Things We Hate About Paris: The Big, the Bad, and the Ugly
Having lived in Paris for over five years, friends and family back home in the U.S. often ask me if I continue to notice how beautiful and alluring the city can be, or whether I've become desensitized or jaded. After all, Paris has inspired multiple generations of writers and artists, given birth to timeless fashion trends and fostered a cuisine deemed a treasure of world heritage by UNESCO. It boasts so many sublime art museums, monuments, and gardens that it's hard to keep track of them all.
It’s true that even after five years of living here, I can catch myself gawking at the magnificent moldings on a Haussmanian building, or gazing at riverboats slinking along the Seine. And every time I cross the bridge between the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Palais de Justice, I think to myself, “Wow, I really live here?”
But inevitably, my soliloquy is brusquely interrupted when my foot suddenly sinks into a steaming pile of dog poop someone "forgot" to scoop up off the street. Or I inhale several cigarettes worth of smoke drifting inside from the "protected" terrace at my neighborhood café.
Or I find myself unwittingly caught up in a human game of pinball as I innocently try to walk down the street, pushed around on all sides by people who seem to find it unacceptable that I'm sharing the sidewalk with them.
Don't get me wrong. I love this city on many counts. But there are a few things that really rankle me. Click through to see the things about Paris that make me go "grrrr", listed in no particular order of their potential-to-annoy.
FIRST UP: #10: The Crowds
Things I Hate, # 10: Claustrophobic? Beware the Swarming Crowds in Paris
Picture the scene: I was simply trying to walk from a bakery near Hotel de Ville to the nearest metro. Serves me right for indulging in a pain au chocolat, I suppose. What started as a two-block walk to the metro entrance soon turned into an epic journey, as I battled my way between hordes of people who seemed to spring up out of nowhere. When I tried to veer left, I got bumped to the right. When I adjusted right, I was bumped to the left. Let’s refer back to the pinball machine image from my introduction and you can see where I’m going with this. While Paris’s crowds can often give an exhilarating feeling of urban hustle-and-bustle (if you're into that kind of thing), usually I’m just intensely annoyed by not being able to walk down the street without getting knocked around.
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What’s worse is that this phenomenon translates to other aspects of Paris life – standing in line for a movie. Buying groceries. Shopping for gloves. Going to a museum on a Saturday. You’ll wonder how so many people had the same idea as you at the exact same moment. When you realize that Paris is ranked the 27th most densely populated city in the world-- actually beating out Mumbai in India and Cairo in Egypt-- it's not difficult to understand why the crowds are getting me down. It's also the most-visited city in the world, compounding the claustrophobia.
NEXT UP: #9 The "that's not possible!" game in customer service
Things I Hate, #9: Paris Customer Service
I call it a game because it truly is one. If I gave you a dollar for every time I hear a Parisian working in customer service, administration, or retail say “c’est pas possible!” (that's not possible!) in a day, you’d quickly be swimming in cash. Whether it’s attempting to order an iced coffee on a hot day (Mais non! Of course we don't have ice!), trying to refund a mistakenly bought commuter train (RER) ticket, or doing anything related to French administration/customer service, you’re bound to hear “c’est pas possible” as a knee-jerk refrain.
The trick is realizing that more often than not, it is possible – it’s just a matter of how you state your case. And unfortunately, in Paris, sometimes kicking up a bit of a fuss and insisting is the only way to get a fair outcome.
Read related: How to Avoid "Rude" Service in Paris
NEXT UP: Why can't I get a hot drink in a bar after 9 pm?
Things I Hate, #8: Why Can't I Order Hot Drinks in Bars After 9pm?
This is one that I’ve never figured out. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, as in France people still stick to "proper" mealtime hours with surprising (and overzealous) diligence. But I don’t understand why – other than at American chains like Starbucks – c'est pas possible (there it is again) to order a hot drink at most bars (and even cafes) after a certain hour. While a post-dinner espresso in a sit-down restaurant is pretty much always kosher, ordering a café crème in a bar after dark is absolutely NOT OK. And I want to know why. France is a free country, right? If I want a hot drink in the evening, I don’t see why you can’t just leave the espresso machine on until closing time and give a girl what she wants. Does it really take that long to clean?
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NEXT UP: Stuffy, crowded, smelly conditions in the metro
Things I Hate, #7: Anything Related to a Paris Metro Journey
I feel slightly bad putting this on my list of things that irk, because the Paris metro really is very efficient. Unlike other services in Paris, the metro almost never goes on strike or breaks down for hours on end. But oh, how it does annoy me. Where to begin? Standing wedged with your face in the sweaty armpit of someone who, from all olfactory evidence, hasn’t showered in days. Listening to someone else’s death metal because they’re too lazy to put in their headphones. Hearing yet another squeaky and grating rendition of Edith Piaf's "La vie en rose" on the accordian as you zip across the city. Touching the sweaty pole likely crawling with the next strain of superbacteria to catch your balance, and getting bumped into/stepped on/yelled at for standing (or sitting) incorrectly: I could go on and on, but I won’t. Let’s just say you’ve been warned. Just don't let the experience give you what I and my friends have dubbed the unattractive "tete de metro" (metro face)-- that deeply grouchy scowl so many Parisians don when riding the train.
