As the second most visited city in the world, Paris carries a myriad of myths and generalizations constructed by its millions of visitors every year. In the U.S. at least, the City of Lights has a reputation for being romantic, classy, yet sometimes snobbish. I’d never been to Paris before arriving for my semester abroad, so these stereotypes definitely affected my idea of how my experience would be. But after living in the city for several months, I think I have a fairly developed idea of how valid (or invalid) these ideas are. Keep reading to discover my take on five of the most common Paris myths!
Myth 1: You need to speak French to get around – Faux
Although it definitely helps, by no means do you have to speak French to fully discover the city. The French have the worst reputation among Europeans for their English ability, but most people I’ve encountered have a better grasp on the language than, say, the average American has on Spanish. Furthermore, English is all over the city: on menus, street signs; even metro stations make their announcements in English. As long as you’re aware, you won’t have a problem getting around Paris with limited French.
Myth 2: It’s expensive – Vrai
Just like any major city, Paris isn’t exactly the easiest place to be on a budget. You can find plenty of Michelin-star restaurants and luxe nightclubs here, and will end up spending a lot if you’re not careful. Clothes also tend to be more expensive here as the quality of goods tends to be higher. That said, it isn’t impossible to be frugal in Paris. Take public transportation, for example—a monthly pass is 75 euros and will take you anywhere you need to go, so you can completely avoid taking pricey Ubers if you don’t mind the metro. The price of fresh produce is also comparable to the U.S., and I have just as much fun with a bottle of wine by the Seine as I do popping champagne at the club. Paris is an objectively expensive city, but you can avoid this if you’re mindful.
Myth 3: People are rude – Faux
In my opinion, Americans are some of the warmest people in the world—we’re enthusiastic, smile at strangers, and love to give hugs. Parisians, on the other hand, are considerably more reserved. People keep to themselves and generally don’t smile unless they find something really funny. But that doesn’t mean Parisians are rude or snobby. They just don’t make an effort to be particularly friendly. If you ask a stranger for help with directions, it’s likely that they will point you in the right direction—just without the big smile that is characteristic of Americans. The same goes for restaurant waiters—they’ll take your order and give a recommendation if you ask, but it’s unlikely they’ll go the extra mile to ask if you are enjoying your food or would like to order anything else. Parisians definitely aren’t rude, they’re just themselves.
Myth 4: It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Vrai
Of course, this is a completely subjective opinion, but I’ve never seen another city where the beauty was so classic and distinct. Napoleonic restrictions on the architectural style of Paris have resulted in a cityscape that’s characterized by wrought iron balconies, ornate stone moldings, and sweeping boulevards. Skyscrapers in Paris (yes, they exist) are relegated to the perimeter of the city so as not to disrupt the uniform skyline and distract from the height of the Eiffel Tower.
And it’s not just the buildings that make Paris beautiful, it’s the people. I don’t mean that everyone looks like they belong on the cover of Vogue, but Parisians have a very particular fashion sensibility: fitted trousers, wool coats, and chunky sneakers are everywhere this season—worn by both men and women. They know what looks good, so they’re not interested in experimenting with bold colors or loud prints. Overall, Paris is a city that’s easy on the eyes and will definitely motivate you to appreciate your surroundings.
Myth 5: Everyone wears berets and carries baguettes – Kind of
Ah, two of the most identifiable symbols of French culture: berets and baguettes. In regards to the first artifact, that one’s definitely not true. I’ve seen more beanies than berets on people during my time in the city, and it probably has something to do with the fact that no one has any idea how they’re actually supposed to be worn. Most people I’ve seen sporting the famous hat are tourists hoping to fortify their experience with the accessory, but the average French person does not consider a beret to be the defining element of their look.
The baguette stereotype, on the other hand, is totally true. Never in my life have I seen so many people walking around with large, long loaves of bread during everyday life. No joke, I once saw a woman hauling at least 30 baguettes on the metro. This practice has everything to do with how many boulangeries, or bakeries, there are in the city—why wouldn’t you want to have freshly baked bread every day? Either way, it’s totally normal to see people out and about with baguettes sticking out of their bags, and I don’t blame them either.
Hannah Xue, Study Abroad Correspondent
Hannah Xue is a senior majoring in communication studies at Boston University. She’s currently studying abroad in Paris, France as part of the Paris Internship Program. When she’s not running for the metro, she enjoys watching YouTube before bed and eating pain au chocolat. Keep up with Hannah on Instagram as she savors her last semester of college – @x.ueh