Right or left?

© Paris Tourist Information Sarah Sergent

The Seine divides Paris into two banks – but the term Rive Gauche or Rive Droite means more than just a geographic location. Mademoiselle Lili adjusts the compass.

For most people Paris is one city, but there are actually two cities: Rive Gauche, the Paris to the left of the Seine in the direction it flows, is a completely different world than Rive Droite. Try turning up the volume of your new favourite piano ballad around 7.30 pm in an apartment near Boulevard Saint-Germain! If within 10 minutes a crestfallen neighbour on the verge of tears is standing outside your door and looking at you as if you were a citizen of Satan, you are definitely on the Rive Gauche.  

Just as the wall once divided Berlin, there is a border that runs through Paris. A much more peaceful, more natural and more beautiful border, of course – otherwise known as the Seine. And, of course, it has always been open, connected by pretty bridges and endless metro tunnels. And yet: you feel and uphold the difference. Till today. That is why the logo of the upmarket department store Bon Marché still features the addendum Rive Gauche. Parisians class themselves as either Rive Gauche or Rive Droite, and this not only defines a geographic location, but also an individual lifestyle. Very similar to the decision of the new-Berliner after the fall of the wall to settle in either the East or the West of the city. Parisians regularly hold disputes that are half-ironic and half-serious about which side of Paris is the trendier, the more elegant or simply the better.  

Rive Gauche has long been associated with the intellectual, free-spirited Paris. Not only 

because the famous Sorbonne University is based there. In the 1920s, American writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller or Gertrude Stein frivolously partied in the alleyways of the Quartier Latin, and waxed lyrical about the free lifestyle of the Left Bank. Later, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir philosophised, smoked and drank in Café de Flore or Les deux Magots on Place Saint-Germain-des-Près, until leftist students began to protest about the world order. When Yves Saint Laurent launched his first, cheaper prêt-à-porter collection in 1966, he named it Rive Gauche.   

Whoever associated with Rive Gauche at that time strove to be different: progressive, anti-establishment, creative. That’s history. The former revolutionaries have grown old along with their non-conformism. All that remains is the myth. Rive Gauche today signifies the costliest apartments in the city, the snobbiest waiters, the most expensive cafés, the most elegant and best coiffed ladies in Brasserie Lipp. And, neighbours with bow ties and cashmere dinner jackets who go to bed as early as 7.30 pm. For me it is the Paris of Catherine Deneuve, an aged beauty that is elegant but, perhaps a little dull. How wonderful it was to finally move to Rive Droite, closer to Canal Saint-Martin or the Marais, where people are still out on the street at 10 at night!