15 Things I Don’t Like About Paris

“Paris. The most gorgeous place in the world. The CIty of Light. Romantic and sexy, Paris beckons people from all over the world to bask in it’s splendor. But scratch beneath the surface…”

1. Everyone’s always in a big hurry.

…except the ones who are waiting on you.

2. Could there possibly be any light more unflattering than the lighting on the Paris métro?

3. All the newspapers are in a funny language.

And the Sunday New York Times is 13 euros.

4. The coffee is universally awful.

Yes, much of the coffee in America is horrid and/or disgusting, but at least the possibility exists of finding decent coffee in America.

5. Parisians will just walk right into you. Even if you’re on a deserted sidewalk, they’ll veer away, then curve around, and bam!…walk straight into you.

“Remember what happened the last time I tried to walk around Paris minding my own business…taking great care with my freshly-baked cake?”

6. Les Madames.

I don’t mean hookers, I mean those mean women of a certain age who wield their shopping chariots and expect you to move outta their way. You can easily spot them; they wear squared-off wire-rimmed glasses and are proudly bundled up in overcoats, and cut in line pretending not to see you. Then when it’s their turn, they spend 5 minutes arguing with the vendor over the price of one fig or a slice of cheese (and then take forever trying to count out the centimes to pay, acting like it’s a big surprise and inconvenience when they have to fork over the cash.

As my pal Kate pointed out, this is the last generation of them.

Good riddance.

7. Everything is so damn expensive (except bread, wine, and cheese).

Le Creuset cookware, made in France, is cheaper in America than in France. My Delonghi heater (Italian) was 3 times the price it is in the US… and why is a Phillips Sonicare (Dutch) toothbrush twice the price?
Can’t they just truck stuff across the EU border?

8. Dog crap is everywhere…and it’s disgusting. Even most French people think so.

“Ah Paris, isn’t it beautiful? Yes, I think I’ll just step over here and admire the view of…hey…oh my God…what-the-f%$k!…what did I just step in? That is, jeez, like so gross. Oh man!”

If you have a dog, pick up after it. I had a dog. I picked up after it. It’s part of ownership. If you have kids, you clean up after them. It’s a unknown concept called “responsibility”.

(Although I should let you know that with all the dog poo here, the last time I stepped in some was in, of all places, San Antonio.)

9. The French language has 14 verb tenses. English has 6.

Really, how many past tenses does one language need?

10. The French are explosive.

An organic bakery I visit often, Moisan, is lovely. Everything is picture-perfect. Glistening, caramelized fruit tarts, rustic hearth-baked breads, golden croissants, and little savory pizzas bubbling with melted cheese and fragrant with fresh herbs. I go in there all the time and the saleswomen could not be nicer.

Last time I went in, there was a lovely tray of fresh-baked Madeleines; deep-golden, buttery, and still warm from the oven. And they were picture-perfect.
So I complimented them, “Ce sont très jolie, madame.” (“Those are very beautiful.”)

The saleswoman, who’s always been so very nice to me, snapped back, “Ce ne sont pas jolie, Monseiur. Ce sont delicieux!” (“They’re not beautiful, they’re delicious!”)

And with that one little interchange, she will no longer wait on me or speak to me. If she happens to get me in line, she ignores me.

NEWS FLASH: At a dinner party tonight, I asked some French friends about this. They said if you use the word jolie (beautiful) to describe something, it’s rather pejorative. Like saying it’s ‘cute’, in a trés-Disney kind of way.
Who knew? (see #9)

11. The French don’t seem to be as interested in coming to conclusions, instead preferring to discuss things forever without resolution. Everything takes a lo-o-o-o-ong time.

You also realize that it’s not about helping the customer, but about employing as many people as possible to keep them working (25% of the people in France work for the government.)

Last week, for example, I needed shoelaces.
Simple task. Right?
The enormous BHV department store has everything.
Sure enough there’s a wall of shoelaces…every variety, material, width, brand, color, and size imaginable.
Except, or course, the one I needed.

(And forget asking for help; it’s non-existent. Their normal tactic is to send you to another floor just to get rid of you. Now I’m on to that ruse and don’t fall for it.)

