Saturday, 12 January 2013

Paris vs Suburbia

I was recently asked to give advice to a new colleague who has just arrived in France and is looking for a flat. We work out in the suburbs (the nice ones - I avoided the word banlieue in the title because of its negative connotations!) and the question that was put to us was, when you are young and child-free, isn't it better to live in Paris? I am usually happy to share my opinion about just about anything, but this was a subject particularly close to my heart, or at least to my current reality. In my first job in the région parisienne, I was encouraged to live close to my work, and as I had to travel between suburbs as part of my job, it was a good idea, otherwise I could have spent my whole life on public transport. I don't have to do that anymore, but my flat was still conveniently located for work, so I stayed. (My flat is also charming and comfortable and has a fitted kitchen and an inside staircase, so it's very hard to leave.)

Understanding Frenchman, on the other hand, works in central Paris and has lived in the city for years. He has a spacious apartment near the metro which is so well-insulated that he never turns the heating on and which he would also be very reluctant to leave ... on the other side of Paris. And the thought of doing that commute twice a day (almost an hour and a half each way, on a good day) is just too much for me. So this is a subject that we talk about a lot.

My reasoning has always been mostly practical - I'd rather jump on the RER and occasionally run for the last train home when I'm motivated to do something fun in Paris than be forced to crush myself sleepily into its sardine-can carriages every morning and evening. I appreciate the city's beauty far more when walking around it tranquille on a Sunday afternoon than when I'm lugging my shopping home from one of its tiny, cramped supermarkets on a weekday evening. And if you choose in the right place to live, the RER runs several times an hour right up to well past midnight.

But sometimes I wonder if this is something I'll regret in later life. Maybe if I lived in Paris, I'd spend more time popping into its tiny, quirky bars for a quick after-work drink. Perhaps it would be nice to be able to do some shopping on the Grands Boulevards of an evening. In the summer, I might get off the metro a few stops early and watch the sunset over the Seine on the way home. Perhaps in the future it won't be an option and I'll regret not doing it when I was young.

What do you think? For those of you who live in Paris, is it an experience that everyone should have, or does the stress of the daily grind quickly overshadow the magic? And for those of you who don't, would you like to?

5 comments:

  1. I grew up in a very central location in Nantes and I walked everywhere, I never took the bus, just the tramway sometime. It was a shock when I arrived in Ottawa because most people live in the suburb, downtown apartments are quite rundown (unless you can afford a condo...). We live close enough to downtown though, it's only a ten-minute drive to Parliament Hill. Public transportation suck though, it usually takes me about 45 min. for the same trip!

    I think as long as you live close to public transportation, settling in a close suburb makes sense. And as long as they are a few amenities nearby, like a supermarket (or a bureau de tabac and bakery in France).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Zhu, you're so right. Transport is definitely key. If I wasn't close to the RER (and some nice bars) I would probably feel quite differently about my little town.

      Delete
  2. Hopefully this doesn't offend you (!), but IMO, living in the suburbs means all the disadvantages of Paris with almost none of the advantages. (I don't count the few suburbs with metro lines in that argument). There is something to be said for being able to just walk all over the city whenever you feel like it, to not have to be the first one to leave the party before you turn into a pumpkin at midnight, and to be able to spontaneously meet up with people for happy hour or dinner.

    However I guess you are in a different situation since you work out of town...it also depends on if you are a big city person or not. Though there are definitely neighborhoods in Paris that still have a small-town feel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sam, no I'm not offended at all - I'm really interested to hear different opinions on this subject. It's true that being able to walk home after an evening out is nice. I remember you posting some pretty late-night pictures on your blog.

      Sadly, in my old age, I have a bit of a tendency to turn into a pumpkin at midnight anyway and it's pretty rare for me to regret having to leave to catch the last train home. I have run through the corridors of the RER after midnight a few times, because missing the last RER is definitely a bigger problem!

      Delete
  3. It's not paris... But I love being able to walk almost everywhere I want to go in Tours. Growing up in Auckland, with crap public transport and an hour's drive to the city centre on a bad day, I really appreciate it! Plus no worries about sober drivers.

    ReplyDelete