It’s happened. You thought you got away from it all. You thought you would be alone here! But you still hear it. That familiar refrain of “I, like, totally want to go to the Eiffel Tower today!” You look up from your café crème and your copy of Sartres' Being and Nothingness, only to discover that the hidden gem of a café you discovered is filled with more Americans than Parisiens.
Anyone who’s studied abroad in Paris knows that it’s hard to find the “true Parisian” experience. Not that we don’t love the Eiffel Tower - we’ve got several novelty key chains that prove we do - but when you are searching for ways to practiquez le beau francais, the sheer number of foreign tourists in the city can be discouraging.
Paris is one of the most touristy cities in the world, and with good reason. The big attractions - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame - are all beautiful, awe-inspiring and totally worth the hype. However, once you’ve hit all the major sites, you may find yourself itching to see something a little more authentic and a little less mainstream. You know, those places where all the bona-fide Parisians are hiding. Somewhere where you can actually practice all those verb tenses you’ve been studying.
Never fear, study abroaders. We’ve got your back. Here’s our list of the top 7 places where you won’t hear English while studying abroad in Paris.
1. Place Sainte Marthe, near the Canal Saint Martin
Canal Saint Martin is the hip spot for trendy bobo - bourgeois bohemian - families. As you wander along the tree-lined canal, you’ll see plenty of well dressed and impossibly skinny women pushing around their well dressed children. Don’t let them scare you! Take some time to poke around the quirky restaurants, cheerful boutiques, design stores and galleries that have popped up in recent years.
If you’re looking for an even quieter spot, check out the Place Sainte Marthe. With its winding, tiny streets, this residential corner of the 10th arrondissement is more reminiscent of the back streets of Naples than the wide boulevards of Paris. The area is full of small and colorful storefronts, artisans’ studios, vintage shops, record stores and local designer boutiques - plenty to keep you occupied. And at the center is the serene and tree-shaded Sainte Marthe’s Square. In the evenings, the spot comes alive with guys and gals laughing and chatting at the many delicious outdoor cafes. Take a seat anywhere you like and sample traditional bistro fare, or even dishes from far-off West Africa and South America.
2. Le Marche Dejean in Goutte d’Or
You won’t hear much English in the Goutte d’Or area in the 18th arrondissement. Then again, you won’t hear much French, either! Goutte d’Or is also known as “mini-Africa,” and is home to a well-established immigrant community. With the majority of locals coming from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Congo, and Cameroon, you’re more likely to hear an African dialect than Parisian French.
At the heart of the neighborhood is Le Marche Dejean, where you can take a journey to Africa without the usual hassle of planes, trains and automobiles. The spot is bursting with stalls piled high with exotic fruit, silvery fresh fish (such as barracuda), and traditional African vegetables (cassava, yams and okra), as well as deadly chilly peppers, fresh herbs and dried spices. The whole place will put you on sensory overload. Many of the shoppers wear colorful West African traditional dress, and are just as interested in the street vendors selling fake Louis Vuitton and Gucci as their weekly grocery shopping.
Although rarely visited by tourists, Parisians know that the neighborhood of Batignolles in the 17th is where it’s at. It’s been a district for beautiful, artistic and fashionable folk since the village was gobbled up by Napoleon the III in 1860 and became part of the city of Paris. Edward Manet and other impressionists painted scenes of café life here, and the French singer-song writer Barbara was a local.
While the elegant neighborhood is overflowing with the standard cafes and funky-hip boutiques, what really sets it apart are the remarkably scenic parks interspersed throughout the area. Bring a picnic (and a bottle of wine) and soak up the sun in the secret garden of Square des Batignolles, under the impressive classic architecture of the Park Monceau, or in the recently fixed-up former railroad yard of Parc Clichy-Batignolles. Practice your French with the adorable children running around, and try not to get too jealous if a 4 year old speaks better French than you.
4. Passages Jouffroy, Verdeau and Panoramas
Okay, you might run into tourists in these arcades (covered shopping alleys), but as the best attraction that you’ve never heard of, the Passages Jouffroy, Verdeau and Panoramas, earned a place on the list.