NEXT UP: #6 Noise that might just break the sound barrier
Things I Hate, #6: Noise that might just break the sound barrier
The other day, while sitting at a neighborhood café in Paris, I was astounded to note that the silence was almost deafening. Most of the city was celebrating a national holiday and, luckily for me, there were very few people around. But it was more than that. There were no cars zooming by, or construction work or people yapping… I actually heard birds chirping. It was such a change from the constant noise that fills the city that I quickly annoyed my coffee buddy with remarks about this incredible silence. I love that Paris is a vibrant, lively city, but sometimes it is just so loud.
Read related: 5 Quiet Paris "Villages" to Escape To
NEXT UP: #5 In this town, stranger often equals "danger!"
Things I Hate, #5: In this town, stranger often equals "danger!"
It’s funny that after half a decade of living in Paris this should still annoy me, but it most certainly does. The suspicious, brusque attitude of many Parisian shopkeepers or waiters can be off-putting at best and insulting at worst. It's just not in Parisian customs to come at a client with a giant, American-style smile, and I don’t necessarily expect that anymore. After all, why should ordering a hamburger be such a thrilling experience? But what I don’t appreciate is the occasional look of death or the “why are you even here?” expression I sometimes get when all I'm trying to do is buy a pair of pants or a hot chocolate. A smile – even a fake one – goes a long way in brightening someone’s day and making a transaction pleasant. While the friendliness quotient is slowly increasing in Paris, the city’s welcoming ambiance is still not up to scratch-- at least not in my book.
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NEXT UP: #4 Paperwork and anything related to French administration
Things I Hate, #4: Paperwork and anything related to French bureaucracy
This is something you’ll probably be able to avoid if you're on a short trip to Paris, and lucky for you. When it comes to completing any type of paperwork or administrative procedure, there is perhaps nothing more annoying, exasperating and time-consuming than bureaucratic red tape "a la parisienne". No one seems to be communicating with anyone; simple requests and procedures take forever, and one wrong word to a civil servant and any hopes of success are lost forever. As long as you don’t get anything stolen during your stay, you’ll most likely be able to bypass this uber-annoyance.
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NEXT UP: #3 Flaky friends and last-minute schedule upsets are often the Parisian way
Things I Hate, #3: Flaky friends and last-minute schedule upsets
Parisians are a busy bunch. If they’re not booked for a Saturday evening dinner, they have plans to see a movie or have received a free pass to a gallery opening. With so much going on in the city, it’s hard to decide what to do. The ease in making acquaintances in Paris (especially for foreigners) means that you’ll have a steady stream of plans too. But with so much to do, most people confirm plans at the last minute, and canceling on one another is trendier than this year’s ankle boots. Parisians are not necessarily flaky people by nature, but it’s the city that pushes them to keep plans like a washcloth holds water. Luckily for you, if you’re only in Paris for a short time, you’ll likely avoid this unpleasant phenomenon.
NEXT UP:#2 Arbitrary store opening hours drive me bonkers
Things I Hate, #2: Arbitrary store opening hours drive me bonkers
The hardware store that opens its doors from 10 to noon, then again from 3 to 7 pm. The café that is only open from 4 to 10 pm Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Or the Parisian bookstore that is open 9am to 7pm on Monday, 9:30 to 7 on Tuesday and 10 to 7 on Thursday. My personal favorite is my neighborhood hairdresser who puts her phone number on the door and only comes in when you call her for an appointment. Besides the obvious annoyance of needing a PhD in logistics to figure out when things are actually open in this city, there’s the eternal question of, “How do these businesses make any money if they’re never open?” If there’s any method to the madness, I haven’t found it yet. All I know is that I’m constantly showing up places only to find out they’re closed at the most random times possible. My advice? Check online before you head out.
Read related: What's Open on Sundays in Paris?
LAST UP: Paris can be such an expensive city!
Things I Hate, #1: It's Just SUCH An Expensive City!
Interestingly, my #1 gripe about Paris is one that applies to any big metropolitan center these days, including Tokyo, New York, or London. Sure, there are still places where you can get a coffee for 1 Euro 20 or a full meal for 4 Euros, but they’re becoming harder and harder to find. Blame it on gentrification or the economic crisis, but the truth of the matter is, this is an expensive city.
There’s nothing more aggravating than paying 4 euros for a measly espresso, or 20 for a tiny (and mediocre) hamburger. Even if it’s tasty, there’s just something unsettling about it. Unfortunately, if you want to take advantage of the city, you’ll have to suck it up, pull out your wallet once again and break that 10 euro bill for your 2 Euro croissant. What other word could be used here than annoying?
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