“Oh you live in Paris, that must be amazing! Such a romantic city…the cheese, the wine…and the croissants! You must be loving it!”
Well, this is usually the response I get when I tell someone I live in Paris. And of course it’s to be expected. After all, Paris is touted as the most romantic city in the world with its beautiful architecture, grand boulevards, the Seine and its bridges…the list goes on and I haven’t even mentioned the food & the wine yet! Am I lucky to be living here – yes, I do feel grateful for the opportunity. Am I loving it – the jury is still out there on this one!
I always tell people that visiting Paris as a tourist is very different from actually living in Paris. I’m sure this is true for most places. However, for Paris and France in general, I’ve found the difference to be more profound. Language has a huge part to play in this. It’s true, the French love their language and their culture, and this idea is so deeply ingrained in everything here that unless you know the language, you can never really immerse yourself in France. So make sure you know your French if you ever decide to live here!
As someone freshly off the boat with not even working knowledge of the language, the first few months were quite trying and mentally exhausting. Be prepared to feel completely ignorant and helpless and don’t worry if you have to walk around the supermarket armed with a Google translator. Trying to find a jar of plain yogurt in the supermarket might be enough to break you down.
But now, a year later I can confidently march into a boulangerie to buy ‘une’ baguette or get myself a café allongé without batting an eyelid. However, buying local cheese from a fromgerie or a cut of meat from a butcherie still leaves me sweating buckets!
You must also be prepared to handle tons of paperwork and the bureaucracy. They go hand in hand here. For anything official, say even a metro (subway) pass, you will need to carry an address proof and proof of employment before the ticketing guy at the station can issue you one. French love their paperwork!
Deliveries are never on time…like never. Even if they give you a two hour slot, rest assured it will only arrive in four. Post and parcels can go missing every now & then and a trip to the La Poste might become the norm if you are big on online shopping! But keep calm, have a coffee and carry on.
Not all apartment buildings in Paris have a gardienne (concierge) anymore but some of them still do and they can be really helpful when it comes to taking deliveries, watering your plants, helping with any apartment-related issues or just a friendly face when you really need one. I have an amazing gardienne and although she speaks no English and I speak barely passable French, we have managed to communicate and even chat on occasions. I must admit though, that most of my chats with my neighbours and other people have usually been because of Mia. No one can resist passing her by without a little pat!
The French love a conversation be it at the checkout counter of a store or a pharmacy or even your local mairie (council office). If your language skills allow it, some light banter can open up a lot of doors. But if not, just smile and nod and don’t forget your Bonjours and mercies…they go a long way.
I love the passion that the French have for food. They can talk for hours about their local delicacies. There is a lot of pride and it grows on you, this passion. Every neighbourhood in Paris and every town and village around France has a local fresh food market at least twice a week. People stroll along these to pick up fresh supplies for the week instead of just popping into a supermarket. The produce is fresh and really beautiful. Makes someone like me want to cook too!
They never rush you at a restaurant. For the French, a meal is more than just eating. It’s about meeting your friends, engaging in conversation and having a good time. And so, no one will bring you the bill unless you ask for it or ask you to move along once you’ve finished your food. It’s just not how they do things here. You can just be sat with a glass of wine or coffee for hours, but no one will raise an eyebrow.
You can buy wine everywhere…most supermarkets have a good selection of French wines but if you want something more special or a little more information on what you should buy, you can walk into any of the wine caves – which are speciality wine shops that are always ready to help customers choose the most perfect bottle. And there will always be a fromagerie for the perfect cheese pairing!
The riverside…my most favourite part of the city. Almost all European cities have rivers and in most cases, a well developed riverside. But the Parisian riverside is something else for me – it’s almost magical. I can walk for hours along it and not get bored. It’s one of the most well-developed walkways I’ve seen and it’s dotted with the most beautiful bridges, museums, cafes, bars & restaurants on barges, and even dancing spaces! It comes alive in the summer but even on the coldest, darkest winter evenings, it keeps you going.
2 thoughts on “Life in Paris – the good, bad and the lovely”
Hi Nams. It’s so good to find your blog after such a long time. I thought you stopped blogging after moving to the UK. 🙂 I can understand your challenges with moving to a new place and I totally agree that life as a tourist and expat are so different. You guys are so adventurous to move from South Africa to the UK and now Paris. Look forward to reading about your journey. Take care and stay safe!
Hi Cheryl, I did stop writing after moving to London but its good to be back again 🙂 Lots has changed since then…you’ve moved to S.Korea! Sounds like fun….and looks like a beautiful place. Have also been catching up on your past travels – Central Asia has always been on my list but I’m yet to make my journey there. Hopefully soon.