The debate about Paris and New York has raged for decades with Gertrude Stein declaring ‘America is my country but Paris is my hometown’ while Carrie Bradshaw had a long lasting friendship with New York city which, prevailed long after Mr Big rescued her from the hostilities of Paris. Since, the beginning of cinema, directors through the ages have immortalised and personified these two great metropolises as their leading ladies and they have provided the most romantic and harshest backdrops to some of the best films ever made. So, how could we possibly pit them against each other?
The Statue of Liberty is as synonymous with New York as the Sex and the City girls. Her iconic torch has lit up the famous Manhattan skyline for decades. Lady Liberty, by her very name, is the ultimate symbol for the American dream and was even a gift from the French, in recognition of the bond between the two nations in their continued struggle for independence centuries ago. Since taking up residence in the swirling waters of the Hudson, she has been a shining beacon of hope for many searching for the elusive dreams that they believed lingered along the streets of New York.
How can Paris rival that? With Le Tour Eiffel of course. A symbol of fortitude and strength that is both loved and hated by Parisians in equal measure. It is in fact, one of the most recognised structures in the world and has survived against the odds. Protests ensued against its very construction, the occupation during the war saw it relatively unharmed, a plot by Hitler to demolish it was ignored by his officers and a plan by deGaulle to dismantle it was foiled. No wonder it is the favourite place among romantics to pop the question, it effectively represents the endurance hoped for by many of the affianced. Ultimately, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with the top class ‘Jules Verne’ restaurant at its summit, this is perhaps a quiet symbol to the rest of us that Paris is in fact, the centre of the world.
Throughout their glamorous history, both cities have long been a hub for the arts, the highjinx of the great and good, that tripped along the streets of Paris and New York during the jazz era have long been the stuff of legend and the legacy of the cities themselves. Ever since, Hemingway and Salinger penned their masterpieces in their respective cities, Paris and New York have cemented their place as cultural centres with a thriving cultural underbelly. Around every corner of every Parisian street and Manhattan avenue is an homage to art, culture and architecture. The environs of the Louvre daily swarms with amateur artists plying their trade with patrons of the arts traditionally spending hours queuing for entry for a glimpse at the famous Mona Lisa while, on the other side of the Atlantic, the mighty Guggenheim dominates Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a vast collection of contemporary art on display. Not to mention MoMA, the Metropolitan, Versailles, Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Centre, the list goes on and on..
No one and I mean, no one, does food like the French. Paris is the veritable capital of the baguette, the crepe, croque Monsieur and Madame, great cheese, great wine and of course, the croissant. Every week a new restaurant opens in New York offering the latest in the dining craze from dinner in the dark to pop ups in disused tramcars, at the end of the day, New York dining is a flash in the pan whereas in Paris, food is at the centre of everything and is delivered with traditional panache. Waiters in Paris are not waiting for their big break on broadway, it is a respected career choice and the service of fare is all about finesse.
Living in New York is like living in a hamster wheel, a constant whirl of pace and rush, with all the occupants rushing to stake ‘a claim at being’ as New Yorker writer Adam Copnik states in his book ‘Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York. While, there are social accords to follow in Paris, the tone of the city focuses more on living, with more vacation days than anywhere in else in the world, two hour lunch breaks and a shorter working week, the French really do know a thing or two about living. Stroll through any arrondissement at any time and you will undoubtedly see chic Parisians sipping espresso under the striped tarpaulin awning of a café, smoking a Gauloise.
For shopping the two cities are tied, every year they pit against each other in a death match for who will win the coveted accolade of Fashion Capital of the World during the annual fashion weeks. In fact, all the most well-known and established fashion labels can trace their roots to a Parisian side street or Manhattan loft. Even the famous Coco Chanel, kicked off her fashion empire in the little known Rue Cambon. Both cities have their iconic department stores, Gallerie Lafayette vs Macys, two worthy contenders and visitors flock through their doors in their droves every year.
It has long been documented that the French are arrogant but perhaps it is a mistranslation, they are proud of their city and their culture. Before visiting, gay Paris (pron: Par-ee), learn les bon mots and you will be surprised about the reception you will receive. It is an incredibly dreamy and mystic place to be in with a sliver of history on every path and it is very easy to become intoxicated by the romanticism of the city. For those who visit Paris, it is like a drug which, brings on the worst kind of withdrawal on the return to the hustle and bustle of your own pavements grey. However, New York is like a toddler on a sugar rush, with a buzz that keeps on giving. Despite the whiplash-inducing skyscrapers and grey sidewalks, there is hype around this city and it is impossible not to get sucked into the intense rush. In Paris, life is lived but in New York it is sought out and grabbed with both hands, the home of the impossible dream. Under the flashing lights of Times Square or along the floodlit Broadway, people eagerly seek out the dream that brought them here and after all, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
So, who is the winner? C’est impossible! It was never about what one city has over the other, for the Empire State building is taller than the Eiffel Tower but Paris has a better Metro system and bigger sidewalks however, New York has a more buzzing nightlife, the argument could go on and on. It really depends on you, the traveller, the visitor, and what it is you are searching for.
So the deciding question is this: Patisserie or Pastrami?