Paris: City of Light

Foreigners View of the 'Typical' Parisians


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion



 Parisians viewed by others:

Visitors quickly embraced Parisian culture during their stay in the enchanting city. They  were especially taken back by the Parisian. Below is a list of some of the characteristics that were widely held by foreigners as a means of describing the 'typical' Parisian:

  • lively
  • witty
  • acute
  • light hilarity of spirit
  • cheerful voices
  • brilliant eyes
  • graceful
  • elegant
  • polite and refined
  • enchanting
  • proud

 British journalist James Grant described the Parisians as:

"'a remarkably lighthearted and lively-looking people' for whom a melancholy face was abnormal" (Kramer, 20).


Figure 3.1 Soirée, drawn and etched by A. Hervieu. London Published by Richard Bentley 1835 (Trollope, 21).

This sketch represents a typical evening gathering of Parisians. However, upon closer inspection, figures such as the plump man on the couch and the women with the elaborate hats, give the sketch more of a satirical feel. The artist himself is French, therefore it is interesting that he is making fun of French society while foreigners cherish it. The soirée shows a typical gathering of the French elite. In little clusters, they are all partaking in the activities which they do with such a distinct Parisian flair: conversing and reading. There is a certain lively and light feeling in the air. However, the woman in the foreground sitting and reading a newspaper is isolated from all of the interaction around her. Her calm demeanor and simple dress, which reveals her beautiful long neck, make her the most elegant figure in the picture.


Frances Trollope, an Englishwoman visiting Paris in 1835, made many observations comparing the British and the French. In her memoires she claims that Parisians are perfect examples of the absolute best manners and style. Trollope also mentions that the Parisian salons are a good place to see the typical Parisians manners, gestures, and dress.

"We have much to learn still; and the general tone of daily associations might be yet further improved, did the best specimens of Parisian habits and manners furnish the examples" (Trollope, Volume I, 34).

"The vanity of the French does not show itself in little things; and it is exactly for this reason that their enjoyment of society is stripped so much of the anxious, sensitive, ostentatious, self-seeking etiquette which so heavily encumbers our own" (Trollope Volume I, 37).

The ease and freedom of salon entertaining introduces another distinctive Parisian characteristic: conversation. Parisians at this time were known for being charming, lively, idle, and unrestrained conversationalists. This was a breath of fresh air to the British, who were used to a more rigid, stiff, and structured style of entertaining. Trollope was taken away with the Parisian style of conversation,

"The manner in which the Frenchmen communicates what he had acquired is particularly amiable, graceful and unpedantic" (Kramer, 44).

She was also impressed with the amount of knowledge that the Parisians posessed on all topics,

"To know so well everything that has been written, and everything that has been one over appears ignorant on any subject" (Kramer, 44).

Another typical characteristic of the Parisian lifestyle that Trollope noticed was the Parisian love for outdoor amusement. Parisians love to take long strolls on the beautiful boulevards of the city, and they spend long hours in the parks and gardens simply lounging and reading in the sun. They also enjoy spending their leisure time in the cafés, restaurants, drawing-rooms, and salons of Paris.


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