As we have come upon our year and a half anniversary of moving to Paris, we have noticed many comparisons from living in Los Angeles versus Paris. I’d like to share the ones that I find challenging and downright ridiculous.
The biggest one is life without a car. In LA, we spent so much time in our cars that it created an insulated feeling. In my twenty plus years of driving in LA, I’ve rarely had to deal with public transportation. Things like worrying about being pickpocketed, or having a man stand too close to me weren’t an issue. If it’s hot or cold outside, there’s air conditioning or a heater to keep you comfy. Life in Paris means you have to be prepared for the weather and many times that means dealing with a hot, crowded bus or giving up all personal space. One the flip side, I do love that our family spends more time together going for walks, or renting scooters for the weekend to explore new neighborhoods (and mostly Invader hunt).
It has been freeing to not spend so much time stuck in miserable traffic.
These new Jump bikes by Uber just appeared on the streets and we love them. The bikes are electric so you coast along. The two issues with them is you have to use the Uber app to rent them and I am the only one with an account so I can only rent one bike at a time. They are also more expensive than renting a scooter so we don’t use them often.
Spending a day riding a bike would be tortue in Los Angeles because of barking dogs, very few bike lanes and brutal hills. In LA, many people would have dogs as guards so you can’t walk down the street without getting barked at. Since people don’t have yards here, dogs are kept as pets and are trained so well that they don’t need leashes. I was amazed at how you don’t hear incessant barking here.
It feels like French people have a better quality of life because they go outside more. They are used to sharing their space because people don’t have their own private backyards so they go to public parks. The French are more inclined to help someone because it’s the right thing to do, rather than just being a bystander.
That being said, there are rude, overly aggressive drivers and motorcycle riders that make it dangerous to walk on the streets at times. Jaywalking is law here, you never wait for the light to change and most times when cars are stuck in traffic and they are blocking the crosswalk, after the light changes, they still drive against a red light even if you are walking. Then they shout at you and throw their hands up in frustration as if walking on the green light is somehow the wrong thing to do. It’s annoying as hell.
A majority of Parisians live in apartments so the lovely old buildings all share garbage bins. Our building has about 12 units (two on each floor) so that’s a ton of garbage. But the trash is collected everyday except Sunday. There are two trucks that come by for regular trash and glass bottles. It was hard to get used to the daily traffic jam on our tiny one-way street as the trash truck slowly collects all the bins at 5pm. It’s incredible to me that a building with 12 apartments have as many bins as we had for our small house in LA!
Which leads me to one of the biggest annoyances about living abroad. We rented our apartment from an English speaking rental agency. Along with two months deposit we paid a hefty 6% agency fee. The apartment manager, who handles repairs, apartment issues and acts as a liason to the person that owns our apartment, is absolutely savage. She speaks English but for some reason only communicates by email in French. We have been waiting to have our interphone (the phone that allows you to buzz people into the building) repaired since May 2018!!
Little did I know (I admit, I was too enamored with renting a dreamy apartment in the perfect location in Paris) that I didn’t think to ask about the building itself. We don’t have a gardienne which is someone who lives and works in the building to take care of the upkeep and renter matters (collect deliveries, deal with broken things outside of the apartment, helps you if you get locked out)
Similar to Mme. Madeleine in Amelie
We moved in without any info on what to do when a package is delivered, so I learned the hard way by going to three different post offices looking for my package that most deliveries in Paris are dropped off at a nearby shop that have a sticker on the door that says Chronopost. For our first year here, this shop was in front of our building and even though they were terribly disorganized, we got to know the shop owners and it wasn’t too difficult to find our packages. Then suddenly the shop closed and a new business moved in that didn’t accept Chronopost packages. I asked our kind neighbor where to pick up deliveries but he didn’t know. Most times, I get an email or text with an address of where to pick up my package. It’s usually in walking distance but sometimes it’s a long bus ride away. Not so convenient for me and it would be wonderful to have someone in the building that can accept our packages. I should add, we pay a monthly building fee to cover the trash, water and elevator costs, yet when our building’s front door was broken, we were locked out for ages with no one to contact to let us in. The door was repaired and everyone got a new key but I paid for an extra key and I’ve been waiting for about three months and still no new key. There was also a time when the building was having work done to the exterior and the electricity was out in the stairwell. It was pitch dark and it was the first time I felt scared in the building. I wish I could go back in time and had the girls who checked us in the rental explain the building procedures, who to call in an emergency, what the trash policy was (we didn’t know which bin was for recycling) and how to handle deliveries. It’s all very figure it out yourself here but God help you if you make a mistake! If I had the legal right to work here, I would be the concierge of our building since I’ve home most of the day (would love a discount on our rent) but the language barrier would be too difficult.
