The first visit to Paris is magical: you discover its famous monuments, its museums, its churches, its gastronomy. The ones you have seen in a book, a magazine or a movie. Maybe you fell in love with Paris by watching An American in Paris, Amélie or Emily in Paris? The latter is the Netflix series that Parisians love to hate! How can you not fall in love with the fantastic beauty of Paris? I’ve been there too. My very first visit to Paris was like a dream come true. And then, when we moved to the city, I asked myself: do I love or hate Paris? This double feeling is not uncommon. Many Parisians – and sometimes tourists – have it too! In all honesty, let me explain the reasons in this article, which I hope will not scare you away from a trip to Paris!
A “love-hate Paris” adventure in Montmartre
I will never forget that beautiful sunny summer day in Paris. I was organising guided tours in the French capital and on that day I had some Australian clients who wanted to see Montmartre.
It was a family with two children. We met at the exit of the “Abbesses” metro station, and I took them to discover the magnificent view of the Sacré-Coeur from the Place Saint Pierre.
I then offered them a choice: take the funicular (the “Zen” option) or walk up the stairs and alleys of the Square Louise Michel.
They preferred adventure (and sport).
And so, we started to climb the hill. One of the parents had the unfortunate idea to take out his camera. Soon we were harassed by annoying street vendors.
What is that foul smell?
As we reached the top of the hill, we had to follow a path in a wind-sheltered area. A strong smell of urine greeted us. I could see the discomfited faces of my customers. The children, too young to be diplomatic, were saying from the bottom of their hearts: “Oh, but it stinks of pee here!”
Further on, on Avenue Junot, piles of empty alcohol bottles littered the pavement and the gutter, so much so that we had to step over them, taking care not to cut ourselves with broken glass.
Fortunately, my clients were delighted to discover picturesque and unsuspected corners of Montmartre. Their experience was overall positive.
Paris failed me, I hate Paris!
But on the way home, I couldn’t help but think about the dark spots of my visit.
Of course, it wasn’t my fault. However, I felt uncomfortable because part of my living was to show authentic Paris to my clients.
And I can tell you that I was angry at the same time. Mad at Paris, which had failed me!
I love Paris. I hate Paris. This duality is not exclusive to Paris. Other large metropolia in the world have similar problems.
But the problem with Paris is that visitors’ expectations are sometimes (often?) set too high. People form an idea of Paris that does not quite correspond to reality.
This is what happens with some Japanese tourists. Let me explain!
The mysterious “Paris Syndrome” disease
Who would have thought it? Tourists visiting the French capital can succumb to the terrifying “Paris Syndrome”, a strange disease that manifests itself through physical and psychological symptoms: hallucinations, intense heat, panic attacks and feelings of persecution.
An article in the online magazine Slate details its characteristics, revealing that the syndrome affects mostly Japanese people (around twenty per year according to the Japanese embassy in France).
If this is not an April Fool’s joke, one must wonder what the causes are.
Why do people suffer from the Paris Syndrome?
First of all, the disease affects people who go to Paris for the first time. Once there, they are confronted with the reality of Paris.
Yes, Paris may be the City of Light, with such prestigious monuments as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame… But Paris will always be Paris with pickpockets, inequalities, muggings, the indifference of Parisians towards tourists, the dirtiness.
And above all, what ‘kills the myth’ are McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and the like, which do not reflect the traditional image that one has of the French capital.
This significant discrepancy between reality and the sublimated vision of Paris abroad is at the origin of the famous syndrome! We could make a serious study of it!
Why does the Paris of foreigners not reflect reality?
An American and an Australian who has never been to Paris (nor Europe) has only films, advertisements and books to go by!
Look at Disney’s The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Ratatouille: magical Paris, fairytale Paris.
The Chanel Number 5 advert or Doisneau’s black and white photographs? Nostalgic Paris where time seems to have stopped.
Amélie, An American in Paris and Emily in Paris? Paris, a city of lovers romancing under the bridges of the Seine.
