15 Things I Hate About Paris …

I’ve had some bad breaks and have been a bit frustrated in Paris the last couple of weeks so I thought I’d vent a little. Here goes:

15 Things I Hate About Paris (in no particular order) …

1) Escalators

If I was in Cameroon and each time I approached an escalator it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t find it difficult to accept. But in a country that has nuclear technology and develops satellites, I would expect that they would have worked out how to keep an escalator running more than just a few times a month. From the airport (those long people movers) to metro stations, escalators are out of order a significant percentage of time. And I didn’t even mention the cruel lack of escalators at the metro stations that connect to the big train stations where travelers have to carry their heavy bags upstairs.

2) The temperature on Metro line 4

The temperature on this Metro line is independent of the outside temperature; the air inside each cabin is completely still and without ventilation; it usually takes between 1 and 2 stops before everyone in the cabin is sweating. I’m not sure why this happens even during the winter, perhaps because the metro itself generates heat throughout the day. I’m working on sending a letter to the RATP (the people in charge of the metro) asking for an explanation. I’m holding my breath for a response.

2) Supermarket Supplies

It’s a very common occurrence that as soon as I find a product in the supermarket that I like, when I go back to buy it again, it’s gone; sometimes permanently, but more frequently, temporarily. It can make it difficult to plan a meal. Speaking of which, to plan a semi-elaborate meal can mean going to 3 or even 4 different markets to get the necessary supplies.

4) Lowlifes

I live in a nice area of Paris. But even here, like everywhere I’ve lived in Paris, a few nights a week there is some drunk lowlife that thinks yelling unintelligible sounds at high decibel levels is a good idea. Sometimes it’s a group of 19-year old Americans celebrating after having their first legal beer.

5) Fermeture Exceptionelle

Two words that I dread. You travel across the city to get to that one store that sells a “R” key for your 18th century typewriter and when you arrive, there is a handwritten sign on the door saying “Fermeture Exceptionelle”, meaning that they are closed exceptionally on this day. I often see stores that keep a permanent “Fermeture Exceptionelle” sign on the back of their front door to use on those “exceptional” occasions. And I didn’t even mention those frequent times when you arrive at 4:40pm at a store that closes at 5pm and they’re already closed.

6) The Look

One of my favorites … the now-familiar look of store employees when I ask them for a common item like, say a towel. The best way I can describe it is to imagine walking into a big store like a Target and asking the first employee that you see if they have a giraffe made of cotton candy. The look that you would get from that employee is probably about the same as the look I get when I ask a towel store employee for a towel. As if I was the first person in history to ask for this item. And it’s not because of my accent; I’ve seen it consistently happen to native French speakers as well.

7) Good Ideas, Bad Implementation

So common here. Someone will come up with a great, creative idea to save time or really help people but the implementation of the idea is done so poorly that it would have been better to not have the idea in the first place. Perfect example is the new bicycle program in Paris. Great idea, but … frequently the electronic station doesn’t work (I’ve actually seen a Windows XP error screen on the kiosk), it doesn’t take foreign credit cards (really good considering this program was also meant for tourists), the instructions on how to take a bike are ridiculously confusing (you have to enter a pin code 3 times!) and my favorite one … to sign up for a yearly membership you are required to go online; great, until you come to the last step which tells you that you must now print out the form and mail it in to them.

8) People Flow & Lines

For those of you who have been to Paris, this one is no surprise. There seems to be something inherent in the French character that hates to stand in a line. Or even to do something to control the flow of how people move. If you see a ticket window at a movie theatre, it’s not uncommon to see 4 or 5 different lines all funneling into that window. And I won’t even mention the number of times that the person behind me in line disrespected my personal space so seriously that I had to wonder if I may be legally wed to them. At big events like say the French Open Tennis, the organizers will never use those dividers that make people move one direction on one side and the opposite direction on the other. So moving around the grounds is not so unlike those war scenes in Ben Hur with 10,000 people charging full steam ahead into 10,000 others.

