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Paris: A story of 20 arrondissements

9th September, 2018

One of the first questions a parisian —or a person that lives in Paris— is gonna ask you is, in a very casual way, in what arrondissement do you live.

Arrondissement means neighbourhood in french. And it’s quite fascinating to understand how all of them can have their own mini-universe going on. From Le Marais to Pigalle, from Passy to Bastille, or from Saint-Germain des Près to a quite banlieu like Boulogne-Billancourt. Understanding the vibes of these arrondissements can definitely help you discovering the side of Paris that fit better to your personality, expectations and —why not?— fantasies.

Paris is a city everyone has visited. Either in real life or in their dreams. But even if most of people get the stereotypical and cliché idea of the first arrondissement with the Louvre, the gardens of Tuileries and the Palais Royal, or the touristic instagrammable settings of the sixteenth with the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées, there are multiple faces of Paris that re worthy to know on their own right.

When I first arrived to the City of Lights, I was located in the seventeenth arrondissement —near Avenue de Ternes, for those who are familiar—, and even though I got more than one eyebrow raised when I said I liked my quartier, everyone’s reaction was “But there is nothing to do there, it’s so boring!”. Got to confess that it was perfectly convenient for me due to the fact that it was only 20 minutes walking form my school, which was the main motive by which I came to Paris. And that’s also how I came to find that Paris is way smaller and peculiar than most of people can imagine. Here are some lessons I learned the hard way:

  • Google Maps is god. If cities like New York have basically two axes —West, East, North, South—, Paris streets are messy and full of dead-ends that might drive you crazy. Which takes me to the next point.
  • Have your moment of excitement with the Parisian Metro. And then let it go. Whether it’s true you will constantly use it —unless you conmute by bike or scooter—, you will find that it’s way easier to walk form one point to the other rather than descending through several layers of underground.
  • Be friendly with your local boulanger, market fruit lady and nearest brasserie waiters. Each arrondissement is a small universe, and they will immediately recognise if you from the neighbourhood. Or not. It will make your life easier to get along with the people the provide you with fresh nourishment.
  • On dress codes. The look à la cool you will find in Le Marais is very different than the snobbish elegance constantly present in Saint Germain des Pres. Of course, at the end you aren’t forced to anything, do as you wish. But if you wish to grasp the fashion spirit of Paris, you need to understand it changes from arrondissement to arrondissement.
  • On the smile. If you come from Latin America —as me—, be thoughtful on how often you flash your lovely grin. Also on how much excitement you show for simple things or situations. French people like to keep it CCQ. Cool, calm and quiet. And yes, I’ve confirmed this information with quite a few french people that stated that smiling too often can be perceived as “making fun of the other person” or “faking to be nice to get something in exchange”.  These applies to all the arrondissements.

But nothing is write in stone. If you come to live to Paris, you will find the city is much more than a beautiful and legendary European city that looks like a museum. And even if you are quite comfortable in your area, don’t miss the chance to move around, explore and get lost. Well, maybe not this last one at least for the first year. Always remember that, specially in Paris, Google Maps is god.

By the way, if you wish to get more in the mood of parisian arrondissements, I strongly suggest you watch Paris Je T’Aime. Eighteen stories that depict love in different ways, all spread along the City of Lights.

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