Whether you’re in Europe or South America, one of the best parts about studying abroad is the proximity of neighboring countries. While the United States is lengthy and difficult to travel across, other countries are smaller and encourage travel to nearby locations.
I am studying abroad in London for for six weeks this summer, and while I love this city with every fiber of my being, weekend excursions are a magical opportunity to further explorations. I went on an AIFS-sponsored excursion to Paris for a weekend, and I know it will be an experience I treasure forever.
However, I did not hold this exuberance the week leading up to Paris. It seemed that whoever I talked to or whatever I read, negative stereotypes about Paris and dire warnings were broadcasted with bright, flashing, capital letters: Beware of pickpockets! Parisians are rude! The city is dirty! The more I heard these exclamations, the more anxious I became, almost to the point where I wished I did not sign up for the excursion at all.
However, after walking throughout Paris and seeing the beautiful city, I can happily say that I will be forever grateful I signed up for the excursion. I got to see artwork in The Louvre, eat tasty macaroons, and travel to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I enjoyed my experience immensely, and I wish I had not spent so much time stressing about everything that could go wrong.
For those of you interested in going to Paris—either as an excursion or for your study abroad experience—it is important to keep in mind that just because something can go wrong, it does not mean that it will.
Below, I have compiled a list of the most common stereotypes about Paris, along with my personal experiences with these stereotypes. I hope that this will ease worries of anyone who wants to travel to Paris but is also feeling hesitant.
1. “Beware of pickpockets.”
What I heard: You will almost certainly definitely lose every single belonging to the vicious clutches of Parisian pickpockets.
I was warned about pickpockets before coming to London, but this tip was broadcasted even more before leaving for Paris. Every single time Paris came up in conversation, pickpockets were mentioned shortly after. I am from Kentucky, where pickpocketing is not really a thing, and people made it seem as if being pickpocketed (or at least knowing someone who was) would be inevitable in Paris.
After my trip to Paris, I can affirm that this is not the case. No one I travelled with had any troubles with pickpockets because we were all wise and aware. You should definitely keep an eye and a hand on your belongings, and you should not set down and leave your stuff wherever. As long as you keep an eye out and act responsibly, you will more than likely be fine.
2. “Parisians can be a bit rude.”
What I heard: All Parisians were born with the power to cut through your very soul with the mere glance of an eye or brush of a hand.
This is one of the many common stereotypes about Paris and French people. It is said that Parisians in particular are, simply put, not nice individuals. Whether it is blamed on the lifestyle or the countless tourists parading around their city, people rarely have anything nice to say about the natives of Paris. I was especially worried about this because I am a very sensitive person, and I was convinced I would burst into tears at the slightest remark.
However, at least in my experience, the Parisians I talked to were all incredibly nice. This may be because I was in the heart of tourist land, so many of them spoke English and were accustomed to dealing with tourists. Nearly every waiter or worker we encountered knew English, and the one waiter who did not know English was still very kind. He worked hard to make sure we all understood each other. Several store owners complemented us, and when we were lost and asked a group of Parisians walking by for directions, they were not annoyed in the least. The only time I noticed Parisians being rude was on the Metro, and even then, it wasn’t rudeness as much as facial expressions conveying annoyance at having to be crowded on the Metro with some (occasionally) loud tourists. Still, no one said anything to us, and we went on our merry way.
Of course, the longer you stay in Paris, the more likely it is that you will encounter some unpleasant people. However, that will happen whether you travel to Paris or stay in your hometown. To avoid potential rude encounters, be patient with everyone you meet, try to speak quieter, avoid blocking walking routes, and do not assume everyone you meet will understand English.
3. “The Metro is rough.”
What I heard: The Metro is where people come to die.
There were a lot of people in my program who had traveled to Paris during the first session, and they all collectively agreed that the Metro was terrible. Before I heard this, I thought I would be okay with the Metro because it is similar to the tube, which I have been mostly navigating with ease.
Once I heard their complaints, I started freaking out. I was prepared for a mode of transportation that was littered with garbage, filled with sketchy people, and designed to make you as lost as possible. Yet again, I was proved wrong. The Metro does tend to be a little more crowded than the tube, and the smell is not quite as nice as London’s underground. Other than that, it is very easy to navigate as long as you pay attention and stick with other people. If worse comes to worse, walking does wonders, and there is always Uber or Lyft.
4. “Paris is dirty.”
What I heard: Get ready to walk through a literal garbage dump.
Of all the stereotypes about Paris, I honestly do not understand where this one comes from. Granted, the city was under a lot of cleaning and renovating when I went, so that may have helped. All in all, the city is not any more dirty than most other cities. It does not smell wonderfully, but I was never close to gagging or holding my nose either. Occasionally, there would be litter on the ground, but it was nothing too horrendous. Of course, there are definitely areas in Paris that are dirtier than others, and it is possible I avoided those areas. Regardless, this is one of the stereotypes about Paris that is not a legitimate reason to avoid the enchanting city.
Although my experience and time spent in Paris will be different than yours, I hope you will take this advice to heart. No matter where you travel to, people will point out all the warnings and stereotypes about that city. Whatever you do, do not let those minor bumps prevent you from traveling. As long as you are prepared and aware, your experience will be everything your want it to be.