Feb 2

10 Things I Love and Don’t Love about Living in Paris

One year! It’s been one year since we moved to Paris. I can’t believe it. Moving here was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I’m SO glad we did it. People always ask what it is like to live here and honestly, it is better than I imagined. Not to say there aren’t hard things. Neither Paul or I speak French (we’ve picked up a little since we moved here) so that has made some things a lot more difficult. In general I’m an optimist who tends to brush over the bad parts of things so I made a list of my 10 things I love and don’t love about living in Paris. (You know, to be fair and balanced.)

10 Awesome things about Living in Paris

-Cheese. There is nothing like the quality and the variety of choices.
-Bread. Fresh warm bread is available on most streets to the average person for about 1 Euro.
-People Dress Well. Wearing yoga pants in public isn’t acceptable. You put on lipstick just to go around the corner to get bread.
-The city is beautiful. Light reflects off the white stone buildings in the most amazing ways.
-The French expect things from their government (in a good way.)
-Have you a had a croissant from the bakery first thing in the morning? It is life changing.
-People are well trained for their jobs. Even a vocation like a florist has years of training before they work.
-The French average 10 weeks of vacation a year. Americans average 3. (They got us on this one guys.)
-The Eiffel Tower sparkles. It sparkles!!!
-I feel much more supported as a mother. (There are places on the buses for moms with strollers, people will always stop to help you carry a stroller up and down the metro steps. Preschools are excellent and are state supported so they are free or cheap.)

 

10 Hard things about Living in Paris

-Washers and Dryers take forever. Really, all day.
-Dryers don’t really dry, so you have to iron everything.
-Customer Service involves power struggles and pouring out your heart about a personal drama.
-Moses’ teacher gave him a frowny face on an assignment. He’s three. (ha!)
-People feel a need to conform or “fit in” here.
-I have a hard time drinking milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
-They don’t let you sit on the grass at parks. (It’s so pretty and green and you can’t touch it.)
-Efficiency isn’t a thing, it takes all day to run just a few errands.
-Stores close early and have inconsistent hours.
-I have a renewed compassion for anyone who moves to a new country without speaking the language. You feel powerless.

photos by Paul Ferney

 

143 Comments

  • I am in awe and admire you so much for making such a leap. I would love to live in France someday! Have you written a post about logistics (visas and such) that I missed somehow?

  • Leslie says:

    So, did you decide to stay? I would love to live in a foreign country – I’m thinking Italy, someday…

  • Susan says:

    A very honest list of pros and cons!

  • Jordan! Thanks so much for giving some insight into life in Paris. It is my dream to move there one day and it’s awesome to get some clear cut advice from someone who’s already taken the leap! Oh and it’s so fab hearing that you don’t speak French as that’s been our major reservation of moving there : ) OH and SO great meeting you at ALT! Thanks for all the tips on readership!

  • Robin K says:

    To me it sounds like the good outweighs the bad. Can you bring me back some cheese and bread?

  • Sandra says:

    I lived in Cape Town for two years and can SOOO relate. And even though I spoke the language, there was a big cultural divide that STILL made for some serious culture shock!

    I remember hating it the first few months and then love, love, loving it the entire rest of the time. Nothing specific, it just was stressful adjusting to a new culture at first.

    We had the same thing with shop openings on fewer days than what I was used to. But you know what, I learned to love it as it made me MORE organized and made Sundays and Saturday afternoons free of errands!

    What caught me by surprise was the culture shock that I felt returning home. I had changed and had such an amazing experience that many of my friends could not relate to. It passed.
    But I still miss southern Africa!

    I am sure that France will always hold a special place in your heart…

  • patricia says:

    As a foreign student in Germany, I feel pretty much the same (except that I have to study, and I don’t have a kid). Even though I speak some german, it is somehow still hard to blend in. But all these oportunnities are worth it. Btw, getting bretzel (pretzel) for breakfast is kinda life changing too :)

  • Hi Jordan, I’m currently living in France as well and can definitely relate. Neither of us speak French either and being in the rural south, this has been *interesting*. Am emergency trip to the doctors involved a little more miming than one would wish for in such a circumstance. “Powerless” is an apt word.

