The glowly, cobblestone image of Paris is both universal and legendary. But what are the hidden secrets that the tourists don't know?
1. It's Not As Extortionate As You Think
'Oh but Paris is horribly expensive isn't it?' Yes, in that it's markedly more expensive than other French cities. But it doesn't even make the Top 20 of the world's most expensive cities to live in. All cities come with a price tag, and this one comes with lots of tourist traps. You have to be sensible about location: two small bottles of Perrier for 16€ opposite Gare du Nord, is one ouch moment I remember well. When it comes to rent, Paris is 12% cheaper than the London, something that makes a huge difference in the long run. Transport too, is 55% cheaper at 73€ versus £132.
For a tourist weekend, of course it's expensive when you're eating out 2 of 3 meals a day and don't have a great sense of which areas should be avoided or not. Paris's big and beautiful outdoor spaces - from parks to forests to canals - mean that there's always a backdrop that's better than a restaurant. And cheaper.
2. French Men Are Not (Always) Out to Bed You
French men have a certain reputation. Sultry eye contact interrupted by the rhythmic exhaling of smoke, with moon-promising speeches. This is probably the most potent cliché about France, but is the rumour founded? A Pew Research tank found that 57% of French people felt that extra marital affairs were not morally acceptable, while 12% felt that they were. So where do the fallacy and the facts collide? Sure, Frenchman might be culpable for some broken hearted exchange students but I don't think they can be branded as bed-hopping charmers across the board.
So the next time someone siddles up to you in bar, take their silken parole with a pinch of salt but don't lump them all into the same box. It's not their fault they've got the gift of the gab.
3. Pass on the Louvre, See Outdoor Art Instead
Like all city dwellers, touristy things are reserved for tourists. In London I'd never been to the Tower of London; in Paris I'd never been to the Louvre. That changed last weekend, when I went with friends that were visiting. Of course, it's beautiful (the building and gardens alone are incredible) and stuffed tighter than a corset with iconic art. It's also packed and enormous, I was feeling feeble after just 2 hours.
The temptation to do these must-spots is overwhelming, but Paris holds less time-consuming options to take in contemporary culture. Paris has a great street art scene; from wall-scaling images to trompe-l'œil murals.
Street Art Paris has a great tour around Belleville; rue Denoyez in particular is a constant canvas for street art. The canal Saint Martin is also a hub for aspiring artists. The city is also home to the now world-famous Space Invaders art project. Keep your eyes peeled and you're sure to spot hundreds of these ceramic designs on walls around Paris.
4. Not Everything Is La Vie En Rose
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world (with door knockers better than yours), but the streets aren't all paved with macarons. In fact, watch your feet - there's often a less tasty morsel left on the pavings. The famed French love of dogs has less glamourous consequences.
The portrait that shocks tourists and locals alike is the amount of homeless on Paris' streets. A disproportion of wealth and insufficient support systems means that the city's SDF (sans domicile fixé / without a fixed home) are bound sleep on the metro, park benches and on the street. An OddsNinja study discovered that the number of people sleeping without a shelter has risen by 50% between 2001 to 2012. Shelter provisions provided by the state are currently not sufficient in number or hygiene standards.
5. French People Aren't Rude, You Are!
The French might be famed for their dislike of tourists, but it could be that you're not abiding by the common courtesy. The English mind their ps and qs but in France you must always say hello and goodbye when entering shops. This applies whether you're going into the local boulangerie, high street store, or supermarket.
Ignoring this courtesy could result some frosty service. Being shouted 'au revoir' on my way out of a shop because I'd not addressed the owner inset these principles rather firmly. An elevator presents an unusual situation when you say bonjour, swiftly followed by bonne journée three seconds later.