How not to spend a miserable time in Paris

I think the thought was born at Piazza San Marc in Venice, the conclusion of which was reached whilst considering a vomit puddle underneath that Christ Statue in Rio. Ten years passed between those two events and I had a lot of time to think about tourism. Mainly during atrocious activities and visits, pressed against a sweaty German, or during 14-hour-long flights, while listening to 134 crying babies from my 76Q seat (The one at the middle of the 15-seat row, next to the bathroom and the nuclear waste disposal).

I loathe mass tourism with a regular and constant hatred.

Problem is, I like traveling. So I have to go through those insufferable moments that compose the struggles of a globe-trotter. Alas! I am jet-less for now and have to crawl within the awful mass of other human beings.

And I thank Cryon – a god a mother of a friend prays to, especially to get a parking spot or the last vanilla pudding – every day I was born Parisian.

If not, I would have had to VISIT the city!

People, I can only imagine what you’re going through. Because, added to the numerous challenges of mass tourism, you have to deal with the profound inefficiency of our infrastructures, the antipathetic and monosyllabic population, the cray-cray homeless people who jerk themselves off or steal your food.

This friend of mine with the Cryon mother? He got Macdonalds-mugged. A guy snatched his Sunday-hangover-braveheart paper bag, which of course was torn apart during the theft-and-run.

It seems we have a special special way of being douchy, especially to foreigners visiting the city.

Of course, you need to bear in mind we are the most visited city in the most visited country of the globe.

You also need to bear in mind how, well, awful everyone becomes when traveling.

Because, as I squeeze myself into the 20 square centimeters a plane company was kind enough to let me pay 1400 euros for, or when I have to book a 8 am visit to Grenada’s Alhambra, during which I will sleepily – what a treat to get up really early on holidays! – follow a horde of amateur photographs for a guided visit of a beautiful thing impossible to properly appreciate, because, as I do all this, I don’t feel close to other people.

In fact, quite the contrary happens. I am injected with a bad mood and irritation and anger and, well, despise and contempt for everyone.

It does to me the exact opposite of what traveling is about. Plus, people, who cares about your shaky selfie in front of Notre-Dame? Do you need to take that many pictures?

Here are a few reminders of what it is about to not spend an atrocious time while on holidays.

Don’t buy a guide or book a tour or anything

Don’t. Just don’t. Really don’t.

If you think about it, there are not a lot of travel guides. It is not a huge section of a book shop. Sure, it may feel like you have a good deal of choices, but think of the number of people who will buy just the same guide and go to the same places and imagine the same trip you’re imagining. The more people knows about this charming little restaurant tucked in nature, the worst the reality will become. Also, it will be closed and in renovation up until 2018. Or it will have changed hands and the food will be prison food from Serbia.

If you follow someone else’s trip (because that’s what it is, and a pretty good one at that: a guy who speaks the language and stays three months and has everything he spends reimbursed), like everyone else, seduced by promising pictures (way better than yours by the way)), you will be disappointed.

Also, every single hotel, Airbnb and hostel has information on Paris. Those guides will be everywhere you go, abandoned by that sweaty German for example.

Finally, do you need to read fifteen pages on the Louvre? Don’t you think the museum itself will provide way better information? All you need are the opening hours, and it is easily checked on Internet.

The time I threw my last travel guide was in Brazil. I had followed the alluring shopping area where you’ll find everything, in a vibrant and colorful neighborhood. I got into São Paulo’s dirtiest dump of an area, walked into the most paranoiac way, my bag squeezed against me, while homeless people tried to sell me selfie sticks, in a crowd of unhappy and tired people. I mean, come on.

Instead…

First thing is to ask around you before leaving. Check if you know anyone – who knows anyone – in the city. Ask for websites, places, people, anything.

When you do your research, don’t google in English. Try and translate the words so you get French websites. Most of the time, they will be an English version. But you will get access to the « true » information, and not the one reserved to english-only tourists.

On site, also ask. Don’t ask the guy at the reception (they probably have deals with surrounding shops and restaurants), but rather the waiter who barely speaks English in a small café, or the lady next to you in the bus.

Don’t worry: you will find more than enough, and you won’t have ridiculous expectations and glossy pictures of the place.

Don’t dress up like an extreme survivalist

Something I just don’t get, when I have to cut through a touristic place in Paris and look through the crowds, is the tourist look. Is there some kind of hoax upon tourists in Paris? Because, people, it looks like you raided a camping store.