12. Why does it take 2½ hours to wash your clothes in a French washing machine?

(See previous entry. Perhaps the washing machines are also more interested in the “process”, rather than the “results”.)

And good luck finding unscented laundry detergent. I took me months and months to finally find some. The smell of the normal laundry detergent was so strong and fragrant that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with my freshly-laundered clothes.

13. Charles de Gaulle Airport is consistently rated the worst airport in the world. It’s a major embarrassment that one of the world’s greatest cities has an airport that would rival one in a third-world country. Gee, I wonder why?

For two years, all the bathrooms were broken in the Terminal #1 Arrivals terminal, where you pick up your luggage. After sitting on a plane all night, you gotta go.

How many years does it take to fix a bathroom?

Last time I arrived, each and every elevator in the terminal was hors service (broken). People in wheelchairs and those with luggage carts were scratching their heads figuring out how to get downstairs.

How long does it take to fix an elevator?

And once you check in and go through security in Terminal #1, there’s no bathroom. Since you need to check in two hours in advance, you have to leave the waiting area and re-go-through security.

Gee…that’s efficient.

(I am sure the Olympics organizers who arrived at the primitive and crumbling Charles de Gaulle were as shocked as most visitors, and it sealed the fate for Paris hosting the games.)

14. Le President™ Camembert

France has the greatest cheeses in the world. Walk into any cheese shop, or even a supermarket, and you’ll find a bounty of delicious products from dairies and cheesemakers across France.

C’est magnifique, le vrai Camembert de Normandie!

So why do the supermarkets stock some of the worst cheeses in the world right alongside the good stuff?

Because people buy them. They’re vile, rubbery, flavorless cheeses with little resemblance to the real thing. It can’t be the price difference, since they’re roughly equivalent or a few centimes more.

15. French people smoke too much.

I don’t mind cigarette smoke. Really I don’t. I’m used to it. But recently, the past few times I’ve been out for dinner, the people next to me as soon as they sit down they drop their packs of cigarettes on the table and chain smoke the entire night. I don’t mean one to two cigarettes, I mean lots of cigarettes. The other night the woman next to me had six cigarettes during the course of her meal.

Read it and weep, Frenchies!

I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade, but how many cigarettes does one person need to smoke during a dinner out?

And did you know that one-third of all people in France smoke, and 50% of all teenagers between the ages of 15-24 years old smoke too?

The French parliament is taking up the no-smoking ban in restaurants this fall, as they’ve done in Italy and Ireland. I think it’ll pass.

What are the French going to do? Take to the streets and go on strike in support of smokers?

Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

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  • October 20, 2005 12:49pm

    I love to gripe, its one of my favourite past times really. I would like to know why the French refuse to use apartment numbers.. Why must my address contain a full line just to say “ground floor, door on the left of building c”. Wouldn’t it be easier just to say “Apt 2”?

  • October 20, 2005 1:20pm

    No gripes, since I’ve never been to Paris. Just wanted to mention that I loved this post, as well as the previous one. Great insight to a city that I will probably never visit.

    Did you ever see the episode of Sopranos where Paulie pinches his nose and says “Gay poodles”? I have no idea what it means. He was in Italy, but for some reason it always makes me think of Paris. :)

  • October 20, 2005 1:41pm

    Is someone in a bad mood today? My goodness you were so hard on the lady at the bakery. Its a funny post, but you could have translated a few lines and you could have been talking about NYC.

    What are my Paris gripes?

    1. Bad air conditioning and none on the Metro. I refuse to come to Paris in the hot months. I perfer the cooller Fall and Spring.

    2. Smoking in restaurants. You are right people chain smoke while they eat. Here you are enjoying the most fabulous food in the world and stinking it up with a cigarette.

    3. CDG. That big terminal is such a disappointment.

    4. Attitude. It seems like in Paris the customer is never right.

    5. The Latin Quarter – I just don’t like this area. It reminds me of the days when I was young and stayed in cheap hotel on the rue ecoles. I didn’t like this area back then either.

