Paris, I Hate You, I Love You
It’s weird that I’ve never made one of those love/hate posts that every other Paris blog has. I gripe a lot so I feel like most people already know what I hate. Believe it or not there are a few things I love, but most people might question why. Here we go:
Love - The Rudeness
Most people call it rude, but I call it being human. I’m from Texas, which proclaims to be the friendliest State in the Union. When I got to France I had to get used to the concept of not smiling and saying hello, and making small talk with everyone. But once I did? Love it. We’re just all trying to go about our days. I have since perfected my “walking bitch face” and have grown my ability to look past people. I am a pretty oblivious person as it is, chronically incurious when it comes to other people, so I don’t pay attention to anyone or anything, and in Paris it’s great. No one expects me to look at them, acknowledge them, smile at them, or make small talk. I am an island unto myself. God bless the French for really leaning into that.
Hate - The Food
I know it’s sacrilege to knock Paris for food but really how much steak and frites do people need to eat? Every restaurant is steak and frites, steak and frites, ask the French to deviate away from jambon or a piece of beef flesh and I swear it can’t be done. Every menu is the same; entrecôte de bouef, magret de canard, cuisse de poulet, hamburger and salade.
I know I will get knocked big time for this but the food in America really is far superior. We have so many restaurants, and so much variety, you're spoiled for choice. I don’t know if it’s because we come from a nation of immigrants, but if I want to find another cuisine I’m going to find a native making it. In Paris when I wanted Mexican food I would usually get it from an Algerian owned “Mexican restaurant”. I even got Tunisian coke once which seemed like an insult. In Texas it’s quite common to go to a Mexican restaurant and get Mexican Coke served to you, most people request it (I’ve never understood the difference but people swear the Coke in Mexico tastes better). I’m just saying, if you want choice, and variety, Paris isn’t it. You can find “French” food, but good luck with Sushi for instance. Most sushi restaurants are Chinese owned, and don’t even offer traditional Japanese food. I hardly ever found a restaurant in Paris that was exceptionally great.
Love/Hate - The Weather
I come from a climate where the sun is out 360 days a year. 70 degrees is considered “cold”, and winter is one week in January. So I always thought I loved the rain. I mean I like rain (from the inside of a house), but Paris takes it to another level.
I’m pretty sure the average is that it rains 95% of the time in Paris. And that city is so bipolar. It will be sunny one minute, grey the next. The weather changes literally every hour. And while I adopted the French concept of never using an umbrella and just dealing with it, some days I would have liked to go one day where my shoes didn’t get soaked. I stopped wearing suede all together.
It never really rains that hard, it’s always like a sprinkle or a drizzle, but the city is perpetually damp, and Paris in the rain is even more depressing. It’s like your whole world is grey. After a few months of being there I really started to notice the vitamin D deficiency (remember my body was used to daily vitamin D), and it really affected my mental health.
Love - Walking
I come from a place where everything is at least a 20 minute drive. Coming to Paris and being able to walk everywhere was heaven. I walked to work, I walked for fun, I walked and walked because I could. Paris is so tiny that you can walk the entirety of it, end to end, in one day. At one point I was so poor that I could not afford to get to work in La Defense so I would walk from my apartment on Haussmann. And walking really is the best way to explore Paris. Another way is to be like me and change apartments every 3 months, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Hate - The Hours
As an American we are all about ‘convenient’. I’m pretty sure our whole purpose in life is to find the most convenient way of doing things, and part of that convenience is 24 hour openings. There is nothing you can’t get 24 hours a day.
In Paris most things close at 7 or 9, and they stay closed on Sundays. Some boulangeries are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays though. It really depends on the owner. In August everything is closed for the month (or sometimes longer), in December it’s closed for two week, and let’s not forget all of the holidays. During the strikes things were closed for whole weekends during a period of a months. It’s really up to their discretion and can become a headache if you aren’t aware beforehand, which you won’t be.
Another thing that completely boggled my mind? Closing earlier than the hours stated. If you plan to roll up at Franprix at 7:45, good luck. They usually close the doors and refuse to let you in. Not all. Again it depends on each store, but most of the stores close earlier than advertised. This was a complete shock because one of the things you are taught as an American child is “you have to let me in as long as I am there at the stated hours”. If you roll up 2 minutes to closing they can’t close the doors, and they can’t kick you out. People will stay 20 minutes past closing shopping in an empty store because you can.
