What the Hell is an Arrondissement?

Do you like to eat snails? Chances are you’re NOT one of the escar­got 1%-ers. Don’t wor­ry. Parisians won’t notice your for­eign fear/bizarre attrac­tion (it’s an either/or sit­u­a­tion) of this (sad­ly) adorable, gar­lic-spiked (once on a plate) land mollusk.

They will, how­ev­er, notice you look­ing com­plete­ly lost and des­per­ate while turn­ing your smart­phone in cir­cles to find the right way to pro­ceed to the cor­rect neigh­bor­hood on your map app. That’s when you might hear “ouais ouais, par là-bas” or “aucune idée”, accom­pa­nied by a look of dis­mis­sive irk if you ask a Parisian for help.

To spare you the shame, enter this handy arti­cle to explain to you just what an arrondisse­ment is, and where they lie in Paris. Remem­ber the snails we men­tioned above? You thought we were off-top­ic, but no. Paris com­pris­es 20 dis­tricts, or ‘arrondisse­ments’ — admin­is­tra­tive dis­tricts com­pris­ing sev­er­al, some­times dis­tinct, neigh­bor­hoods. The first dis­trict is smack in the mid­dle of Paris, on the right bank north of the Seine riv­er and pinned down to the map by none oth­er than The Final Boss of all Muse­ums — Le Musée du Lou­vre. Then the dis­tricts suc­ceed each oth­er in numer­i­cal order, coil­ing clock­wise like the shell of the afore­men­tioned yum­my mol­lusk, until you reach the out­ly­ing dis­trict 20 (Le Vingtième ) to the east, after hav­ing made 3 full turns of the slimy, mor­tal (in the case of the food snail, hope­ful­ly not the dis­trict) coil to cre­ate the entire area of Paris intra­muros (French for Paris prop­er, com­prised with­in the periph­er­al high­way, affec­tion­ate­ly dubbed the “périph’ ”).

Each of these 20 Paris dis­tricts is local­ly known as an arrondisse­ment (French for “encir­clement”), and abbre­vi­at­ed on all Paris signs as “arr.” or “arr.t.” With­in each arrondisse­ment, there is also a group­ing of quar­ters, or quartiers. AKA Neigh­bor­hoods to you dirty for­eign­ers. Here at PARIS > D E F I N E D MAG , we’re all about these quar­ters, because each one has much more of its own vibe than an entire arrondisse­ment does. Thing is, the quar­ters are not indi­cat­ed on Paris signs. Those, you just have to know and feel. So grab the Adder­all and keep reading… 

Let’s review. Repeat after us: the 1st arrondisse­ment is in cen­tral Paris, just north of and touch­ing the Seine, posh AF, includes the Lou­vre. Due north of the 1st is the 2nd, and just to the east of the 2nd is the 3rd. Below the 3rd is the 4th (it also touch­es the Seine). Cross the Seine due south and you hit the 5th. Then the 6th is just west of it. And so on until you’ve made a snail-shaped coil 3 times around the city. 

Ready for some escar­got? Nei­ther are we, and that’s ok. (Only Mamie does any­way…) Like you, we most­ly sub­sist on piz­za, burg­ers, and ran­dom Asian food. BUT! You’re prac­ti­cal­ly a full-fledged Parisian now. (Or at least you will be when you’ve been invit­ed to the vaunt­ed 20/20 bar crawl — a day-long bac­cha­nal of vis­it­ing one bar in each arrondissement…)

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