Poor Japanese tourists!
And online magazine Slate adds an element to our poor Japanese friends:
“They are the first victims of this out-of-touch image because they are the ones who have the narrowest and most sublimated vision of Paris, the one that their media sends back to them. It is limited to Parisian cafés, the Eiffel Tower and the Louis Vuitton sign. […] According to a BBC News article from 2006, which counted 12 cases of Paris syndrome among the Japanese per year, one of its main causes is the rudeness and coarseness of the French, to which the Japanese – renowned for their refinement – are not accustomed.”
The proof is the international success of the film Amélie. Released on the big screens in 2001, it is still popular thanks to two magical and timeless ingredients: nostalgia and dreams. The film’s setting (in Montmartre) never gets old as it is by nature timeless and reserved for dreamers.
Yet Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s romantic comedy has been criticised (especially by the French!) for its unrealistic and picturesque depiction of contemporary French society in a postcard world of an old-fashioned France. But we will never hear any of this criticism from Japan.
The culprit is obvious!
Mario Renoux, president of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association, said in 2004 that Japanese magazines are mainly responsible for creating this syndrome.
He claimed that the Japanese media, especially magazines, often portray Paris as a place where most people on the street look like ultra-thin models.
Most women dress in haute couture brands, whereas French haute couture brands are mainly foreign consumers. In fact, the French population is much more overweight than the Japanese population.
Poor Japanese! To our American and Australian friends: if you are going to Paris for the first time, don’t be surprised or disappointed by what you see or hear. Paris will remain Paris, a great metropolis of 11 million inhabitants, the City of Light, where everything can surprise you for the worst… and the best!
Why do Parisians love and hate Paris?
Do you remember the 1990s when the Parisians’ most typical complaint was the omnipresence of dog faeces (déjections canines or crottes de chien) on the pavements?
The problem has since been solved thanks to the awareness of dog owners.
Parisians abandon ship!
Paris may be one of the world’s top destinations with 20 million visitors per year (except during the pandemic); however, the City of Light loses inhabitants every year!
Why is the population of Paris still falling?
The exodus of Parisians continues year after year. It seems that Paris is racking up bad points. The decline has been regular since 2012, while at the same time the population has been increasing in all the Ile de France’s départements (Paris region).
The main factors explaining these departures are :
- the high cost of housing,
- the reduced supply of large homes for families, and
- the search for another living environment.
Paris gets all the bad points
- The French capital is considered the most polluted city in France.
- According to a study published by the English website Utility Bidder, Paris is ranked 39th in the world among the 100 largest cities suffering most from fine-particle emissions, poor air quality and heavy traffic congestion.
- In December 2021, The Economist ranked Paris tied with Singapore as the second most expensive city globally.
- A recent study also made Paris the noisiest city in Europe.
- An Ifop survey in October 2021 revealed that 84% of Parisians found their city “dirty”. They were only 53% in the mid-1990s.
In 2020, more and more Parisians expressed their dismay and anger at the deterioration of public space. A point of contention is the sensitive subject of street furniture. Indeed, Paris lovers are sorry to see the degradation of the exceptional Parisian heritage inherited from Davioud or Wallace. This heritage seems to be no longer considered or maintained, such as iconic the Davioud benches.
These are the classic, Gabriel-Davioud-designed benches City Hall doesn’t maintain, because they symbolise bourgeois aesthetics. Concrete is so much better, comrade! #saccageparis pic.twitter.com/gmOWMAcjNQ
— Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (@moutet) November 29, 2021
However, something changed in the Parisian landscape during the pandemic.
Parisian Twitter users get involved!
In Spring 2021, Twitter users posted thousands of tweets highlighting the dirt problem in Paris.
A new hashtag then appeared on Twitter: #SaccageParis (literally #TrashedParis).
