For the last two months you’ve heard me go on (and on) about how beautiful and interesting and quirky Paris is. Do I think I’ve died and gone to heaven? Well, no. There are at least eight things I don’t like about Paris, and that’s what this entry is about.
1) Paris is expensive. It’s a challenge to spend less than 30 euros for lunch for two people, and 30 euros equals about $42. We limited our restaurant meals to one per day, usually lunch. We ate cereal and yogurt at our apartment for breakfast and usually had bread, cheese, and fruit in the evenings. Sometimes we bought a rotisserie chicken and vegetables at a market and had that instead of a restaurant lunch.
Having said that, it’s very easy and reasonable to buy delicious bread in Paris. And, if you don’t mind being without a car, transportation is reasonably priced. Health care costs are also reasonable. Our French teacher cut her finger while in the U.S., and had to have a few stitches. She went to a clinic in Germany to have the stitches removed, and they charged her 16 euros (about $23). Unfortunately, they overlooked one stitch, and it began to get infected. When she returned to Paris, her mother’s doctor made a house call to remove the offending stitch, and charged her only 33 euros (about $47). And these are the charges for a non-resident. I’ve known people in the United States who removed their own stitches because they couldn’t afford to go to a doctor.
2) Cobblestones Sure they’re beautiful and atmospheric, but they’re also a twisted ankle waiting to happen. Cobblestones are treacherous for anyone on horseback, on a bicycle, or wearing fashionable shoes. Plus they’re painful to walk on. After a short period of time walking on cobblestones, your feet hurt and your legs and hips ache.
Hey, Paris, have you ever considered asphalt? I know it’s not beautiful, in fact, it’s downright ugly, but it’s safe and it’s forgiving to walk on. Sometimes aesthetics are out-weighed by safety and comfort.
3) Pigeons To re-punctuate Gertrude Stein, “Pigeons on the grass - Alas.” Alas, indeed! There are way too many pigeons in Paris. They swarm in parks and around cafes. I’ve even seen them walking inside cafes. They swoop down toward you within inches of your face. Once in a park I looked down to see bird shit on my shirt. I can’t swear that a pigeon was responsible, but given the ratio of pigeons to other birds, it seems extremely likely.
4) The Métro is a great way to get around, but it can be crowded, hot, and smelly. I realize this is true of any large city, but that doesn’t make it easier to tolerate when you’re tired after a long day of sightseeing.
5) The streets are filthy by the end of the day. There are plenty of trash receptacles, but a large number of people seem to ignore them. Once, in a residential area, a rat ran across my path. On the other hand, a large percentage of workers are civil servants, and apparently a large percentage of them work in public sanitation. In the morning you wake up to clean streets, and city workers are washing down the gutters.
6) The city can be too crowded and noisy, especially tourist areas and central gathering points like Place de la République or Place de la Bastille. However, Paris has a huge number of parks and quiet courtyards and passages, so if the crowds and noise are beginning to bother you, it’s not difficult to find a quiet uncongested area nearby.
7) The beggars in Paris seem to be more pathetic and desperate than panhandlers in American cities. Many of them have babies or dogs. This trip I saw one beggar with a rabbit and one with a chicken! Once on the Métro I saw a woman, perhaps a gypsy, wearing a long dress. One of her legs appeared to be at a right angle to the other. She was walking the aisles of the train barefoot, asking for money. American politicians are always talking disdainfully about France as a socialist country. What happened to the social safety net?
Nevertheless, I didn’t notice as many beggars kneeling submissively on the sidewalks or Métro walkways as I had in past visits.
8) And finally, the city seems to be designed only for the able-bodied. I saw very few people in wheelchairs and the Métro would probably be impossible to navigate in a wheelchair. I remember only a couple of restaurants whose restrooms were on the ground floor. The typical restroom is either up or down a narrow, winding, poorly lit stairway without handrails.
Having made these complaints, do I recommend Paris as a vacation destination? Of course. Just don’t expect everything to be exactly like it is in the U.S. Expect to be annoyed occasionally, but also expect to be wonderstruck at the beauty, fascinated by the history, and amused by the quirkiness of the city.