Sunday, June 23, 2013

16 things I hate and 16 things I love about Paris

I have lived in France now for nearly 4 years on and off, having spent the last year and a half in Paris. One of the things that I love about living abroad is learning about and soaking up a new culture (and in this case, learning a new language, as well) - I now really appreciate certain things (even little things) about life in the US that I used to take for granted or not even think about.  But there are also a lot of things about the French culture that I appreciate and will really miss when I'm no longer here.

Whenever I tell people from the US that I live in Paris, their eyes practically pop out of their head. Whether it is a friend of my dad's, a drugstore employee or someone on the phone from Verizon Wireless, people always tell me how jealous they are and that they would change places with me in a heartbeat. I always feel guilty and as if I am disappointing people by telling them that no, I don't love living here. Paris and I have a very strong love-hate relationship.  We have had a lot of ups and downs. So for every person out there wanting to move to Paris (I know that there seem to be a lot of Americans out there), you should know that, while this city is wonderful in a lot of ways, living here is not always a picture-perfect fairytale.

I will start with...

15 things I strongly dislike about Paris: 

1) The weather. La grisaille (greyness).  This word takes on a whole new meaning when you live in Paris, a city that is almost constantly covered by clouds, drizzle and cold.  My first summer in Paris, I kept waiting for it to get hot. The warmth never really came. Winter-like weather (well, minus the snow) endlessly drags on into May and June.  Sure, there are some warm summer days. But there are not nearly enough of them. For instance, it is now the end of June and today was 60 degrees fahrenheit (or 14 degrees celsius), windy and cloudy- last night I was absolutely freezing, wearing tights and a blazer.  Not normal. In Paris, no matter what time of the year it is, you must always come prepared with a jacket and an umbrella. Thunderstorms are another thing that I have barely experienced in the year and a half I've been in Paris.  I miss exciting thunderstorms - if it's going to rain, then let's do the whole sha-bang.

typical Parisian weather
2) Parisians. I have met some great people in Paris, but this is not an easy city to meet people in.  Truth be told, I have never felt more alone than while living in Paris, and I think it has to do with this fact. Even going out to bars is not easy to meet people.  For the most part, Parisians have their friends and stick to them and don't seem to care to branch out from that.  Don't get me wrong - most people are not rude - they are just not friendly. I guess any big city has this problem, but I think that this is especially true with Paris.  I miss warmth and friendliness from strangers. Happy-looking people and random smiles. Now, if a random stranger smiles at me, I get really creeped out. 

Even at parties, I have found that many people tend to stick with people that they already know. At one party where this happened to be the case, I frustratingly asked one Parisian why Parisians were so unfriendly and he claimed that it is because French people simply do not approach strangers (except maybe to ask for directions or something of the sort) - they have been raised to believe that anyone who does this must be crazy or very strange (and in France, they do tend to be!) 

3) The food. Yes, I just said that. Culinary capital of the world? Not so much. It's actually quite hard to find good food in Paris. Most of the time that I have been out to eat, I have been very unimpressed, eating food that I could have easily made at home.  I have found far more better restaurants in New York than in Paris - for cheaper. Unless you have a lot of money to spend, good food is pretty hard to come by here.

4) The gyms. I go to Club Med, a nicer gym located in Republique, a very central part of Paris. On Saturdays, it closes at 7. Except that at 6:30, the entire gym shut down. Even the steam shower.  What is the point of saying that you close at 7 if you actually close at 6:30? Also, paying 70 euros a month and not even having individual TVs with each workout machine? What is this business?  There are about two TVs in the entire gym and the only thing playing are the same advertisements over and over again and Club Med workout clips. And yes, this is one of the nicer gyms!

5) Lack of rooftop bars/restaurants. I only know of one rooftop bar in Paris (Wanderlust).  For whatever reason, they are lacking in this city. In terms of nightlife, I'm a huge fan of rooftop bars, especially during the summer, so this is a pretty big con for me.

