A city that needs no introduction, known universally for its iconic landmarks, sumptuous cuisine, and as a beacon of art, culture, and fashion. Yet, as familiar as you may be with the Eiffel Tower, the allure of the Louvre, or the charm of the Seine, our journey to the heart of France revealed some surprising aspects.
01. The kindness of the locals surprised us about Paris, France
We've all heard the stereotypes about how the French view Americans. They're loud, proud, superficial, and basically only live in LA, Texas, or Miami. Right? It's no surprise that we've been taught about the French's general anti-American attitude. To be transparent, we assumed that the French would be snooty, cold, and possibly even rude to us.
These assumptions could not be more incorrect.
After spending an entire summer in Europe, the Parisians were, without a sliver of doubt, some of the kindest people we encountered. They would literally run across the metro station to help us carry our bags, or the baby, or anything else we had with us down flights of stairs. One lady offered to get off of the metro, before her stop, to help us safely get ourselves and our suitcases off of the train. People would willingly give up their seat to let whoever was holding Indy sit down. In restaurants, strangers would strike up a genuine conversation with us from the next table over. Gestures like this weren't a rare occurrence either. We experienced kindness like this each and every day.
It was absolutely mind-blowing.
Now, as a disclaimer, we're polite humans and observers by nature. We're not ashamed to admit that we're not overly patriotic of the United States and believe that the "American Dream" is something of the past. Maybe these attributes contributed to the ways in which the French viewed us, but we were overcome with the kindness we experienced.
One more aspect, that could have been at play, is that many Europeans told us they assumed we were Scandinavian or German. This happened daily, so perhaps we were a bit disguised.
02. The city truly never sleeps
We had heard from fellow travelers that the sun sets very late in the summer in Paris. What we didn't expect was to be out until midnight, well past Indy's bedtime, waiting for the Eiffel Tower's twinkle lights to shine. When the sun doesn't set until 10PM, every hour leading up to that feels like it's 4PM in the afternoon. We'd find ourselves out at 9PM thinking it was early afternoon. Tourists and locals alike would be out socializing and drinking until the wee hours of the morning - on a weeknight! For early birds like us, it felt like the city never slept.
We distinctly remember one taxi ride home at 1AM and watching out the window, looking at brasseries with packed tables under the canopies, as the city was just coming to life. Some of the locals were still eating dinner! On a couple of occasions, we were out for a sunrise walk around 6AM and saw loads of people still out at the bars drinking beer and smoking cigarettes! If you're traveling with children, this is a tough schedule to adapt to.
03. The Paris Metro system isn't so family-friendly and elevators are tiny
This surprised us about Paris, France - both in good ways and bad ways.
First of all, the metro system is super simple to learn and navigate. This was my second time in Paris, so I understood how advanced Europe's metro systems are, but as Daniel's first time, he was amazed. The metro systems have interactive screens in most of the stations where you can type in your destination and it will give you the best route options. This is especially useful if you don't have a SIM card or WiFi.
The second aspect that shocked us was the inaccessibility of the stations. Traveling with a stroller wasn't something I ever considered when I was last in Paris at age 20. Paris has fallen wayyyy behind on their ADA accessibility upgrades and most stations don't have elevators. We were stuck carrying Indy's stroller up and down hundreds of stairs each day (in 100 degree heat nonetheless). It was tough. Add in two suitcases, a baby cot, and three backpacks on travel days. Ugh!
Not only that, any time there is actually an elevator in Paris, which is rare, they are so small that only a couple of people can fit at any given time. We once waited in a line to access an elevator at a train station for 30+ minutes. By the time we were finally up front, only one of us could fit with the stroller and the other had to wait for another chance to bring the rest of the luggage up. In our first hotel, it took us five trips just to get us and our luggage up the elevator. We are the first people to take the stairs over an escalator or elevator, but when you have a stroller and a bunch of luggage, elevators really do come in handy.
04. Parisians walk faster than we do
We've all seen it in the movies. A couple walking slowly down a Parisian street admiring the architecture and enjoying a romantic evening. Well, that is definitely one of those it's just in the movies moments.
We're the type of people who are always irritated with slow walkers. Dog walkers who stop unexpectedly, the people who swerve and take up the whole sidewalk, or the walker who is talking on the phone and unaware of their surroundings drive us a wee bit bonkers. Ask any of our friends and they'll likely complain about our speedy walking habits.
But when we first arrived at the Paris train station, we nearly got run down countless times. The Parisians are on. a. mission. and you better get out of their way! We found this to be generally true anywhere in the city. If you need to peek at a map or window shop, step aside so that others can pass.
05. Wine is cheaper than water
This last one doesn't need much explanation. But it's actually true. You can drink a glass of local wine for cheaper than a bottle of water. At the local market, a "cheap" bottle of wine usually ranges from 1.50 to 5 euros. And guess what? It actually tastes good! Much of this affordable wine is organic too -- look for the word "bio". Grabbing a bottle of wine at the local market is so engraved into French culture that it's like grabbing a carton of milk for us Americans. Basic grocery lists seem to look something like bread, wine, milk, and eggs.
This is partially because so much wine is produced in France that you truly are right at the source. Being right at the source eliminates the import fees and high taxes on alcohol you'll find in the USA. There is also so much more red tape in the USA on being able to sell alcohol and adding distributors to the mix which adds to the cost.
There are expensive bottles of wine in France too, but generally speaking, you don't need to break the bank to drink an exceptional wine.
Have you ever been to Paris? Is it what you expected?