And lunch. Most restaurants close between 2-6pm everyday. I’m one of those people that takes lunch at 3, and I could never find a restaurant to deliver to me because they were closed for midi. If you want a restaurant that serves ‘non stop’ you’ll have to go to the tourist areas or eat fast food.
Love/Hate - Restaurants
I am someone who rushes through a meal. I eat and I’m done. I don’t need to camp at a table. In America it’s evil to camp at a table.
In Paris/France spending all day sitting at a table, and only ordering one 2€ espresso is perfectly fine. If you’re someone who likes sitting at a table and people watching, it’s perfect.
The hate is the proximity to others. Again, America, large restaurants, lots of space, you’re in your own private world. In France you’re basically having dinner with complete strangers. And it’s weird because you don’t talk to each other, but you’re only 3 inches apart so you know everything because you hear everything they talk about. It’s awkward af. When my ex and I would eat out we wouldn’t even talk to each other because the people next to use were so loud that it wouldn’t matter anyway because I wouldn’t be able to hear him. And I didn’t care to have people ease drop on your’s. I hated that we always had silent dinners.
Love - Public Transport
In America public transport is gross. And if you have to take it, it means you’re a poor, who can’t afford a car, and being poor is for lames. If you have ever tried to take a bus in America you will know it’s a gross, nasty, inconvenience.
In Paris? The bus is great. I loved the bus. I strapped in and let the city pass me by. You can see so much from a Paris bus window.
I have a love/hate with the metro, but I will concede that it’s fantastic to be able to hop on, and in 15 minutes you’re where you needed to be. This probably isn’t the case for larger cities, where it takes longer to get around, but in Paris, it’s quick, it’s convenient, and it does the job. The only gripe I have is during rush hour when you're packed together like sardines, and your face is basically in some dude’s neck, but I just push, and shove, and I can get off. Nothing puts a smile on my face like shoving some asshole out of the way who refused to move. Couldn’t pull that off in America.
Hate - Societal Rules
The French are known as being “rude” but in actuality there are a lot of rules you have to follow. You have to greet everyone when you enter an establishment. I know it doesn’t make sense for a culture that doesn’t like small talk, but you will be considered rude if you don’t say “bonjour” and “au revoir” upon entering and leaving.
Also social rules and the French language. I won’t even get into that because I rarely had that issue, but the French language has a lot of rules, and if you don’t speak French perfectly, you will get ignored. Most of the time they just started speaking English because they were like "I'll give you a pass and speak your language since you can't speak mine". If you don’t address someone formally, they will be affronted. There are just so many landmines when dealing with people. Maybe that’s why they decided not to do small talk all together, they figured it was easier just to be rude.
Love/Hate - The Parks
I’m not sure why people love the parks in Paris, but I grew up with a different definition of what a park is. In most of the parks you can’t even sit on the grass (they come at you and blow their whistle), especially not from October-April. If you have kids, good luck finding playgrounds. The Champ de Mars is your best bet. Luxembourg is a pay to play. I think most people in Paris are just starved for grass and in turn think any place with a square mile of it is great.
I get it. I lived in Paris for two years before I had to travel to Malakoff one day, and saw grass growing between trees on a side walk, and was like “what is this strange green substance?”. It was weird seeing grass again for the first time. I imagine for Parisians who spend their lives there, being able to look at grass from afar is better than nothing.
Love - The Cleaning
Every day the city is cleaned. You’ll see them come out with hoses and brooms, or the little trash sweeper trucks. The city gets cleaned regularly, and it was one thing I loved to see. I get that they have to because Paris’ reputation is it’s beauty, and it’s not going to be beautiful with trash everywhere, but it’s a gentle reminder that the French do something good.
Hate - Toilets
I don’t like using public toilets as it is, which I know is a very bougie American thing, kind of like having to replace all of your toilets when you move in to a new place, but at least if you need to use the restroom you can find one.
In Paris there are toilets around. The sanisettes, mostly around the tourist spots, but not always. One time I was walking with my friend Colin. He used to like to spend all day just walking around the city, we’re talking like 15km a day. Anyhow we were near the Petite Palais and I had to pee so badly I walked in just to use the restroom. Not a bad place to use them, but still, you shouldn’t need to find a free museum in order to go. And not that you would ever want to use them, because the metro is dirty as all hell, but you won't find any down there. It’s no wonder dudes pee behind the vending machines.
