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Paris Arrondissements

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Hi,
I will be in Paris for the first time and have a few questions about arrondissements. What exactly are they? Are they similar to a zip code area in the U.S.? How large is each one? How large is the area of Paris that includes all the arrondisements?

I am considering staying in the 14th or the 17th. Is this a good idea?

Usually my thought on hotels is that I don't want to spend a lot of money on a hotel. I would rather stay in a less expensive hotel and use the money I save on nice dinners and souvineers. But I don't want to compromise my safety by staying in an unsafe area. So are the 14th and 17th safe areas?

I read in another thread that northern and north eastern Paris is dangerous. By northern and north eastern do they mean the 17th, or does it refer to areas more north and north east then that?

Thanks,
Kathy

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