "capital of boredom". Students and young travelers to Paris may indeed find the ambiance here a little sleepier than comparable European capitals, especially "party towns" like Barcelona; but on the upside, the more moderate and laid-back nightlife scene might suit some travelers better.
At the end of the day, it's all a matter of personal taste and temperament.