7 Paris Myths Debunked

Ahh the city of love, the city for lovers…the smelly city?

When I was 16 I went to France for the summer to learn French and had some reservations when we spent the final week in Paris. But I quickly learned that a lot of the cultural stereotypes I had heard simply weren’t true.

1) Paris is unsafe

It is unfair to say that Paris is dangerous. Many tourists fear for their safety when visiting The City of Lights but Paris has a much lower crime rate than you would expect.

In fact, like most European cities it is unusual to see many violent crimes from gangs or with guns.

Pickpocketing is more likely, particularly in the tourist areas. But that’s common in most cities and if you are careful with your valuables, or don’t take them out at all, you shouldn’t have a problem.

2) Paris is ridiculously expensive

Like most cities in Europe, Paris can be a city that will bust your budget if you don’t plan ahead.

It’s easy to get caught up in the chic restaurants by the main tourist attractions but if you walk just a few blocks out you will save a lot of money and eat with the locals.

Better yet, grocery stores are home to amazing baguettes, cheese and wine to eat in the park. Skip breakfast at the hotel and make a beeline for the famous French bakeries to start off the day.

Most attractions are free or reasonably priced. If you are keen to do a lot of sightseeing get the Paris Pass that allows you to skip lines and provides free transportation.

Head to a Parisian patisserie for delicious food that won’t blow your budget. Photo by austinevan.

3) The people are rude

I must admit that after spending four weeks in smaller French towns that were excited to see Canadians it was a bit off putting to visit Paris and see that they weren’t as overjoyed to see a tourist.

But after living in a large city I now understand the city mentality. Paris does not exist for tourism, but the upside is that tourists get a peek at the authentic Parisian life – which does not revolve around us. This is common is almost every major city in the world, including New York, London and Berlin.

The upside is that outside tourist haunts you won’t be pestered to buy souvenirs or tours.

6) Paris is filthy

Half the people who have visited will tell you it’s dirty and the other half will tell you it is clean. The truth is that Paris is like any other capital in the world.

Yes there are some dingy and seedy areas of the town I would not want to walk through. And I did smell urine in more than a few metro stops.

But I also remember thinking that they must have cleaned the Louvre with a toothbrush and the Champs Elysees was beautiful to walk through. You won’t see a lot of litter around the Eiffel Tower either.

The Champs Elysees could never be called filthy. Photo by lashkin.

5) Noone speaks English

The key to traveling in Paris when you don’t speak French is to begin the conversation in French with a few common phrases.

Once Parisians see that you are making an effort to be considerate to their culture, they will often switch to English if they speak it, or help you however they can.

A small phrase book can go a long way, if you muddle the pronunciation you can always point to the book.

The nice thing about Paris, is that unlike some of the more rural areas in France, you will find a lot of people who speak English, particularly around tourist sites.

6) It’s chic to smoke

One of the oldest stereotypes are the chic women smoking cigarettes in the street lined cafes of Paris. But this is no longer the case, when the French government announced a smoking ban in 2008 nearly everyone had their doubts.

But smoking has ceased in cafes and restaurants but the effects remain controversial as some claim it’s simply moved the smoking to the streets.

Regardless, while North Americans may find there are more smokers in Paris, it’s about the same as the rest of Europe and should not deter you from visiting.

A typical Paris scene: cigarettes, wine and a book but smoking has now been banned in cafes and restaurants. Photo by ohbendorf.

7) Parisians hate Americans

This could possibly be one of the most common myths about Paris and is the reason why many Canadians will wear their national flag emblazoned on their backpacks.

However, Canadians aren’t treated much different from Americans and I suspect all tourists are treated the same.

As far as politics is concerned, Americans can get a bad rap but Parisians understand that the average American may not agree with the actions of the government.

In fact you’ll most likely find most locals preferring to discuss American movies or music rather than politics.

Have you been to Paris? Did you find the locals snobbish or did you live it up in the illuminated city? Let me know what you think below.

If you liked this, you might also like: 6 London Myths Exposed.

Main image: a romantic kiss in Paris by kikasso.

20 thoughts on “7 Paris Myths Debunked”

  1. As for the French being rude – my experience with Paris is that the ones that say Parisians are rude, are the ones who are rude themselves – by French standards. It’s a matter of culture.
    I have never been treated so well in my life as I did as a single female traveller in Paris. Don’t talk loud, always greet the salesperson in any shop you enter, always say please and thank you more than might seem necessary, always smile. Always remember you are the guest. It really works wonders. Even people who speak no English will try to help you if you’re polite.

