For many around the world France equals Paris. When tasked to think of typical French traits, their answers will likely land on the Parisian.
The Parisian is a quasi-archetypal figure of fame.
Films and popular culture further feed it, as well as politicians, actors and other public figures.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film Amélie evoked our typical idea of a whimsical Parisian life in Montmartre village.
But defining a true Parisian and separating from the stereotypes isn’t easy these days. Large swathes of the population moved to Paris, usually for work, from Provence.
However, once in Paris for a few years we can notice subtle changes in behaviour in the following areas.
Proximity / Personal space
Tell a regular French person from Provence that you’re paying 900€ monthly rent to live in a recently renovated 12 metres squared studio in a nice part of town and they will laugh in disbelief.
The property market in Paris is saturated with small expensive apartments, and it is not unusual for professionals to live in flatshares or single room studios well into their thirties.
This same phenomenon also puts pressure on relationships as recent couples are understandably sometimes pressured by financial factors rather than emotional readiness to move in together too quickly.
Out in Provence, you can rent a studio in central Rouen for just €350 per calendar month. There is space for people to live in more than one room, if desired, even enjoy some outdoor space.
There are other large French cities where rent is becoming comparatively share, when laid out alongside local salaries. But I think most would agree that Paris is a pretty special case here.
Once Parisians have bagged their tiny apartment, they’re probably going to feel a little claustrophobic. That is why a lot of life happens outside.
Meanwhile, en provence, it can be a case of ‘chacun chez soi’ enjoying the space of their individual houses, and often not feeling like getting behind the wheel to go somewhere.
Paris habits are the polar opposite. Many are downstairs in a local Brasserie to eat breakfast out, have lunch in a quick restaurant or pre-prepared food, then leave work smartly to get to their apéro or evening plans.
Parisians may eat out a couple of times a week or more, especially since lunch is paid for by their employer, thanks to ‘tickets restaurants’.
In Provence restaurants are still enjoyed, but often the more purse friendly ones, as salaries do not compare with those of Parisians.
Families may prefer to economise, driving directly home from work to eat pre-planned meals from the big Auchan shop at the weekend.
There is an unspoken war, or at the very least considerable tensions between Paris and the rest of France.
In rural France people are exceptionally friendly by Parisian standards. Passers by in a village may say ‘bonjour’ to the person sharing the pavement with them, simply to acknowledge their presence.
This does not happen in Paris. If someone says ‘bonjour’ to you unexpectedly in the street the assumptions are; because they fancy you, they’re going to ask for money, or directions.
Hence understandably, Parisians, especially Parisian women often don’t have a lot of time for speaking to strangers in the street. Blanking a ‘bonjour’ from a randomer is not uncommon.
Go into a Boulangerie or Bistrôt in Provence and while you order it’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation. The owner may appear generally interested in what you have to say, asking questions and taking the time.
In the same situation in Paris the Boulangère or Propriétaire might have a queue of other customers waiting, or a bevy orders to take and whizz to the kitchen for stressed Parisians on their lunch hour. The time for idle chit chat simply isn’t there.
The Tourist Office had to publish a brochure telling Parisians how to be nicer to tourists, thus acknowledging an existing problem.
Paris is the capital of culture. That’s not to say the rest of France doesn’t have it. But the sheer concentration in Paris is overwhelming.
In fact the problem, more often than not, is having too many good options that clash dates.
Every town hall in Paris, is aware of the importance of celebrating culture.
World famous museums are spread over the city: Pompidou, Palais Tokyo, the Grand and Petit Palais and the musée d’Orsay just to name a few.
Diet and Fitness
Paris has recently undergone a sporty revolution. The fitness club NéoNess is hugely popular. Running clubs are also taking off and seem to be a ‘bon plan’ for singletons in residential quartiers to meet up, be a bit sporty then go for a drink.
In central Paris you’ll have no trouble finding a yoga studio.
I know from yoga teacher girlfriends elsewhere in France that this simply isn’t the case. They have to get in their cars to go to a class and to teach. Often they’ll be the main yoga teacher in town or in a village.
La France Profonde is overwhelmingly rural, and inhabitants still work the land today. Their healthy active lifestyle is often rewarded by quite heavy and rich cooking in the evenings in some regions, notably the South West.
In Paris working culture is pretty sedentary and office based, yet with many pedestrian commuters and bikes, there are plenty of possibilities to keep your pedometer happy – not to mention changing lines at Chatelet-les-Halles.
It’s tough weigh up and compare, as the rural French are definitely healthier in terms of pollution, and possibly stress levels. However, they use their cars, whilst the Parisians pace the pavements and the treadmill.
When we think of the famous 35 hour working week with and the enviable work/life balance, we are thinking of the French from Provence.
Those guys are living the life of Riley!
As a child I spent summers living near Nice. It never struck us as odd our family bank manager in the local branch treated himself to a two hour plus lunch break to allow for a three course lunch, rounded off with chilled rosé and a Pétanque match.
With this decidedly Mediterranean attitude towards siesta, family and work life balance the Provinciaux are certainly winning hands down on this front.