6) Inefficiency. In some ways, France is still stuck in the 19th century. Get this, for instance: my bank will basically not serve me unless I go to my "agence" (found in a certain location). Everyone must choose an "agence", which is generally the place where you open an account - unfortunately, my "agence" is not located close to where I work, so it's not like I can just pop over on my lunch break. Also, for the longest time, I could not access my bank account because I could not find the codes to access them online (if I want to check my bank account, I cannot simply go to the bank, give them my card and get my bank account information - I have to have these codes...or go to my "agence"). But instead of being able to call up the bank and get the codes from them, I have to request that a letter be mailed to me with the codes. Nope, they can't e-mail them to me. 

This works for pretty much everything. I had to change the locks for my apartment and the fifteen minutes that it took to open the door cost me nearly 500 euros - fortunately, I got reimbursed for this through my house insurance - but in order to get reimbursed, I had to mail in the receipt, along with a letter explaining what happened. Once again, fax or e-mail is unacceptable. EVERYTHING in France has to be sent by mail so if you live here, you better get used to it.

7) The vibe (or lack thereof). Compared to other big cities, like London and New York (and even compared to smaller cities, like Toulouse), Paris doesn't have much of a vibe or energy. I'm not sure why.  The Economist seems to agree with me and probably explains it a bit better than I do...

8) Men. I rarely meet decent, nice guys here. The majority of heterosexual men tend to be a) far too effeminate for my taste b) sleazeballs with girlfriends that they are looking to cheat on c) only interested in one thing or d) all of the above. Nice selection, huh? If you are coming to Paris to find your Prince Charming...good luck. 

9) Smoking. I despise cigarette smoking. And in Paris, it seems that everyone smokes. Fortunately, bars prohibit smoking, but there is nothing worse than coming home from a party or night out reeking of cigarettes. Disgusting.

10) Homeless families. Paris has a ton of homeless people, which is never fun to see. But it's especially heartbreaking to see homeless kids or babies - before coming to France, I had never seen that before. Because these families tend to be all Roman (and not French), immigration laws prevent the French government from simply taking the children to an orphanage. Nevertheless, it's pretty upsetting to see and sad to think that the kids will probably all end up as pickpocketers. 

11) Everything shuts down on Sunday. In the US, admittedly things often close earlier on Sundays. But most places stay open - Sundays are a prime shopping day! But in France, everything shuts down on Sundays. And when you only have two days off on the weekends to explore the city or get things done, it makes it a bit more difficult.

12) The waiter culture. I miss friendly waiters and good customer service (which in France, is nonexistent).  I once went to a restaurant with friends and we waited for over an hour for our food, watching tables of people who came after us get served before - we continued to ask the waiter where our food was and instead of apologizing, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said "C'est comme ca." (It's just like that).  Not even a hint of sympathy on her face. Welcome to France. In the US, we would have at the very least, gotten a round of drinks for free. In the US, if a customer complains about the food, the rule of thumb is that the food is on the house. But definitely don't expect this to happen in France. I don't care if the waiters are friendly in the US only to get a tip - I'll take that over unfriendliness/indifference any day! 

I was in Nice a few weeks ago and our waiter was so incredibly friendly (he sat down next to us while serving us and said "How are you guys doing today? So this is how I'm going to talk to you, hope you get used to it...") He was extremely personable and friendly and I was practically in shock because that was the first time I had had a waiter be so friendly in France - well, guess what? He was American!

Also, in France, don't expect to have your glass of water refilled for you - you have to ask for each pitcher of water you receive (which means that if you are with a table of people, you will probably only have one glass of water...until you find the waiter again and can ask for the next pitcher).

13) Mexican food. Random, yes I know. But coming from the US, I am used to a lot of Mexican restaurants.  Since being in Paris, I haven't eaten Mexican food once, because I know of only one Mexican "restaurant" in this city- Chipotle. Umm yeah...doesn't really count...I miss filling up on delicious Mexican food over a margarita (with girlfriends of course).

