In summer of 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Paris to attend graduate school. I was torn between living in such a vibrant city and trying to master the complicated new ways of living. I embarked on a journey where I learned more about myself and what it means to be French. Here are the 10 things I learned living abroad in France!
Dress The Part
Parisian fashion is notorious in its elegant simplicity. The French do not own endless closets of items. Rather, they have simple pieces that can be mixed and matched to create streamlined sophisticated outfits. The Parisian look is effortless and designed to draw focus away from the clothes to the individual. As a California girl, I had to trade my flip flops for ballet flats and my yoga pants for tights. Even on their way to the gym, they look sophisticated and put together. The idea is not to be high maintenance, but to demonstrate pride in one’s appearance.
You Will Walk Everywhere
You will need to be prepared to conquer stairs, as they are everywhere and often the only option, particularly in the metro. This is also the absolute best way to see the city and also discover new neighborhoods. Walking home one night from the university, I stumbled upon the movie set for Tomorrowland. You never know what new treasures you will find walking around. So take a stroll down the Boulevard Saint-Germain or even better the Rue Crémieux and enjoy the views!
The Metro Is Depressing, but Also Entertaining
The metro in Paris is ancient and has not received much attention in the way of funds the last several years. Often times, you will spot homeless people along with some other more nefarious types lurking around. If you haven’t yet had a crazy person yell at you in the metro, you haven’t lived in Paris long enough. On the other hand, there are some excellent musicians who will play on both the platforms and inside the trains. Some of your greatest stories will originate in the metro, just be aware to mind your belongings and your personal space.
Explore the Edges of the City
There are so many places within an hours journey from Paris that are worth checking out. These include but are not limited to the Palace of Versailles, Giverny home of the gardens where Monet drew inspiration for his paintings, and Fountainebleu. One my all time favorites though is Goussainville, which was mostly abandoned 40 years ago following a plane crash and the expansion of Charles De Gaulle Airport. The more you explore the outskirts of Paris, the more you will truly get a feel for the culture and people away from the main tourist draws.
Enjoy the Small Things, Especially Meals
Parisians are experts at slowing down and appreciating the small things life has to offer. I once had a French professor who told us not to bring coffee to class in to-go mugs, but to rather sit and enjoy the coffee at the café and come to class late. The emphasis on enjoyment of meals also includes the enjoyment of a glass of wine and the company of friends. Learn to take your time and really be in the moment. Paris has a way of making you become patient whether you like it or not.
Bread will Never be the Same
I have a hard time buying bread, particularly baguettes anywhere else in the world now because the French make them to perfection. In fact, for a boulangerie to sell baguettes under that title, they must be within certain size limits and only contain three ingredients. Besides bread, butter, cheese, and wine are also exceptional.
Use Exact Change
Grocery stores and artisan bakeries are especially particular and frown upon large bills. Almost every single time you will be asked if you have the exact change. So keep some change handy and check out will go much smoother.
Say Goodbye to One-Stop Shopping
Used to buying everything at one store? Best to get over that now. I bought vegetables and fruit at the local street market, which operated twice a week, bread and baked goods at the boulangerie, and other food stuffs at the local Franprix or Dia. Stores in Paris are tiny and usually only have a small variety of goods, so prepare to go to several stores to get all the things you need.
French Landlords Are Intense
Almost everyone I have met who lived in Paris has a landlord horror story. One friend had her kitchen cabinet and water heater fall off her walls within 6 months of each other, another who’s landlord locked a tenant in the basement, and several who never had working internet. Regulations in Paris are limited and often not enforced and the buildings themselves can often be several hundred years old. As a result, many apartments have exposed wiring, non-existent fire escapes, and a variety of other hazards. Learn to confront these problems and have a firm relationship with your landlord to ensure an enjoyable experience.
You’d Better Become a Fan of Gray
While known as the City of Lights, Paris can often for a majority of the year, particularly fall and summer, to be extremely gray. The colors of the buildings and the pavement along with a general lack of greenery makes the dominant color of the city gray. Add to this, the neutral color schemes of the clothing and the constantly overcast skies and you have a wonderful palette of basically every shade of gray imaginable. While initially this can be depressing, particularly for a California girl like me, it does become normal and starts to become less important as time passes. In fact I have come to fondly rename one particularly dreary month as No-Sun-November.