On some of the days, I walked through Paris vigorously shaking my head in response to the habits of the Parisiens. So what I decided to do was to write down all of my questions about Paris in the hopes that I would later find some answers.
1. Why do drivers in Paris sound their horns all the time?
The roads are full, no car is moving but still, some of the Paris drivers feel obliged to sound their horn. Where do they expect the car in front of them to go? Traffic doesn’t move any quicker to the sound of horns. So what on earth do the drivers in Paris get out of the horns?
2. Why do the French cause so much rubbish?
The touristy routes are very clean and tidy, there is no question about that. There are many bins available and people actually use them. But once you leave the tourist routes or stay in a flat as we did you will see rubbish everywhere.
The already very narrow sidewalks are crowded with overflowing bins. Bags are scattered all around them. And the problem isn’t that the rubbish isn’t picked up. I have rarely seen so many rubbish collection vehicles around a city, even on Saturdays. I rather felt like there is simply a lot more rubbish produced in the first place.
Even we caused many empty glass and plastic bottles. A major downside is that the Paris tap water smells of chlorine and we, therefore, did not drink it. And that’s how rubbish is produced.
But why in these quantities?
3. Why is there water flowing alongside the roads?
Not after a rain or after a cleaning car has just passed. Just like that.
We passed so many streets where water was flowing through the gutter and disappeared down the nearest drain. I have to admit that in the Paris heat that water did cool things down a little. But I don’t think that this is what the water is for.
We tried to pay attention to where we spotted that phenomenon to identify if it was due to a broken pipe in a certain area. But we encountered the water all over the city and that is how it became one of our Paris questions.
4. Why is the myth that the French only ever speak French so persistent?
When we were in France last about 15 years ago it wasn’t easy to communicate. The bits and pieces of French we remembered from school and our talent for languages were not enough to communicate. We couldn’t use English either as it seemed like the French didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand English.
This time (2017) it was different. Our knowledge of French has not increased but we were able to communicate in English just fine. Even away from the touristy areas, in restaurants on the street or doing shopping, it was never a problem.
Why is the idea that the French aren’t cosmopolites still around?
5. What does this traffic light stand for?
We saw some traffic lights on junctions that we didn’t seem to understand. They only show one symbol, a red cross. The red cross isn’t permanently illuminated and we noticed that many locals pay more attention to the cross than they do to pedestrian traffic lights. So what does this symbol mean?
6. Do the French smoke more than the Germans?
It might sound odd, but I think I am spoilt. In Germany, there are many spaces where smoking is not permitted and I admit, I like that. I don’t have much of a problem with “fresh” smoke but the smell of old and cold smoke I always disliked.
We saw many more people with cigarettes in Paris than we do in Berlin. Parisiens smoke more on the streets but also more in restaurants. Do they generally smoke more than Germans? Or do we simply notice it more because it is permitted in more locations?
7. Why are there no public pianos in Germany?
When we were in Prague I was delighted to see pianos in public that are free for anyone to use. In Paris, these pianos are even more popular. They can be found in bigger train stations or in shopping malls where passers-by sit down and start playing. And they don’t play the Chopsticks over and over again like amateurs, there were some really advanced musicians that played absolutely wonderfully. All different age groups played all different styles of music.
There was one particular piano player that I loved listening to. He played that beautiful, classical piece in the middle of the Les Halles shopping mall. The small courtyard went all quiet and people stopped to listen. This made our little shopping break so much nicer.
8. Questions around safety and security
After all the attacks in bigger cities around the world, a topic like safety and security also made it onto our Paris list of questions. Especially here in Paris, as the city has been in a state of emergency for some years.
I was surprised at first but after a short while of getting used to it, I will miss it when we’re gone. In not very many other places was I checked for safety and security reasons that frequently. People that want to enter any bigger train station, a shop, a mall, a museum or other public places have to pass through a checkpoint. It can be anything from a quick check of the bags all the way to metal detector checks, but checkpoints are everywhere. In addition, there is a great presence of heavily armed police, sometimes even soldiers. I don’t have anything against this sort of checks. I felt a little safer because of them.
But don’t ever feel too safe. We were reminded of that. We went for a walk along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris just two hours before an attack on police officers took place there. It’s best not to think about the what-ifs too much.
But despite this experience, I liked the safety measures by the police and the security officers and I wonder why this isn’t possible in Germany.
Can you answer some of my questions about Paris? I am looking forward to your comments!