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QUALITY OF LIFE

‘Parisians are quite lovely’: Your verdict on quality of life in Paris

Paris frequently ranks close to the bottom of international rankings of the best cities for foreign residents to live. But is it really that bad? Here's the verdict from our readers.

Terrace cafes in Montmatre, Paris.
Most readers of The Local told us that Paris is not such a bad place to live after all. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

After The Expat City Ranking 2021 placed Paris 51st out of 57 cities, we were hardly surprised. 

While most of us working at the Local France live in the French capital and enjoy life here, Paris rarely does well in the global rankings of the best cities for foreign residents. 

So we decided to ask for your views on life in the City of Light. Is it really as bad as the critics make out? 

The answer, according to most of you, is no. 

Over half of the scores of people who responded to our survey said that Paris is a good place to live. 

We have broken down what were, according to you, the key points: 

Culture and beauty 

By far and away, the culture and beauty of the city was the most commonly cited positive when it comes to life in the French capital. 

“Living in this city is at times like living in a beautiful museum. People from all over the world are drawn to this dramatic, glamorous city and I feel lucky to be here,” said Todd Foreman. 

Undoubtedly it is the culture of Paris which frequently makes it the most visited city in the world.

It is a city at the forefront of fashion, cuisine and art. It is home to more than 100 museums and galleries and more than 30,000 boulangeries. The trademark Haussmannian boulevards give the city centre a beautiful uniformity that is difficult to match elsewhere. And parks like the Buttes-Chaumont are sublime. 

Peter Ford praised the city’s “architecture, parks, low-level buildings general ambiance.” 

READ MORE 14 unexpected facts on careers, culture, food and fashion in Paris 

Paris is also steeped in jazz heritage and has a burgeoning techno and LGBTQI+ scene too. 

Many of you also pointed out the French work culture has its benefits too. France has strong workers’ protections and employees work some of the shortest hours of any country in the OECD.

Public services 

Many of you wrote in to say that public transport, healthcare and other public services are highly affordable in Paris compared to elsewhere. 

“It’s very accessible – every part of the city (and quite a long way beyond!) is in reach with a very affordable metro pass,” said Matthew Preston. 

In comparison to countries like the USA, healthcare is incredibly cheap. And waiting times to see a GP are generally far shorter than in places like the UK. It is no wonder that the average French life expectancy is higher here (82.5) than in either of those countries. It has been suggested however that the air pollution in Paris is as dangerous as smoking 183 cigarettes per year

“The bureaucracy takes a little bit of time to get used to. It took us a year to get into the health care system, but once we were in it seemed to work very well,” said Jess. 

Some of you also pointed out that the geographic position of Paris makes it easy to visit other places in Europe by plane, train and automobile. 

While great public services and transport links were a common theme, many of you said that housing prices in the French capital are prohibitively expensive. Per square metre, Paris has one of the most expensive property markets in the world

READ MORE Three ways the 2022 budget makes it easier to buy or renovate French property

Parisians 

This one proved divisive. 

Lots of you wrote in to describe Parisians as “rude”, “xenophobic”, and “dirty”. Others even complained that the French don’t speak English. There’s a clue to what language they speak in their name.

“The way Parisians talk about foreigners and other minorities – it’s actually hideous sometimes,” wrote Juan David Romero. 

Rameez Sayed said that Parisians are “unfriendly, rude and always have a resting bitchy face.” 

“Paris residents exude unhappiness in their own lives and take it out on expatriates as a means to lift their own spirits and provide a target for their animosity,” said Pat Hallam.

“Dating here is brutal,” added Erin Gould. “It’s the least romantic city you can imagine.”

Admittedly, even French people from outside the capital believe in a negative stereotype of the snooty Parisian. 

But a number of you said that a little bit of effort can go a long way. 

READ MORE Who are really the rudest – the French, tourists or Parisians?

“As long as you make an effort in French, I’ve found Parisians quite lovely,” said Andy McGough. 

“There is the rudeness factor but the good outweighs the bad,” added Corinne Lloyd. 

Others described Parisians as more kinder than residents of other capital cities, even going as far to compliment their politeness. 

“I appreciate the politeness and character of the locals,” said Virginia Choy. “Paris is gentler and less materialistic than London and Sydney.”

Like in every other city around the world, there are good and bad people. And even these labels are pretty subjective. 

Member comments

  1. Nah, I think it is pretty subpar as an expat city in general. Just feels kind of backward/inward-looking compared to other major cities worldwide. Less parochial than smaller European capitals, but not really on a par with London/NYC

  2. We chose Lyon over Paris simply because of size and being in a city with fewer tourists. But in our 8 years of living and traveling in France, we have found the French to be very nice and helpful on the whole. In a city like Paris (or New York), residents expect you to know how to conduct yourself – pace of walking, not stopping at the top of the Metro steps, how to order in a restaurant. Things are a bit more relaxed in Lyon – I tell friends that Lyon is to Paris what San Francisco is to New York; not a perfect comparison, but workable.
    And we visit Paris whenever we have the chance.

  3. Traveling to Paris multiple times we’ve been unable to find the stereotypical rude Parisian experience. We find the city and her people to be warm and generous. We had a meal and wine secretly bought for us after a 45 chat with our neighbor table – with limited French. We have made deep friendships (a thing not supposed to happen according to some) and are now considering Paris a place to live. In terms of cost, we’re from LA so much of Paris is to us a welcome relief in prices with incredible quality.

  4. As a long-term ex-pat, two things stand out: 1.) Paris visitors do NOT respect French culture, Parisians, or Paris in general; 2.) For ex-pats (and visitors), Paris owes you NOTHING! It is entirely up to you to embrace your host city diplomatically or face the dire and mostly legitimate consequences.

    Remember, there is a solution for stubborn, arrogant, and ethnocentric visitors to Paris: EuroDisney.

    P.S. The dreaded, insidious, revolting, and ironic ‘Disneyfication’ of La Capitale must stop. It is responsible for many of these issues…

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CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

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