Last week I realised what I love about Paris / by Tom Oliver Payne

It’s no wonder Paris intrigues people: through films, the city is portrayed as place of love, romance and elegance; through history books, we are told of its role in the French revolution and the downfall of the Nazis; and through news, we are reminded of the social tensions faced by the city’s role as a cultural melting pot.

However, every time I step back into the Paris, I realise there’s something else distinct about the city. It seems to be a place where people actually sit talk, interact and socialise on the streets. At a time when cars and technology run our lives, this is a strange but incredible trait for the centre of a major city.

After a quick trip around Europe last week for a media project (...more on that later), I touched down at Paris’ Orly airport. Just two weeks after the terrorist attacks, and two days before COP21, I was pretty interested to understand what the vibe was going to be like. I imagined a city in lock-down: empty streets and eerie vibes.

As I stepped out into Saint-Lazare, there were tonnes of people talking, walking and generally hanging out. The streets were full of life and the wine was flowing.

I’ve decided to lay down a few guesses why Paris might be such a social city...


A social culture

Parisians, and the French more generally, seem to have a respect for ideas, curiosity and intelligence. So, sitting about and conversing on all these things should only be natural, right?

Urban design

Paris is a walking and cycling city, and its streets are filled with shops, cafes and restaurants (or as architects would call it – ‘active frontages’). This along with awesome public spaces, wide footpaths and places to sit, of course it's a place where people are going to hang out?

Al fresco

Believe it or not, loads of cities across the globe restrict the things that make humans healthy and cities successful. In Australia and the USA, drinking alcohol is super-restricted, but this only seems to perpetuate problems with violence. I guess in Paris, where drinking in all sorts of places is accepted and respected, this helps the streets to feel safe and naturally lively?

Of course there are loads of things that make Paris special, but in an era of increasing social isolation, it’s awesome to spend time in a big city where people of all ages seem to appreciate being able to just hang out with each other in public spaces.

It would be awesome to hear other people's thoughts. What do other people love about Paris?