    Having said that, one thing I would add to the “Love List” would be the willingness of people to be patient and friendly to the bumbling foreigner mangling their language :) I honestly can’t fathom where the French got their reputation for being rude.

    Oh and a little thing for the cons column: dog poo on the sidewalk!

    x

    • jordan says:

      I forgot about the poop!

      My sister in Normandy says the same thing about people being helpful. I think the “rude” reputation definitely comes from Paris. In my opinion it has more to do with a culture clash than unkindness. Once you learn how to navigate the French there isn’t really a problem with the rudeness.

  • kaity says:

    so are you staying for longer?

  • Clarisse says:

    Wow, I just came back from a short trip there and could not agree with you more! Somehow, I speak French and that has not even seemed to have helped all that much…
    Anyways, my blog, http://www.ramblingmuse.com, has a whole paris section under the cities section if you ever need foodie recommendations or want to read a funny Paris story.

  • Asia says:

    Hi Jordan, I love your blog and all your posts about Paris! But I’m a lil bit surprised by what you said about sitting on the grass at parks. I spent in Paris 2 months like 2 years ago and remember I used to have a rest on the grass at parks so many times, and I wasn’t the only one. Goshh, it looks like they have changed!
    And about the compassion… You read my mind! I moved to Sweden 1,5 months ago (I’m Polish btw) and can’t speak Swedish. Ahh, feel powerless every day too which is also a huge motivation to start learning:)

    • jordan says:

      there are a couple places they let you sit on the grass: Champ de Mars, etc or they designate a tiny part of the grass for sitting. It’s always been like that.

  • aa says:

    ‘People feel a need to conform or “fit in” here.’

    like by putting on lipstick to get bread in the morning? i’m glad i retained my leggings and yoga pant wearing, funny looks be damned.

  • Jenni says:

    Really great list. That sparkling Eiffel tower might seem so cliche but it gets me every time! Was just discussing the difficulties of arriving in France without knowing the language. What an experience. Opened my eyes to how so many must feel on arriving in the US. I am so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to learn French full time during this past year. It has been the key to unlocking so much of this beautiful country, it’s people and some (of course, not all!) of that difficult customer service.

  • my brother in law is experiencing some of your not so fun things about paris right now. i’m returning for the second time in may and hope that it will be as incredible as my inaugural journey. i have high hopes of things to do that i just didn’t have time for and an absolute must visit to pierre hermes for my beloved macaron.

  • Lindsey says:

    yep, those washer/dryer combos were never a good idea. we bought a condenser dryer unit (no hook-ups necessary, and luckily had a perfect spot in our small london flat) and it changed my life after i had my second child. Vacation time in Europe is the best – my husband gets 5 weeks paid!

  • Chi says:

    I had the same problem with the milk! I kept putting the milk in the fridge at my uncle’s place and it would reappear on the bench in the morning.

  • spot on – in austria is was very similar, only would add “strange aversion to payments other than cash” . but i think the best thing to love about paris is that it will always be there, pretty much as you remember it whenever you feel like you need to go back.

  • Danielle says:

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love hearing about your life in Paris (and Gabrielle in Normandy!). I would move there in a second if I got the chance, bureaucracy be damned! :D

  • Laura says:

    I’ve loved Paris (and every European city I’ve been to, actually) whenever I’ve visited. But while I’ve taken extended vacations, I have never attempted to live in a foreign country. I appreciate your adventurous willingness to navigate the challenges, and I think it sounds like a great experience – something I think I would love to do in the future!

    One question – are your boys in a French school, or are they learning in English? I can imagine it would be a fantastic experience as a child to learn a second language, while your mind is developing and you can pick up new words and concepts so easily! I’m sure they pick it up day to day even outside of school, but as an adult, I know it’s much more difficult to master at this age!