14) Grocery stores. For the most part, I have no problem with grocery stores in France. They tend to provide fresher, healthier food than American grocery stores (no surprise there, huh?).  But there are a few things that bother me: firstly, you can't just leave a grocery store from the way that you came in. In many grocery stores, the entrance is immediately blocked off once you walk in, so that you have to stop by the cash register in order to leave, most likely so that, yup, you guessed it...customers will be less inclined to leave without purchasing something first. Kind of drives you nuts if you just go into to get one thing, don't see it and in order to leave, have to walk around the entire grocery store and squeeze through a dozen people waiting in line just to get to the exit. Also, for whatever reason, the grocery stores (especially the large ones like Auchan) seem to be perpetually crowded, especially on Saturday (this isn't just a result of capital-city madness either; I found the same to be true in Toulouse). Because the supermarkets don't have nearly enough registers for the throngs of people that flood their stores (or there is just no one working at half of them), waiting in line then takes about half a century. And there are not even any good magazines to entertain you while you are waiting in line (that's my favorite part of going to the grocery store back home! I will sometimes find the longer line just so that I can have more time to browse through the magazines).  

15) Innovation (or lack therof). Like I said, Paris is still stuck in the 19th century in a lot of ways - which in some ways, is good. For instance, I love that the bars and restaurants are so old-fashioned (see positive point number 13), but I also miss cool, exciting themed restaurants that are utterly nonexistent in Paris, like Gyu-Kaku (where you cook your own food) in New York or Dans le noir (where you dine in total darkness) in London.

16) Men peeing in public. If you see a puddle of wetness on the street or metro station of Paris, there is a 99.9% chance that it is pee. How do I know this? Because practically every time I walk down the street, I see out of the corner of my eye some man peeing. Wanna know the worst part? Not. even. discretely. Literally just peeing for the entire world to see, not even bothering to go somewhere private - in, I kid you not, broad daylight (I actually think I witness this more in the daytime than at night). And no, it's not just homeless and/or drunk men that do this. For whatever reason, peeing in public seems to be acceptable and not even frowned upon in Paris. 

But of course...there are also a lot of things that I love about living in Paris.

Things i love: 

1) Summers (when it's warm). When it's warm and the sun is shining, Paris is a hard city not to love. Walking along the canal or sitting by the Seine on a warm summer night are two of my favorite things to do in Paris. The fact that it stays light until practically 11pm means that even when getting off work at 7pm, the sun is still shining (if it's sunny out, because...well, it's Paris) and there is still 3 and a half hours of daylight left. Not too shabby. 

2) The way that everyone says "bon appetit." I love this. Food is obviously something that is very appreciated in France, so it is basically rude to pass someone eating (whatever it may be) and NOT say "bon appetit." Everyone says this to one another, even complete strangers.

3) Boulangeries. Bread in France is pretty amazing. Pain au noix (nut bread) = amazing. That kind of stuff just doesn't exist in the US (or anywhere else it seems!) - or if it does, it's pretty hard to come by. And bakeries on nearly every street corner is a pretty great perk of living in Paris.

4) Fromageries. On that note, the cheese is of course out of this world. Something that the US is seriously lacking is not only good bakeries, but stores dedicated to just cheese.

5) Wine. Another thing that France knows how to do is wine. Wine is so cheap everywhere - and good! They say that in France, wine is cheaper than water - before coming here, I thought that it was just an exaggeration - but it's not. If you go to a restaurant, the average price of a bottle of water is about 4-5 euros, while the average price of a glass of wine is about 3 euros.  There is even a bookstore in Paris that is part-bookstore and part wine-bar. You can order a glass of wine and then browse through their book collection. I love that.

