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Paris Then and Now

Washington, DC
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Paris Then and Now

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.

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: Paris Then and Now

I love the dramatic change in smoking -- I used to load up on antihistmines but meals in smokey cafes were a misery -- I love the relative lack of smoke now

dress has really changed over the last couple of decades -- the French used to dress with flair and tourists in their trainers and sloppy clothes stood out -- while older French women are still somewhat likely to be well turned out, one even sees little old French dressed like bums today -- jeans, dumpy sweatshirts etc -- I guess the whole world now thinks it is fine to go out in public in pajamas or something not far off. at least tourists need not worry about what to pack.

I agree that people are more generally pleasant, but I just though that was because my non-existent French had finally graduated to just terrible French.

The bread is alas no where near as good. There is of course first rate bread but you have to look for it. The baguettes at the bakery on the corner are just not in the league with those 20 years ago. A lot of bakery stuff feels outsourced, pre-made, corporate.

What stays the same though is the marvelous life style -- Paris is such a pleasant place to life.

New Hampshire
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2. Re: Paris Then and Now

The restoration of buildings, bridges, has been astonishing, for sure!

Our first visit, we were distressed to discover Pont Alexandre III, Notre Dame, and other structures, covered with scaffolding, but were amazed that Arc de Triomphe was no longer black as in the photos, but sparkling!

Over the years, I've found service in restaurants to have changed dramatically. So much more accommodating and without "attitude" regarding things like cream in your coffee and serving it at the same time as dessert.

We've observed a lot less smoking over the years, even before the new law went into effect. The vehicular fumes are far more problematic than tobacco smoke.

Tampa, Florida
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3. Re: Paris Then and Now

if you look for "artisan boulanger", it means that the baguettes are made on premise and are not industrial.

London, United...
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4. Re: Paris Then and Now

I concur with everything you've said, WDW. We have been travelling to Paris fairly regularly, every few years, since the 1960s, and the changes have truly been enormous. What has impressed us most on recent visits is the sheer sparkling whiteness of this previously grey city. It was beautiful when it was grey, too - but what a difference, particularly to the Louvre and Notre Dame.

More friendliness and less smoke have also been delightful!

Edited: 24 July 2011, 09:50
Paris, France
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5. Re: Paris Then and Now

That's interesting that your number 1 is the buildings. When we were walking around last week, I told my son that many of the buildings were a dingy grey/black when I first visited in 1981. He looked around, noticed the details on many of the buildings (we were in front of the Louvre at the time) and said that it must not have been an easy job. But the end result is that the city looks so much better than it did. It was wise of the government to offer tax breaks to owners who clean their buildings.

As far as bread goes, it also helps to ask for the "baguette de tradition" because it has to be made at the bakery and is additive free.

Newmarket, ON...
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6. Re: Paris Then and Now

We returned last week from Paris after a thirty-two year hiatus and noticed as well the cleanliness of the city. I'd swear there is less auto pollution as well even though I know Paris has grown tremendously. Absolutely loved the results of the smoking laws. Saw something interesting ... frozen McCains french fries (from Canada) being delivered to two cafes close to the Louvre and a Starbucks IN the Louvre ... yuck and double yuck... didn't see those coming! That is a change for the worse.

Ipswich, United...
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7. Re: Paris Then and Now

I broadly agree and I'd also add the hotels. 30-40 years ago when I was younger (and poorer) the quality of budget hotels was generally pretty dire: drab places some of which looked as if they hadn't been redecorated since before the Second World War or at best shortly after. Now most 2* and 3* hotels are of a pretty good standard and certainly look much more cheerful.

Having said that, a lot of the improvements, especially the cleaned buildings, are common to many cities over the last forty years.

Edited: 24 July 2011, 13:09
Paris
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8. Re: Paris Then and Now

Interesting remarks by all posters:

-bread: Janet, I would agree and disagree with you. Agree, in that the current "baguette" is now too soft and white to my taste. It's why decerning Parisians go for a "Tradition", which is slightly shorter and more expensive than the traditional baguette (around €1.10), but much crustier and tastier. Unfortunately, I realise that I am the only customer to ask for "bien cuite" ("well done", as it were), whereas most younger people (and especially women, I guess also to satisfy their children that are more used to McD's type food), ask for a "bien blanche" , ie soft and and with the dough still almost wet - "yuck and double yuck", as brodiekid very funnily puts it!

-buildings: sojoh, I don't see where the tax breaks are fitting in, here. Most "cleansed" building are government property so the tax break issue is irrelevant. As for "tax breaks" for private buildings, as the poor condo owner having had to pay for a very costly "ravalement", I can tell you that this private tax break this has to be put away on the "urban myths" shelf. You might be referring to the "loi Malraux" , a law from the 60s that still grants tax breaks to private owners, but under strict conditions: it has to be a listed building and the renovation has to be more in-depth than just cleaning the façade.

-"I'd swear there is less auto pollution as well": very well observed, brodiekid! In spite of the pathetic outcries from another century uttered by the partisans of a Pompidou-era city "devoted to the automobile", mayor Delanoë's measures since 2001 have succeeded in cutting down car traffic by, figures diverge, but let's say 10 to 20%. All visitors over the last decade might have noticed the multiplication of bus+bike only lanes, the restriction of road surface for private motor vehicles, and more and more pedestrian-only neighborhoods on Sundays. All this leading to less air pollution (cars are also less polluting than before, we owe it to honesty to mention this fact too).

After all, as some posters regularly mention it: Paris must be doing something right to remain the number 1 tourist destination, year in, year out! But there is always room for improvement, I do agree about that...

Ottawa, Canada
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9. Re: Paris Then and Now

I also first visited Paris in the early 70s and remember how dark and grimy many of the buildings were... London was even worse.

We returned in the mid 1980s and I remember noticing a layer of grit and grime that had sifted down out of the atmosphere onto parked cars. At the time I'd been living in the country for a number of years and found the air filthy and a burning sensation in my nose and throat... and I was a smoker at the time too!

After a long absence we finally returned in 2007 and noticed a huge difference... clean buildings and clean air that didn't hurt when we breathed. And in 2 visits since then I've not noticed that layer of grit on cars either.

Another thing that went missing, thankfully, are the pissoirs on the sidewalks. I found it so weird to be standing there and looking at passersby at the same time. LOL And how hotels always had you hand over your passport.

One thing that has changed for the worse are the crowds. ;^( I have pictures in the Louvre with nobody else in sight. We had maybe 6 other people in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in the 80s and I remember walking the length of the long gallery and back at Chenonceaux without another soul in the place. Those were the days!

London, United...
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10. Re: Paris Then and Now

> realise that I am the only customer to ask for "bien cuite"...

Can you help me with pronunciation, please? Does cuite sound like coot?