Paris: the Good, the Bad, and the Chic

When my parents were planning their trip to Europe, we knew that we wouldn’t stay the entire time in Madrid. Understandably, they come a long way and want to make the most of their travel miles. The question is always the same–where to go? We entertained ideas of trips to the Basque Country, Brussels, Germany, and Paris. Then, when my friend Amaya sent out an email to friends and family explaining that she and her husband were leaving their Paris apartment free for the summer, the choice was obvious. Off to Paris we went!

View of the Champs-Élyssées from the Arc de Triomphe

Riley joined us for the adventure, too! Here’s the fam in the Versailles Gardens

After being back in Madrid for a week, here are some reflections on our time in Paris:


* People were très polite. Bon jour, s’il vous plaît, and merci were constantly meeting our ears, and we did our best to follow suit. Locals were helpful on the metro, pointing us in the right direction if they heard us expressing doubt. Additionally, the kind business owners in our adopted neighborhood were eternally patient with our attempts at French.

*Quiet, quiet, quiet. After coming from Spain, it seemed that arriving in Paris meant hitting an invisible mute button. While I had previously read that no one said a peep on public transportation, I assumed this was a gross exaggeration. However, we did find metro and bus rides to be hushed affairs. From the airport shuttle to the inter-city train, commuters stayed quiet, which, in a way, helped us to sit with our thoughts and soak up the newness without being overwhelmed.

*Boulangeries. The sweet treats we ate in Paris were unlike the ones I was used to in Madrid, and the variety was welcome. Additionally, these shops serve as an economical eating option in the face of 15+ Euro meals.  There was no end to the abundance of French bread and pastries–we counted half a dozen boulangeries on the walk from our metro to our apartment alone. Indeed, according to a New York Times article published three days ago, France has “the highest density of independent bakeries in the world (32,000).” In other words, you’re in no danger of finding yourself far from a baguette.

You can always count on finding a boulangerie in Paris


*It’s expensive. Oh, did you have some dewy-eyed, romantic notion of spending each afternoon draped across a chair in an adorable Parisian cafe? Well, bud, drink carefully–that subpar coffee comes at 4 Euros a cup. Same for a glass of wine (which is at least twice what I pay for a glass of wine in Madrid!)

*Long lines. Unwilling to skip out on Versailles/the Pompidou/L’Arc de Triomphe, you’ll find yourself waiting in realllly long lines. Sometimes, having the Paris Pass will allow you to skip the lines and wait in a shorter line. Other times, like at the D’Orsay, you’ll wait single file no matter what.

Single-filin’ at Versailles–minutes after it opened!

 *Tourist hordes. You want to visit Paris? You want to gaze upon the Lourve/Notre Dame/the Eiffel Tower? Well, approximately 78,572,945 gazillion other people do, too. They are on the metro, the street, in restaurants, everywhere. How do the Parisians put up with them (er, us)?

Expect to be photo-bombed


*The Grandeur. From Napoleon’s Tomb to the Champs-Élyssées, the classy-ness factor in Paris is off-the-chart. The streets are very polished, with much less grafiti than you’d expect from a city this size. At times businesses–and people–gussy up to the point of absurdity (Exhibit A: the entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch’s flagship store in Paris).

* Great art + history. The wealth of antiquities and art is baffling. Take the Lourve and the D’Orsay, for example–not only do they hold famous masterpieces, they are venerable works of art in themselves. Elegant, non?

The D’Orsay’s magnificent interior

*Macarons. What is more chic than these dainty puffs? I don’t have any recs for you–we tried ours in the Parisian suburb–but check out Expat Edna‘s ideas for where to get a great macaroon  in her detailed Paris Macaron Smackdown.

* You’re in Paris! Take in the view from the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, or…any sweeping view, really.  With these iconic landmarks in your line of vision, it’s immediately understandable why we borrowed the word “chic” from the French in the first place.


View of the Champs-Élyssées from the Arc de Triomphe

If you’ve visited or lived in Paris, what’s your take on the Good, the Bad, and the Chic?

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  1. Shame you didn’t get to try a macaron in town! Thanks for the link!

  2. Cassandra

    It was on the list, but so were a ton of other things. We’ll just have to go back!

  3. Have to agree with everything in this post! And you’re right—everyone was very polite, lots of “magic words” and inside voices as opposed to the very direct, forward, no-nonsense loud Spanish way of interacting 🙂

  4. Cassandra

    It comes as a bit of a shock, doesn’t it?! I’m getting caught up on your summer posts–looks like you had an amazing time in Morocco!

  5. As a French/Spanish major, I LOVE France…obviously. Strangely enough, Paris doesn’t really do it for me, for the same ‘bad’ reasons on your list. It is just so crowded and touristy, I can’t take it. Still, to walk in the footsteps of some of my favorite authors and philosophers makes it worth the trip 🙂

  6. Cassandra

    Elizabeth, I didn’t realize that you’d also studied French!

    I have a friend from Normandie who always reiterates that Paris is different from the rest of the country. So, you’re certainly not alone in thinking this! What is your favorite place in France?

  7. I’m so glad you liked Paris! I get so sick of Americans telling me they hated Paris because people were rude to them/dog poop/the weather/etc. Americans wouldn’t like it if people came up to them asking them in a foreign language, “Do you speak Turkish?” (for example) The French are the same way. I do understand French is a difficult language, but it isn’t very hard to say “Je ne parle pas francais.”

    As for the long lines and how expensive it is–I hear you! I have already been to most famous Parisian landmarks (in some cases, multiple times) so my family is always trying do the things that are off the radar.

    • Cassandra

      Paris was a treat, I loved how elegant it was! I would love to go back to Paris to visit lesser-known sights as well as explore more of the neighborhoods to get a better feel for the city.

      You stayed in Paris for quite some time, correct? What were monthly expenses like?

      • I’ve actually never lived there for an extended period of time. We have family who live in the suburbs of Rueil-Malmaison so we would always take the RER and do day trips to Paris (occasionally we stayed in a hotel). Over a period of 25 years my family has made a huge dent in famous Parisian landmarks. Monthly expenses, no idea but I shudder to think of how much they are!!

        • Cassandra

          Ah, ok, that makes sense. You must be so knowledgeable about Paris and the surrounding areas, terrific!

          I agree with you about shuddering over monthly expenses: the housing, metro pass/garage rental, food, going out….yikes!

  8. What a fantastic opportunity to stay in central Paris! I think you’ve summed it up perfectly. It’s a shame it’s so busy with tourists, but I guess it’s a natural consequence of being one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. I think the French get a bad reputation for being “rude” to people who don’t speak their language. But I think it’s a combination of a long history with the English and pride in their country and its history. And there’s nothing wrong with that! You only have to make a small effort and like you say, people are very polite.

    • Cassandra

      Yes, exactly! I didn’t even touch on the history between France and English-speaking countries, but I definitely believe there’s truth to that. As a tourist, we can just try our best to be polite–anywhere and everywhere.

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