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).
— 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 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).
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!