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Realistic Expectations

I have come across some articles on the reality of visiting Paris.
Apparently, according to the authors, it is not the fairytale experience that we have anticipated Paris would be.
Life is all about expectations and perhaps it is beneficial to enter any experience with low ones.
However, I would like to have a realistic picture of what Paris is really like.
I have spent a lot of time in New York CIty - as a visitor and working there - so I am well aware of the good, the bad and the ugly of an urban setting.
Apparently, Paris has issues with garage, poop, urine and cigarette smoke and grafitti.
So, I am left with the impression that perhaps I need to rethink my trip or should I?
I have read many glowing trip reports - and of course, I follow the advice on this site -- so where is the middle ground and do people actually suffer from Paris Syndrome -- their expectations clashing with the reality of their experience...

Posted by
234 posts

Oh gosh, I wouldn’t rethink your trip for this reason. I’ve read a few of those articles, and they always strike me as a bit sensational. Maybe it’s true that people who go to Paris expecting something like Disney World, more of a pristine movie set than a living, breathing city, are disappointed, but I think that says more about those individuals’ lack of ability to cope when reality does not meet wildly unrealistic expectations than it does about Paris itself. And anyway, it does not sound like you have those expectations. Paris is a beautiful city, and much, much cleaner and safer than New York (I’ve spent many weeks across many visits in both cities).

Yes, some dog owners could do a better job cleaning up after their pets, but this is not a massive, trip-derailing issue. There are public urinals which is a bit different than what you see in US cities, and you may witness the odd incident of public urination elsewhere, but no more frequently than you would do in New York or London, at least in my experience. It’s true more people smoke there so if you’re sensitive to smoke, you may not enjoy the terrasses. I have never observed a graffiti problem; in some areas you may find street art, but in the centre where all the tourist sights are, you won’t see much of that. I’m not sure what you mean by garage but if you meant garbage, I’ve never noticed that to be an issue. Paris has nothing on New York in that regard!

Paris is wonderful, with the same issues as any big city but not disproportionately. I suspect once you go you will be perplexed by those articles.

Posted by
172 posts

Apparently, Paris has issues with garage, poop, urine and cigarette smoke and grafitti.

I think every city in the world has those things. After all, it’s a place where people live, not a theme park. I’ve only visited there once, in 2019, and none of those things caused me to have a bad time. In fact, I felt safer there than in many other cities, including some here in the U.S. and for what it’s worth, I thought Paris was much cleaner than NYC (nothing against NYC).

Posted by
6245 posts

Yep, what Margaret said.

Compared to most US cities, yes, you will find a bit more smoking in Paris (it has gotten dramatically better in the past 20 years, but there's still some secondhand smoke in places) -- Pro Tip: when choosing an outdoor table in a cafe, carefully note the wind direction, and eye the clientele already seated and open your best to find a spot to sit that's upwind of others if you can). And yes, there may be a bit more dog poop on the streets, but to be painfully honest, where I live there's enough human poop on the streets that many of us have developed the ability to scan the sidewalk ahead for things we need to avoid stepping in, and those skills come in handy in Paris, too.

It's a lovely city and well worth visiting, of course. If you've spent any time in New York City, Paris is going to feel like the Garden of Eden.

Posted by
6064 posts

Paris isn't as clean as I'd like, but it is certainly no worse than New York City in that regard. It is indeed far less well-kept than some East and Southeast Asian cities, though, and I believe that the concept of a so-called "Paris Syndrome" comes from the reactions of some visitors from these regions.

Posted by
6796 posts

I think Paris suffers from the romantic fantasy that so many Americans seem to have with the city. So yeah, to some it can be a let down. As someone said, it is not a theme park, it is a working city, it is spread out, so to get from one place to another means walking, the Metro, a bus, or other means of transport; often through gritty parts of the city and dodging the occasional scam, pickpocket, or just crowds. Where tourists go, will be packed with tourists and those selling or making a living off tourists (honest or not). Paris, to be honest, is not my favorite city, mainly because I find French food just meh!; but it really is no worse than any large cities that I do list among my favorites, if you want romance, find a smaller city or town.

Paris is still worth a visit. Just tuck away all those notions picked up from watching romantic comedies and movies, and list the main things you are interested in, and want to see. Accept that you will be in a large city, that there will be some distractions, but enjoy the things you went there for. If for some reason, art does not interest you, history is a bore, churches are all the same, food with sauce is passe, and all you want is a relaxing time in a café or strolling in a park, then by all means skip Paris and head out into the countryside.

Posted by
5926 posts

Apparently, according to the authors, it is not the fairytale experience that we have anticipated Paris would be.

Well, no, it isn't. But what is? We've known people to come back from Disneyland or the Grand Canyon disappointed.

If you're looking for the bad in Paris, you will find it. But why start out like that? Paris is a wonderful city, with so much to offer. Take it on its own terms: crowded, less than idyllic, yes, of course.

But if you're looking for the good in Paris (or any other place,) you will find that, as well. The city is packed with wondrous sights, great art, and welcoming people. I say, give it a chance, but with an open mind. Or, if you're going with bias, be biased for Paris, not against it. I suspect you'll have a wonderful time. We always do.

