The best quotes about Paris

Posted by Josh on 13th Oct 2022 in the blog in the french culture category

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One of the best ways to learn and improve your French is to visit Paris, where you'll hear French being spoken on every street corner, cafe and metro journey in the distinct Parisienne accent.

Of course, being able to immerse yourself in the French is just one of the many wonderful things about Paris.

Few cities have invited more praise, observation and commentary than the capital of France. As the most popular tourist destination in the world, everyone has an opinion on Paris — including those who've never been!

Over the centuries, artists, writers and other celebrities have gravitated towards the city, hoping to find inspiration in its famously romantic atmosphere, the elegant Haussmannian architecture and the trappings of Parisian high society. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) put it, "An artist has no home in Europe except for Paris". And while that may be a characteristic exaggeration, the city has continued to inspire some of the most creative and thoughtful quotes from celebrities of all stripes.

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." — Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

A Moveable Feast is the title of Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs about his time as a struggling author in 1920s Paris, and takes its name from this quote which appears in the book. Traditionally, the term refers to a Christian feast day that occurs on an unfixed date, but Hemingway employs it to mean something like a picnic: a feast you can move around with you wherever you go.

So what's the implication here? Well, Hemingway is trying to say that while Paris will always be found in the heart of France, it's a city that lives on in the minds of all who visit it. As for the 'feast' part, it goes without saying that the incredible food is just one thing that tourists will always remember Paris for.

"America is my country and Paris is my hometown." — Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

A celebrated writer of the modernist era, Gertrude Stein was born in Pittsburgh but moved to Paris in her late 20s, where she went on to host a salon that would attract the likes of Picasso, Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald and — of course — Ernest Hemingway, among others. It was also in Paris, surrounded by such influential characters, where Stein began the literary career for which she is remembered today, including The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a memoir written from the point of view of her lifelong partner. While Toklas was an American by birth, the two met, of course, in Paris. It's little wonder therefore that Stein felt a deeper affinity for La Ville Lumière than her home country.

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"In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator." — Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

Jean Cocteau was a novelist and poet, but is probably best known for his experimental and avant-garde films of the early- to mid-twentieth century. He regularly filmed in Paris, and if there's any truth to this quote, he likely never had to worry about hiring extras!

The spirit of the statement is that Paris is a place of action, where you can go to get things done. Indeed, the Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) remarked on the "atmosphere of spiritual effort here. No other city is quite like it. I wake early, often at 5 o’clock, and start writing at once." And perhaps there's another dimension to the meaning, namely that Paris is a city of actors, where even a first-time tourist can don a beret and become someone new.

A monument to Jean Cocteau, featured above, can be found on Montmartre in Paris.

When you are on top you are on the only spot in Paris where you can’t see the damned thing.” — William Morris (1834-1896), describing the Eiffel Tower

The man who inspired the Arts and Crafts movement was no fan of the Eiffel Tower, a reservation he shared with many of his contemporaries. In fact, while the tower is one of the most recognisable and admired buildings in the world today, it attracted a great amount of criticism during its construction in the years 1887-1889 (leading to the above quote being misapplied to a number of different people). The author Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) was just one other character who felt oppressed by its omnipresence: "I was weary to death of the Eiffel Tower", he wrote in his travel book La Vie Errante. "Not only could I see it from every direction, but I found it everywhere, copied in all kinds of known materials, exhibited in every show-window, a perpetual racking nightmare." Whether you're a fan of it or not, it's certainly true that the Tower isn't just in the middle of Paris: it's everywhere! Postcards, fridge magnets, shop signs...there truly is no greater symbol of the city.

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"At night I would climb the steps to the Sacre-Coeur, and I would watch Paris, that futile oasis, scintillating in the wilderness of space. I would weep, because it was so beautiful, and because it was so useless." — Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

This is a quote from the feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir's Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. It is a dreamy, albeit poignant description of Paris, and shows her conflicted perception of the city — a place that is so beautiful but which, however much we may not believe it, is still just as real as the rest of the world.

“That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.” — Adriana, Midnight in Paris (2011)

Even if you don't speak French, one word that you're probably familiar with is naïveté: the state of holding an unrealistic idea or belief due to lack of experience. If anything screams naïveté, it's the above quote, spoken by Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris), nostalgic for the era of the Belle Époque. For many it would be a dream come true to live in Paris, but that doesn't mean it's easy, especially if you live far away or don't speak the language. Still, it's a statement that captures both the romance and the fanciful idealism that so many of us have come to associate with the city — something you don't need to live there to understand.

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"Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant." — Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

This one sounds like it was commissioned by the French tourist board, but there is good reason to believe that Balzac was speaking from the heart. One of France's most famous writers, he lived and died in the capital, studied at the University of Paris, and of course set many of his works there, including a series of novels known as Scenes from Parisian life. One might assume that he believed his own elegance, and eloquence, as a writer derived from the time he spent in the city.

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