Pendant que l’équipe d’@Anne_Hidalgo poursuit son entreprise de destruction de Paris, les parisiens s’organisent avec le hashtag #saccageparis pic.twitter.com/kJyfEBWZ4K
— FouDeParis (@foudeparis) April 2, 2021
Since March 2021, thousands of Internet users have shared photos of:
- uncollected rubbish piling up on the pavements,
- tags disfiguring walls,
- damaged pavements or flower pots,
- and overall ugliness!
Les Grands Boulevards, autrefois lieux de joyeuses promenades, de culture, d’élégance, ces boulevards chantés si souvent, enviés partout, aujourd’hui massacrés, abandonnés, souillés par cette municipalité ! #saccageaparis #AnneHidalgo pic.twitter.com/rsrRfL63mf
— Hidalgophobe (@Hidalgophobe75) January 12, 2022
#SaccageParis: a popular hashtag among Parisians!
This phenomenon has grown to the point that on Friday, 2 April 2021, the hashtag became one of the most “trending” topics on Twitter in France.
#SaccageParis generated over 600,000 posts and hundreds of millions of views in March-April 2021.
The movement’s launch has found significant resonance among Parisians who wanted to share their stories.
In the last two months of 2021, the #SaccageParis movement relayed the slogan to denounce the capital’s ongoing dirtiness and lack of maintenance with more than 200,000 tweets.
The Paris City Council strikes back!
The mayor’s office denounced a smear campaign in response to these messages and the hashtag #SaccageParis.
In fact, since the birth of #SaccageParis on Twitter last March, debates on the city’s cleanliness have never been so heated. To respond to the controversy and the annoyance of a part of the population, the Paris City Council launched a massive plan to renovate and “refresh” the city following the vote on the capital’s 2022 budget. It promises 1.65 billion euros and more than 500 projects to beautify the city and maintain its heritage.
These include new facilities: cycle paths, social housing, green areas, school facilities, sports facilities, mainly because of the upcoming Olympic Games in 2024.
Which landmarks will benefit from rehabilitation?
The Paris city council unveiled some of the places that will benefit from a facelift:
- Some are symbolic landmarks, such as the Pont des Arts. The famous footbridge is often photographed by #SaccageParis activists, particularly for the poor state of its wooden planks – is among the monuments to be rehabilitated.
- The city council also planned the rehabilitation of the cobblestones of the Place de la République, also regularly posted on the networks.
- Several dozen other maintenance projects are planned, particularly for the pavements, the roadway, the gardens, the feet of trees, the lighting, the sports centres and the schools.
Is it as bad as it looks?
The writer Laurent Gaudé, winner of the 2004 Goncourt Prize and a native of the 14th arrondissement, makes a distinction:
“I don’t endorse #SaccageParis. I can come back with photos of both filth and clean pavements with a mobile phone. In fact, I don’t have this impression that the streets would be much dirtier than before. In my memory, it has always been a bit like that.”
The reasons why we should love and not just hate Paris!
Against these negative hate Paris factors, there are fortunately many love Paris points too – at least for those who wish to visit the French capital (and not live there!)
I propose that we discover some of them.
Paris is a historic city
Parisians sometimes accused it of becoming a museum city that risks losing its soul. But strolling through the Marais or the Latin Quarter in search of traces of the past is a rewarding activity. For the curious that we are, what more could you ask for!
Nor should we forget the dozens of museums that make Paris one of the richest cultural cities in the world.
Paris is a daring city
The French capital is full of daring examples of reinvestment in the old. This is the case of the Historical Axis where contemporary monuments have appeared: the Louvre pyramid, the Grande Arche de la Défense.
It is also the case of urban parks created post-war: Parc Georges Brassens, Parc André Citroën, Parc de Belleville, Parc Martin Luther King.
Paris is a gourmet city
The city is proud of its baguettes, croissants and macarons! In Paris, you can find all the gastronomy of the provinces.
Whether you want cheese from Savoy, wine from the Jura, sauerkraut from Alsace or canelés from Bordeaux, the whole of gourmet France is within your reach.