  2. Paris is my second favourite city after London. I have visited many times and always had a fantastic time. Yes, just like any world city, Paris can be dirty, noisy, frenetic and expensive but it is also beautiful, exciting and and stimulating. The only downside I would say is that it’s impossible to get a reasonably priced hotel room that’s larger than a shoe box but then I’ve had that problem in London and New York as well.

  3. Well, sorry to say, but I live in Paris and I think all of these points are true! That doesn’t make Paris a bad place, but it quite simply is smelly, the people are rude, everything’s expensive, and yes many French people hate Americans (partly because they’re probably the tourists that are annoying them by getting lost on the ludicrously simple Metro system).

    I love the city, but that’s in spite of these points; they are no less true, sadly!

  4. Paris can definitely be smelly, the Metro often smells of wee!

    However, I find that Parisians are most definitely not rude (yes, saying hello in French works miracles).

    It’s really expensive though, from hotels to taxis. Metro & buses are very good value on the other hand, so you can always get around.

  5. If something sucks about France, then it’s that they are so ignorant with speaking French!

    I have enough personally experiences with it… From lying in the hospital & nobody cared to get that nurse from the same floor who spoke English… to doctors who spoke Enlgish up to the moment where they had their national holiday.

    There is not much to excuse that. It’s just a very unfriendly way of treating foreigners. I was just back in France 2 weeks ago and had similar experiences again. But I must also say, that I had a few occasions where I thought that it was getting better. But that could have also just been, because we were invited by the region to promote them abroad.

    But France as a country still rocks! I love the landscape & if you get the language problems they have, they are very friendly people! So I would go for my holiday any time to France.

  6. I wonder if the “smelly” accusation is tied to the freedom that dogs once had to use the sidewalk as their bathroom. New laws require owners to clean up after the dog, so I found NO smelly areas where we walked.
    As to rude–they have habits that we may not be used to–like expecting you to say good morning in a store before you say–show me some shoes or whatever; and they don’t like standing in lines, but those things are differences in cultural–something that might be rude here–but not there. And I never found waiters to be rude, but then I never went to 3* restaurants in Paris. Outside of Paris even the 3* waiters were friendly and helpful. And as to accepting someone trying to speak French (very poorly) they were most gracious to me.

  7. Love this! Paris definitely gets a bad rap — or maybe it’s just because we like to make fun of the French?? — but it’s such a wonderful place to travel to. And yes, making an attempt at speaking French instead of simply resorting to English will get you very, very far.

  8. Aside from lots of dog poop everywhere Paris isn’t any dirtier than any other big city you are right. I visited there for my second time in 2007 right before they banned smoking on Jan 1st 2008 and I nearly died from the reek of smoke coming off of me the next morning when I woke up from being out in a bar all of the previous night. I just went again in April and it was a huge difference between then and now and its true I hardly noticed smokers this time.
    I don’t suggest you skip breakfast though, often times it is included in your stay and its awesome to take some “extra” breakfast with you for lunch later in the day like a croissant cheese and ham. A perfect way to save money. Or have your bigger meal out at lunch time when food is cheaper :)

  9. I have to say, my trip to Paris last year proved that these things aren’t true. The thing I hear most often from people is that Parisians aren’t friendly to Americans. I found that if I tried to speak French (and not “parlez-vous anglais” btw), the ones who spoke English either spoke back to me in English or did try to help me in some way. Regarding the other things, I didn’t feel it was extraordinarily dirty or expensive or unsafe.

    I just loooooved my few days there and am going back in March with my niece and nephew. Good times are ahead for trip #2 to Paris!

  10. As a French mom, leaving in Paris and working every day to help American families visiting Paris, I fully agree with all the above (myths and comments!). And I fully agree with this tip: try few words in French -bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci, au revoir at least-…and Parisians will be much more helpfull. Enjoy your stay with us, some Parisians will be happy to help (in English!).

  11. I only experienced 8 hours in Paris on a layover. It was an awesome place. I can’t wait to go back! And yes, someone was very rude to me.

  12. Good article! I totaly agree, especially with a topic about English speaking – parisians really won’t help you (in most cases) if you ‘ll start your question from “Excuse me…or Can you help me”, but try something like “Excusez moi, je cherche des…” and continue in english – this variant will work always. Just don’t forget to learn some french common phrases. In general – all depends from a personal qualities of a person, if someone is rude – this isn’t a matter of nationality

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