Built in the early 18th century, you can almost still see the Victorian women in elegant dresses shopping for perfume, repressed emotions or whatever else people bought in those days. There were once more than a hundred of these interconnected golden-age shopping malls, but today only 24 remain, scattered across the 9th and 2nd arrondissements. The gilt-glass and marble alleyways contain a mish-mash of antique furniture, bookstores, and many excellent classic French restaurants. There’s no better place than the Passages Jouffroy, Verdeau and Panoramas to practice your Paris elegance - just don’t forget your top hat.
5. Belleville and Buttes-Chaumont
Belleville is a hike, but, as they say, nothing worth having is easy. You may recognize the steep staircases from the 80’s children’s flick The Red Balloon or the Oscar-winning animated film The Triplets of Belleville. This area has always been a working class neighborhood, with immigration - bringing Greeks, Jews, and Armenians to work in the coal and gypsum mines - generating much of the area's zest. Cheap rents have also attracted artists - Belleville is Edith Piaf’s birthplace.
More recently, the area has shifted again, as waves of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Chinese immigrants started settling here. Today, if you walk along Boulevard de Belleville, Chinese supermarkets soon give way to Jewish-Tunisian couscous restaurants and, around rue des Couronnes, shops sell plantains to their African clientele. Tourists rarely make it over here. To put it in context, you’ve found the Brooklyn of Paris.
The neighborhood is sandwiched by two impressive parks, the Parc de Belleville and the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Parc de Belleville is the highest public park in Paris, and if you hike all the way to the top, you can get some pretty spectacular views. It also has the best play structure in the city - it's shaped like a giant pirate ship - for all you kids or kids at heart. The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is massive, and wonderfully wild. It’s nooks and crannys will take hours to uncover. There's a lake, two streams and a waterfall that descends into a fake cave decorated with artificial stalactites. Get out your spelunking gear and go get ‘em, tiger.
6. Butte aux Cailles
This may be another Butte, but it's as different as chalk from cheese. While up north the Buttes have a distinctly international twist, down south in the 13th arrondissement Butte aux Cailles is almost like a traditional sleepy French village, nestled within the Parisian city limits.
The air seems gentler here, and the hill is gentler as well - at least compared to the steep streets of Belleville. You’ll still have to climb a bit, up the delicate staircases that connect each zig-zagging street. Pause for a cuppa at a cozy teahouse, or just stroll down the cobbled streets, admiring the pretty store windows and toy-town houses. But keep your eyes peeled - tucked away in many corners are murals and graffiti from local artists. Start your urban gallery tour at the bright yellow Paris-Mythique. You'll find this poster and postcard boutique at 43 Rue des 5 Diamants, 75013 - it has become the unofficial tourist office of the neighborhood. Muster up your best French and ask nicely, they’ll happily point you in the right direction. And after you've wandered all day, stop into one of the restaurants and bars that fill up as the sun sets.
7. Marche d’Aligre
Built in 1779, Marche d’Aligre is a very "local" market, still only frequented by folks who live nearby, despite its proximity to the very touristy Bastille area. Just a hop, skip and jump from the crowds, the market is positioned just far enough into the residential 12th arrondissement to get the legit Parisian experience. You can check it out Tuesday-Sunday from early morning until closing at about 1pm - sorry kids, you can’t sleep in!
Bring the ubiquitous Parisian grocery cart that all the blue haired ladies are modeling, and do your weekly shopping. You’ll find fruit, veggies and flowers mixed in with butchers, fish sellers and piles of bric-a-brac. The Sunday market in particular is a buzz of energy that shouldn’t be missed - but don’t go if you are still recovering from Saturday night, because the Marche d’Aligre vendors are famed being extremely loud as they shout out their wares!
Suggested Study Abroad Programs in France
Once you've hit all the major sites, you may find yourself itching to see something a little more authentic and a little less mainstream. You know, those places where all the bona-fide Parisians are hiding.
There you have it, study abroaders, our 7 places in Paris you won’t hear English. This is just to get you started. Go out and explore, my ducklings! Tell us your own favorite Parisian gems in the comments below.Photo Credits: Wikimedia and Julia Brady.