Monday, 9 June 2014

My Real Life in France

Taking inspiration from Eyelean and Den Nation, I've decided to follow the latest blogging trend and write a little overview of my very ordinary life in Paris.

We live in a one bedroom flat on the eastern side of the city. It's not particularly charming; in fact, architecturally, it reminds me more of my student halls of residence than anything else. However, what it lacks in that department, it largely makes up on in practicalities: we have a lift, bike storage and could have taken a parking space too but we're so close to all kinds of public tranpsort that having a car would be totally pointless. Our neighbourhood is pretty mixed, with a fairly equal balance of social housing, private renters and owners, and there are lots of families and  different nationalities here. You see the odd bit of anti-social behaviour (mainly kids doing things they shouldn't be doing), and plenty of the stereotypical but unfortunately not idyllic Parisian dog dirt, but in general it feels safe to me.

Like most people in Paris, our big inconveniences are high property prices and long commutes. It's more or less impossible for us to move closer to work and still live in or close to Paris without it costing us a fortune, so the result is that between us we spend well over 4 hours on public transport every day ... and that's on a good day. (This probably explains why a disproportionate number of my posts about Paris go on and on about the metro and the RER... sorry about that!) Another thing that annoys me from time to time is the quality of the supermarkets - having a full-time job and a budget to stick to means that doing everything in small local shops is impossible, but without a car to get to the big out-of-town hypermarkets, we're stuck with the local Franprix or its competitors, with high prices for very ordinary products, not much choice and the slightly dubious smell towards the end of the freezer department.

On the upside, I've really come to love the eastern side of Paris. Unlike the west, which feels soulless and uber-rich, and the centre, which stresses me out because it's always so busy and crowded, the eastern arrondissements are, in general, very human. There aren't many major tourist sights, but we do have good everyday shopping, fun places to go out around Bastille and the canal, and pretty green spaces like the Bois de Vincennes and the Promenade Plantée, which all help to keep me sane. 

Then there are moments in my life that really do make me feel as though I'm living the Parisian dream. Strolling through the Marais on the way home from work and meeting friends for wine and an assiette mixte on a weeknight, for example, or rollerblading beside the Seine on a Sunday afternoon. To counteract the stinky Franprix, we buy most of our fruit and vegetables at the market and pop into the boulangerie roughly every other day.

Finally there are advantages which are more to do with convenience, like being near to two international airports and a twice daily collection for oversized rubbish, (Can you tell I moved house recently? In the suburbs the les encombrants could only be picked up once a fortnight!)  but these are more to do with being in a big city than specific to France, and certainly wouldn't pop into anyone's mind as they dream of their future expat paradise.

So, on balance, do I feel that living in France has catapulted me into a dream lifestyle that I would never otherwise have known? At the end of a long day of working and commuting, where there hasn't been so much as a glimpse of the Eiffel tower or Notre Dame and all Understanding Frenchman and I can do is collapes in front of the TV after a quick non-gourment dinner, then answer to that would certainly be a resounding "no". (In fact, on reflection, I think that being very rich and not having to go to work would go a long way to allowing me to live the dream, which probably explains why it is just a dream for the vast majority of people!) On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that living on the eastern side of Paris offers a good balance of beauty, interest and remaining in touch with reality, and I've realised that all of these things are important to me. Life here certainly has its gritty moments, but most of the time it's good!



  1. It's very interesting for me to hear your feedback on la vie en France. I'm sick and tired of Hollywood portraying it as a cross between Amélie Poulin and Moulin Rouge!

    (What is an "assiette mixte"??)

  2. Assiette mixte is charcuterie AND cheese, as served in all the best wine bars :-)

  3. Ah Paris! For sure a place I love to visit... and then leave. I think that the RER + metro + housing prices would make me hate it. But some of that is true for big cities everywhere.

  4. Wow, twice daily, I had to make an appointment to get my stuff taken away! (Fine by me though, I think it was only once a year at home, or you had to pay.)

  5. Ha - it is interesting to see real life in Paris. It doesn't sound dissimilar to my real life in Canada!!

  6. I remember when I used to go up to Paris once a month for work - if I didn't do the food shopping at Franprix as soon as I got out of work, there was nothing open once I arrived in my town after a my RER ride+20 minute walk home from the station. I can't believe you spent 2 hours+ a day in public transport! How do you find the time to blog or do anything else? How does anyone is Paris have the time to enjoy being in Paris?

    Zhu's comment about Amélie Poulin got me thinking. When I watched the film I never considered the reality of the character's probable financial situation. Now all I could think is: there is no way that Amélie would be able to afford a place like that in the neighbourhood where she lives. If I remember correctly, in the film she has a full kitchen!

  7. This is almost exactly how I feel about my life in Milan.... Whilst I am lucky to have a car and a short commute to the office, I often think that if you work full-time, sit in traffic, have to budget, collapse on the sofa in front of your favourite HBO series most nights, have bills to pay etc., you might as well be anywhere!
    I once wrote something on Facebook about needing a holiday and someone (obviously quite clueless!) responded "Why do you need a holiday if you live in Italy?".....
    Wasn't quite sure where to start with that one!