Here it is: the long awaited truth about Parisian night life. It’s no Madison, to be sure, but Parisians have some big cultural difference that put a new spin on after-hours extracurriculars.
First of all, the legal drinking age in France is 18 and bar life is very big. But drinks are expensive unless it’s happy hour, so the French have one or two drinks and sit and talk. They are very social drinkers and even on weekdays you can find a couple or a group of friends around a café table, smoking their cigarettes of course, into the morning hours.
Parisian public transportation also plays a big part in the nightlife culture. You can drink on the street and in the metro here, so it’s not uncommon to see a group of people subway surfing with their Heinekens. A little rarer but still present, are the riders drinking from bottles of wine or alternating between pulls of hard liquor and juice. You ride the metro after 11 and you can see just about everything once.
The metro and buses also do not run all night. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to change this, but workers steadfastly refused and the metro continues to run from 5am-12am Monday through Friday, and 5am-2am on Saturday and Sunday. To avoid the expense of taxis and the inconvenience/danger of walking a big city at night, Parisians have two solutions: take the crazy night bus with people throwing up and talking to themselves, or stay out all night. Needless to say, it’s become rather traditional to take the last train out and catch the first train back. Their stamina is amazing: clubs are empty until 1am and full by 3, staying that way until the sun starts to peak out.
Now let’s tackle the idea going around that Europeans don’t drink to excess like Americans. I think that’s mostly true for older generations. But students will be students and since universities were established in the city, there has been a general culture of drinking and loose love in our demographic. The French know their limits and seem to be most always in control: they’re not the “puke and rally” type, but that being said, there are also French equivalents to the fish bowl, namely the sand castle bucket. Alcohol-related incidents were also the leading cause of death in France last year: it really does have a presence here, but still maintains a different feeling than in the US.
As far as going out is concerned, there are bars galore, each with a claim to fame or a happy hour special, and most cafés serve at least wine and beer—though usually cocktails and apertifs to boot. Some restaurants and most bars play loud, dance-able music around 9 or 10 and people start hitting the dance floor. Clubs range from the quintessential European techno to Anglophone (British/American/Australian) dance clubs featuring hits, classics and generally recognizable songs for the homesick English-speaker. Between the different versions of clubs you can find all forms and varieties of dance: bar-wide salsa down the street, head-bobbing and jerky thrashing across the river, and what list would be complete without our modern, dirty dancing.
For the most part, however, Parisians prefer their house parties over the club scene. You can only handle the club scene for too long before the music stops.
With entire streets devoted to bars and clubs and distinct “going-out” districts, the French have a big city vibe to the nightlife you won’t find anywhere else. Throw in Parisian confidence and the general romance of the city for an intoxicating combination and a good time.