Yes, it may also look absurd to you, but remember you are in the city of fashion. To us, it is not about confort first. It is about having the perfect, timeless outfit. I have actual conversations about rolls. I consider myself a specialist of rolling up sleeves and pants. Seriously.

So, it’s also about leaving the tourist uniform and taking what you would usually wear. Plus, a good side it the Parisian weather is completely unpredictable. It will rain, shine, wind, snow, heat up, cold down, in a day. More probably than not, it will rain. The weather will be awful. So just take what you wear home when it rains. Don’t be those guys.

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Be nice

One of the reasons Parisians may be so abrupt is they get a lot of unsolicited – and sometimes rude – interactions. Some tourists feel in an attraction park and forget their manners. It’s (directly in English, because us indigenous autochtones better know the civilized language) where is the Eiffel Tower and a brandished map.

However, a simple “Bonjour, je ne parle pas français, can you help me“ will open you every doors. It’s amazing how this little detail changes everything. We suddenly become super-willing and happy to help.

It may seem absurd to you, but understand French people are deep-wired with Francophonie. We may not be as hardcore as the Québécois, but check the TV: we translate everything.

Remember Chirac – an old-school-oh-how-it-was-better-before president everyone loves even though he was a crook and stole, like millions from the state in notes de frais – leaving a European meeting because it was in English.

Understand the city and avoid crowds

Paris isn’t about a district, or beautiful buildings. Well, it is, but the true Parisian life lies into its vies de quartier. In order to truly enjoy your stay, you need to wander. Avoid crowds (especially if you see tourists dressed like doofus), run away from menus translated in any languages, prefer narrow, paved streets to antipathetic boulevards, and don’t try to look for anything.

Most of the time, a neighborhood will be microscopic. It’s all about one or two streets with a bakery, a book shop, a deli, a butcher and a cheese shop, a café and a small square of green. If you allow yourself to walk and watch, you will find a surprising a lively street that really make Paris what it is.

Also, don’t linger in the center. As beautiful as it is, it is becoming ridiculously overpriced and most often than not, you will be disappointed. For lodging, prefer the 11th-to-20th districts and a nice place near a cool neighborhood, rather than being in the epicenter of tourism. If you choose so, you will likely loose the Parisian experience: go out and see an open-air marker, enjoy wine at a small cafe with a 100-year-old waitress, tumble upon a renovated train station turned into a club… Finally, Paris has an excellent transportation system, and with Uber, you don’t need anymore to be next to everything.

A great tip is to go away in Île-de-France for one day. With trains going everywhere, all you need to google is “beautiful medieval village“ in the area and you will find plenty of breath-taking places. Last time, I went beyond Fontainebleau with a friend and we ended up feet in the water, underneath a XIIIth century bridge, after a steak near the forest castle.

Don’t go to Versailles unless you have a good reason to (a concert, for example). It is overcrowded. Remember us French people used to pretty much build castles for themselves and their mistresses and go hunting around. Versailles is not the only place. Don’t suffer uselessly.

To be completely honest, I am hardcore in avoiding crowds. Since the vomit-trauma in Rio and the pigeons in Venice, I have stopped going to the top ten attractions and the must sees and all that jazz. I’m more about doing nothing or walking and reading. I plan one activity a day (involving an obscure museum) and then do whatever I feel like doing. I am also taking every opportunity to enter a party, a beautiful building… Just seeing stuff is enough. Especially when there is not many people around.

Don’t try too hard

Another tourist symptom is the Fear Of Missing Out. We are anxious to enjoy as much as possible and to beat that bitch Muriel with her holidays in Nepal with her model boyfriend and her Harvard kids.

Don’t cripple yourself with useless fantasies and expectations. To tell you the truth, Paris is harsh. We may not deliver what you’re expecting. First, almost no one wears beret (which is why I am bringing it back, another very serious conversation I’m having). Second, we are not nice and we have a huge population of cray-cray people. Finally, there is the danger of missing out on all the awesomeness if you cling to preconceived ideas and stress out plannings to see everything.

When you stop trying, good things will happen:

Check out my Candy playlist special Paris, and good luck.

Front picture: Paris, 2012 © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos/Galerie Kamel Mennour
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One comment

  1. Pingback: 3600 Seconds of Pure and Sheer Fun with Me in Paris – Daylight Edition | You are Really here

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