    6. The shopping center under Les Halles. I feel like the world has come to an end and I am living underground. I think this was built by the same people who built CDG.

    7. Gypsies. One tried to get into my backpack once in the Metro. The should all be arrested and go to hell.

    8. Snappy waiters who jump down my throat when i try to speak a little French. Go to hell.

    9. The Euro. Why can’t it be equivalnet to the dollar?

    10. The Champs Elysees. To me this is the “Fishermans Wharf” of Paris. When I lived in San Francisco I never went to the wharf. Locals would joke that it was a fake version of San Francisico created for the tourists and did not represent the real cities. SFers never eat theit chowder from a sourdough breadbowl. They don’t even eat chowder (thats Boston). The Champs Elysees seems a bit too plastic. The Arc de Triumph is beautiful though.

  • savorybaker
    October 20, 2005 2:53pm

    Sounds to me like David is packing for America and trying to convince himself that he won’t miss Paris. We’ll welcome you here and know that you will be just as anxious to return to France when the time comes.

    Nice try, tho. I can tell you still love France.

  • John
    October 20, 2005 5:31pm

    Aha! At last the scales have truly fallen from your eyes, dear David, and you see les crapeaux as they truly are – BUT! you have forgotten one thing – an important thing; bathing or as we call it personal hygiene. Les grenouilles (all three sexes) prefer to douse themselves with scent rather than shower twice daily, especially in hot weather. Ah well, perhaps it is a failing they share with may other Europeans, except the Swiss – which somewhat ponderously brings me to my suggestion – that you might consider going to live in, say, Geneva? Great place and sooooooooo clean – mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Fondest hugs……

  • Paula
    October 20, 2005 11:42pm

    I hate how I will have an outfit that I think looks pretty good in the US and when I get to Paris I realize how pathetic it is.

  • Judith in Umbria
    October 21, 2005 1:59am

    Good grief! If you fixed all the things that make Richard AB pissed off, you’d have DisneyParis! My mileage definitely varied.
    As the the fashion thing, I was a tad disappointed that everybody wasn’t wearing something stunning, but were just well put together, and not always even that. But I live in Italy and that is the norm here, as well.
    David, go back to the bakery, gasp at the display and say some version of belle. (It might take a few scattered visits to overcome the cute thing.)
    Why I think Paris is beautiful is the cohesiveness of the design. I realized that my favorite neighborhoods in great European cities have the same quality. In Rome, Prati. In Brussels, the area of Ave. Winston Churchill.

  • Paz
    October 21, 2005 2:10am

    LOL! What a list! Good thing you’re able to balance it out with the Why you live in Paris list. ;-)


  • October 21, 2005 3:51am

    Great post. I hadn’t thought of it, but I have to agree with Richard AB about Les Halles. Thank you for finally helping me realize why I hate it soooo much. It’s like being trapped in Logan’s Run!

    And the Champs: always hated them always will. Nothing against you tourists, but you generally are too busy looking around you to see the people you are walking into, you stop unexpectedly to admire and you are looking at the same shops you can find in any American town: Gap, Disney, etc. Why do I go there, you may ask? Sadly, I work just off the Champs and don’t have much of a choice!

  • Cristina
    October 21, 2005 11:32am

    David, I know what you mean about the washing machines. I don’t get the environmental rationale behind their lenteur. I washed the sheets I used in the washing machine of my host’s apartment but if I hung around long enough until the end of the washing cycle to get the sheets out, I would have missed my flight.
    With the exception of the Montmartre neighborhood and the aforementioned Chatelet Les Halles metro station, I don’t think there’s anything in Paris that inspires strong feelings of HATRED in me, and I’ve always had a pleasant experience shopping at BHV.
    It is slightly annoying that when getting your hair washed at a Paris salon, a basic, leave-in-for-two-minutes-and-rinse-type conditioner is always an extra charge, which ranges from 2 to 10 Euros.

  • Narelle
    October 21, 2005 11:54am

    Very funny – I moved here in June and could relate to alot of what you said!

