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Parisians are smelly, lazy, and terrible drivers. Please. These stereotypes are so tired that they aren’t likely to register with locals much less cause offense. What does bind we inhabitants of the French capital in uniform detestation, however, is the idea that there is such a thing as a definitive Parisien(ne). This image of a rich, white, immaculately dressed socialite (see the works of Caroline de Maigret et al) is ripe for a ten-step obliteration.
Yes, the Paris Region is by some measures the richest in the European Union. Its gross GDP of €642 billion trumps that of Greater London and constitutes 30.9% of the national and 4.6% of the EU figures. Per capita, that’s a comfortable-sounding €53,617 and, per job, an even cushier €105,287 – way more than you’d find in New York or all but seven of the world’s greatest cities. However, not every working Parisian enjoys a life of six-figure luxury. According to National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies’ findings for 2013, 16.2% of city center residents are living below the poverty line.
More specifically, we mean elegant Haussmann era apartment buildings, complete with wrought iron balconies, elaborate cut stonework, and dormer windows. While more than half of Paris’ dwelling were constructed before 1946, nearly half of Parisians live in relatively modern properties. Relatedly, French law requires 20% of homes in Paris to be available for social housing and this stock is increasing by 6,000 properties every year. Rent here is between €6 and €12 per square meter per month, well below the €22.3 average. Home ownership is low, with 49.3% of dwellings rented compared with the national average of 39.7%.
National law prohibits the collection of information regarding ethnicity and religion but the census does ask about a person’s country of origin, giving a decent indication of racial demographics. Of the nearly 12 million people living in the Paris Region, 12.9% were born overseas. African immigrants represent 46.1% of this population, with those from Europe and Asia the second and third biggest groups at 32% and 16%, respectively. In the 20 arrondissements, the proportion of foreign-born residents is even higher at 14.8%. Given that these figures don’t account for the French descendants of immigrants, Paris is certainly even more diverse.
People tend to equate living in Paris with somehow working in fashion. The luxury clothing industry is important for the capital, generating roughly €10 billion annually, but it is just one small part of the local economy and of most Parisians’ daily lives. Of the region’s 6.1 million working people, 27% are in white-collar jobs and 26.8% are executives, almost four times as numerous as blue-collar workers at 14.4%. However, Parisians are far more likely to work in the automotive sector (13%) or as a civil servant (9.4%) or teacher (7.4%). Indeed, they may even be one of the unemployed 8.9%.
This relates to the idea that Parisians dress in pricey designer labels. It’s difficult to find clothing expenditure figures at a local level but those on the national scale are pretty telling. A study by the French Institute of Fashion in 2011 of 1,500 European women found that French women’s annual fashion budget of €407 was well below the EU average and only two-thirds of their German neighbors at €602. Between 2010 and 2015, total consumer spending on clothing in France was stable at €35 billion whereas it was €54 billion in the UK, which has two million fewer people.
The films of the French New Wave and the intellectuals who’ve clustered around the Sorbonne University over the centuries are probably responsible for this wild generalization. In fairness, Île-de-France is a highly-educated region where 38.2% of the adult population holds a bachelor’s degree. However, of the 369,200 students enrolled in university courses in 2015, those studying literature, languages, and humanities (of which philosophy is a part) represented the smallest group for any subject at just 0.6%. The related but technically distinct social sciences were the most popular, accounting for 18.1% students, closely followed by law and political science at 15.8%.
A recent campaign to clean up the city’s streets estimated that 350 tons of cigarette ends are discarded in Paris every year. To reduce this gargantuan mess and, indirectly, the number of Parisian smokers, the fine for flicking away stubs was raised to €68. Steps are also being taken at the national level to help the country’s 13 million smokers to quit. But the French are far from the heaviest smokers in the world or even in western Europe. Worldwide in 2014, 5.8 trillion cigarettes were smoked, with China consuming more than the 29 next heaviest smoking countries combined.
Writing for The Atlantic in July 2013, Ta-Nehisi Coates noted that the observation pushed on him by fellow Americans that ‘[t]here are no fat people in Paris’ missed the point that ‘[t]here are ‘no’ stunningly athletic people either. And they are not, to my eyes, particularly thin’. Globally, France ranked 66th in terms of obesity levels in 2014 at 23.9% of the population, far behind the US and UK in 19th and 33rd place and 33.7% and 28.1%, respectively. A 2016 study also found that 56.8% of French men and 40.9% of women over 30 were overweight or obese.
A 2014 study by the French Institute of Public Opinion feverishly reported in the Anglophone press, found that 55% of men and 32% of women in France had admitted to cheating on their significant other. What the media didn’t mention was that half or more of men in Spain, Italy, and Belgium had also fessed up and that 43% of women had done so in Germany. The study noted that 68% of French people believe you can remain faithful for life and a Pew study in 2014 of 39 countries found they were the least likely to view infidelity as ‘morally unacceptable’.
Among OECD nations, France’s 30 days of annual leave is the most generous. Far from international jet setters, 60% of French people prefer to holiday in France. And while the proportion of people with Summer 2015 holiday plans was higher in France than the UK at 63% to 55%, more Brits intended to get away several times. The French annual travel budget of €2,181 was also lower than the European average of €2,390. An Observatoire des Loisirs from 2012 did find that Parisians were 10% more likely to go on holiday than the national average of 48%.