American media images of Paris often derive from the 1914-1946 period, when many millions of Americans actually saw France (albeit not on vacation.) Those also were the years when accordions were considered a high-tech, cool, spiffy way to make music, not just in France but in many other countries.
The rise of the recording industry undermined the accordion’s popularity, and cheap electronic instruments in the 70’s and 80’s destroyed whatever feeble hold it had left, even in the most traditional French communities.
Like the beret and horizontal stripes, it’s a stereotype of Franch that was sort of ture, once upon a time. And, like a beret and hrozintal striped shirts, few young, contemporary Frenchmen would be caught dead with an accordion.
However, there are loads and loads of street musicians in Paris. They play a wide array of instruments and styles, from classical strings, to cheezy Stones songs, to hip-hop. Particularly in the tourist season in summer, they are all over the city, and many are quite good.
Traditionally, they were banned from playing in Metro stations and were often ticketed for trying, but as of this year, the Paris public transit company is legally licensing musicians. They hold formal auditions, assigns times and places, and I believe collects a small fee from successful applicants.
On the streets, I believe a license from the city is still required, but as long as a musician doesn’t block traffic or make a pain of himself or herself, it’s usually tolerated.
"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.