Chasing Clichés in the City of Light

Even when it’s not February in the French capital, you still get the sense that St. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

First, there’s that ubiquitous act known in these parts as the bisou. The standard French greeting starts with a kiss on the right cheek, followed by kiss on the left cheek. Depending on which corner of the country you’re in, the kissing could carry on for another round, for a total of three or even four bisous. When you say your au revoirs, the entire process is repeated. This sounds exhausting, but it’s actually rather charming, especially for those of us who grew up on steady diet of American-style hugs.

From the 1st arrondissment to the 20th, every Paris neighborhood has its own chocolatier, be it a chain like Jeff de Bruges or an artisanal boutique where the proprietaire actually hand-crafts the wares she vends.And then there’s the chocolate. From the 1st arrondissment to the 20th, every Paris neighborhood has its own chocolatier, be it a chain like Jeff de Bruges or an artisanal boutique where the proprietaire actually hand-crafts the wares she vends. This level of deliciousness doesn’t come cheap—it’s easy to drop €50 for a small box of the dark stuff—but the quality is usually exceptional. Bring your best manners and the person behind the counter might even offer you a morsel to sample.

Lingerie shops are another visual prompt that feeds Paris’ romantic mystique. They’re everywhere, which leads one to assume that even the silver-haired dames must be sporting lace-trimmed undergarments beneath their dated fur coats. At high-end boutiques like La Perla and Chantal Thomass, a fashionable bra can set you back €200. Parisians on a budget make a beeline for Princess Tam Tam or Darjeeling, where silky soutiens-gorge (bras) and undies are priced for the proletariat. In a pinch, there’s always one-stop shop Monoprix, where you can grab picnic supplies and fishnet stockings in one fell swoop.

Hanging on a fence, a lock with L'amour pour tou jours written on it.

Photo © Aurelia d’Andrea.

Thankfully, not all heart-shaped clichés in the City of Light come with a price-tag attached. Lovers of romantic lore flock to Pere Lachaise cemetery, the final resting place of tragic 12th-century lovers Heloise and Abelard, France’s own version of Romeo and Juliet. Heartthrobs of yore including Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Edith Piaf are also buried here, and still attract ardent admirers who shower their tombs with flowers, kisses, and love notes all year round.

If a destination’s romantic quotient can be judged by the number of marriage proposals issued there, the Eiffel Tower surely takes the prize, but locals know that the most authentic romantic destination for a rendezvous à deux is the Pont Des Arts. On this little pedestrian bridge straddling the Seine, it’s a long-standing tradition for lovers to affix a padlock inscribed with their initials to the railing, then toss the key into the greenish water in a gesture symbolizing the strength of their union. Never mind that the city snips the locks off every so often; love—like hope—springs eternal. Especially so, it seems, in Paris.

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