Having lived in the gorgeous capital of France for almost four months now, I’ve been exposed to all manner of things that I never thought I would encounter. I want to share with you the bizarre, the amusing, and the not so great bits about Paris that you will certainly never find in a guide book.
1. The vast number of Chinese couples having pre-wedding photos in front of famous landmarks:
This is definitely one of the more peculiar sights I’ve seen, whether it was during a hung-over walk to the Eiffel Tower or on my daily commute. It’s a modern Chinese custom to have wedding photos taken before they are married in order to display them on the day of the nuptials. The industry is a lucrative one, with wealthy young couples displaying their snaps from famous cities across the globe as a status symbol. These photoshoots can often last the whole day, with bride and groom-to-be fully kitted out in wedding attire, and I’ve even seen one with their whole entourage of bridesmaids and page boys posing near Notre Dame! Paris is apparently the most popular European city for this, thanks to its reputation as the City of Love, so don’t be surprised if you stumble across one of these strange setups walking down the middle of a bridge with lanes of traffic on either side, just so they can use the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.
2. The scooters:
If you haven’t had the pleasure of acquainting yourself with Parisian streets, let me break the news to you now. Almost the entire city is a complicated one way system; there is a city-wide disregard for the green man on traffic lights, with many motorcyclists seeming to take it as their right to ride on the pavement. Perhaps due to these factors, many commuters are dissuaded from cycling and with the metro being horrendously stuffy during the summer months, they take to their scooters instead. I am not referring to scooters as in gorgeous little Vespas, but actual push-with-one-foot-why-didn’t-I-get-the-blue-one scooters. It’s an amusing sight to see distinguished, grey-haired, Armani-suited City workers on the sort of scooter I owned aged 7. But after further reflection, I have to admit that I could see the benefits: faster than walking, cooler than le métro, cheaper than an actual motorbike, and your suit doesn’t get consequently creased. French commuters, I hand it to you, excellent idea!
3. The pleasantries:
Les bises, to everyone, all the time. Sans exception. Unless you are at work and, like me, are in an office with 120 other people that you see very day, when entering a room, it is customary to give everyone les bises- an air kiss on either cheek. This goes for women to women, women to men and men to men, which is something that my male friends have found hard adjusting to. Several times I’ve gone in for a handshake and ended up awkwardly stabbing someone in the chest as they lean in for a kiss, so better to embrace the kissing as part of French culture and kiss everyone entering or leaving a room. In addition, not to wish someone ‘bon appetit’ before they eat is a social slight, so I advise remaining interminably polite and saying bonjour every time you see someone, bon weekend when they leave work on a Friday and wishing them a nice meal every time they go for food.
4.The way that everything shuts on a Sunday:
In quite a nice touch, the French have stuck to traditional opening hours, meaning that the vast majority of shops are closed on Sundays. Whilst this inconvenience often prevents a charming Louis Malle-esque Parisian street-side scene — complete with freshly baked croissants — the completely empty streets allow for amazing Sunday morning walks throughout the normally bustling city, especially as many streets are also pedestrianised for markets.
5. Last but not least — les lieux insolites:
The lesser known places, which I found either by exploring on my own or by picking the brains of my co-workers, are undoubtedly the best. The Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Coeur are indisputably gorgeous, a must-see for any Parisian first-timer. However, if you are looking to become even semi-integrated into the notoriously exclusive Parisian community, you should try to stay off the tourist trail and broaden your understanding of the city. From a Sunday morning espresso on Rue Montorgueil, or a promenade along the glorious, abandoned elevated railway line from Bastille (Coulée Verte), to exploring the cute Musée de la Vie Romantique and a typical Parisian ‘after-works’ on the banks of Canal St-Martin, Paris has a lot more to offer than Eiffel tower key rings and knock-off Louis Vuitton bags. You could even head to the Père Lachaise cemetery — the largest green space in Paris — for a weekend walk in the sun: the list is endless...