    • jordan says:

      Moses goes to French school 4 days a week and Roman goes to a French outdoor preschool a couple afternoons a week.

  • SFDC says:

    Wow, I am so shocked and inspired by the fact that you don’t speak French! Bravo to you. This is a wonderful list and I hope someday to take such a brave, rewarding leap.

  • Amanda says:

    Thanks for these tips, Jordan.
    I’m visiting Paris in a couple of weeks and it’s great to know these little insights even if I’m staying for a short time.
    I also understand what it’s like to live in a foreign city and country. It’s super hard and I speak the same language so I can’t imagine what it must be like with the language barrier on top of everything else.
    Love your blog!

  • Great list! I understand what it’s like to live in a place without speaking the language and it can definitely feel isolating. But it can also be awesome as you demonstrate so well!

  • anita says:

    As an American in Paris I totally agree with all the pros! But definitely add the dog poo and the nasty Parisien attitudes to the con list! And yes, efficiency isn’t a word here!

  • Blandine says:

    Hi everyone !

    Well, I’m french and i live near Paris and for our defence, do you really know a country where if you don’t speak the language or english, it is easy to be understood ? You got chance, you peack english so you can be understood like anywhere…. And in Paris a lot of people understand English but if you go in the south…. well they do not like english peope (or american because they were buying a lot of houses) but they do not really like anyone else either…. ;)

    You can’t sit on the grass in a lot of parks but there is either parks were you can sit…. just have a look in the internet i think you could find….

    You don’t speek french… and my english could be better…. Would you like us to be language partners ? I “teach” you french when you teach me english…. An idea…

    And finally i think you coul add an 11th hard thing about living in Paris…. the subways stink and is messy….

    Have a good evening ;)

  • colleen says:

    I love your list. I live in New York, and I feel the same way about putting myself at least a little together to go do an errand. But I like that. It makes me feel optimistic about the day–I look good so I’m open to anything.

  • Michelle says:

    Hi Jordan, I am from Brazil and I have been living in Utah for the past 13yrs. I live in the suburb of Salt Lake and I feel the same way that you have to “fit in”. I believe that everybody tries to “fit in” in their community so they can belong to it. You probrably didn’t see that here because you were used to it. Anyway, all I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t see that as a negative side of France :) It is more like human nature to “fit in”. I love your blog

    • jordan says:

      Hi Michelle! I agree that it is part of human nature to fit in (everywhere), but it’s definitely more pronounced here. Even my French friends agree it is part of the French education and culture to conform.

  • Megan says:

    This post is great, it seems the pros out-weigh the cons immensly :) I vactaioned in Paris a couple years ago and have not been able to get it out of my head ever since. I would move there in a heart beat but I have heard the immigration struggle is crazy to deal with.

  • Jennifer says:

    I am coming to paris this summer, so it’s great to read your blog. Have any tips on apartments to stay in while there (I’ve started looking at airbnb); even which arrondissement? Our MO is to eat a lot and walk around the Seine.

  • haha the milk think was definitely one of my biggest struggles of living in Paris. It still bothers me now.

  • Barbara says:

    You do know that you can buy fresh milk, right? I know because that is the only milk my nan used to buy and made us drink and I HATED IT!!!

    p.s I am a French expat’ who misses fresh baguette and French cheese and who definitely disagrees with number 4, the need to conform exists everywhere in the world, and especially in big cities. I hope you get to see more of France during your second year.

  • Karolina says:

    Definitely agree with you on pros and cons. I used to live in Paris for a few months.
    I speak French so my fitting in was less painful I guess…but Parisian attitude is rather hard one to get used to…And I mean specifically Paris, somehow in other parts of France it’s different. To cons I would add: ridiculously expensive rent and parking. Pros: shopping at the markets, walks at Montmartre (when there are no tourists ;), sitting in Jardin de Louxembourg reading book and watching people passing by….. Gosh , I think you made me miss Paris little bit :)

    Little a propos… my boyfriend’s French is not the best so he struggled while living there. However he was trying his best. He’s coming to the shop once and in his best French asking: “Parlez-vous anglais?”… the answer comes back : “Mais, vous parlez francais” ;)

    Bonne chance!!!!