Posted by
752 posts

I am stuck on the expectation of a "fairytale experience". Never heard that before, curious where the OP came up with that. Paris Syndrome? Another one I have never heard before...please share these articles with the rest of us.

If you desire an antiseptic city, I suggest Singapore. Great place to boot. But I have a hard time coming up with any others.

Posted by
9766 posts

I hate Paris. I hate it so much that I will be returning there for the 7th time in April. I’ve spent over 45 days there and still haven’t seen and done everything I want. As others have said, you have to have realistic expectations. If you don’t want an urban setting, don’t go to a city. It’s my favorite city and I can’t imagine that I would tire of going there.

Posted by
526 posts

I have spent a lot of time in New York CIty - as a visitor and working there - so I am well aware of the good, the bad and the ugly of an urban setting.

Apparently, Paris has issues with garage, poop, urine and cigarette smoke and grafitti.

I live in New York City and have visited Paris numerous times. I love both places (though they are quite different, of course) but frankly speaking I find Paris to be overall substantially cleaner than NYC.

The only exception is that I concur that there's more cigarette smoking, which is due to the simple fact that the rate of smoking in Paris is roughly twice that of New York City.

If you have spent time in NYC (and presumably not exclusively in the Plaza Hotel) and enjoyed it, you should not be fazed whatsoever by the Parisian urban environment. I think it's people who visit imagining they will live a personal version of Amélie who come out disappointed.

Posted by
287 posts

Hi expectations rent an apartment that just so happens to have an awesome view of the Seine..Isle St louie. And Notre Dame..yes.
It's cold.
But you bundle up for am coffee on your terrace..because you can..oh..and your coffee is from one of the best boulangeries..Tour d'Argent. Because your apartment is 2 floors above said unexpected gift..and don't forget those to die for croissants! But if that is not your preference..then a fresh quiche or crepe might help! But..another fab surprise.
Walk over to the Island for an early stroll 5 min
From all the charming small shops open..and gaze at the cheese shop..cause later the owner will assist you in finding the most magnificent cheese! Walk the island..but stare at the backside of the grandeur of Notre Dame as craftsman from all over the world come together to restore this larger than life historic beauty! As the sun rises..the Pantheon comes into view..and you realize that heroes and history beckon you to visit this truly wonderful building.
And. It's only 9 am. All within a short walk of your place in Paris..and no dog poop. sight! Let the day begin..without expectations but lots of memorable surprises! Go to Paris..enjoy all it has to offer.!

Posted by
1064 posts

Paris is one of the most amazing cities in the World, period! To walk along the Sienne river in spring, to have strolled through the Louvre, to take the train down to Versailles and see the Palace are all of the memories I treasure. Just eating at a sidewalk cafe on Rue Cler street is something special.

I understand peoples concerns about going into a different culture and the not knowing what to expect but trust me if you do your homework with a good guidebook like the Rick Steves one you will have a wonderful time.

Posted by
656 posts

Paris Syndrome is a real thing, and has been for over 20 years. It comes from having too high expectations and not realising that Paris is a modern city, with modern city woes. It mainly affect the Japanese, whose embassy has a designated person to deal with it.

Too many people arrive thinking they are arriving somewhere "romantic" (whatever that means) and are shocked that it isn't the city shown in American in Paris, Gigi, or any of the other 1950s films shot in Hollywood.

People being told to keep their expectations in check is a good thing.

Posted by
15087 posts

I hate Paris. I hate it so much that I will be returning there for the
7th time in April.

Andrea!!! 🤣
The experience is what you choose to make of it, eh?

Posted by
8069 posts

I have heard the same thing said about San Francisco and Miami by foreign visitors.

Posted by
124 posts

Well on my first trip in the 90's I remember thinking, it smells like someone urinated in an ashtray. However, I'm going back in May for my 5th Parisian experience, so there must be something I like. I can't wait to stroll the Champs de Mars with my daughter, consume a real baguette, and view the sunset over the Seine.

Posted by
550 posts

If one feels the way of the OP, any trip to Paris will be biased before arriving and they will look for confirmation all while being there. Is that fun?
Paris is the second most visited city in Europe. There is a reason for this.

Posted by
195 posts

As per a request, I include the title of the article I read: which prompted my post to the forum: What to Expect When Travelling to Paris: Expectations vs Reality -Time to shatter your illusions. I just tested it and if you copy and paste the title - it will bring up the article.

I want to thank each of you who took the time to respond to my post. I am so appreciative of your candor, your kindness, your humor and your insights. Even the posts that were slightly more caustic were helpful.

I have travelled to England, to Ireland and to China. This trip to France will be my first.

It has been more than six years since I boarded a silver bird to fly across the seas.

Thank you for pointing me in the right direction...

Posted by
9722 posts

Click-bait. And one of the drawbacks of growing up in Singapore where chewing gum is a crime.

Posted by
2314 posts

I think we need to promote a few lessons on how to evaluate the reliability of sources on the internet.
A nearly identical version of this regarding San Francisco, just substituting 'needles' for cigarette smoke, also makes the rounds periodically.

tl;dr :
Be more discriminating in your reading choices.

