I submitted my graduate school application to study in Paris around the same time as I adopted a dog back home in California. The timing was intentional, of course. I had naive daydreams of sitting outside at a sunny café in a striped shirt and ballet flats, sipping a glass of wine with my dog, Lucas, people-watching with me from the seat next to mine.
Let me just mention that, although it worked out for me in the end, I would not recommend this kind of logic. The hassle of the dog’s paperwork (on top of mine), the stress and cost of his place on my flight and the limitations he imposed on the already difficult apartment search are serious considerations that should not be overlooked if you are considering bring your pup with you to Paris.
That said, I don’t regret it at all. Although I have spent several years in France over the course of my life and considered myself fairly familiar with many French cultural quirks, having my dog here has allowed me to explore a whole new set of myths and clichés.
The first question on my mind was where exactly nos amis les chiens are welcome and where they are not. It’s not one I could find a useful answer to before I got here since the most common stereotype people have about the French and their dogs is that they bring them everywhere. Like most stereotypes this is both true and untrue so I’d like to share my experiences…
It took me months to gather the courage to take my dog on the metro. He is considered rather large by Paris standards, too large to fit in the metro’s mandatory 45 cm-long enclosed bag. Until one day I saw a full-size Labrador on my commute to school; my dog has been taking the metro twice a day to work with my boyfriend ever since. It is basically the same deal for the RER and other regional trains, though leashes are allowed and you’re supposed to buy a reduced price ticket for your dog. Buses, however, are the only form of public transit where it seems like people really do follow the official rules – I’ve only seen very little dogs and always in shoulder bags.
In the states I never dared to ask at a restaurant if I could bring my dog anywhere but an outdoor seating area. In France, I’ve learned to assume we’re both welcome and to walk straight in no questions asked. In a year and a half, I’ve only been stopped a couple of times with a polite “Excusez-moi, Madame…”
The French’s boundless love of dogs stops, understandably in supermarkets, boulangeries, and other food shops. Most provide a metal hook at the entrance for tying up your companion while you shop. In clothing, furniture, department stores etc you can generally get away with a small to medium sized dog as long as he’s well behaved.
This is probably the most shocking thing, even for those who have spent considerable time in Paris: very few of the many parks that dot the city actually allow dogs. I found the (very short) list of dog-friendly parks on the City of Paris website just before moving here and had a mild panic attack. Only of handful of parks in the center of Paris allow dogs, and many of these are just tiny “squares”.
In general, the no-dogs-in-parks rule is actually pretty well followed by Parisians, so I conform too, even though I have been known to cut across the Place des Vosges in a hurry.
In the parks where dogs are only permitted in a restricted section (the northeast quadrant of the Jardin de Luxembourg for example) security guards are on hand to discourage any excess friskiness. The upside of this is that communities of regulars really do develop at your closest dog-friendly park, and the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne turn into leash-free dog playgrounds on the weekends. A sight for sore dog-loving eyes!
So do I bring my dog everywhere with me in Paris? Almost, and definitely more places than back home in California. Although I don’t think I can justify giving my 25lb dog his own seat at a café, he is definitely at my feet whenever the weather is nice enough to sit outside, whether or not I manage a striped shirt.