One strange thing about Marseille is that you don't see a lot of American tourists wandering around. Which is a shame. It's a wonderful city.
And I have a theory as to why.
I have found that tourists in general, and American tourists in particular (because vacation days are so few and rare), tend to take trips in search of cliches, stereotypes and scenes and scenarios that reinforce existing preconceptions.
They go to France to drink coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower, go chateaux hopping in the Loire Valley or drink wine in Bordeaux.
Cities like Marseille don't fit into any widely understood category. It's France. But Marseille has always been a port city, close to Italy, teeming with immigrants. Compared to many French towns and cities, Marseille is a bit on the grubby side. An astonishing number of surfaces are covered in graffiti.
Many of the markets and stores in the central downtown area are owned and largely patronized by Muslims, primarily for North Africa but also from all over the Middle East. And this is one of Marseille's most delicious charms. You can buy all kinds of foods from the Middle East and North Africa, and it's all cheap and authentic.
There is also an extraordinarily eclectic restaurant scene in Marseille, with fantastic Vietnamese, Mexican, Pakistani and other restaurants operating side-by-side with creperies and boulangeries.
The bottom line is that when tourists go to France, they want French stuff, not global stuff. And this is a missed opportunity. Because Marseille isn't just a French city filled with the influences of immigrants. It has its own unique identity that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Plus, some of the graffiti is breathtaking.
So take my advice and spend some quality time in Marseille.