In fact there’s even a name – Paris syndrome – for the disconnect that many tourists experience when they arrive and realise that Paris is a modern capital city with all the problems of all big cities (and a few others just of its own – we’re looking at you, men who think peeing in the street is OK).
But there’s also many great things about Paris that for some reason rarely make it onto the big screen.
With the start of the new Netflix series Emily in Paris (which packs in quite a few movie-land clichés about the City of Lights) here are a few of our favourite things about the city.
1. It’s really diverse
As a modern international capital, Paris has a real mix of nationalities living here and is much more ethnically diverse than the rest of France. As a newcomer this is particularly good news because you’ll find it much easier to find a wide circle of friends from around the globe, most of whom will have an interesting story to tell.
Paris also reflects the ethnic and geographic mix of French culture, from getting a delicious Senegalese meal in the Marais to popping up to the Goutte d’Or to sample the amazing tailoring and African wax print fabrics.
2. It has great markets
Food markets are a staple of French life, but the popular conception of them is for the countryside. In fact Paris has dozens of markets, from the small arrondissement markets to the large sites at Belleville and Barbès. They’re cheap and they have a great range of seasonal produce.
But it’s not just food – flea markets (marchés aux puces) and vintage markets (brocantes) are a big thing in Paris with some real bargains if you aren’t afraid to have a bit of a rummage and your quartier is also likely to have special markets every couple of months including organic products, local crafters or seasonal events.
These are popular all over France, but for some reason they never feature highly on the list of the country’s foodie treats – maybe there’s just too much to get through?
While the movies will have you believe that eating in Paris is all fine dining in expensive restaurants, one of the city’s greatest pleasures is meeting up with some mates in a café or one of the increasing numbers of craft ales bars to drink and share a planche – a selection of charcuterie, cheeses and bread. Simple and yet perfect.
Which brings us to picnics. More of a fine weather activity of course, but in the summer evenings groups of people gather in open spaces around the city to share a picnic and a few drinks in a cheap but perfect night out. Head to the quais of the Seine, the banks of the Canal-Saint-Martin or one of the city’s many parks.
If you like your picnics posh, there’s even the extremely fancy Diner en Blanc.
5. Weird shops, museums and clubs
Paris has a little museum called the Louvre which we’ve heard has some good stuff in it, but did you know there is also a museum of vampires and another entirely full of stuffed animals?
Alongside its more famous cultural offerings Paris has a rich selection of the bizarre, from crazy museums to quirky shops and a very wide-ranging art scene. Want Bulgarian jazz or franglais Shakespeare with added jokes about the French Interior Minister’s sex life? Paris has that covered for you.
6. Outdoor gyms
You might get the impression from films (and certain dishevelled French singers) that all Parisans live on red wine and Gauloises, but actually they are a pretty healthy lot and the city is increasingly well set-up for free exercise.
More and more bike lanes and pedestrianised areas make cycling and jogging a viable option and you will also find free outdoor gyms scattered around the city. If you prefer to exercise in groups there are running groups for all levels and the City of Paris runs free PE sessions on the banks of the Seine on Sundays.
7. It has a beach (sort of)
A cursory glance at a map will show you Paris is quite a long way from the sea, but every summer the seaside comes to Paris with the two Paris plages – one on the banks of the Seine and one in the 19th arrondissement next to the Canal Ourq. They’re open to all but they were conceived so that the millions of low-income Parisians who cannot afford the traditional August trip to the seaside at least get some of the beach experience.
8. The Metro
OK, the city’s public transport system is not exactly loved by everyone who lives here. But it is a crucial part of daily life for millions and it rarely seems to feature in movies (maybe because it’s not exactly the most romantic spot in town).
It may be frequently crowded, sometimes smelly and a haven for pickpockets, but as public transport systems go it’s pretty cheap and enables you to be anywhere in the city within an hour.
But if you’re really not a fan, most places in Paris are reachable on foot as it is a very compact city – just 12km across. This is why, contrary to what you see on the big screen, very few women teeter around Paris in designer stilettos.
Paris is a busy capital with lots of people and a lot going on, but you can also go into a café, order an espresso and sit for hours, without the staff glaring angrily at you or impatiently breathing down your neck for you to order more.
In fact, the café culture is at the core of Paris’ identity, and it’s an unspoken rule that sitting down to peacefully read your paper or book while sipping your €1.50 coffee and idly watching the world go by is a right along with breathing.