For some people, Paris is more than just a bucket list destination. Just hearing someone utter the word ‘Paris’ can have them go all starry-eyed; their mind’s eye conjuring up visions of the Eiffel tower, going on strolls down the Champs-Élysées or enjoying delicious pastries and espressos in a chic cafe on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis ?. Plus, there’s also all those clichés about Paris being the city of lights and love; so of course, it makes sense that everything about the city should be magical and romantic, right? ?
Well I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but sometimes reality can be really different from what we imagine. So, if you’re planning a trip to Paris, here is a list of expectations VS realities about visiting the city of lights that no one bothers to warns you about.
1. Expectations: The Eiffel Tower is the main attraction
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When you think of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is no doubt, the famous Eiffel Tower. Known worldwide as the symbol for all things ‘France’; many poets, painters, singers, photographers and film directors have paid homage to the incredible ‘Iron Lady’. But of course, when in Paris, you’d be remised if you skipped out on seeing the tower, along with some of the other big attractions. Check out our list of famous attractions you shouldn't miss out on in Paris! ?
Reality: Plenty of cool and surprisingly beautiful places
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There are plenty of interesting places and sceneries that you can come across while navigating through the streets of Paris. Best of all, if you opt to visit some of the more underrated places, you’ll be able to get some stunning pictures without having to worry about meeting another group of tourists! ?
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Some of these places include the Palaise de Tokyo, the picturesque neighbourhood of La Campagne à Paris (translated roughly as the Countryside in Paris) and for those of you who appreciate seeing something a little more edgy, there is La Petite Ceinture; an old abandoned Parisian railway that has been completely covered in colourful graffiti and transformed into an urban-nature haven.
2. Expectations: Anything worth doing in Paris is SUPER expensive
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The city of lights is famous for its world-renowned attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe and of course the lovely Champs-Élysées that is lined with luxury brand stores; some of which include Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes and Lacoste.
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Now some of these attractions may require you to pay an entrance fee/purchase a ticket (like going on top of the Eiffel tower or the roof of the Arc de Triomphe) and let’s be honest, going on a shopping spree is BOUND to happen when you’re in Paris ?.
Reality: Plenty of attractions you can enjoy for free
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But be that as it may, you’ll be happy to know that a trip to Paris doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank! There are plenty of other things that you can do in the city that is absolutely free! Some of them include going on a free walking tour to explore Paris and get the lay of the land, attending a free fashion show at the stunning Galeries Lafayette or even stopping by the Atelier Brancusi at Centre Pompidou to check out some of the Romanian-born sculptors’ impressive works ??.
For more things to do, why not check out our article on things to do in Paris that are absolutely free!!
3. Expectations: Paris is an ultra-clean city
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Paris is one of those big cities that has had a lot of limelight in the media ✨. You’ve seen it portrayed in movies, in books, in cartoons and even in comics. It’s always depicted as being a gorgeous and dazzling place, with pristine buildings and an air of mystic and sophistication. With all that in mind, it’s not too far a stretch to assume that the city goes above and beyond to keep their streets clean.
Reality: Paris is in fact, quite dirty
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When you’re finally in Paris, don’t be too surprised to find that the place is actually both dirty and rather smelly ?. In some parts of the city, people treat the streets as if it is their own personal ashtray. There are cigarette butts littered everywhere on the streets, dotting the pavement like too many sprinkles and worst of all (in my honest opinion), the people here don’t seem too keen to pick up after their dogs because if you’re walking down the street, chances are you’ll encounter a mound of dog poop every few hundred metres ?.
But fortunately, the city is trying its best to curb the problem by enforcing stricter rules and fines for people who are caught not picking up after their animals and for littering.
4. Expectations: Getting around in Paris is overly complicated
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With over 20 districts and several streets that share very similar names (which are pretty impossible to pronounce if you’re not a native speaker, I might add), getting lost in Paris seems like the inevitable; especially if it’s your first time visiting ?! The city can seem like a veritable maze and you don’t want to find yourself in a dodgy area by accident.
Reality: Getting around on public transport is actually really easy
While it might be tempting to just hail a cab and simply tell them where you want to go, the cab fare is going to be pretty high so you’re better off taking other means of public transport like the bus or the metro ?.
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The good news is, the public transport network in Paris is very well connected and even if you do get lost walking around topside, you’ll eventually find a metro sign. Rest assured that as long as you know your destination, getting around with public transportation is easy regardless of the language you speak.
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Be warned though, that the metro can be super packed at times (and unfortunately rumours are indeed true: it does smell overwhelmingly like pee!). Also make sure to be wary of pickpockets!
5. Expectations: Paris is a romantic city
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When you think of Romance and Paris, the idea seems to go hand in hand, much like cafes and croissants or roses and chocolates. There’s just something about the beauty and grandeur of the French capital that seems to draw people in and it also tends to bring out the romantics in people ?.
Or at least that’s what Hollywood has been trying to feed us with its (often times) rosy and glamourous depictions of the bustling city (See: Funny Face or An American in Paris).