I remember once I was coming home and I was walking up to my building’s entrance when I saw a lady squatting between two cars. No idea why since Luxembourg Gardens had a sanisettes like 75m from my front door, but yeah... it’s no wonder the city doesn’t smell more like pee.
Taxes in France are high. Really high. Making things a lot more expensive than in other countries. But as an American I’m used to calculating tax for everything I buy. If I’m in line for the registers I’m already adding the % so I’ll have an idea of what the total will be.
But in France no calculating tax! It’s so beautiful. I loved picking something up and paying that exact amount when I got to the register.
Hate - Strikes
There is a strike constantly. I lived near Luxembourg around Port Royal and literally every week there was a strike going down Blvd Montparnasse. When Gilets Jeunes happened Rivoli was shut down all of December, high Christmas shopping season. Last winter RATP decided to strike for a month. Luckily I didn’t need to take public transport so it didn’t bother me. But Jesus sometimes I wonder that the French are far too selfish for their own good. They say they are striking to improve conditions, but in reality they are causing everyone a massive headache because they, for instance, don’t like Macron’s concept of saving the economy by having people work two more years.
Love - The History
In America new is best. We love tearing things down and making something newer. Having new means you have the best. In Paris, my first apartment was on Île Saint Louis, in a building that was 400 years old. It stunk like damp, but I loved that it had history. Most of the buildings in the Marais also have that damp smell as well, but they’re buildings that have withstood time. It’s made me start looking for homes to buy in America that are only made before 1940 (cheaper and more beautiful architectural details).
Hate - Making New Friends
That is just one hurdle I never got past. Despite being an introvert, I am a naturally social person. I get on with everyone. It’s just always been something that comes easy to me. But I never developed close friend relationships in Paris. Maybe I never had the opportunity to find people I had things in common with, maybe it’s the French exclusivity that keeps people from breaking into French friend groups, I don’t know, but this is one of the biggest gripes of expats.
Love - The Seine
Water makes me happy. I don’t know why but I have always chosen homes near water. It’s a weird personality quark. I need to be near a river, lake or beach, if there is one in the city I’m in. Paris was no different. When I first moved to Paris I strolled the Seine every night at 2am (jet-lag and in February). And when I could I would just sit on the banks near Hôtel de Ville. It was my happy place.
Love/Hate - the Pollution
Air quality in Paris sucks. But I feel like I got used to it pretty quickly. I’m from a city, country air is only something I got on the weekends, holidays, and during summer vacation. Pollution doesn’t really bother me, even if it should. The love is for the days the pollution is too high, and the metro is free to encourage people to stop using their cars.
Love - Free Healthcare
I always got numerous tests even when I didn’t ask for them. I strolled in, saw my doctor, and strolled out. It’s a weird feeling not needing to fill out forms, and provide my insurance card, or pay.
Love - Vegetables and Fruit
They just taste better in France. There isn’t even a debate. Pretty much everyone the world over agrees on this.
Love - Complaining
The French love to complain, and I grew to love complaining too. One thing we both agreed on was complaining about France. It kind of goes against the American optimism that was instilled in me from birth. Now all of that has been replaced with French pessimism. Being pessimistic and nihilistic is so much easier, and requires less energy.
Hate - Work Life Balance
I didn’t work like a normal French person works. I mean I did have a corporate job for a while, but I mostly worked 15-30 hours a week the rest of the time. I put this here because I hate the myth surrounding the idea of the 35 hour French work week. It’s a myth. They have a saying in Paris Metro, Boulot, Dodo (commute, work, sleep), and most of the people I knew could attest to that. They would go into the office at 9am and not leave until 9pm. Sure they could take a long lunch but they rarely ever got home before. Factor in a 45 minutes commute on the metro and you’re like is not your own. The French being lazy really is a myth because they work even more hours than Americans (we get off at 5 or 6 in America). I guess they have to make up for those 7 weeks of paid vacations somehow.
I’m sure I could keep adding to this list if I keep thinking about it, but for now that’s what I’ve come up with. I hate to keep banging on about the negatives of Paris, but I really do feel like no one ever talks about it, and it creates an unrealistic idea for people, who then get to Paris and feel bad because they don’t get the same experience that the people who love it did. If we all stopped saying “Paris is amazing” and treated it like every other large city, maybe we’d allow people to go in with a clean slate. Don’t know, just a theory.
But also the most important thing; Paris is different when you live here. How Paris is when you're a tourist is not how Paris will be when you're a resident. It seems nice on a visit, but once you live here it's a city like everywhere else. Just prettier.