I have heard it said that the problem with France is that it full of French people. I’ve heard it said quite a bit actually, I live in England. This is bollocks, I am rather fond of a number of French people and on fairly good terms with many more. Being French does not make you an elitist asshole any more than being Irish makes you a drunk – the odds are statistically higher but you probably shouldn’t use it as a basic assumption. I haven’t seen much of France. I’ve been to Lyon but only for a friend’s wedding, and I have been to Paris 4 times. So largely, my experience of France is Paris.

I fucking hate Paris.

Yes, I know. Beauty; culture; fashion; history; Paris has it all. I completely agree. It has some absolutely stunning architecture, it has the feel of character and the weight of centuries I believe is crucial to a great city. It has an intense appreciation of art and is one of the centres of the world for fashion and the creation of new art and forms of art. It is everything that I have ever listed I want in a place to live, work, or spend time.

But I fucking hate Paris.

Every time I go there I arrive wondering why it is that I thought this place was so terrible. I get into a cab, I use my bad but sufficient French to direct the cab driver, pay the fare, and disembark at my destination. On the way I pass nothing but beautifully constructed buildings, well dressed people, and on this last trip even the overwhelming presence of the Louvre. By the time I arrive at my destination I am feeling slightly enchanted by the whole thing.

Then I go out to eat, on this occasion with a colleague.  We obtain drinks and then ask for a food menu, which we are duly given. We then proceed to sit there for an hour. Our drinks have been drained about halfway through this time period, and no-one has offered to replenish them or even attempted to take our food order. When we eventually grow tired of waiting and accost a waiter on his way past, he impatiently tells us to wait, and then after another 10 minutes still has not returned. Eventually we order at the bar, our food takes another half hour to arrive and is the wrong food. We return it and eventually after another wait are served the correct meal. Which is absolutely delicious, let us give credit where it’s due.

Isolated incident? Nope. Pretty much the exact same thing happened at lunch the following day in a different establishment in another part of the city. To be fair, in the second place the waiters were nice as opposed to incredibly rude, just very slow and prone to getting the order wrong. But even ordering a cup of hot chocolate in a café later that day earned me a look that indicated I was worse than Hitler, presumably for having the audacity to request they accept my money in exchange for conveying a cup of hot liquid to my table.

At this point in the rant you are probably thinking “well it’s because they don’t like it when you speak English to them, everyone knows that”. So I should establish that I was speaking fucking French. Now I will not claim my French is very good, but to order some food you basically need to be able to pronounce the menu item along with “I would like”, “please” and “thank you”. I assure you that even if I can give no guarantees about my ability to conjugate the past imperative or have a discussion about Sartre’s position on existentialism, I can order my bloody dinner and can do so in a passable accent. So the standard excuse does not really apply.

I am of course not basing my opinion of a city merely on bad service. But the attitude of Paris is one which just doesn’t seem to gel with me. I’ve been spat at on the street, I’ve had my ass grabbed in the metro, I’ve had small stones thrown at me on my way out of the underground. I’ve also had my wallet stolen but I suppose that could happen in any big city. Every single time I arrive I start by feeling the magic, but it always seem to end with “I fucking hate Paris” But I know there must be something there, I can feel it hiding around the corner from me and running away when I look.

Someday, it will be magic.

2 Comments so far

  1. Ann on April 21st, 2011

    Paris is not France. Paris is Paris. Try Toulouse instead.

  2. artemis on April 26th, 2011

    I was not under the impression Paris was representative of France, which is why the post is not entitled “France” :) Someday perhaps I will try Toulouse and be delighted, however I think a lot of my disappointment with Paris stems from the fact that it is a city I _should_ be able to like but don’t.

    Your basic opinion of my travel experiences seems to be that whenever I find something less than thrilling I am just doing it wrong. Perhaps I am.

    The vast majority of places I visit are not chosen by me, nor do they allow me vast amounts of free time to pursue any personal appreciation. I don’t think this invalidates my opinion of what experience I do actually have though. Writing a less than stellar review of a city is not a complaint.