Posted by
6158 posts

I really think it’s much more about what will be your attitude when you’re there than anything specific to Paris. If you think you will have a fantastic time and go with the attitude of positively discovering what is actually fantastic - the history, the beauty, the culture, the food - well, no surprise you will love it! But, if you typically dwell on the negatives while walking on a NYC street, then you probably also will not like Paris.

This reminds me of how people feel about Venice. Some think it is magical; others see dirty old buildings. We personally absolutely loved it, and like to visit it & Paris often, and that’s partly due to being excited to discover all of the things listed above.

Posted by
199 posts

I just returned last night from my 11th trip to Paris. Yes, all those things are present in Paris — in fact, I stepped in merde the first hour of the first day on the streets (for the first time in all those trips).

And, from my observation, there is absolutely more graffiti (nay “street art”) each time I visit and it is definitely in the city center as well as the outskirts — it’s absolutely everywhere. In fact there is a statue inside Église de Saint Germain des Prés covered in it. (I should note that was the only instance of it I observed inside a church)

As for smoking, that has definitely improved — when I first started visiting, restaurants could be absolutely unbearable with it — inside as well as out.

Garbage — yup. I personally don’t understand the design of the recepticles on the street. I know they’re supposed to look like an art nouveau tulip shape — but the fact that they’re an open design and they use clear trash bags makes them rather unattractive and junky looking in my humble opinion. That and the fact that some people simply miss getting the garbage in the bag….

Oh, and you forgot the homeless. Lots of them too. It’s a big city.

All that being said — Paris is still a beautiful city like no other. The stunning architecture, the amazing history, the dining, the views, the shopping, the world-class museums (there’s no graffiti, garbage, homeless, smoking or dog poop in them)…

Posted by
2704 posts

Still waiting for "some articles" so that we can read them too.
Please link them here, OP.

No city or town in the world is going to be perfect, so it depends how badly you want to go there.
Paris is one of my favourite cities; I've been there five times, the last two times for two weeks each; and always dream of going back when the "plague" subsides.

Posted by
2314 posts

Both these threads about how big cities are yucky-and-scary and the threads about how the scale of towns in Europe (which were made for people instead of for cars) are so cute and inviting that remind me that many Americans lead lives that are rooted in suburbs built mostly after WWII and mostly with zoning laws set up for the fossil fuel industry and its subsidiary interests. People are people wherever you go, and one thing they have in common is that they use their own immediate experience as the yardstick (or measure) for what is standard/normal.

I guess we can add all the threads about hotel amenities and parking lots -- tiny bathrooms! tight parking! Those old country people are just funny that way, no?

Posted by
126 posts

I cannot imaging basing any decision based upon the opinions of a stranger, much less reevaluating a trip to Paris. Having returned in November after 8 weeks in the city, believe me, Paris did NOT DISSAPOINT. Personally, I’m ready to return. Here are a few of my highlights: Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Georges Pompidou Center, Russian, Art Exhibit at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Salvador Dali Exhibit, street art tour, wall of love, lunch @ a Michelin star restaurant, lunch at Le Coq, jazz@ La Villette, day trip to Lille, birthday photo shoot, Christo Arc de Triumphe exhibition + smaller exhibit @ Sotheby’s, accidentally saw the Chloe’s runway show during Fashion week, saw dancing groups alllll along the Siene river, ate great salads at brasseries all over town, flea market hunting, walking mile after mile, block after block, day after day. and that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. Not to mention all of my daily journal entries. Paris always reveals herself as you immerse yourself and relax. Go to Paris. Enjoy.

Posted by
199 posts

<< I personally don’t understand the design of the recepticles on the street. >>
—-You're clearly not from Paris or London, cities which both had to deal with deadly bombs deposited in trash bins.—-

K2 - you’re absolutely right! I am from a touristy Florida beach town — thank you for the insight -- I actually had not even thought of that reason for the unattractive bins! Thank you for the clarification. (The more you know LOL). My husband and I were talking last night also about the trash laying around the bins possibly being more (in part) from the homeless picking through the contents (which we witnessed several times) than from people missing the bins with their trash.

Posted by
199 posts

K2 - I did see the crows/ravens picking at garbage on the ground -- just didn't see any going into the bins, I guess. And I suppose the homeless I saw rooting the garbage were the less respectful ones :) Alas, there is no one cause.

Posted by
318 posts

"Well on my first trip in the 90's I remember thinking, it smells like someone urinated in an ashtray"

Sounds like New Orleans' French Quarter, I'll be right at home!

Planning our France trip for May/June, and starting to get excited. I have no dreams of it being a fairytale, but I can't wait!

Posted by
6 posts

Before going to Paris, my husband and I opted for adventure vacations. 8 years ago we went to Paris for the first time and in 2 months we will be going back for the 4th.

I was so nervous the first time from reading so many articles about scams and pickpockets. Just be smart. I love nyc and Paris to me is a more sophisticated big city. Pack your walking shoes, watch where you step, and eat dessert every day.

Btw learn a little French, it goes a long way