So for a very long time, ever since I was old enough to watch French movies, I have had a great love and hectic soft spot for France.
So you can imagine my utter excitement and delight when the opportunity came up during my backpacking to spend four nights in Paris.
“Woopee!” I thought (and probably said out loud). “Dream coming truuuuuue!”
The more perceptive among you will have already worked out for yourself, by cleverly reading the title of this blog post, that Paris just didn’t live up to my expectations.
I was really disappointed.
Let’s start at the start, where starts often do… start.
I arrived in Paris in the afternoon, hyped up, ready to go, and confused out of my mind.
Because the Paris airport is fucking weird.
After an embarrassingly long time of just dicking around and not really knowing what the hell I was doing, I worked out that the best thing for me to do would be to just get the train into Paris and then catch the metro from there to where I needed to be.
Ha ha! Wrong.
Up until now I could blame my feelings of unease on myself, but that train trip into Paris was probably the absolute worst first impression a city could make.
See, in every country I had visited up until this point, people were very courteous on public transport. The unwritten rules of common decency were very clear. If someone needed to get off the bus/train/tram/metro, then you moved out of the way and let them. If you couldn’t move out of the way, then you got off the bus/train/whatever, let them off and then got back on.
Simple, elegant, clean and tidy. Everyone gets to where they need to be with minimum fuss.
Not in Paris.
I could see my stop coming up on the board, so I got up and started making my way towards the doors, which were probably about five meters away from me.
“Excuse me,” I said, “excusez-moi!” I cried in my limited knowledge of French.
My stop loomed ever closer, and I was still no closer to the door.
It’s okay. I thought. Calm yourself Georgie, you’ll get off this train!
Yeah. I didn’t get off the train.
It was less like a wall of people and more like a wall of indifference. I had never encountered such rudeness and lack of courtesy in all my travels so far and quite frankly, it kind of pissed me off.
There was, luckily, another stop I could get off at, and having learned my lesson by now, my backpack doubled as a handy weapon in getting people to move out of the way.
A long metro ride later, I made it to my hostel.
“Hello,” I said.
“What do you want?”
Fuck me with a stick! Were all Parisians this bloody rude? Having spend the past three of four years dreaming that I would one day marry a Frenchman (or woman) and live in some Parisian apartment somewhere, this was kind of a massive let down.
Parisians, far from being the quirky, sexy, romantic lot I had always imagined them as, were proving themselves to in fact be very human. Very indifferent and unappealing ones at that.
The people you meet when you travel and particularly, the local people of the city or town your visiting, without a doubt have the greatest impact on how comfortable you are in that place. In Barcelona, the feeling was so positive I felt completely safe walking around on my own at the dead of night. In Paris, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and I honestly was kind of freaked out, only because in the back of my mind, a voice was asking if something does happen, and I need help, is anyone going to care?
But whatever. I could deal with it. I could deal with my romantic ideals being squashed, I could deal with disappointment. The evening got better from there as I met some nice people staying in the same hostel, which despite the rude staff was funky and cute and very boho chic. I slept well, got a good (good as in freeeee!) breakfast, and set out to explore.
Here’s the thing about Paris that everyone tells you but you don’t want to believe until you actually get there and it’s like “Oh. Right.”
Paris. Is. So. Dirty.
Yes it’s beautiful and has amazing architecture and has an abundance of fun and cool things to see, but in order to see these things first you have to get past the actual honest to god shit that’s just lying around, and the rubbish, and just the dirt that’s everywhere.
Oookay, I thought, so the people are kind of rude and the street are kind of… gross… but I haven’t actually seen anything yet! Lets see the sights!
Word of advice. If you ever want to lower your opinion of humanity as a whole, spend a whole lot of time with tourists. As a tourist.
It’s very demoralizing.
And of course, it’s fucking Paris. In summer. There are tourists galoooooore.
Spoilt little tourist children licking their ice creams.
Fat tourist husbands lugging around enormous cameras with five thousand different settings.
Loud tourist wives posing for endless pictures in front of monuments.
If that doesn’t make you want to check out early I don’t know what does.
And the worst part is, you’re one of them!
So I saw the Louvre and the pointy tower and that church thats in that movie with the guy with the humpy back, but i was kind of… underwhelmed.
The thing about site seeing is that once you’ve seen it, that’s it. Experience over. Your eyes have taken the reflected light off the object in question and projected onto your brain. Done.
But even so, the tower and the church and the glass pyramids were kind of… dull. Considering the hype, I guess I just expected more. And compared to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Vittoriano in Rome, it really was just…
A bit meh.
By now my expectations for Paris had well and truly died. Why I was thinking to myself did I want to come here?
I didn’t really intend this blog post to be a bitch fest about Paris… although yes it has come across a bit like that. Sorry, and sorry to anyone I may have offended.
Because I don’t want this to be what my impression of France is going to be from now on. I don’t think it’s France that was the problem. All the French people I have met that have not been from Paris have been lovely, I still like French movies and music, and we don’t need to justify their fabulous taste in food and art. It was just Paris.
Capital cities really, are just not a sum of the country. Imagine if everyone who came to Australia formed their opinions based on what Canberra is like? Rubbish! That’s not Australia.
Paris struck me as being less of a city, but more like a brand. After all, the things I ended up liking about Paris (shockingly, there were things that I did like!) were the rooftops, which were beautiful, the parks, the Laundromat where I did some washing, sitting by the river, the food, the grocery store near my hostel where I bought ingredients to make my dinner.
Little things, stupid things, cliché things that strive to sound poetic and just hint at pretentiousness, but these were the things that gave me the most happiness during my stay in Paris. Not the Paris brand, but the life.
So, I’m refusing to make up my mind about France just yet, but when I go back, it won’t be to Paris, and it won’t be with very high expectations.
Raising the bar too high can pretty much only lead to disappointment. If you keep your mind open to all possibilities, including the possibility for shittiness, even though it’s somewhat pessimistic, I think you’re more likely to be satisfied.
Paris, you were okay in the end, but I expected magic and you gave me a rabbit in a hat. Next time, I’ll be a bit smarter.