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French Connection: An Interview with a True Parisian
Part 1/2 : The City of Lights

Jess Henrys

Friday, 19 August 2022

Welfare Secretary Jess turns to a born-and-bred Parisian to unravel the stereotypes about the French capital, and reveal the truth about pastries, politics, and everything in between.

There is a lot we know about the French. At least, there is a lot that we think we know. Our closest neighbours just across the English Channel (or La Manche, as it is known in France) often get a bad rep for their abrupt, offhand, or so-called rude manner. It’s a stereotype that some Brits believe is firmly rooted in fact, but I have my doubts as I sit opposite Stella Cabaret in a bustling Crous cafeteria, her smile as bright as her red hair. She shows no signs of the dismissive attitude I had been warned about, and is cheerfully attentive as I press the record button on my Dictaphone app.

Stella, a friend and classmate from my semester abroad at Université de Paris (now Université de Paris Cité), has kindly agreed to shine her own light on the country she calls home.

J: So, how about an introduction, who are you?

S: I am Stella, I am twenty-one – for now - and I study language and literature at Université de Paris in Paris.

J: How long have you lived in Paris? What are your credentials for talking about this city?

S: I have lived in Paris since the day I was born! [laughs] This is very easy.

After establishing her wealth of knowledge about the French capital, we settle in to talk about Paris and what it means to her, as a native to the City of Lights.

J: When you think about Paris, what is the first word, in French or English, that comes into your head?

S: [without hesitation] Home. Definitely, home. I have always lived in Paris; I do not see myself living long-term anywhere else. […] I think that Paris is, first of all, quite small - smaller than you expect. I know it by heart, and I find the city quite welcoming. The people… not necessarily... [laughs] But the city is very welcoming. So yeah, Paris is home. Definitely.

J: And where is your favourite place in the city?

S: That is a very hard question! Because- I have a few places. My favourite place in the city… [hesitates] Would I be cheating if I said ‘my own apartment’? [laughs] ‘My own bed’?

I quite like some tourist-y stuff, like the Eiffel Tower, le Champ de Mars. Maybe where I spent my teenage years, which is L’Ésplanade des Invalides and L’Avenue de Breteuil, which are two very long streets with wide grass areas on them where I used to play football, have picnics and birthday parties, and then… get drunk as well. They are very specific to my district, which is the 7th. Otherwise, I would say - all the little streets next to Les Tuileries, le Louvre etc… with lots of little shops and Asian restaurants. That’s pretty great. That’s the place to be.

Image taken from the Musée Rodin, with neat green topiary in the foreground and the dome of Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower in the background

Put the map down and just walk.

J: And for a tourist in Paris, where are the places they would just have to see?

S: If you’re motivated about museums, take three days for the Louvre and just enjoy it. You don’t have to look at everything, just take a stroll, because it’s a beautiful place too.

The Louvre Pyramid taken through an archway

Also, it’s not exactly in Paris, but I would say, don’t miss Le Palais de Versailles and the gardens, because it’s beautiful even in winter. Otherwise, there are nice gardens in Paris… and lose yourself. Get lost. [laughs] No, no, I don’t mean it like ‘go away’, I mean, put the map down and just walk.

Chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles

Stella lights up when she talks about her city. It is clear how she delights in it and loves to share this place with tourists and other visitors like me. I gather my courage to ask the question on my mind, and she gives me the French perspective I’d been after all along.

J: I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve already mentioned it really, that there’s a stereotype that exists in the UK, in maybe America, in the rest of France as well, that people in Paris are typically very rude. What do you think about that? Is that just a stereotype? Is that based in fact?

S: The issue is… I think it’s at least partly true. But it should not push you away from Paris. […] I think that the stereotypical idea comes from two things: It’s a busy city – the busiest in France. Even big cities like Marseille or Lyon are nothing compared to Paris. It’s very large and has lots of suburbs and enormous population. Everyone is rushing around, all the time.

And because France is a country that is very centralised towards one point, everything is in Paris. This has, at times, left other parts of France quite destitute in terms of administration and hospitals. We have something called le desert medical, and le diagonal du vide (the empty diagonal). If you look at France, there is a slash going through it where there are very few doctors, very few comfortable ways of living. Everything is concentrated in Paris which makes it at times… yes, Parisians will think very highly of themselves because they’re living in the literal heart of France. It’s also… some people in Paris are also very rich. It’s an expensive city to live in, so that counts as well.

J: Thank you for that, it’s great to have your input on a city and a people so close to your heart. I was hoping we could also have your input on the language. You speak English like a native: do you have any advice for your counterparts, for English people learning French or any other language?

S: You have to watch movies, you have to listen to music in that language, and you have to read. Reading is great because with music, when you hear a word that you don’t recognise, it moves on too quickly. A movie too - you don’t always want to pause it. So reading is great. For me, I read a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction… [laughs] You can put that in the article, I don’t care. Obviously books would work too, but yes you need to read. A book has a wide range of vocabulary. And you can just look them up on a phone or on a liseuse (e-reader). So read!

J: And my most important question before we move on to some heavier topics, what is your favourite French food?

S: Oh! That’s so hard! [pauses] Actually, it’s not. It’s a croissant. I do not like foods that are too strong. In Paris, you go into a good bakery, and you get yourself a plain, classic, butter croissant - you cannot beat it. It is my childhood food, the first thing I was allowed to go buy on my own. It’s my first memory. A good croissant, in a good bakery, is very important.

Anyone else wanting a trip to the Viennoiserie now?

A sign made of neon lights reading “Paris” with a symbol of a heart, taken on the top of the Montparnasse Tower

[end of part one]

The second part of Stella’s interview will focus primarily on French politics, and the recent presidential elections. Keep an eye out on our socials!

[all photos by Jessica Henrys unless stated otherwise]


About the Author

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Let us know what you think

average rating is 3 out of 5, based on 150 votes, Article ratings

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Barbara Dawson

average rating is 3 out of 5

Lovely tasty dish. Try it you won’t be disappointed.

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Aunty Liz

average rating is 3 out of 5

Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Such an interesting article!

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