Anyone who has visited the French capital will know that a stroll down its splendidly beautiful streets often comes with an unwanted bonus: a piercing, unmistakable stench of pee.
Those who have spent some time in the city will also know that, occasionally, noisy neighbours will ruin a good night's sleep.
Both are part of the bargain and it's been like this for decades. People who don't like it end up moving away.
But the mairie (City Hall) wants this to change.
“You don't need to scream to have fun!” their most recent social media campaign to raise awareness around the penalties Parisians risk when behaving anti-socially (€68 fines for peers and noisemakers alike).
Le soir à Paris, respectez les autres : parlez doucement. pic.twitter.com/sYtUBsig7b
— Paris (@Paris) August 5, 2020
The fact that the city's officials find it necessary to send out social media reminders to make people in the capital behave more civil towards another prompts the question: Are Parisians less well-behaved than the rest of France?
“Um, yes!” said Claire Waddington, a New Zealander living in the centre of Paris.
Um yes! I have to sleep windows open in summer & Châtelet on especially weekends nights even in August is full of drunken very loud talkers that I can hear every word of, even 4 flights up -and street pipi-ers. Street under my window is nothing but pipi stains even after cleaning
— Claire Waddington ? (@clairewad) August 18, 2020
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“I’m always fiercely defending my city against people saying it’s dirty, but I have to admit it’s just getting worse and nothing is done about it,” Claire said when contacted by The Local.
She said the sanitary situation was much worse in Paris than other places in France she had visited.
“I’ve definitely never noticed urine everywhere (when travelling),” she said.
Others complained that the situation in the capital was worse than in other big cities, and went further than just noise and peeing. Dog poo is another big controversy in Paris.
Definitely a large group of Parisans are lacking manners like peeing in street, talking loudly and let’s not forget about cleaning up after their dogs on the street. Compared to Amsterdam, Madrid and Barcelona the pee flows on the streets
— Mr. C (@AreWeLostNow) August 18, 2020
- Why the stench of pee may never leave Paris
- Perfume and pipi: The 10 smells that tell you you're in Paris
The sign indicates where passersby can find a public urinal along the banks of the Seine river in Paris, in 2018, after the city of Paris begun testing “uritrottoirs”, dry public urinals intended to be ecological and odorless. Photo: AFP
A year-long battle
The City's battle to fight uncivil behaviour in the capital has gone on for years and the fines are not new, although they were increased from €35 to €68 early on in mayor Mayor Anne Hidalgo's time in office.
Hidalgo, who was elected Mayor for the first time in 2014 as a candidate for the Socialist Party, quickly ramped up both the number of public toilets available in the city and the number of officials out to enforce the rules in place.
In 2017, after Hidalgo increased the city's “civility police” from 96 to over 3,200, 5,381 people were fined for peeing in the street.
The brigade also clamped down on other anti-social behaviours such as throwing cigarette butts on the ground or dumping garbage where it should not be dumped. That year, the civility police handed out a total of 65,103 “incivility fines”, 118 percent more than the previous year.
Were Parisians more well-behaved back in the days? Photo: AFP
'Don't pee on paris'
Despite persistent effort, City's attempts to thwart uncivil behaviour have met a varying degree of success.
In 2018, they launched a much-ridiculed campaign called “Pas de pipi dans Paris“ (“No pee in Paris”), an odd-sounding slogan that did not specify that the unwanted peeing was the pipi sauvage (wild peeing), not all peeing in general.
The reason of the ridicule was however not the slogan, it was the (very pipi) music video (see clip below).
The clip features three singers, two women and one man, all dressed in yellow clothing (and matching lipstick). During 3.39 agonising minutes, they practice modern dance (occasionally with a toilet brush), sing from inside toilet bowls and wrap themselves in toilet paper. Sometimes they sit on chairs, illustrating the act of peeing on a toilet. All while singing, repeatedly, pas de pipi dans Paris.
After it was published the video caused a stir, some mocking it for being “a joke,” others asking how much money the City could have spent on such a flop (according to Libération's fact checking site, it cost €6,500, which the mairie said was “exceptionally low”).
Pas pipi dans Paris. La Hidalgo's band au sommet de l'art de communication. On croit que c'est une blague, mais non ! https://t.co/bHvDZYgNq2
— Solexine le Catalan ||⭐||??? (@Solexine) September 14, 2018
So will things finally change?
All this could help us understand why the newest social media campaign features the in comparison quite bland message of “you don't need to scream to have fun.”
So, years after the battle to change Parisians' behaviour begun, will things finally change?
Some remain hopeful.
“I think it could help to make people more attentive,” said Elisabeth, a 67-year-old inhabitant of the 17th arrondissement, one of the more expensive, cleaner areas in the west of the capital.
Elisabeth, who has lived in Paris for decades, said that, while “Parisians find it difficult to respect rules” the internet had made it easier for other people to contact their local mayor directly to make complains.
Paris is ruled by one mayor, Anne Hidalgo, but the city also has locally elected officials in each arrondissement.
“In our neighbourhood, the local mayor is very active and tries to resolve problems rapidly,” she said.
Pipi – pee
Puer – to stink
Nuisances sonores – noise