Ah, Paris: romance-capital – the city of beret-wearing, baguette-chomping beauties. Where everybody wears stripes and has a moustache (70% of them belonging to men) and listens to Edith Piaf and feels gorgeously tortured. Right? RIGHT!?
Well maybe not.
Paris has suffered under an umbrella of illusion for quite some time. Amelie has crafted it to be a place of fairytale whimsy, Charade a place of mystery and shadowed lust and The Aristocats, a place where a load of cool cats (literally) hang out. Even Thomas O’Malley exudes a sense of being impossibly rogue and sexy (a popular perception of young French males) – and he’s a bloody animated cat. It seems that in the world of film and expectation, Paris can do no wrong. It’s your hotspot for blooming love (or dirty sex, which the French are also apparently famous for mastering), pastries, delightful swoon-worthy accents and pastel-coloured luxury buildings.
Okay, the French accent is not always sexy. I feel bad for saying it, because half of my family possess it and I don’t want to undermine their rather flattering vocal stereotype – but it’s not. It’s regional, just like in England or Spain or Japan. In some areas of the country it literally sounds like a tiny tractor ploughing throats. Elsewhere there is a lot of phlegm-ing to be done. And not everybody has a moustache, easily explained by the fact that people no longer feel the need to adapt to their traditional stereotypes and can do whatever-the-hell they please to their faces, thank you very much. Similarly, some of the French are not romantic, are not into S&M and some may even have intolerances to gluten, shockingly.
I do not mean to imply that our stereotypes of Paris are entirely wrong. Simply that it is just like every other city in the world, and France is just like every other country – with its good and bad. The people aren’t perfect. In fact, the stereotype that the French are more grumpy than any other nationality completely contrasts with the idea that they’re also lovely and romantic and all possess 6-packs. Try and have a 6-pack when you make the greatest cheese in the world. Try being happy and sexy all the time when you have to do a commute every day on a stinky Metro, pushed together with your other sleep-deprived peers like sardines in a tin.
Yet Paris, out of every city in the world, appears to have been romanticised to the most extreme extent, despite the fact that it is full of regular-functioning humans just like the rest of the world who can only fulfil regular-functioning expectations. Parisian life has been elevated to such a degree that some people get treated for hysteria upon arriving, as the real thing is so different from what they thought. This is called Paris Syndrome and was first diagnosed by Professor Hiroaki Ota – a traveller suffers hallucinations, feelings of persecution and depression upon their culture shock received by Actual Paris. It is most commonly found within Japanese and Scottish travellers and a helpline has been set up in order to provide support for those who suffer from it. Like, that is mad.
I mean, I do understand. Some people spend their whole lives saving up for a trip to Paris or Europe or whatever, thinking that it will be one thing when actually it is something pretty different. That would be enough to shock and upset you. But since when has a busy city been able to accommodate all of your fantasies? People aren’t robots and buildings can’t stay impossibly clean concerning the amount of petrol and food-bits and spray cans bowling around.
There are definitely some things which have received expectation-credit which are worthy of it: The Notre Dame is as beautiful as it sounds (and looks on Google Images), the Eiffel Tower is the perfect, cliched romantic spot at night (despite the fact you have to travel up it in a terrifying slanty elevator and if someone is sick, everybody shares) and the food is that damn good – beautiful patisseries, boulangeries and bars are resplendent in the capital. You just have to know where to look, like you do with everywhere else. Thus I think it is important that we relinquish, a bit, the myth of Paris – myths should be left for fairytales, not for real life and not for the purpose of adding pressure to an ideal that will only be damaging later. For Paris has a lot to say for itself in the form that it’s in – its varied history is tangible, its people are interesting, its broad culture is friendly and raucous. Graffiti graces the walls of some buildings, like everywhere else. Book stalls and merchants set shop up next to the bridge, a beautiful sight on a sunny day. Wine is £3 in some convenience stores – another beautiful sight on a sunny day.
Everywhere in the world, if you are to travel, should be anticipated with a bit of caution. Italy is not filled with florists and violinists (though the expectation that they are excellent at pizza is well-founded). London is not full of tea-drinkers with posh voices (trust me). Japan is not full of “kawaii” youth and super hot technology. And Paris is not full of young poets and ready lovers. Accept Paris as it is, not as myth. You’ll find a greater beauty there.