The Paris hustling ecosystem: the good side

There are plenty of people whose life in Paris consists of working their butts off selling the little trinkets that you’ll bring home as souvenirs or use to make your vacation more pleasant. Here’s the kind of stuff they do.

Just as Paris has a begging ecosystem and an ecosystem of hustling (in the bad sense of that word), it also has an ecosystem of hustling in the good sense of that word.  (See here for an explanation of the two senses of hustle in English.)  The people who make their living in this system are almost entirely foreigners, as far as I can tell, and they are pretty much just out there working their asses off, in good weather and bad–earning a mostly honest living within the law, if just on the edges of it.

I say “just on the edges” because the only thing that anyone could complain about concerning these people is that they aren’t licensed.  I find it hard to see how anyone could complain about what they do, really–personally, I admire their hustle (in the good sense of that word), how hard they work.  And, since these people have their little niches in the ecosystem, it’s not like they’re taking away money that could have been earned by French citizens, either–these people are doing things that no one else does.

Of course you’ll see people doing this kind of hustling anywhere, and supporting the people who do work of this kind can be a good way to help support the local economy.  In fact, in some places, the beggars are so totally controlled by criminal gangs that take a large chunk out of their earnings that if you want to support the local poor people, it’s much better to buy stuff from the little old ladies who show up in the town squares with a few pieces of fruit that they picked in their back yard or buns that they baked at home that morning than to give money to people begging on the street.  The begging situation isn’t under that kind of criminal control in France (with the possible exception of the Roma women that you’ll see–Roma women are very often exploited as beggars in this way in Eastern Europe).

Having said that, some of these things are quite Parisian.  As we’ve so often seen to be the case, different ethnic groups have different niches, and different kinds of selling take place in different parts of the city.  Here’s a sketch of the sorts of (the good kind of) hustling folks that you’re almost certain to see in Paris.

Eiffel Tower sellers

African Eiffel Tower seller
Eiffel Tower seller–notice the hoop with all of the small towers hanging off of it. Picture source:

These guys are the most common sight in the Parisian hustling ecosystem (in the good sense of “hustling”).  What they do: they sell little replicas of the Eiffel Tower.

They mostly work the area of the Eiffel Tower–a little bit on the steps of Sacré Coeur, too, but it’s primarily an Eiffel Tower thing–not surprising, given that that’s mostly what they sell.  (A year or two ago, they started peddling selfie sticks, too.)  There are two kinds of these guys:

  1. Guys that walk around with big metal hoops full of Eiffel Towers.
  2. Guys with a square piece of cloth with a bunch of Eiffel Towers on it–they try to sell stuff to passers-by.

The Eiffel Towers come in a range of sizes.  The smallest ones are on little key rings, at 5 for 1 euro.  They get as big as maybe 8 inches–no clue what those cost.

eiffel tower sellers non-mobile
Guys selling Eiffel Tower replicas. The cloths have straps along two sides so that they can be quickly picked up and run off with, along with their contents, when the police come. Picture source:

The square pieces of cloth that the guys who aren’t walking with a ringful use have a standard construction.  They’re roughly a yard or a meter square.  They have a strip of cloth running down opposite sides of the cloth.  When the police come around, they pick the cloth up by those strips, the square of cloth becomes a sort of pouch, and they take off running.

Selling the little Eiffel Tower things is a West African monopoly, and again, you almost entirely see it around the Eiffel Tower and on the steps of Sacré Coeur.  Why West African?  This post on Quora by Jacob Hood might shed some light on the question.

Wine and beer sellers

Another thing that’s quite specific to the Eiffel Tower area is the South Asian guys selling bottles of wine and beer.  More precisely, these guys wander the Champ de Mars (the big grassy area to the south of the Tower).  They spend their entire day carrying a heavy bucket full of ice, beer, and bottles of wine and champagne.  I’ve heard that they will try to charge outrageous prices for their wares, and that makes them the only people on this page with whom I have any problems whatsoever.  I’ve also heard that they will give you a reasonable price if you haggle with them, though (although perhaps they won’t give it to you very graciously–remember, these guys are hauling those heavy buckets around all day long).  There’s a perfectly good wine store a couple blocks away on the Rue Cler, and I don’t know why anyone would buy their booze from a guy with a bunch of bottles in a bucket–but, hey, these guys gotta make a living, too.  (You can read an American expat’s story of haggling with one of the wine sellers here.)

This is a South Asian monopoly–Indian and Pakistani guys.  I’ve only ever seen it on the Champ de Mars.

I spent way too much time trying to find a picture of these guys on line, with no luck.  Yesterday I left work early enough to walk up to the Champ de Mars and take a picture of one myself (questionable legality, with Europe’s privacy laws), only to discover that the Champ de Mars is completely fenced in until mid-July due to the Euros 2016, and the majority of these guys have been displaced for a month or so.  If you happen to have a picture of a Champ de Mars wine seller that I could post here, it would be great.

