I’m nowhere near an expert on Paris yet, but I figured I’d try to debunk (at least in part) some of the Parisian stereotypes that often become ingrained in Americans’ minds. Here are eight of my preconceived notions that, after five days in Paris, I think I can pick apart pretty well. To those who know Paris better than I do, if I’m grossly wrong on any of these, please let me know — I’m not trying to assume prematurely!
*Parisians tend to adopt a look of annoyance when you speak to them in English. They want you at least to make a good faith effort to speak French.
SOMEWHAT TRUE. By all means, try to speak a little French if you can, because some people will make a face if you don’t. “Bonjur” and “see vu play” are just not that hard, y’all. I’ve had several experiences where I’ve used French and store workers responded to me in English — not what I really want as a student trying to improve my second language, but often helpful nevertheless. Still, most people here I’ve encountered know English and are used to large waves of foreigners, so you can stumble along for the first couple of weeks and generally be just fine.
*All Parisians wear is black.
SOMEWHAT TRUE. I swear I saw some greys and browns yesterday…? But really, most people wear a lot of black. If you want to fit in and rock a color in your habillement du jour, buy a scarf. Having said that, it’s not a crime to wear other colors, seeing as there are thousands of tourists and foreign exchange students here at any given date throughout the year. Peacoats of a neutral color seem to be a staple for most everyone when it’s cooler.
*Even if it’s warmer outside on a winter day, Parisians still wear the same seasonal clothing.
TRUE. Yesterday it got up into the 50s (Fahrenheit, of course) with sunshine — to me, it felt like t-shirt or light jacket weather. But every person Henry and I passed on the street was still wearing a large coat and a scarf, bundled up like it was well below freezing. I would have been visibly roasting! I’ve heard that Parisians still wear pants and long sleeves even in late spring and summer, so stay tuned on that front.
*When walking in Paris, don’t smile, like, ever. Give everyone the cold shoulder; that’s considered normal. Smiling means you’re “coming onto them.”
TRUE. It’s harder than you think not to smile. Sorry I’m a friendly person? It’s important to note, though, that it’s considered rude if you don’t smile and say “bonjour” to the first attendant you see when you walk into a store.
*Since Parisians don’t smile often, they’re not friendly.
FALSE. The first Parisian woman with whom Henry, Charlotte and I had a significant encounter was Mme. Carié, the landlady for our apartment. She was incredibly sweet and gracious, and she had cleaned up the place herself and folded all of the linens before our arrival. She explained how the place’s appliances worked slowly and often paused to make sure we understood her. She even offered to help lug my 50-pound monstrosity of a suitcase up the stairs (which I politely declined!). And otherwise, all of the people who I’ve asked for help have been kind and patient, particularly when I didn’t know the word for something (for example, “Pourriez-vous me dire où on trouve le produit pour faire la lessive?” when I didn’t know how to say “laundry detergent”).
*Parisians do run for exercise occasionally, but not in the streets — only, only in parks. Otherwise people will stare at you and make scoffing noises like you’re the most annoying thing they’ve seen all day.
FALSE. You’ve got to run in some streets to even get to the parks, and places like the Jardin du Luxembourg are beautiful but don’t offer a lot of long-distance terrain for the ambitious runner. The bike paths are a great option, too, but don’t run with music blasting through your headphones, because you really do need to get out of the way if you hear a bike bell! One note: People who have played Grand Theft Auto or the like in the past have a significant advantage, because weaving in and out of endless pedestrian traffic is eerily similar.
*Everything is more expensive in Paris.
SOMEWHAT TRUE. I have yet to find cheap coffee at a cafe, or even at a chain coffee shop. A black coffee that costs $1.80 or so in the U.S. is generally 3.50 euros here (or almost $5), and don’t even think about something fancy like a Caffe Mocha (which runs at $7-$8 for a 16-ounce cup). Nip your caffeine addiction in the bud before coming here (something Henry suggested I try, but honestly I’m one of those hopeless cases in the land of the coffee addicted). Otherwise buy a filter and ground coffee, or learn to like the instant crap that I swore never to touch again. Clothes, most foods, sodas — it’s all more expensive. But the price of wine, starting at under 3 euros a bottle, is a godsend.
*It rains a lot in Paris.
TRUE. And it tends to come unannounced. Don’t be dumb like me and think, “Psh, I never used a raincoat when it rained at UNC, I’ll be fine,” because I’ve already been caught in the rain while almost three miles from my apartment — Henry and I definitely got a few stares from better-prepared pedestrians. Always bring a small cover-up with you if you’re venturing out for the day. I really can’t have a problem with the rain, though, when the views look like this only five minutes after a heavy shower.