  • I’d live there for the cheese alone!!

    xo
    Rachael
    THE PARADERS

  • I lived in London & another area in England and had similar pro/con lists. I remember our tiny kitchen, our washer/dryer (yep combo in one!) that barely functioned, going to the laundromat, seeing dairy especially eggs not refrigerated in grocery stores (just stuck on the shelf) and of course taking all day to do a few errands. I was a child and teen/adult for part of the 10 years so it was both magical and difficult all in one.

  • Katrin says:

    I have not lived in my ‘home’ country since leaving school and moved a number of times, including to France, twice, so I can relate! Leaving home to live in a new country is always daunting, and it’s often difficult to adapt, and there are just so many things that are done differntly! But that’s a chance to learn, and enjoy the differnces, as I think comes out nicely in your “love list”. I can relate – I also loved the bread and hated the poop and the strange idea they have of customer service…

    But the milk thing? I know that there is UHT (long shelf life) milk which French supermarkets keep outside their fridges (as I suppose the Frenchies do too). I find that weird too, but not because it’s not cold – rather because it tastes weird. I never buy this stuff! Look for the fresh milk which is kept cold, and tastes MUCH better anyway!

  • Alexa says:

    I agree with you 100% on the vacation time. And well said about what they expect from their government. I think we need some of that fire here. We seem to have fire, but it is wildly misplaced. Small little vent I guess.

    Thanks for posting this. We lived in New Zealand for one year and the funniest thing: for the first month we had NO IDEA what they were saying and they speak English! Haha.

  • Carolina says:

    Love hearing about all your adventures and advice about living in France and traveling.

  • Amanda says:

    Hello there! I just discovered your blog, and just love it. I must tell you how much I admire the fact that you and your family went to Paris to just…live beautifully. People don’t do things like that anymore. What ever happened to living for livings sake to soak in the beauty of a city and cherish the little things that you discover along the way? I hope you and your loved ones are soaking in all great art, yummy food, and stunning people. I hope one day my little family and I will be as brave as yours and move to our favorite city {Paris}. Keep the posts about the city of light coming, I adore them  By the way, what do you recommend when eating out with small kids when in Paris? Last time I was there two years ago, it was quite frowned upon…

  • Alessia says:

    I can definitely relate to your list. I lived in Paris for a year about 7 years ago and it was the best time in my life. It took me about 4-5 months to adjust, and I think one of the hardest things for me to get used to was the fact that everyone had to fit in. It really caught me by suprise that people were like that since it’s such a unique city. My husband and I just retunred from a vacation in Paris, and it felt like I had never left. I’d love to move back one day.

  • Cousette says:

    What an interesting post! As a french girl, who lived 10 years in Paris, and is now expatriate in the Netherlands, I can relate to a lot you say. French bread and cheese (and french food in general) is of coursewhat we miss the most here. When I was in Paris, I didn’t find people were so well dressed: when I moved to a little town in the French Alps, not far from Italy, I thought that women would dress much more nicely there… I guess everything’s relative in the end… And I also used to complain as a working mother, I thought it was not made so easy for us… But now that I live in the Netherlands, I can realize that the french public services are so much better than the dutch ones! And if you think French people are rude… well I feel that we are extremely polite and kind compared to the Dutch people who like to describre themselves as “direct and frank”! ;-)

  • Emilee says:

    I loved reading this list. I’m working on moving to Paris to be an au pair in September. I speak only basic French and the city terrified me when I visited in August, but once I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about a way to get back. The only thing that scares me now is going through the visa process.