The open-air markets are also an ideal place to buy quality products, as are some of the shops located in the gourmet streets (rue Montorgueil, rue Cler, rue Mouffetard, etc.)
Paris is an excellent base for discovering France
I have Australian friends who usually stay in Paris every year for three months. They take advantage of their trip to explore other sites in France during short stays (2-3 nights). The TGV effectively connects Paris to other French cities in record time (Lille: 1 hour, Metz and Nancy: 1.30 hours, Strasbourg: 1.30 hours, Lyon: 2 hours, Bordeaux: 2 hours, Marseille: 3 hours).
Closer to Paris, the Ile de France region is full of incredible sites: Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Disneyland Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Provins…
A final word on love or hate Paris
So, as you can see, not everything is rosy in the city of love, far from it. But, whether you love or hate Paris, the French capital remains “a moveable feast” for those who learn to appreciate the French capital in its faults and its good sides.
If I had the opportunity to go to Paris at the next minute, I wouldn’t hesitate! I’d take a city map with me and get lost exploring neighbourhoods unknown to the tourist crowds… and never mind if #SaccageParis is a reality: I’d try to close my eyes for a moment!
On the bright side, however, there is little chance that I will suffer from Paris syndrome!
What do you think? Do you love or hate Paris? Leave a comment at the bottom of the article!
What an interesting read. I have heard similar thoughts from others on Paris. I’ve visited this city twice when I was younger and have nothing but great memories.
Thank you, Brandon! I too have fond memories of Paris, despite the inevitable flaws that a big city like Paris can have.
Thank you for this very interesting article on the city of Paris! I will now see it differently! Thank you for bringing out her beauty
You’re welcome! Thanks for the comment 🙂
Thanks, Pierre for sharing this beautiful expérience in Paris😊
My pleasure! Cheers 👋
What an interesting article 🙂
I lived and worked in Paris for 7 months a few years ago.
French native from the region “la Lorraine”, I visited Paris in the past and knew about the beauty of the city.
Though, living/working there was a TOTALLY different experience.
I found myself unhappy and had to move to London (where I live currently) to find a place I like to call home.
Paris is wonderful for art and food as you mention in your article but clearly not my city.
Nevertheless, I do believe that Paris should be experienced. At the end of the day, we’re all different 🙂
What I may dislike, you may adore.
Avec plaisir Sandrine ! Moi aussi, je viens de Lorraine et j’habite en Angleterre 😉
Hey ! 🙂
I live close to paris and sometime I work on in.
I hate this city ^^ For me the good thing that we can find there are less than the bad thing..
It’s dirty, smell bad, not safe, bad (stupid)people etc..
It’s just my feeling, each thinking ^^
Comme je ne suis pas sur de mon anglais je le met aussi en fr
Je vis près de paris et parfois j’y travaille.
Je hais cette ville ^^ Pour moi les bonnes choses qu’on peut trouver là bas sont moins forte que les mauvaises..
C’est sale, ça pu, insécurité, mentalité parisienne..
Ce n’est que mon ressenti, chacun c’est goût ^^
Bravo pour l’effort d’avoir écrit en anglais Nicolas ! Et oui, Paris a de quoi surprendre (en bien ou en mal) !
Bonjour, Pierre. I appreciate your balanced article, but I think you won't be surprised at my reaction. Yes, Paris has detractors; dirt, homelessness, graffiti, pickpockets. But what big international city doesn't? Very few. I have been to Paris many times over the past 40 years and I can say that one of the things that has changed for the better is the attitude of Parisians towards tourists. I've found them to be much more welcoming and kind than in past years. In my opinion the beauty, art, history, cuisine and overall ambiance of Paris far outweighs the bad – and I'd take it over New York City any day!