Sadly things are not the same back in the 75 postal code vicinity…
In the capital, Capitalism not nostalgic cultural norms dictates Parisian professionals’ working hours.
If they’re ‘cadres’ at some international company, fighting for their job and getting paid silly money, (only if the bosses see results) then things can get just as out of control as in London or the States.
Thus is somewhat unfair that Parisians are tarred with the same brush, when the internationally community imagines the French as a little work shy.
I have never known employees at la Defense leave their offices much before 7ish. American standards of ‘a sandwich at your desk’ instead of a proper lunch break are sadly getting adopted.
It is no longer unlikely for top professionals to take work home with them or come into the office at the weekend.
A lawyer friend working for an US firm based in Paris was warned that their Champs Élysées offices would be shut exceptionally on Saturday and Sunday, due to Gilet Jaunes protests, and they were all invited to take their work computers home and crack on.
Parisians go on holiday to French Provence, something that the year-round inhabitants find somewhat amusing.
A selection of tweets about this included –
“Parisians stop posting photos of your holidays on social media, we know what the South of France looks like, we live here all year round!”
The thing is, the French outside the capital often love their region and the quality of life there.
Falling into two camps, you’ll have those who admit to having a certain attraction to Paris. Opinions I’ve regularly heard expressed are:
“I’d love to have a little pied-à-terre in central Paris. A tiny flat near the Pont d’Alma, I’d go there during the holidays and get round all the exhibitions. I love the energy in Paris.”
“When I was younger I never got the obsession with Paris. Now in my thirties, I’m more and more interested by the History, architecture and culture. I regularly go online to read stuff on the forgotten History of Paris, it’s become a real passion!”
A wise man once said, in order to explain Parisian Politics:
“c’est très simple:
À gauche on vote à droit, et à droit on vote à gauche”.
This bon mot does rather accurately sum up Parisian voting habits. If we imagine a stereotypical 16ème and 20ème resident, chances are they’ll follow this trend.
That said, Parisians are overall resoundingly more liberal than their compatriots elsewhere in France.
Hence even when Antoine and Marie-Claude from Boulogne plump for a right wing business friendly candidate, they’re unlikely to vote in Le Pen, as that would be downright intellectually embarrassing.
You might remember the anti gay marriage protests a few years back in Paris (Manif pour tous, they have now turned their attention to protesting gay families adopting). These gatherings were actually fleshed out by bus loads of protesters from outside Paris, who took to the streets of the capital to make themselves heard.
Homegrown protests are often combating racism, violent regimes oversees and homophobia.
The French from Provence often scathingly dismiss Parisian political views, laughing at their ‘Bobo’ ideals.
The word ‘bobo’ stands for ‘bourgeois-bohemians’. It’s a pejorative slant for a well heeled, organic food buying, bleeding hearts liberal population.
Perhaps Provinciaux French think these city slickers can afford to have expensive ethics, as their wealth cushions them from the reality many of life’s hardships.
The speed changes dramatically between French Provence and Paris. In the capital you’ll see workers scurrying around at a lightning pace.
Spend time in the most populated parts of the city around rush hour or lunch break and you’ll definitely get a good sense of this.
Perhaps the best places to notice this terrifying tempo are in the metro, as a pedestrian or driving in central Paris.
It is not unusual for drivers in Paris, not naming any names but especially vans driving for work who perhaps don’t own their vehicle, to boulder through green man lights for pedestrians and zebra crossings.
To try and temper traffic the Mayor of Paris Anne Hildago, has come up with various measures to discourage cars, including complicated one-way systems, banning them from the riverbanks and designated car-free days.
Back in Provence the locals have space to walk at their own pace. While rush hour may still exist and be frustrating for drivers, it simply doesn’t exist on the same scale as it does in Paris.
Commutes into work may be shorter, leaving everyone with more free time and generally feeling pretty satisfied with life.
After school in Bordeaux, it is not unheard of to head to the beach to catch some waves.
The Parisians themselves can’t hear it because, well everyone around them and on the TV speaks with their accent, but there is such a thing as a Parisian accent.
What does it sound like?
Fairly neutral drawl with extended liasson sounds, as they prepare the next scattergun sentence.
Referring back to our last header, speed still plays a great part. Parisians talk frantically fast, a phenomena only accelerated by stress, chain smoking, or getting rather passionate about a subject.
The only exception to the rule is the older generation. But then again, many older Parisians didn’t want to grow old in a city full of stairs under grey skies and headed for Provence, having cashed in their real estate in the capital.
Now the French outside Paris can also have discernable accents.
In the Northern part of old industrial France there is a strong accent, it’s slightly swallowed and hard to make out.
Likewise, down in the south, things get recognizably nasal. In Strasbourg, there is not only a different accent but links to German culture and different slang that slips in.
Both the Parisians and the Provinciaux have their fortes and flaws. As with people everywhere, they can be lovely and make great friends, or tricky stand off with political views that may clash with yours.
My best advice is to get out there, be yourself and see what response you get. Show cultural sensitivity and praise what you like in someone’s native region. Ask them the history of a regional dish, or what the collective noun is for people from their region, (Bordelais, Lyonnais etc).