  • LAURENE says:

    Hello Jordan,

    Very interesting post I have to say and as Blandine said above (I’m French and live around Paris too), the subway here is awful, I hate it! Driving on the périphérique or downtown Paris is also the best way to hate Paris….! (that’s why I live in the suburbs:)
    But as it’s the Chandeleur today, you can add to the pros : les crêpes!!!! (with Nutella of course.. and bananas… and chantilly:))
    I hope you’ll add more cons in the upcomming year!
    Good luck!

  • Thanks for your interesting post, I’m glad you mention the bread very high on the list of pros, as truly great bread is probably one of the material things I miss the most here – I moved from Paris to… San Francisco on february 14th 2011, perfect mirror of your situation! And it’s weird not to be able to buy milk I can keep in the cupboard for when I need it, and in small amounts :). I always put it in the fridge before drinking, though.

    And indeed, I appreciate that for the first time, my laundry is actually dry out of the dryer – but the first time I used a washing machine here, I didn’t even know where to put the detergent!

  • Jessie says:

    Love this list. Thanks for sharing with us what it means for a foreigner living in Paris.

    Good post.

    Jessie
    http://www.mixandchic.com

  • Cathryn Ramsden says:

    Haha. I am a Brit, living in California and I miss UHT milk SOOOO badly. It’s so useful to have in the cupboard, especially with a toddler!!! But a great list that made me giggle.

  • Gina says:

    Jordan, what a nice post. I love your positive attitude and I am positive you are getting the max from your time there. I can relate on so many levels — I moved, as an American, on the “two year plan” over 10 years ago to Sweden. With time, you really have to decide that happiness about where you live isn’t an “or” question — would I be happy here OR there — it’s an “and” I can be happy here AND there. You have to stand in your own shoes and live life and it’s really wonderful the way you express it. Since our lives includes to much Sweden and so much France — I can also observe so much conformity and rules in both cultures and then, with time how they’re looser with other. I love the idea in the US that we can be whoever we want to be and to embrace our uniqunesses — I’ve found that no where else in the world. That feeling stemming from exactly this and living abroad is indescribable until you’ve done it; having children abroad — same thing — in describable. There is so much good to be had from the experience but that doesn’t mean it is painless. (oh…. the frowny face!) I have no regrets with our international life style (living in Sweden with my husband’s famiy in France, as well — so I recognize much of your Paris analogy) and hopefully giving our kids the chance to truly be: citazens of the world. I definitely see the gift we are giving them. For me, every day that I live abroad is filled with something new and a new puzzle. Even though I live abroad so comfortably, it’s still foreign. (And I agree about the washers and dryer!) Nice post! Thank you for sharing.

  • amy says:

    your photos and text make me yearn for an early morning croissant, french cheese, and music in Paris. maybe one day…

    seriously, thank you for inspiring.

  • Pilar says:

    I love this post! I used to live in Rome and even if I love the city there are a lot of things that are horrible and you can’t speak about them without being unpolite…you know, you’re so lucky to live in Rome and you’re always complanning, bla bla bla

    Regards from Spain froma loyal but silent reader!

    secondopilar.blogspot.com

  • kristi says:

    I really love this! I visited Paris for work a few years ago and had an awful experience, I didn’t speak the language and no one could be bothered to help me!

    I think there are struggles with living in every place or even visiting – but there are also good things to embrace. I’d take learning french for 10 weeks of vacation a year! :)

    Many of the loves I wasn’t aware of and it’s eye opening to see. I just really liked this! :)

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • in australia we have both fresh and long life milk. you CAN refridgerate it.. I think it tastes better cold. But it can be stored in the shops sans refridgeration… kinda the best of both worlds no? I buy fresh milk normally but have the longlife milk for emergencies (ie running out of milk and it is a lifesaver sometimes. Gotta look at the positives I suppose ;)

  • Sarah Richardson says:

    I totally forgot about the dryers. I remember that now like it was yesterday. It would seriously take all day to wash a dry a load or two.

    I am so completely jealous and read your blog often. Someday I will follow in your footsteps and move back to the city of lights again!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.