A Weekend in Burgundy

In Paris, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, Authenticity by Kathryn Sutton3 Comments

People who refuse to do anything touristy tend to bother me. I agree that doing only things set up for tourists means missing out on elements of the local culture, but the constant search for authenticity seems equally as misguided at times. I had another student visiting Paris for the weekend not long ago who refused to participate in any activities, sightseeing, museums, and otherwise, since they weren’t authentic. But what is authentic? And if you remove all things potentially designed for tourists, what’s left? And how do you entertain someone who will only do “authentic” things as someone who is already inauthentic as an American? Ironically, I led a “haphazard” walk about the area in between Notre Dame and the Place du Châtelet, during which we “stumbled upon” a whole variety of monuments, and this pleased my guest a lot. In my own way, I was providing the perceived back end of the Paris experience.

I tend to gauge authenticity of things to do in Paris based on the recommendations of my relatives here; they’re French(er than me) and they live here, so they should be able to tell me what the locals like to do. There are some less touristic that I probably wouldn’t have found without them, like a nice bus route to take back and forth to classes. But they also like the bakery that was recommended to NYU students, and are pleased that I went to Versailles. They recognize that there are “pilgrimages” to make to various sites of cultural and historical significance that are still valuable even if they are curated for tourists.

The discussion of authenticity itself in Paris is hard to have all together because it’s a city with such a high concentration of monuments, many of which are strategically linked together. It’s a straight line from the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, past Place de la Concorde, through the Jardin des Tuileries, and to the Louvre. And it is very international, as many modern cities are. And nearly a quarter of the residents of Paris and its surrounding region weren’t born in France. So is there really a Parisian experience completely separated and hidden from outsiders? And is it what someone looking for authenticity would be satisfied with as their trip to Paris?

The most authentic French experience I’ve had so far is probably my trip to Burgundy, a province to the south and east of Paris that’s a noted wine region. I was staying in the home of my high school exchange-student friend, and through personal connections we were able to get a tour and dinner in the house of one of the local wine producers. It’s a family run business, small-scale, with everything done in-house. I got to sample the wines in the cellar, and then have a meal with the family with more wine, escargot, “fondue bourguignonne”, époisses cheese, and apple tart. In terms of authenticity, it sounds as good as you could get. But at the same time, the family that runs the vineyards is used to giving tours and staging dinners; it’s part of their business model to sell wine. I wasn’t targeted as a potential customer, but I imagine they put on a similar show when they’re hosting a wide variety of guests, and not just friends of friends. But for me, knowing that my experience was somewhat staged doesn’t detract from my enjoyment, and I can’t think of a way to have gotten as close to local life as I did otherwise.


  1. Hi Kathryn,

    This post was very interesting and helpful in allowing me to explore my own definition of authenticity even further. At first, after reading the excerpt for this week’s assignment I was troubled by the fact that I, too, am usually bothered by people who refuse to do anything touristy. Yet, at the same time, I refuse to participate in certain tourist-centered activities such as any type of guided tour. However, I think this is less because I am worried about the authenticity but more to do with the fact that I want to make the experience my own and I feel that having a tour guide with me prevents me from doing so. I do have a couple questions about what you wrote in your post though. First off, what did you mean when you said your friend was already an inauthentic American? Is being American in a place other than America make you inherently inauthentic or were you trying to say that American culture in and of itself is inauthentic according to the definition we read about. Also, I am just curious as to how studying abroad in a place where you have family is? Do you think it hinders the experience in anyway by stripping you of some independence or have you found that it’s quite helpful to have family members that can offer you guidance, safety, or comfort during your time away from home? Thanks!

    – Ross

    1. Author

      Hi Ross, thanks for the comments! I typically don’t have problems with going on tours myself, but I like to take everything with a grain of salt. It sounds to me as though figuring things out independently is more important to you than it is to me, I’m usually willing to take advice/information from helpful sources and to me this doesn’t detract from the experience of exploring a new place as long as it’s combined with a certain amount of doing things on my own. But at the same time, there are things like buying generic souvenirs and paying entrance fees to see certain things that I refuse to do too. For me having family here has been very grounding, but I’d also classify my relation with my family as a fairly independent one. They’re certainly a helpful resource, but I think being at an NYU site has a lot more bearing on my independence since most of my guidance, safety, and comfort comes from the systems in place through the university as well as from other American students. Whereas I check in with my relatives once a week, I spend my days in class and my evenings at home surrounded by a network of people associated with NYU, which is probably one of the largest critiques of the entire program that I’ve heard here.

      When I wrote “inauthentic American” I was referring to myself as an unworthy guide because the standards for being an authority on Paris are quite high, meaning that as someone who’s only here for a semester I don’t count myself as a reliable source of information. From what I’ve gathered, no one is really Parisian unless they’re born and raised in Paris. Certainly I’m a bit more informed than someone who’s never been before in their life, and I speak some French which helps too, but I’m hesitant to advocate myself as someone really in the know. I hadn’t thought about the reflection on American culture as inauthentic, but I’m not sure I think that’s the case.

  2. Hi Kathryn! I was so happy to read your post because I share a similar belief in experiencing all of what a city has to offer whether it’s touristy or not. I think it’s important to move beyond one’s sense of embarrassment or pride and enjoy your surroundings. Sometimes the best experiences come from the most ridiculous circumstances. Similar to you, I have become aware of the fact that people of all nationalities surround us in Paris. Why not enjoy a little bit of everywhere just as we do in New York? Also, my family and I did a wine trip in the Burgundy region a few years ago. What a beautiful place! What was the name of the vineyard you were able to tour? Sounds like an incredible experience!

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