6) Velibs, velibs, everywhere. Velibs are the Parisian bike service. There are bike stations all throughout the city (and even just outside the city), which makes it super easy to get around - because hey, if the metro or bus stops running, there are always bikes to take.  It's such a great way to explore the city, as well. I absolutely love biking in Paris on warm, sunny days. Bref: the bike service in Paris is one thing that must be adopted worldwide.

7) The markets. I went to the market close to my place today (one of the few things open on Sundays!) and I honestly don't know why I don't go there every Sunday. There is fresh, homemade food from France, Italy, name it! There is also an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables to choose from. What's even better? All of the locals go - so if you are looking for something very "French" to do, the markets (of whatever city in France you are in) are a must-do.

8) The work culture. Workaholism is fortunately a disease that the French did not catch - I love that they (unlike many Americans) know how to balance work and pleasure.  They take an average of 6 weeks vacation time per year (in August, the offices are pretty much empty), 1 hour and a half lunch breaks, and many jobs start between 10 and 10:30am.  On special occasions, wine and champagne are drunken at work - and it's totally normal to have a glass of wine or two while on lunch break.  People rarely eat at their desk - or if they do, they still seem to take some kind of lunch break. There is also not this strict line between personal and professional life like there is in the US - things blend together more.  Generally, the work culture is extremely laid back.

9) Picnics.  By the Eiffel Tower, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, by the Seine, in one of the numerous parks...need I say more? 

10) Montmartre, the Latin Quarter and the Marais. These are my three favorite neighborhoods of Paris and always remind me of how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful city.  Montmartre makes you feel like you are set a bit apart from the rest of the city, while offering breathtaking views of all of Paris. The Latin Quarter is so lively and fun to walk around in, and the Marais has so many small little streets with very typically French, adorable little restaurants (this is also where I have found the best restaurants).

11) The cave-like restaurants and bars. While overall, I have not been that impressed with the food in Paris, I do love many of the cozy, cave-like stone restaurants and bars, which are just so incredibly French. Just don't get this back home!

Like this adorable little restaurant...
Frenchie restaurant - Paris
Or this typically Parisian bar...
Le petit carré - Paris

12) Cafés. The cafés are such a typical Parisian thing. They always have seating outside and for people-watching, it doesn't get any better than this.

Les Deux Magots - Paris (a typical café)

13) Old-fashioned buildings/architecture. I love how old all of the buildings are and how much history is behind all of the architecture.  Whether it be apartments/houses, restaurants or doctor's offices, French buildings seem to have the perfect mix between the old and new.

14) Nighttime. I don't mean nightlife, i mean nighttime -  Paris is called the "city of lights" for a reason. At nighttime, the whitewashed buildings are aglow and it's absolutely magnificent (especially around the Hotel du Ville area and along the Seine).

15) Cheap produce. I love how cheap produce is in France (even in Paris!) - You can buy about 10 tomatoes for under 2 euros. I remember going to the grocery store in the US after having been in France for a while and I bought a big tomato - it cost me no less than 6 dollars. That was the last time I bought a tomato for a while...I have an inkling that  obesity is such a problem in the US partially due to the fact that produce is so expensive - if fruit and vegetables were cheaper, then people might not resort to fast food as much. In France, fortunately, this isn't a problem- especially since, with a small coke costing 2.50 euro, McDonalds in France is actually incredibly expensive! And we wonder why the French are so slim..

16) The Seine and the canal. The Seine just makes Paris that much more beautiful. I love how it divides the city and runs right through the center. I love sitting by it on sunny days or warm evenings and crossing the many bridges to the other side...

And let's not forget about the Canal, the boho version of the Seine. The canal may not be nearly as popular as the Seine (especially in the eyes of tourists), but it's still pretty cool. I like it because not only is it right near my apartment, but it's more isolated and discreet than the strikingly obvious Seine.  I love all of the restaurants and bars along the canal and, like the Seine, I also like sitting there on warm or sunny days. 

Canal Saint Martin 

All in all, Paris is indeed an amazing city. But it's not the city for me - in all of France, my heart still lies in Toulouse...