9) Weekly Metro Tickets

If you’re going to be moving around a lot during 1 week in Paris, you’re in luck because you can buy a 1 week metro pass that can save you money. That is, you’re in luck if your week goes from Monday to Sunday. You can’t buy a weekly pass that goes from say Wednesday to Tuesday. If you buy a weekly pass on a Wednesday, it still expires the following Sunday. Good thinking…

10) Reverse Economies of Scale

This is a phenomenon that I’ve been observing for more than 5 years and I must say I find it less now than I did 5 years ago but it still pops up from time to time. You go to the store and look at the price of one box of tissues; it costs say 1 euro. Right next to that box is a 3-pack of the same tissues that costs … 3.50 euros. If this happened once or twice, or only in a mama and papa kind of store where maybe their math skills we’re not so good, I could understand it. But I’ve seen this happen in the largest of large department stores in Paris and across a wide variety of product types. At one time I theorized that this was, in effect, a “convenience” charge for having the products all nicely bundled together so they were easier to carry home; but I really have no idea why this happens.

11) Street Smashing

This is a hotly debated one among me, myself and I. If you walk on a sidewalk anywhere in Paris, no matter the width of the sidewalk, no matter how many people are walking the opposite direction as you on the sidewalk, someone will smash into you. I swear to you that even if only one person is walking towards me and the sidewalk is as wide as the ones on the Champs Elysees, that person will find a way to smash into me. And it’s not just me; I’ve discussed this phenomenon at length with many of my friends. No one disagrees that this happens, the debate is only about WHY it happens. In Marrakech you can have 450 people moving towards 450 other people on the same sidewalk and not one person will bump into the other. Why does this happen?

12) Vacations

French society is so unbelievably square. By square, I mean that there is a right way to do EVERYTHING. Even a right time to do everything. Every year people do the same thing (go to some beachy place) virtually on the same day (July 15) and then come back and talk about their vacation for approximately 3 weeks. I didn’t mention the 3 weeks before the vacation that is spent asking each person they see when they are going to take their vacation.

13) Chinese Food

Have you ever been to the Slovenia? Or Turkey? Or Luxembourg? If yes, have you eaten Chinese food in any of these places? It tastes like … Chinese food! God bless the Chinese immigrants who bring their delicious food to other countries and manage to exactly reproduce the flavor in their new country. I find this true in EVERY country except … France. Chinese food tastes like crap here. I must have tried dozens of Chinese restaurants and take-away places throughout the city and cannot say that even 1 time I’ve had a really good meal that tastes like … Chinese food.

14) Smells

I don’t have much to say on this subject except that in most narrow passages or alleyways throughout the city, whether between two apartment buildings or in a corridor leading out of the metro, there is frequently a distinct smell of either piss, puke or crap. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things but it does get a little annoying if you’re, say, breathing.

15) Pay to Pay

By far and away my favorite thing to complain about in France. And this is one that most of you probably won’t be aware of because it doesn’t really affect visitors. In France, you have to pay to pay. What I mean is that if I want to rent a car, or make airlines reservations or even call the damn cell phone company from my cell phone (!), I have to pay anywhere from 10 to 34 cents per minute. Yes, you read this correctly. It’s exactly the OPPOSITE of a toll-free telephone number that virtually all businesses in the civilized world have. And to top it off, if I have a technical problem with, for example, my internet and I have to call my provider to tell them that there is something wrong with their system, I have to pay them 34 cents a minute to tell them that.

I feel much better now ☺

Sometime in the future I’ll do a “15 Things I Love About Paris” entry.

And continuing with the different blog style this week, here are two videos of the week (remember to give them a few minutes to load):

Video #1 Riding through Paris


Video #2 Man I saw on Pont St Louis this week


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by david on August 6, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Silpa, this is incredibly funny and interesting. It should be in a travel column of a newspaper or perhaps on travel websites. You need to get this out there!! Great work my friend.


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