Water sellers

Water sellers sell…bottles of water, of course!  You’ll see them around a lot of the touristy areas. As Phildange has pointed out:

The water sellers are a modern echo of the “porteurs d’eau” from the Ancient Regime. They did exactly the same job, selling water to the thirsty, but in a time when there were no taps anywhere, and fountains could be far away. Amazing how globalized economy makes society regress to XIXth ot XVIIIth centuries, and in many points.
In the kings’ times there was also a glamour function that has not been replicated yet: some guys carried portable latrines, with a big blanket for privacy and water for cleanliness . Fantastic job, isn’t it ?

Water is generally 1 euro a bottle if it’s not oppressively hot, and 2 euros a bottle if it is oppressively hot.  (Don’t hate them for this–you can go cool off in the shade any time you want, but those guys are going to be out in the sun all day.) Personally, I think these folks are doing a public service.  Could be anybody doing this, but it’s mostly a South Asian thing–Indian and Pakistani guys.

Rose sellers

You’ll have seen these guys in most of the tourist cities of Europe.  They show up on the patios of restaurants, and very occasionally inside.  They carry a bouquet of roses, and primarily approach tables with couples at them.  This is mostly a South Asian thing, again.

In case I haven’t made it clear: I admire these guys.  (They’re almost always men.)  They’re not begging, and they’re not ripping people off–they’re out there every day, working their asses off for what can’t be very much money.  Good for them, I say.

  • mars (n.m.): March.  Note: the s is pronounced.
  • Mars (n.m.): Mars, the god.  Reminder: the s is still pronounced.
  • Mars (n.f.): Mars, the planet.  Yes, the s is pronounced.  Yes, says that the planet is a masculine noun.  Yes, I checked with multiple native speakers, and it does appear to be feminine.

15 thoughts on “The Paris hustling ecosystem: the good side”

  1. The water sellers are a modern echo of the “porteurs d’eau” from the Ancient Regime . They did exactly the same job, selling water to the thirsty, but in a time when there was no taps anywhere, and fountains could be far . Amazing how globalized economy makes society regress to XIXth ot XVIIIth centuries, and in many points .
    In the kings times there was also a glamour function that has not been replicated yet : some guys carried portable latrines, with a big blanket for privacy and water for cleanliness . Fantastic job isn’t it ?

    NB : We never say “le mars”in any case . You sometimes don’t listen well it seems . To mean the month we say just “mars”, with no capital letter . “Je partirai en mars” . Or we say “le mois de mars” . Maybe you mingled with “le 15 mars”for instance .
    To speak of the planet we say “Mars” . “Mars a une couleur rouge” . Or as for the month we say “la planète Mars” .
    To speak of the Roman God we also say “Mars”, like “Mars et Apollon” . And you’re right, the final “s” is pronounced in every case .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I took the liberty of adding your discussion of the “porteurs d’eau” to the post (along with a link to your blog). I also changed the mars/Mars entries from “le” to “(n.m.)”.


  2. All planets are feminine in French, whatever Roman God or Goddess gave it its name . “Jupiter est très grande”, not grand . All months are masculine : “mars a été très froid cette année”, not froide . I guess this comes from the fact that “une planète” is feminine and “un mois” masculine .
    I thought your n.m. meant “nom masculin”, that’s why I wrote the above comment but I maybe misunderstood your code .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You totally understood my code. I’m just looking to put together some data to show how native speakers and/or linguists think through this kind of question. Searching text collections, doing the kind of agreement investigations that you did…


      1. Hé hé, a native doesn’t need to search anywhere, just probe his daily memory .
        So you will hear “Mars est froide” but “mars est froid” . And I don’t evoke “mars on Mars”, freaking freezing ! …


    1. There is no global rule, just custom . I’d say that when a word has an obious foreign origin, as mars from the Latin Mars it has many chances to be pronounced . A perennial rule is the final “s” and the final “x” are never pronounced when they mark the plural of a word .
      And in the Southern half of France we pronounce the final consonants in places or people’s names . I live in a village named Campet . A Northern Barbarian will say “Campé” while we say “Campett” . But as we were slaughtered in the Albigensian Crusade we don’t pronounce the final “s” in common nouns anymore .

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Working on it, but I doubt that I’ll be able to give you a rule–probably just a list, although hopefully that’s helpful, too…

      Just as a taste: I’ve found 581 nouns with pronounced final s’s, minus some “noise,” as we call it in my line of work.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Ellen, I want you to know that this is still on my todo list! Being a geek, I’m trying to answer your question by writing a computer program that goes through a French dictionary and generates two separate lists: words with a final S that is pronounced, and words with a final S that isn’t pronounced. I ran into a frustrating dead end with my code and haven’t gotten back to it, but I haven’t forgotten!


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