The Paris (Dis)Appointment

It’s been a couple of weeks since my long weekend in Paris, and I still haven’t gotten around to recording my thoughts. I went there with high expectations, given the city’s reputation and hype. How to describe my feeling on this famous old metropolis? I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so disappointed with a city. I guess that is one of the consequences of going with such high expectations. But where to start…?

Let’s go with the architecture to kick us off. It’s all quite grand. The fact that the French surrender whenever an enemy gets with gunshot of Paris has ensured the city has survived remarkably intact. The trouble is, as grand as the buildings are, they are all a bit too similar. Which means the streets start becoming bland and uniform. It lacks the architectural diversity of other cities I’ve been to. I blame the Germans. A few bombs in the 1940’s might have mixed the city up a bit. Also, the oldest buildings, such as Notre Dame, seem over-preserved. Almost like new. It reminded me of the restored paw on the Sphinx in Cairo.

Let’s move on to food. Again, I had high expectations. I knew it’d be pricey, but I hoped to have at least a couple of good French meals. The UK has a terrible reputation for food, so surely Paris could impress my quality starved palate there. I ordered a Boeuf Bourginon. Played it safe. One quality meal would do me. And at least it wouldn’t come served with chips, like it might in London. It was served by a delightful waiter. With chips. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Art and monuments? Paris has the best in the world, as far as art galleries go. I visited just one of them though. I only had four days in the city, and that seemed to be the length of the queue to go to the Louvre. We did go to the Pompidou Centre, and that was a fine, if quirky, building. With a fine collection. The building was designed by a Brit, by the by. They actually had to amend a Parisian planning law to allow a non Frenchman to design a building there. The Eiffel Tower? Didn’t bother going up there either. They only had a single elevator working.  Can you picture the queues? Paris is broke in more ways than one.

There also seemed to be no buzz to the city. No background hum. No energy. I didn’t see a single Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini. It all has a strange blandness. Even the metro lacked any real charm – it was functional but terribly bland. Which is a shame. I normally love metro systems. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my trip. But it really wasn’t the city I expected it to be. Everything is grossly overpriced. Grossly. Which may explain why the vast majority of cafes, brasseries and restaurants were empty.

Are you tossing up between a trip to Paris or London? I may be accused of bias, but I promise I’m being objective. I’ve been thinking about this for a good couple of weeks. London has energy, diversity and surprises galore. You can eat well, affordably. In fact you can eat at a Michelin star restaurant for less than some fairly run of the mill Parisian restaurants. The Tube is an adventure. The best London museums are just as good, more diverse and -get this – free to enter. Different neighbourhoods in London can appear to be from different worlds.

It’s not just London I’d recommend over Paris though. New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Budapest, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar are all cities that I’d prefer to visit a second time rather than the French capital. Sorry Paris, but out of ten, I award you four stars. Not that Paris will care. My stars count for little. Still. At least I can say I’ve been. But I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to bother. If you do, I suggest going out of season in January or February. Did I take any photos? Sure. But I have to say my camera stayed in my bag most of the time. I was just that apathetic. I reckon I took fewer snaps in four days than I have sometimes done in a single day in Mexico City or London. But anyway, there’s all here on Flickr.

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12 Comments

  • OK, I’ll add to your thoughts and since I live in neither city, maybe I’ll be more objective.

    I kind of agree with you about Paris vs London. London seems to have a pulse, excitement, and newness that Paris lacks. The latter is lovely; don’t get me wrong. But it has more of the feeling of an open-air museum than a real, pulsing city. I’ve also read that in the more touristy areas (aka the inner arrondissements), Paris tends to be inhabited by older, single people. In contrast, London seems to be the domain of the young rich and the young aspiring, which tends to create a lot more excitement.

    Finally, people don’t tend to realize just how conservative the French really are. Sure, they just elected a socialist president, but at the core are a conservative lot. They have a terrific cuisine, but don’t try to do anything new. Wine making was codified in the 19th century, and no deviations from the law are permitted. Finally, as you note, the architecture is quite similar, and there are lots of rules on who can build what. The British on the other hand are a much more adventuresome lot and their capital (not to mention their intrepid history) reflects that fact.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    DF, Mexico
    Where we are shopping for a house today.

    • I think that they are conservative is pretty apparent from this side of the channel – their language is the big issue for French preservation societies today. It has pretty much disappeared from international use, in fairly dramatic style. It wasn’t so long ago that it was the language of the airlines and the European Union. Today is ranks not just behind English, but also arguably Spanish, Mandarin, German and Russian in importance.

      I can’t disagree with anything you said though. If I had more time tonight, there were other things I would have elaborated upon. But bed time calls. Or Mrs P is shouting, take your pick. Ce la vie.

    • I read you post and really enjoyed it. And I can believe it … see my comment to Steve. I read the other post you link to about their trip to Paris. I can absolutely relate to it. In fact this post and their account are much of the same, just three years apart.

    • Despite their reputation, I thoroughly liked all the Parisians we met. Except for one drunk douche on the metro and the dodgy street vendors/tricksters who constantly harass you. Other that them, Parisians are perfectly nice. Which is what I expected. The populations of big cities, including London and New York, often get a bad rap for being unfriendly. Unfairly, in my opinion.

  • During the past three decades, Paris has been slipping on my “must return” list. But, then, so has London. London is great for short visits. Especially, the theater and museums. And its monuments are certainly less fussy — if not as well-placed. But I doubt I could live full time in either place these days — even if my cash flow would allow it.

    Just last night I was thinking how nice it would be to spend an evening in the West End. And you reminded me — I can. I just need to put on my traveling shoes.

    • To be honest, I could happily live in either Paris or London if cash permitted. I suspect Paris would make for a very interesting lifestyle. Although I’d still prefer London, but that’s as much to do with my bias I suspect. But for visits….I’m afraid Paris won’t get any more tourist dollars out of me.

  • Shame that the “City of Lights” appeal has Lost its bright glow, dimmed and diminished by the neon of memory…. Thanks for the photos…
    Dan in NC

    • There is a caveat to my tale. It poured with rain half the time we were there. And we arrived exhausted. They coloured the trip to a certain degree. But still, even taking that into account…disappointing.

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