Thank you Ellen! Yes, Paris is an amazing city and as I ended this article, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Paris if I had the opportunity in the next 5 minutes! 🙂
With the exception of the Covid period I usually visit Paris every year for two weeks in May and sometimes a second visit in September where the weather is a little more stable than May. sometimes I visit a part of France I have never seen for about 5 days then go to Paris for the rest of my stay. Other times I stay in Paris all the time but take day trips to Strasbourg, Rouen, Mt St Michel, Fontainebleau, etc. I see some of the negative things about Paris as well but they don't overwhelm my love of being there. I am from Toronto and we have graffiti on walls like every other city in the world, dog droppings despite a stoop-and-scoop law, garbage bins that are over full or broken open with refuse falling out but it isn't my overall impression of Toronto. I approach places I visit whether in Canada or abroad with a realistic expectation. I began to learn French at 13 years of age and consider myself quite bilingual. France is my unofficial second country and defend it as much or more than i criticize it, just like I do in Canada where I am a citizen. France and Paris are eternal and hopefully its citizens will light a bomb under the politicians who need to wake up to the problems that start small but become larger with neglect.
Thank you very much Michael for your feedback! You’re right in having a realistic expectation when visiting new sites. And as I wrote, Paris is a wonderful base to explore more of France – I’m glad to hear you took the opportunity to discover so much as France from Strasbourg to Normandy! Have a nice week! 👋
I love in a big city so when I visited Paris my expectations were lower because I understand about city issues. I did find parts of the city unclean and then I found some beautiful things as well. There needs to be an awareness and balance of what happens in larger cities. Paris is still a wonderful cultural place to explore art and architecture and it is a great place to wander around and find little treasures. I am hoping to get back to Paris this upcoming September to see more sites (Giverny, Musée de l'Orangerie, and maybe spend a day or 2 going to Normandy) Your love/hate relationship with the city is perfectly normal!!!
Thank you Marilou for your feedback! Indeed there are so much interesting things to discover in Paris! 🙂
We love Paris with all its faults. We spent a month in an apartment and were able to travel to many of lesser known magical places in the city. Yes, we saw homeless, trash, and unkempt parks. But, this is a major city and we would not have expected anything less! (We do live 35 miles from New York City). Travelers should not expect perfection in any city. Just look up at the marvelous architecture and not down in the gutters.
Thank you so much Kathy for your words of wisdom 😊
That’s an excellent article, showing the reasons to love and hate Paris. I lived in Paris for more than 20 years and have written books about Paris. My observation: it’s all about Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891).
The housing. It may be 2022 now, but the architecture of the Paris of today is predominantly the Haussmannian style that was created in the last half of the 19th century when Paris was a vast construction site. That fact makes Paris architecture perhaps the most harmonious and unified than that of any other city except for Venice. I read somewhere that 70% of all the apartments in Paris are in Haussmannian buildings. Perhaps a lot of tourists don’t know what it’s like to live in a Haussmannian building—so beautiful on the outside with the elegant sculptures adorning the limestone façades of those buildings carved by the thousands of anonymous maçons de la Creuse. But it’s a different story—and an extremely expensive story—to adapt the interior of a 19th-century Haussmannian apartment to conform to 21st-century requirements and necessities.
The streets. Baron Haussmann destroyed vast sections of medieval Paris in order to construct the wide Grands Boulevards. They were perfectly suited for the Belle époque with pedestrians, horses and buggies sharing the space. [Look at the paintings by Jean Béraud.] But they’re not suited for 2022, clogged with not only the tens of thousands of four-wheeled vehicles but the half a million two-wheeled cyclomoteurs and motocyclettes—unknown and unimaginable to Haussmann—circulating twenty-four hours a day in Paris and deteriorating the Paris environment with their deafening noises and choking the air with their pollution. The internal combustion engine may end up murdering Paris.
The love. All that said, I would say that people like me who know Paris well end up loving Paris in spite of Paris: we love her because she requires us to love her. If we can slice through the miasma and the clangor, we might end up discovering an unforgettable, buttery croissant in a tiny bakery in the 14th arrondissement or watching a classic film in a vest-pocket art house cinema in the Latin Quarter. Or even meeting the love of one’s life in a tiny bistro on the Rue Mouffetard that seems to have been there forever.