French people I have encountered are either extremely kind and helpful or short and rude. That is my personal experience, not making a generalization. For example, we were at the parc de la Villette which is a huge park along the canals which have cute boat rentals. We saw a kiosk of park employees so we asked them where can we rent the boats. Her response (and keep in mind, Liv asked in French) “Over there” while vaguely pointing to the empty canal sidewalk with nothing there. I asked Liv to ask her to clarify where she meant. She merely repeated herself. So we walked over to the only thing she could have meant which was a sign post on the empty canal path.
We figured if we waited there maybe a boat would come along and we could inquire about renting it, yet all the boats were on the north side of the bridge and we were waiting on the southside with no boats in sight. After waiting for 15 minutes we gave up. I also remember during a flight to Amsterdam on Air France, we left the gate late so I was concerned about making our connecting flight to Tokyo which was a fast 40 minute window. Since we were already late, I asked the flight attendant when would we be arriving? He looked me dead in the eye and said “The usual time!” and walked off in a huff. We ended up having to sprint through the airport and beg to cut the line in security to make our flight. This is the French way, employees do not make it a habit to provide customer service of any kind. It’s so frustrating because of course we Americans are used to “the customer is always right” attitude but I am well aware, this is not America and I need to adapt not the other way around. I just try to be patient and not lose my temper. Olivia is a Godsend because once people hear how good her French is, they quickly change their tune and usually are more inclined to help. It sadly hasn’t been the case with our apartment manager.
I crack my Mom and bff, Aimee up with my horror stories of how I get treated by people here. The joke here is you can’t ask for help but God help you if you don’t know the rules. I try to take it in good humor but there are times (remember the La Redoute mattress fiasco?) when I don’t think I can stand another minute of the abuse and I lose my shit.
This was the car I rented this summer when we hosted our friends from Finland. I asked for a car to seat six and this is what they had. They sent me to the basement to pick up this beast and as you can see I wasn’t fitting in the doors. Luckily I was able to ask a guy washing cars to pull it out for me using sign language but it’s things like this that drive me crazy. I barely made it out of the parking garage without hitting the mirrors in this huge Volvo. In LA, whenever I rented a car, the people at the rental agency would bring the car out to me. Spoiled, I suppose. The guy at the rental place also called me to pick up the car early which I gladly obliged. Then as I was checking out he tried to add an extra day charge on the rental because I was returning it after 3pm. I tried to explain calmly, that he asked me to come pick the car up early but I still needed to return it at the time I requested. I seriously had to argue with him over this. What kind of logic is that?!
Yet, the coin always has another side. There are so many delightful advantages to living in France. Things I never really appreciated in LA, like the architecture. I know everyone thinks California is so beautiful and it is, but it has thousands of beige, stucco strip malls full of tacky signage and billboards on every corner. I liken LA to the internet, you really appreciate websites without annoying ads plastered all over the page (yep, WordPress has ads all over my blog now 🙁 ) so when you find a clean, advertisement-free place it’s so pleasant.
It’s still my favorite thing just walking around and looking at the (non-neon) signage of Paris.
The French are well known for their amazing cheese, wine and universal health-care. Yet our latest experience has me scratching my head. Now keep in mind, we are American citizens with the good fortune to live here on a long stay tourist visa, but now that Antz is unemployed, we pay for our own health insurance policy from America. Which means we pay out of pocket and can submit a claim with our insurance (but with the large deductible, we don’t) so far, it’s not as expensive as we would pay in LA. In August, we took Liv to the doctor for her annual check up and wanted to make sure all her vaccinations were up to date before school started. Since we weren’t sure of what the French school system required, we asked the doctor for an update. He spoke English and had a medical student with him during the exam. They did the basics, checked her heartbeat, measured her height and weight. We asked about an issue she had with her ear but he needed more info from our pediatrician in LA so I had to email him later. He told us, she was up to date on her shots until she was about 12 years old and that was it. €75 to listen to her heart and tell us she’s tall and healthy. I was pretty stunned that we were charged that much for nothing. I emailed the doctor twice to follow up with him about the ear thing and got no response. It’s amazing how professionals will never call you back or email you when they say they will here. Well, hopefully next year we will be able to apply for French healthcare so we shouldn’t have to pay too much in the future. Thank goodness we don’t get sick often (knocks on wood)!
Funny story, last week we were coming from an appointment with our immigration lawyer and Liv and I took a scooter home. We were ahead of Antz who happened to notice a woman on the street looking at us with recognition. He knew she looked familiar so he asked her if she knew us. Turns out she was Liv’s second grade teacher from her French school in LA! She moved back to Paris and was teaching and she saw us riding by on our scooter. Antz texted me to come back and we took this photo. She was impressed by Liv’s French and so excited that we were living our dream in Paris. It’s totally a small world!
And lastly, I get it guys, I count my blessings everyday I am here. It is a dream come true. Please don’t think I have some entitled, bratty, close-minded attitude when it comes to living abroad. I am completely open to this new culture, new ways of doing things and having a “go with the flow” attitude. I just want to be transparent and share some idiosyncrasies that I have encountered.
Do you have any tales to share about life in a foreign country?
France still has the prettiest cleaning supplies.