On our trip to Paris earlier this month (my sixth), I was astounded at how much had changed since my first visit, and what a difference those changes made to an American visitor's experience. I first visited Paris as a teenager in the early 1970s, and have been back at least once each decade since then. I know that folks on this forum with more recent experience in Paris are often having to correct erroneous impressions from prospective visitors, many of which are based on the Paris of old, but I couldn't help but be struck on this trip by many differences between Paris then and now:
1. The buildings. On my first several trips to Paris, most of the major sites - the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc., were literally dark grey, covered with the grit of age and city pollution, but things have been cleaned up and look wonderful. Notre Dame in particular is dramatically more beautiful now. The Louvre, the Madeleine, Place Vendome, and Place de la Concorde are all gleaming - a dramatic difference from my first few visits.
2. Friendliness. I know from personal experience that the "rude and snooty" stereotype was a reality, not myth, for American visitors in the Paris of the 1970s and early 1980s, but this is no longer true. While I encountered no rudeness on visits in the 90s and in 2000, there was little approaching friendliness or welcome, either. However, on this trip I was struck by the much friendlier reception - even smiles - encountered nearly everywhere.
3. Prevalence of English. Nearly everyone I encountered would immediately turn to English when hearing my badly-accented attempts at a French greeting. (While this has long been true in other countries I've visited, this was mostly a new experience for me in Paris.) Also, to my amazement and delight, nearly every menu I saw had English translations, something that on my prior trips was rather rare.
4. Smoking laws. You are no longer limited to eating early and in a hotel, or in the rare restaurant with a non-smoking room identified in a guidebook, if you want to be able to breathe during your dinner. That tiny little restaurant with the tables packed closely together - GO ON IN - you can actually eat there now. (Eating outside is more problematic, but better than before).
5. Quicker lunches. The days of having to choose between a take-out ham and cheese baguette or a 2 hour, heavy lunch are gone. Quiche, crepes, and more varied sandwiches are easily found for a quicker, lighter lunch.
Those who have not visited Paris in a long time, or whose impression is based on tales from others' long-ago visits or on stereotypes are bound to find the city a much different, and much more enjoyable experience. I'm looking forward to returning.