Paris: few places fall quite so short of their PR guff as to have created their own medical condition. Yet Paris Syndrome still manages to land hundreds of Japanese folk in hospital each year, as they try to accommodate themselves to the fact that parts of the city manage to make parts of Kabul look appealing.
To make sure some sort of joy, albeit of a schadenfreude-esque variety, can be squeezed from this rather melancholy state of affairs, we’ve rounded up the parts of Paris that are so overrated as to be almost fun.
Ponce around the Place de Vendome, stroll along la Rue de Rivoli, or flounce around the Tuileries. Whichever you choose, you’re bound to be robbed by street-urchins, clothes-shops priced like nuclear arsenals, or cafés that have cottoned on to the fact that the price mechanism is more efficient than razor-wire when it comes to deterring sub-millionaires and other undesirables. Avoid Chatelet station at all costs if you don’t fancy a wasted day down a rabbit-hole. Crowded, dark, confusing and ugly, even the normally nonchalant Parisians have launched online petitions to have it demolished.
Don’t bother setting an alarm in this area as delivery trucks (trundling their way to the local textile industry) will wake all but the very deepest sleepers at sunrise. Once up, make the most of the fact you’re in Paris’ equivalent of Soho i.e. a place where pre-industrial character elides into post-industrial ennui, by visiting forgettable bars (with unforgettable prices) and perhaps the nearby Centre George Pompidou – a contemporary art museum that looks like it was designed by a precocious toddler using Mecano.
Once a cluster of aristo-townhouses, later a Jewish quarter, and now a Mecca for homosexuals, rats outnumber residents in the Marais (Paris’ 'it' neighbourhood) which is perhaps unsurprising given its name means 'the swamp'. Usually overrun with headless tourists, preening bloggers and pretentious locals, if there’s an idiotic fad (from fashions to diets) doing the rounds, it’ll most likely be seen here first.
The medieval heart of Paris, from which all distances are measured, the fourth symbolizes the fairytale showpiece of the city. Sadly, nowadays, the merchants are gone – all replaced with disorientated tourists clutching their six-euro Berthillon-ice-creams while dying for the loo. And, while there are plenty of instagrammable sights, as well as good enough restaurants, most end up in expensive tourist-traps where Amelie-esque visions are pulverized by prepackaged bourguignon and vin de pays that could dissolve a glass if given half a chance.
The Left Bank (or 'Latin Quarter', after local professors practicing their language skills in the medieval period) is still referred to in guide books as the haunt of hip students and romantically tumble-down bookshops. The reality is, however, that the students left for the more affordable thirteenth arrondissement years ago (the only place they’re usually seen en masse now is the cobblestone Rue Mouffetard for food), and the bookshops (like Shakespeare & Company) are mind-numbingly unremarkable. Again, replace sultry Parisians with swarms of tourists gawping at garish gift shops, gobbling crap crepes, or following a half-baked Hemingway itinerary, and you’ve got a clear enough picture.
Wealthy neighbourhoods and overpriced cafés (guided by that eternal truth of Parisian service: 'c’est pas possible') huddle around Saint German des Pres’ grand Romanesque bell-tower, an area that once served as the burial place of the Merovingian kings. Later a stomping ground to intellectual legends like Sartre and de Beauvoir, as with Notting Hill in London, its literary airs and graces have long been eclipsed by fancy boutiques, furniture dealers and antique stores, leaving a second-rate Boboli Garden (known as Le Jardin du Luxembourg) to serve as the area’s main highlight.
Those hungry for a caricature of Paris head to the seventh, where the
Blackpool Eiffel Tower, Karl Lagerfeld and wealthy politicians (wanting to escape the consequences of their policies) live. The cultural heart of Paris with museums, galleries and (indiscreetly) discreet wealth, despite the occasional presence of fawning honeymooners, there’s little risk of a coup de foudre here because, quite frankly, c’est ennuyant. It’s also painfully clear that the air’s polluted, a feeling that awkwardly manifests itself in the fact that over 48,000 premature deaths per year are caused in France due to air pollution.
The Paris of commercials, films and stunted imaginations; glitz, glamour and chi-chi madness collide here with predictable corporate results. Boasting the city’s largest traffic-scene, known as the Champs Elysee roundabout, as well as giant swarms of language-murdering, rich, tasteless, macaron-scoffing tourists, the eighth is full of big brands, comically bad nightclubs, lurid chains and, finally, giant boulevards, which are easily identifiable as some of the few places in Paris that don’t reek to high heaven of urine.
Pull yourself off the metro at Barbes. On the ride you may have enjoyed one of the ghetto-blaster-bearing rappers, or one of the gypsies that beg so often that sulky people above ground are accused of pulling what’s known as 'tete de metro' (metro face). Once you’re through the barriers, you’ll be met by waves of economic migrants crowding the entrance to the station. Dash through and head to the south of the ninth for giant, unaffordable malls known as Printemps and Galeries-Lafayette, or go north (to Pigalle) for the ex-brothels, which are now bars and speakeasies brimming with bobos, sulky belles and tourists looking deflated at the tawdry tedium of a Moulin Rouge performance.
Sitting smack bang at the centre of Paris’ other arrondissements, the tenth is inescapably the home of the Gare du Nord – often rather charitably described as 'bustling' or 'cosmopolitan' in guide books. This station (the terminus of the Eurostar from London, King’s Cross), however, is impersonal and dull during the day, as well as downright dangerous at night. If you insist on sticking around the area, dodge the African hairdressers, Indian restaurants and dodgy hostels by escaping to the relative calm of Canal Saint-Martin, where only an occasional supermarket or cheap boulangerie can prick one’s internal peace.