  • Renee
    October 21, 2005 2:54pm

    We just got back from the Bordeaux area AND a whole bunch of Paris gripes can apply there, too! I got walked into more times! You’re right, David, I think they aim! And CDG? We hauled butt to get to our gate, only to get on a bus – SRO w/carry-on luggage, mind you – and be driven nearly all the way around the airport to get to our plane out on the tarmack. We were where we had just come from!
    Have had the washing machine experience, too. The 1st time in a wonderful little villa near Castlenudary. Put our stuff in it, found out that the setting we used was akin to “boil” here in the US. Also found out you can’t retrieve anything until after all the cycles have been gone through. I think the legs of my stockings were 6′ long! This last time, the directions said “may make a bit of noise”. A bit of noise was more like very loud “KA-KLUNK” that resounded through out the Chateau! Ah well, vive la France!
    We did find a great open-air market in Cahors – and of course the wine and cheese and bread and croissents…
    And the next time I get walked into? I’ll bludgeon with my baugette! ;-)

  • P
    October 21, 2005 3:55pm

    This is totally presumptuous of me because I just got back from my first visit to Paris but when I travel, I look for excellent coffee (and it tends to be hard to find a truly delicious cup). In Paris, we found the best cafe creme we had as at Les Deux Abeilles, a tea salon near the Eiffel Tour on 189 rue de l’Université. Pricey, but lovely. I initially thought there was chocolate in the cup because it was so thick and rich.

  • October 22, 2005 2:08am

    LOL as always. But I swear, if you show that incredibly scrumptioius looking cake one more time. . .

  • October 22, 2005 7:47am

    let’s not forget Personal Space or the complete and utter lack there of….

    and how the checkers won’t help you bag your groceries, they just sit there and watch and act exasperated and roll their eyes at the person behind you….

    and how if the metro is too crowded, as in sardine crowded, they will push in anyways….

    and the crummy, completely unpredictbale weater…

    and how they pretend not to understand my french then respond in english….

    and and and….. but i still love it! :-)

  • shauna
    October 23, 2005 3:34pm

    This is great! Sometimes, I miss Paris, and I get that little vaseline-on-the-camera-lens memory of it. Seattle will feel so pedestrian in comparison. Luckily, you just cleaned off the camera lens for me.

    God, I love your posts.

  • October 24, 2005 6:17am

    As someone who just returned from a RyanAir flight out of Beauvais, I can safely say that I hate French airports. In fact, I might hate all European airports – except Munich’s. That one seemed sane.

    I also hate the space issues. It drives me crazy that I will be seated in an empty movie theater, or on an empty bus, and someone will come up and sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME even though there are approximately one million free seats everywhere else. It’s like they actually enjoy being smushed in together!

    And lastly, I dislike French websites. They are impossible to navigate and often feature odd synthesizer music.

    Thank you for letting me vent.

  • October 24, 2005 7:17am

    the first time i was in paris and spoke not a word of french, i felt miserable…

    the only time i flew with air france from Paris CDG to Kuala Lumpur, they left my luggage and it arrived 4 days later with all my chocolates and cookies etc totally ruined…

    but now, i love paris, and despite all the cons, the pros outweighs greatly… ;)

  • Emily
    September 23, 2008 10:39am

    Yeah, I totally agreed what you said about Paris/Parisian. I noticed just a short time before I left the country for good (sniff, sniff) in 1997, they spray paint the poo-poo in bright colors, like bright orange/pink. I guessed it didn’t work. I miss France so much … I used to love their kinder surprise, the chocolate eggs with little surprise in them. they don’t have the same stuffs like they used to have anymore. Kinder surprise is not so surprising anymore … sigh

  • September 15, 2009 7:15pm

    I thought everyone was bumping into me in Paris but its the side of road you keep to.
    Keep on the right hand side!!

  • Victoria
    May 12, 2010 5:46am

    David – this was quite the enjoyable post. You really have a gift about writing. It’s so funny; I went through Charles de Gaulle couple years ago and it was still a total mess!

    Since I read that you lived and worked in Belgium too, do you have any gripes about it? I am about to go visit with my boyfriend, who is Belgian, for the first time. I expect mostly good things :)