A wanderers view on Paris and the image of France!

Of all the cities in the world, Paris, and France in general for that matter, seems to have a sort of global ‘image’ of what everyone thinks it’s like. A sort of French stereotype that extends right into the very fibers of France’s global popularity. For example, you mention Paris to someone who’s never been there, and you’re pretty likely to get a “Ah, the city of looove!” or a “Baguettes, wine and cigarettes!” story. It’s remarkable, I’d go so far as to say nowhere else in the world is there such a vivid idea of what a place is like created by and perpetuated by people who have never been there.

“Get to the point, how accurate are those then?” you demand, so I’ll quit buggering around. Paris, and much (But not all!) of France in general, is not a thing at all like those stereotypical snippets you see in the commercials or the travel brochures, or those cheesy little clips or the outrageous characters from children’s shows. Some bits are correct; yes, for mysterious reasons unknown to man, baguettes *are* ridiculously popular as a breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner there. And without any possible doubt, *yes*, the french are completely in love with cafe’s and many seem to spend seemingly their entire days sitting in those little plastic outdoor chairs sipping at a beer and smoking a cigarette, how they can ‘afford’ to do that all day is another mystery, but it is indeed a fairly true stereotype as far as these things go (Which is to say not very true at all, but still true enough to be funny in a “Hey look, he’s wearing a beret and eating a baguette” kinda way!).

But that image, that grand story of what Paris is supposed to be like, only actually pops up occasionally then is blown away like wisps of smoke. Just enough to snap a postcard perfect picture or have one of those “Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m in Paris right now!” moments before it’s quickly forgotten in favor of reality.

Keep in mind that all my travels through Paris as well as the rest of France were either by train or by foot, so unfortunately I missed many of the grand tourist traps or had to walk through the city proper before I could find the carefully set up locations I’m supposed to see, which needless to say sort of broke the illusion on more than one occasion.

Paris. Paris struck me as a massive, sprawling old beast. It’s old and lazy, grumpy beyond all reason, dirty and not a little smelly… and yet all that considered extremely fascinating none the less. The truth is that Paris is easily one of the most unexpectedly diverse cities I’ve encountered, but in a different way than most. Paris is a city where many, many cultures and ideologies, ways of life and beliefs all cram together and jostle each other rather uncomfortably and yet somehow seem to get along well enough they haven’t all killed each other yet. Where Canada likes to do the ‘live together in harmony’ thing, classical “Everyone’s separate cultures working together towards a common goal!” and the USA tends to be much more melting pot style assimilation thing, Paris embraces the “Go do your own thing over there!’ philosophy in many respects. Somehow it works too, and if anything is to be said about Paris it’s that there has got to be a shop or store for everything you can possibly conceive by the sheer volume of different people and ideas there are. Probably a factor in why Paris is so influential in the fashion and design sectors, since for inspiration just walk down a street long enough and you’re bound to encounter at least a couple different cultures and the like, one of which is bound to catch your eye eventually.

But six hundred and forty nine words in (654 now) I’ve yet to have really described Paris in any way, so I’ll quit with the pseudo-ideological musings and skip to the facts.

First off, arriving into Paris via train is a wreck. The train station is confusing as hell, and the information staff both overworked and seemingly understaffed for the massive amount of confused tourists like myself pouring in. Finding your way around the city can be a pain in the ass if you’re not familiar with the underground system, and that itself is yet another journey within a journey (Not completely unlike London in that respect!). The streets are, honestly, kinda dirty and there were more beggars than I’d care to count, especially outside the main train stations. The people are either rushed with their own business or assholes, and there’s an overall ‘grey’ feel to it all that’s hard to describe . It’s a rather grim and depressing first impression that frankly left me wanting to get back on board the train and take the next one to somewhere, almost anywhere, else.

But with immense fortitude and courage (And a lack of any other options with a dash of stubborn stupidity!) I persevered those first dark hours, and reluctantly, slowly, Paris began to open up to me. Tentative at first, bit by bit I began to find more and more ‘hey, that’s neat!’ moments, that slowly grew into a general feeling of fun and enjoyment. The streets never get any less messy, and frankly Paris has the overpowering stench of piss in many areas, people are still grumpy, and that ‘greyness’ never really goes away. But you start to see beyond that, beyond that into the nitty gritty little details that make Paris one of the grandest cities in the world.

You talk to a guy who recommends a little restaurant you’d never have taken notice of before, get there early enough to grab one of the tables at the small little dining area, and eat the best damn crêpe you will ever eat in your life served in this amazingly quaint small-restaurant Paris place that feels like it’s torn from the pages of a classical memoir . Or you’re walking along when you hear a the sound of music slowly coming closer and closer, and finally a trio of… wandering buskers?… comes into view, dancing slowly along the street as they play their instruments. And then there are the more grand and planned events, like walking under the Eiffel tower for the first time and suddenly being struck by just how big it is in reality. Far grander and majestic than anything you’d thought from television or books. A massive giant spire of metal reaching into the sky. Or as another example; visiting the Louvre, THE Louvre museum, and walking along it’s creaking wooden floors surrounded on all sides by near priceless antiquities and art. The sheer opulence and grandeur of it all! Never mind Napoleons tomb, which as I remarked to my friend, more resembles a giant religious temple than a tomb to such an extent that future generations, very very far future generations, would see it as some sort of primitive tribute to a God as they tries to decipher the mysteries of ancient humans.

Eventually the good just starts piling up, and next thing you know rather than hating Paris, you’ve rather discovered you like the place regardless of it’s many flaws. There are still the occasional wisps of ‘Oh wow, that is so french!’ but for the most part you’ve come to realize Paris is a unique city all its own that really seems to resent being stereotyped. For many who go there with a specific ‘It must be like this, and only this!’ mentality I can only assure Paris would be a complete disappointment, but for those willing to give it a short and get to know the real Paris as best they can, it’s a magnificent city that you’ll find yourself looking forward to visiting again sometime in the future.

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