Ever since I was little, I had those ‘vintage Paris’ posters hanging in my room, the fantasy in my head, and even an Eiffel Tower bedspread. What I didn’t have was like, you know, a grasp of the reality of actually living in Paris. Because let’s face it, there are things I learned in Paris, that I couldn’t have learned from a textbook or even a well-crafted memoir. Some things you have to learn for yourself.
Nevertheless, from the age of ten, I did little things and made small changes that would eventually enable me to fulfill my dream of living in Paris, at least for a year. I chose a university course that allowed me to study abroad and studied even harder. Before I knew it, in August 2015 I was packing a couple of suitcases and hopping on a plane to Paris. So what did living in Paris for a year teach me about the city of love?
#1 Everyone and their grandma will have some advice to give you about Paris!
“Oh, there was this one time I was in Paris in the 60s…” As much as I love hearing stories like this, I truly believe that the best way to truly get to know a city is to get a little bit lost and discover new and exciting things for yourself. Plus, the city is constantly changing, even advice from six months ago can quickly become out of date.
The best way to get to know Paris is to do just that; get lost, explore, wander (read: take your camera), and find little oases in the heart of this time. For example, this one time we got lost on the way to Buttes Chaumont and ended up stumbling on a hidden Paris Vineyard. The charm of Paris is that each time you discover something new about the city, it feels like you’re the first person to discover it for centuries!
#2 The Eiffel Tower isn’t really in the center of the city.
I guess everyone thinks that the Eiffel Tower must be at the center of the city because it features in about 99.9% of tourist brochures for the French Capital. I know I thought this… In reality, the Eiffel Tower is actually situated in the West of the city and the real center is at Notre-Dame. There’s even a little plaque in the center of the Parvis de Notre Dame known as Paris Point Zero. It’s from here that all distances in France are measured.
#3 Everything is sent by post (Par la Poste).
And when I say ‘everything is sent par la post’, I mean literally everything. That time when I wanted to cancel my phone contract? Par la Poste. And when I wanted to cancel my rental contract? Par la Poste. Even though this can be super inconvenient at times, like those times when a document is particularly time sensitive, I think it also adds to the charm of the city.
I mean, how many other cities in the world encourage you to take lunch breaks where you genuinely have the chance to enjoy your meal, or where sitting down for a coffee and watching the world go by has become an art form in itself?
#4 French guys are just regular guys (who speak French)!
Everyone has these romantic notions about French men. I mean, I get it, their accents are gorgeous. However, I went on Tinder dates when I lived in the city, spoke to guys in clubs and the reality was that the men were, for the most part, like the guys at home. Some guys are great (like my boyfriend- aha, I hope you’re pleased I’ve mentioned you) and others only want one thing (sigh).
#5 You have to really try to learn French.
As soon as you open your mouth and are halfway through that first ‘Bonjour,’ the waiter/ shop assistant will suss out that English/ American/ Candian accent you’ve been trying to hide like a James Bond spy. And just like that, your cover is blown.
The reality is that you really have to make an effort to speak French and hone your language skills, because most people you meet (especially in the touristic areas of town), will be 100 times better at English than your French is. And, let’s face it, it’s all too easy to slip back into the easy familiarity of conversing in English.
#6 Bread, patisseries, and Wine Taste better in Paris!
There’s this saying that goes ‘everything tastes better in Paris’. Okay, I don’t know if that’s actually a real saying but it’s true nonetheless. I don’t really know what they do to those baguettes, but they taste like a little bit of heaven. And don’t even get me started on the macarons (side note- macarons weren’t actually invented in France). Plus you can bet that when you leave the city of light, you’ll soon be craving that €3 glass of wine you had under the heated lamp on the terrace, or that freshly baked baguette you shared with your best friend.
#7 Always buy a metro ticket or update your navigo (a weekly or monthly pass that allows you to travel anywhere on Île de France).
You can go months in the city without seeing a ticket inspector and it can make you lazy and not want to spend your money on tickets. However, after months of seeing no controllers, suddenly your tickets are being checked twice a day. After watching people get €50 fines for a €1.41 journey, you know it’s just not worth jumping over that ticket barrier (no matter how tempting it may seem!)
#8 There are a ton of free things to do in Paris!
Paris can be expensive, particularly if you only stick to the touristy areas. However, if you look hard enough, there are a million and one free things to do in the city. Some of my favourites include visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery (final resting place of Heloise and Abelard) and wandering around Montmartre.
#9 People say it how it is!
There’s this horrible myth that French people, particularly Parisians, are rude and arrogant. I wholeheartedly disagree. Instead, I think that this reputation has probably stemmed from the fact that Parisians are honest and tell it like it is- which there’s nothing wrong with. Besides, what’s wrong with a little straight up no BS once in a while? If you make a little effort to speak French (even simple things like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’), then people will be polite and you’ll get by just fine.
#10 You start romanticizing the city whenever you leave.
I genuinely think my Instagram feed paints a better picture of the city when I’m away from Paris than when I’m actually living there! Just like every other city, Paris has positive and negative aspects. From a whole load of culture (on the positive side) to the constant smell of pee on the metro (definitely a negative), there are too many pros and cons about the city to list. Paris is a lot like a city of Marmite; many people hate it and even more love it…