Day 27 – Poorly Paris

It was great to catch up with friends in Paris, one of my favourite cities, but after 24 hours I got the feeling that it’s a little unwell.

The 20 minute walk from Gare de Bercy up to Gare de Lyon is not the Champs-Élysée but it was a grim welcome. Dingy and dirty, there was an aggressive tension in the air along with 2 or 3 different varieties of weed as I walked through a dimly lit park.

In the station I sat down to listen to a couple of old guys taking turns to play beautiful pieces on the grand piano until they were surrounded by a swarm of youngish teenagers who elbowed them off the stool. It was nothing too malicious – the kids were just showing off – but as the old men trudged away there was a sense of resigned indifference from the disappointed audience.

Parisian waiters are notorious for their attitudes, particularly towards Brits with terrible French accents. It’s usually an entertaining element of the dining experience but, after encountering consistently miserable and rude servers at each of the 7 or 8 bars, restaurants and cafes we went to, it was just unpleasant. Even my French friend got sick of the impatience, unhelpfulness, eye rolls and sighs.

Walking through the streets there was an extremely active police presence, as expected in the current climate. I found it reassuring but the aftershocks of multiple terror attacks are clearly reverberating with Parisians. There was a noticeable lack of buzz, with few people staying out late (even on La Nuit Blanche).

As a British francophile I hate to paint a depressing picture of such an amazing city and must caveat this with the fact that I was only there for 24 hours, spending most of my time in and around the Marais. Having said that, it is clear to me that Paris is suffering from deep political, social and economic malaise; the city will bounce back but it will take time.

While I may not be qualified to give this opinion it is clear that Parisians feel it too. A beautiful, hand-painted piece of satirical street art posted at the entrance to a subway station may be the best way of summing up how many French people currently feel about France:

Marianne Pinnochio

Next stop: Fontainebleau (trees, chateaus and only happy thoughts I promise)

What is The Gump Method

Scroll down to see my latest Instagram posts @odjuns


4 thoughts on “Day 27 – Poorly Paris

  1. I love the Pinocchio Street art. Don’t stay downhearted for too long. Always look for the positives and remember you grandma’s family motto – After rain comes sunshine!


  2. Interesting pic, well spotted! 😉 As a native frog, I have a love-hate relationship with my own country, and I do think Paris is downcast at the moment for the reasons you mention. Also, generally-speaking, I do find French people give each other a very hard time, which doesn’t help. In fact my sense of frustration at how cynical and critical everyday relationships are in France was always shared by all the French people I met living abroad. Like me, they all found it difficult and often embarrassing to return home and face how rude or downright agressive many of their countryfolk tend to be towards each other. Part of the issue I think is that we grow up in France being taught to leave people alone and not interfere, initially out of respect and politeness I think. But as a result, people never really learn to engage with each other naturally and ignoring others becomes a habit that translates as coldness. This general attitude lets people get away with being indifferent to others or ignoring them (even when working in the hospitality industry, sadly), and many people find it awkward to talk to strangers. Add to that a difficult social climate due to chronic unemployment for the past 30 years at least, a clear loss of faith in political leaders as you mentioned, and a confrontational culture which we are taught to admire (as it supposedly harks back to the Revolution, an episode of our history which we are told was our highest achievement as a nation) and you get a country where people are defensive, suspicious of each other, and amongst the biggest consumers of anti-depressants in the world.

    In spite of all this, I remain optimistic. Like many fed-up Frenchies, I left my country and lived abroad where people are more friendly and have fun more easily. Yet over time I began to miss many things and perhaps most of all the notion that so many French people seem to share, that we all have a duty to be politicised, conscious of the choices we make as individuals and as a community, and cultured. It may sound cliché and or totally subjective , but nowhere in the world so far have I found as many people across all sections of society who find it normal and important to discuss politics, independent cinema, metaphysics and a whole range of other topics which are often dismissed abroad as “too deep” or “too intellectual”. I also came to realise that there are many forms of cynicism: (warning, huge generalisation ahead!) whereas my countrymen and women come across as grumpy and rude, they are often more sincerely idealistic about society and the future under their apparent air of irony, than many of the more friendly people I have met elsewhere, who don’t feel concerned about many wider issues. Often I found people abroad less judgemental, less demanding with themselves and with each other, which was definitely lovely, but I did feel that with that lightness there often came a lack of concern for social, political or ecological topics. I ended up thinking that it all depends how you define cynicism, because perhaps there is more cynicism in being hedonistic and oblivious to the issues at stake, than in being grumpy yet idealistic. Most importantly though, I remain hopeful when I see the new generation of French kids who have travelled the world, speak English, have learnt to communicate and are a lot more comfortable interacting with others. I think they will soon make France a much more vibrant and pleasant place to be, (if they don’t all choose to live abroad that is!). So I’m hoping that in 10 years or so, tourists in Parisian cafés will enjoy their experience again. And that’s enough French philosophy for today I think. Au revoir!


    • Thanks Shan for your Frenchie/ex-pat Frenchie perspective, and for spotting the street art in the first place 🙂 I agree with your conclusion and think it’s equally applicable in the UK. Many Brits have rejected politics and all kinds of deep-thinking, cynically believing that nothing they can say or do will change anything. That changed in the last election when young voter turnout spiked and the kids realised their obligation to be more socially and politically active after the older generation led us into Brexit. I too think the millennials that we still don’t quite understand could end up saving us all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s