“Under the Bridges of Paris”—Contrasting French and American Cultures

The Seine and Notre Dame in Paris
The Seine and Notre Dame, Johan Jongkind, 1864

Two of the things that Paris is known for are the river Seine, adorned by a series of 37 unique and magical bridges, and romance. In 1955, Dean Martin celebrated these iconic features in his hit song Under the Bridges of Paris. Martin’s emotive vocals attracted fans around the globe and transformed the catchy jingle into a song of seduction. In my opinion, the slow-tempo waltz sounds as if it’s being sung by a lovesick crooner. But apparently, Dino’s 1950s sex appeal created a smash that remains relatively well-known to this day. Dozens of covers have been made since. Even the 2004 film Shall We Dance, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, features an instrumental arrangement of the popular love song.

In my post for today, I present this enduring American tune, as well as the French song on which it is based. Comparing the two provides insights into cultural differences between both countries. Below are the English lyrics, written by Dorcas Cochran, followed by Dean’s original recording.

Under the Bridges of Paris

How would you like to be
Down by the Seine with me
Oh what I’d give for a moment or two
Under the bridges of Paris with you

Darling I’d hold you tight
Far from the eyes of night
Under the bridges of Paris with you
I’d make your dreams come true

How would you like to be
Down by the Seine with me
Oh what I’d give for a moment or two
Under the bridges of Paris with you

Darling I’d hold you tight
Far from the eyes of night
Under the bridges of Paris with you
I’d make your dreams come true

Sous les Ponts de Paris

The melody from Under the Bridges of Paris is taken from a wildly popular French song that was released 40 years earlier, in 1913, and similarly titled Sous les Ponts de Paris. Vincent Scotto is credited for the score of both songs. However, the lyrics of the French version, written by Jean Rodor, are extremely different. You’ll find them below alongside my English translation, which prioritizes rhyme and meter over precise interpretation.

Sous Les Ponts de Paris
by Jean Rodor, 1913

Under the Bridges of Paris
translation by Carol Seidl

Pour aller à Suresnes,
Ou bien à Charenton,
Tout le long de la Seine,
On passe sous les ponts.
Pendant le jour, suivant son cours,
Tout Paris en bateau défile.
L’cœur plein d’entrain, ça va, ça vient,
Mais l’soir lorsque tout dort tranquille.

In going to Suresnes,
Or even to Charenton,
We pass beneath each bridge of the Seine,
As we go along.
During the day, tracing our way,
All Paris floats by in a thrill.
Our hearts aglow, this comes, that goes,
But at night while the city lies still.

Sous les ponts de Paris,
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Toutes sortes de gueux se faufilent en cachette,
Et sont heureux de trouver une couchette.
Hôtel du courant d’air,
Où l’on ne paie pas cher,
L’parfum et l’eau c’est pour rien mon marquis,
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Under the bridges of Paris,
When night has cast its pall,
All kinds of outcasts come out of the cracks,
Happy for shelter, they unload their packs.
Hotel of fine fresh air,
You can afford the fare.
The fragrance of water costs nothing at all,
Under the bridges of Paris.

À la sortie d’l’usine,
Julot rencontr’ Nini.
Ça va-t-il la rouquine?
C’est la fête aujourd´hui.
Prends ce bouquet, quelques brins d´muguet.
C´est peu mais c´est toute ma fortune,
Viens avec moi, j´connais l´endroit
Où l´on n´craint même pas l´clair de lune.

Outside the factory shed,
Julot chanced on Nini.
What’s up my fine redhead?
Today’s the jubilee.
Take this bouquet, a few stalks of muguet,
Not much, but it’s all of my worth.
Come let us go, to a place I know,
Where moonlight won’t trouble our berth.

Sous les ponts de Paris,
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Comme il n’a pas de quoi s’payer une chambrette,
Un couple heureux vient s’aimer en cachette,
Et les yeux dans les yeux,
Faisant des rêves bleus,
Julot partage les baisers de Nini,
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Under the bridges of Paris,
When dark erases light,
Since they have nothing to pay for a room,
The happy young couple makes love in the gloom.
As they lie face to face,
With pipe dreams to embrace,
Julot and Nini share kisses tonight,
Under the bridges of Paris.

Rongée par la misère,
Chassée de son logis,
L´on voit une pauvre mère,
Avec ses trois petits.
Sur leur chemin, sans feu ni pain,
Ils subiront leur sort atroce.
Bientôt la nuit, la maman dit :
“Enfin ils vont dormir mes gosses.”

Eaten away by poverty,
Chased from her wretched lot,
We see a penniless mother,
Leading her three small tots,
What lies ahead, no warmth no bread,
They submit to the merciless street.
When light gives way, you hear her say:
“At last may their dreams be sweet.”

Sous les ponts de Paris,
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Viennent dormir là tout près de la Seine,
Dans leur sommeil ils oublieront leur peine,
Si l´on aidait un peu,
Tous les vrais miséreux,
Plus de suicides ni de crimes dans la nuit,
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Under the bridges of Paris,
When darkness shrouds the night,
They all come to sleep there right next to the Seine,
While they lie dreaming their hardships suspend,
If we would lend some care,
To all those stuck in despair,
No more suicides no more crimes in the night,
Under the bridges of Paris.

Now check out this 2011 recording of Sous les Ponts de Paris, performed by French singer Juliette Gréco and her American song mate, jazz singer Melody Gardot.

Comparing the Two Songs

Despite the fact that the French lyrics are far soberer than Martin’s romanticized version, the tempo of the song here is significantly more upbeat. The voices of Greco and Gardot express a range of emotions, from merry excitement to worried alarm. Their performance is melodramatic but I prefer it to the sanitized American version, which exemplifies the perpetually cheery and overly simplistic entertainment of the 1950s.

There’s no denying that both versions are bolstered by Scotto’s original, catchy score. The tune is quintessentially French. Throw away the vocalists and the orchestral arrangement and give me an accordionist with his rhythm machine and I’m back in Paris, under the bridges of the Seine.

Renditions Abound

In researching this post, I listened to a couple of dozen renditions on Youtube—from Eartha Kitt (an interesting mixture of French and English) to The Three Tenors (in French) to orchestral arrangements. Many of the French performances omit the final verses, describing the destitute mother and her three little ones. What do you think? Do you enjoy the swoon-inducing warble of Dean Martin? Do you prefer ballads about real life or popular hits that feature romance? Perhaps, there’s a performance of Under the Bridges of Paris or Sous les Ponts de Paris that you particularly enjoy and that I’ve not included here. Let me know in the comments.

Other Resources

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. I think of Dean Martin every time the Moon hits my eye like a big pizza pie…

  2. Love this — nothing like an accordion to bring a little Paris to any place!

  3. I don’t remember ever hearing this song with lyrics (thankfully in the case of the Dean Martin version) and I enjoyed reading your translation. Not easy to find a cooperation between meter and meaning, great work! Of the versions you shared my favorite is the accordion – just with I could hear it in Paris!

  4. Liked Greco and Gardot best. That whispery voice, those rolled “r”s!

  5. Really fascinating post and I absolutely loved the Dean Martin song- I’ve never heard it before and it was so beautiful.

  6. I really love your post! I have a version of this song from an old vinyl record but I´ve never found its version online. It´s in English, but totally different than Dean´s version. I can´t understand the lyrics well because of the condition of the record, but it´s clear English maybe mixed with French. I think it´s frrom before 1930´s or 40´s. I don´t have a lot of information about the vinyl record, but, if you want to know more I can send you a record of the song playing here. Please help me to identify where it came from, I grew up with this version and for me, it´s the best!

  7. Love that song!!

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