Reality: Paris isn’t as romantic as you would expect
Credits: Guilhem Vellut on Flickr
While I won’t completely write off this expectation as a total lie, let me give you a solid reason why Paris really isn’t all that romantic. Paris is a city that you have to share with other people; in other words, it’s always super crowded! Just imagine, you’re walking along the street, trying to take in the sights and maybe take one of those cheesy romantic pictures you always see in the movies or on Instagram. Chances are, there are a lot of other people around you who are doing the exact same thing ?.
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Additionally, once you get to the popular tourists stops like the Sacré-Cœur or the Eiffel tower, there will be people around the area who are begging for money or selling trinkets. It kindda ruins the romantic atmosphere, especially when some of them are very persistent about selling you their stuff; even going so far as putting jewellery on you to make you buy them ?.
6. Expectations: Not knowing any French is going to be a problem
The first time I said I was going to Paris, I got a lot of comments like; “Better brush up on your French!”, “Don’t speak English! The French hate English!” or even “Make sure to download an English to French translator!” ?
It seemed that nearly everyone I knew was convinced that the French people did not know or speak the English language and that they also looked down on those who DID speak English. Granted that it was my first trip to Paris, I was understandably a little apprehensive…
Reality: The French DO speak English
Turns out, I was worried for nothing. While they’re not particularly fond of speaking the English language, most Parisian do understand and know how to speak it. The thing is, they might not be wholly fluent (and sometimes it can make them feel a bit uncomfortable when they’re speaking to you), but they do try their best to communicate with you should you have any questions!
But since you ARE in Paris, the French people do kind of expect you to at least try and speak a bit of French, even if it’s just a few simple words like ‘Bonjour’, ‘Pardon’ and ‘Merci’ ?.
7. Expectations: French people are rude and unfriendly
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This might not come off as much of a surprise for most of you, but one of the most googled things about French people of all time is ‘Why are the French so rude?’
Additionally, there are also travel websites that have ranked Paris as one of the rudest tourist destinations on earth and even online forums like Trip Advisor are filled with people complaining about ‘French rudeness’ and the lack of customer service ?
Reality: It might be a cultural misunderstanding
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In reality, the French are actually very polite and kind and a lot of the things that they do that tourists label as ‘French rudeness’ can actually be chalked under cultural misunderstandings. French people in general value their privacy so if they act with a little bit of formality and distance towards you, it’s their way of being respectful. It might come off as being unfriendly or rude, but I assure you, it’s not done with any ill intentions! ?
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Additionally, when it comes to the service industry, the French want to be treated with dignity. The old adage of ‘the customer is always right’ does not apply in Paris, so if you’re at a restaurant and you’re trying to rush your waiter, chances are he’s going to make you wait even longer out of spite. But as long as you’re being respectful and practice good etiquette (basically treat your waiter like a human being!), you’ll definitely get a much nicer reception ?.
8. Expectations: You’ll see a lot of avant-garde fashion on the streets of Paris
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Paris is home to some of history’s most celebrated designers and is well known to be one of the four fashion capitals of the world. That being said, when you’re strolling through the Parisian street, you can’t help but let your eyes wander ?.
For a place recognized as being very fashion forward, you’d expect to see people dressed to the nines in designer brands, vibrant colours, funky patterns, and sporting an outrageously priced accessory or two ?.
Reality: Daily Parisian fashion is very subtle and chic
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Instead of seeing people dressed like they just came off the runway of Paris fashion week, most locals actually opt for outfits that are simple, casual but yet still maintaining that classic look. You won’t see many outrageous outfits or colours (the Parisians tend to stick with a lot of black, grey and navy) but somehow, they still look good. ?
And if you do spot someone wearing a super avant-garde outfit, chances are that they’re not even Parisian and that they’re just there to have their photos taken.
9. Expectations: Food in Paris is super expensive
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The French capital is filled with plenty of amazing restaurants manned by talented chefs from all over the world. In recent years, Paris has also seen a revival in its long-established gastronomic landscapes, including traditional bistros, brasseries, and stylish restaurants serving classic French food. ?
Of course, when you’re visiting some of these Instagram-worthy cafes, you might notice that the prices for their meals can be a bit… steep. Just imagine walking into a cute little bistro and finding out a can of soda can cost up to 7 Euros, never mind an actual meal themselves!
Reality: Finding halal food in Paris is easier than expected!
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But, as long as you’re not looking to have a Michelin-star rated meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you won’t have to worry about finding good, cheap, and halal food while in Paris!
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You can opt for a croissant or a pain au chocolate from a bakery, (they usually don’t cost all that much and the sheer size of it can be quite filling), but if that’s not to your liking, there are also plenty of crepe stands and falafel shops for a cheap, quick and tasty meal!
If you’re not entirely sure just which restaurants to go to for lunch or dinner, we’ve got you covered with a list of must-try Muslim-friendly restaurants or if you prefer to hunt down something sweet, try checking out the french pastries that are a must in Paris! From Halal Raclettes to dainty cream puffs, you definitely won’t be missing out on the vibrant food scene!
Hopefully the list hasn’t totally disillusioned you and put you off Paris for good! Admittedly the city is still undeniably very charming with an interesting history and gorgeous scenery. If you’re planning on going for a visit, rest assured that if you can get past some of the less than movie worthy aspects, you’re going to have a really good time!