March 28, 2008

Accommodations: What To Expect

Many people visiting Paris for the first time end up being disappointed with their hotel. Sometimes they're unlucky and chose the wrong hotel based on brochures and websites that can sometimes be misleading. Most often though, the disappointment is a result of unreasonable expectations. Here are some tips from the Secrets of Paris website to temper your expectations.

Star Ratings

You can pretty much ignore stars. They're awarded to hotels by a government-run agency based on things like the size of the lobby and presence of an elevator, rather than the overall atmosphere, decor, or helpfulness of the staff. So while it's obvious that a no-star hotel won't be as nice as a four-star hotel, some two-stars could be better than three-stars! Some hotels even prefer to be listed at a lower star rating because it means less taxes for them to pay.


Like most European capitals, or even New York, space is a luxury in Paris. You want space? You'll pay for it. Anything under €250 per night will probably be smaller than you expected. Regular double beds are smaller than American double beds. Queen and king beds are only found in luxury hotels.

Bathrooms and showers are smaller, too. The average French person is shorter than the average North American or British person, so facilities will all feel cramped if you're 6'4" tall.

Elevators -- which you'll see before your room, in most cases -- can be so small that only one person with one suitcase at a time can fit inside. This is because in old hotels (more than 150 years old) the elevator was added after the building was built, so they had to be fit within the space available. Newer hotels and luxury hotels obviously have larger elevators, often more than one.


Aside from the size, Parisian hotel bathrooms can have some odd particularities. If you have a room with a bathtub, there might not be a fixed shower head or curtain for showering, meaning you'll have to sit down or be very careful to not flood the entire bathroom.

Bath mats in Europe look more like really thick, small towels. They're meant to be hung up after use to dry out, and are changed with the linens each day. Bidets are still found in some hotels, although this is rarely mentioned in the brochure. Most hotels offer free soap and shower gel; nicer hotels have shampoo, moisturizer, nail kits, cotton balls and shower cap. Only luxury hotels have robes, combs, razors, and designer brand toiletries.


No hotels in Paris have their own airport shuttle (many can arrange for a shuttle company to pick you up for a fee), or free local calls (because these aren't free in France for anyone). There are few hotels that are 100% smoke free (about ten at last count), and ice machines are just as rare.


Big conference hotels and luxury hotels have the same standard of service you might expect in any British or North American hotel. The larger the hotel (or higher the star), the bigger the staff-to-client ratio.

In smaller hotels, especially family-run hotels, there may only be one person at the reception desk who has to answer the phone, check people in and out, call taxis, give directions, and handle any problems. There may only be two cleaners for 30 rooms so you'll have to wait longer for your room to be ready if you check in early. And the night receptionist may not be as bilingual as you'd hoped for.

In general, expect helpful and polite service, if not friendly service. The French are more formal in their relationships with clients than in the U.S. Discretion and professionalism are considered more important than being pals with the guests, and in general you shouldn't expect to be on a first-name basis with the staff. Keep this in mind and you may be happily surprised rather than put off by "grumpy" service.

A tip from the Secrets of Paris website: "The customer is always right" is a saying that pretty much ruins many westerners for travel abroad, where this isn't the case. It turns people into arrogant, righteous, demanding jerks. In Europe, cash is not king. In France, it doesn't matter that you're a paying guest, you're still a guest, and should treat your hosts as you would want to be treated by guests if they were staying at your house. If you have a problem, ask for help, rather than yelling out demands. This makes a huge difference in the way your request is handled. Be the type of guest they're happy to bend over backwards for, and they will!

The next post will contain recommendations for hotels near the church. A warning though -- we have not stayed in any of them and are basing our recommendation on reliable reviews on the web and feedback from our friends in Paris. It can be difficult to find an inexpensive hotel room that's liveable in the Latin Quarter since it is a main tourist area. There are a few rare finds, but they get fully booked quickly, so you may have to grab a room quickly if they're still available. Being in the Latin quarter can help you save on transportation cost and travel time though, since most of the sights you would want to visit are nearby.

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