Thank you Ronald for this excellent feedback. I agree: Paris is full of surprises and yes, my daughter Aimée I do remember the delicious butter-croissant from a tiny boulangerie in the 14th arrondissement! 😊
Let's see if the bakery is the same. The one I found was Didier Lavry's Le Petit Mitron at 22, rue Mouton-Duvernet. Its croissants were awarded second prize in the 2016 Best Butter Croissant Contest. I wrote about it in Paris Trip Report, published in 2017. As for the tiny bistro on the rue Mouffetard, it's Le Verre à Pied, of course. It made an appearance in Amélie. If you have a chance, ask the patron when it opened…it does seem like it's been there forever.
Mine was “Au Paradis Gourmand“, 156 rue Raymond-Losserand in the 14th arrt. The boulangerie won the prize of the best baguette in 2013 and supplied the Elysée Palace! 🙂
Well I don't care – I love Paris – it is my favourite city in the world.
I have a balanced view of Paris, I neither love nor hate the city. I enjoyed it for what it is, a large city with ancient monuments, packed in with millions of people with different reasons for being there. Some living alongside the tourist throngs, trying to make a living, those who make a living from the tourists and the tourists. On my most recent visit in 2019, I had no issue with anyone if you are polite, smile and try to speak some French. I have stayed in the 6th, 3rd and 9th and found charm in all. Paris is a great base to do day trips from. Would I return? Probably not, as there are so many other wonderful locations around France yet to explore.
Hey Mark! Yes, there are so many things to see in France outside Paris. I know some Australian friends always bypass Paris when coming to France and head down to the countryside for a relaxing vacation!
Hello, I have enjoyed the article and comments. I'm a 65-year old widow, American from Philadelphia, a much-traveled university professor. I speak Spanish and some Italian in addition to English, but my French is limited to reading knowledge.
Despite having traveled widely, I have never visited Paris except to connect to somewhere else. I am determined to see Paris.
I write to ask the experts here for two specific questions: location and timing.
Location: I am looking for somewhere quiet and beautiful; am more interested in wandering and "feeling" the city, and in sitting quietly people-watching, than in sightseeing. I love historic domestic architecture. I'll visit one or two famous places, but I don't like to be in a hurry or follow touristy paths. I expect to use the Metro a bit, but am a little old for endless staircases, so I'd like to be in a neighborhood that suits me and mostly just stay there, not travel elsewhere.
Timing: I wish to avoid crowds and hurry, so I think of going in the Spring or Autumn. But it does need to be warm enough for walking and sitting outside — those are the main things I wish to do. I will adjust my dates to the advice people here give about the weather.
Hello, thank you for reaching out!
Spring or autumn are the best seasons of the year to enjoy Paris. As you mentioned, there are fewer tourists in town and the queues to museums/landmarks sites are definitely shorter than in summer.
If you are looking for a central neighbourhood (one that will allow you to reach many places by walking, not just métro), I suggest you search for your accommodation in the central arrondissements (4th, 5th and 6th).
If you want more info about discovering offbeat and secret Paris, check out this page on the blog.
Hope this helps,
Have a nice day! Pierre
Do I love Paris? Yes, for 100 %!
I was 19 on my first visit and come back every year at least 2 or 3 times.
When I was 60, I published a book called " Paris on Bike" (in Dutch) with hundreds of my own pictures.
If we (my wife and I) feel the need, we take the car for the 350 km from our home to Paris.
Although I spent at least a few days in every Arondissement, I still make a few lovely pictures here and there.
After 55 years of visiting Paris, I feel welcome and at home in this city.
Let's be honest. Paris is a busy city and sometimes an ennervating one. A lively one, too.
Pictures can lie, too. When you walk in Paris on early New Year's Day, you will see thousands of empty bottles of Champagne on the Champs Elysées. When and where else?
Thank you Hugo!! Vive Paris! 🙂