It was late Tuesday afternoon and the rain had finally cleared after days of on-and-off drizzle. It being my day off, I decided I should probably get out of my stuffy apartment and enjoy some fresh air, perhaps read my book in a park. After deliberating on which park to go to, I finally decided on Le Jardin des Plantes because it was only a 30 minute walk — I didn’t want to have to take the métro.
When I arrived I was glad I made the last-minute decision to pack my camera. There were still some flowers in bloom and the light was peeking romantically from the clouds. Tourists were taking pictures of each other, little old ladies were out for a stroll and there were even two middle aged men admiring the flora on the opposite side of the flower bed. I actually ended up in a very unusual but nonetheless pleasant conversation with the two of them. This conversation eventually led to a fortune telling session with the coffee grounds from a Turkish coffee I drank in a nearby café. It’s a long story and you’ll just have to wait until I write my memoirs to know more. But when I walked back through the garden on my way home that I evening I couldn’t help but smile at the strange yet beautiful things that can happen anywhere and anytime in Paris. And if the medium I met in the park is right, I just might stick around long enough to experience all of the quirky delightful happenings the city can throw at me.
The worst part about my stay in Rome was the fact I was only there for about 24 hours. We knew it was going to be very hot and we prioritised going to the Amalfi Coast over staying in a busy and scorching hot city. However, I knew that being in Rome for such a short time would mean that I simply have to return when it’s not peak tourist season.
I really did love my time in Rome (despite the 40 degree heat) and I was impressed with how many places I actually managed to see. This is partly thanks to the beautiful Italian family who had hosted my friend many years before. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with them before they squeezed our pizza-filled bodies into the car to give us a nighttime tour of the city. The stops included everything from the Vatican and the place where Julius Caesar is believed to have died, to the best gelateria in Rome. Although I did manage to check most of the tourist sites off the list, I found the most pleasurable things to be wandering the narrow streets, admiring the quaint façades and stopping for a coffee (er, Aperol Spritz) and watching people go about their days.
While my encounters with the locals were limited given the whirlwind nature of my stay, I found the Romans to be happy and relaxed people. This brings me to the conclusion that in order to find true happiness, all one needs is fresh pasta, gelato and plenty of sunshine.
Yesterday officially marked being in Paris for one whole year. 365 days sounds like a long time, especially to live in a foreign country. Yet I feel as though it was just a couple of months ago I was standing on the footpath of a narrow Parisian street with my suitcase watching the taxi drive away and wondering if I had made a huge mistake.
While the year has had its fair share of ups and downs, I can say for sure it was not a mistake. It’s actually the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had so many new experiences and met great people. Through all this, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt a lot about people, being an adult, France, my own country, and the eternal cliché, I’ve learnt a lot about myself.
So, here is a list of just some of the things Paris has taught me:
- How to stop caring what other people think about me*: The French may have a certain air of “I don’t care what you think of me, I do what I want”, but after further observation, I realised that a lot of people in this city are painfully self-aware and insecure. This isn’t the rule for everyone — some Parisians really are genuinely care-free and comfortable in their own skin. But being able to remark how much happier those were in the latter category, I decided that life was too short to stew over others’ opinions about me. And the fact is, there are so many people in this city, if I do something stupid or embarrassing is anyone really going to remember it? *: Or at least make a conscious effort
- I can actually do anything I want to: Moving to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have a job or place to live and where I didn’t properly speak the language seemed like a near-impossible feat at times. However, once I actually did it and realised that it wasn’t so bad after all, I felt liberated. It showed me that with even the most difficult things, the real obstacles are only in my mind. Of course, I’m lucky to be in a situation where I can afford to buy a plane ticket, pursue any career path I like and walk city streets alone at night.
- The value of money: Oh boy did I take living at home for granted. I knew it would be difficult financially to live in Paris but I didn’t realise just how much money I would spend every month. Renting in Paris is very expensive, and when compared to Australia, much worse value for money. For example, 800 euros a month could get you a 14m2 studio apartment on the sixth floor with no elevator, no washing machine, dodgy plumbing and possibly a shared toilet in the corridor. It also makes me realise the best things that I can spend my money on. Making memories with friends and seeing more of the world are priceless.
- How to stand up for myself: Paris can very often be a cruel and hostile environment; everyone is only looking out for themselves and people aren’t very trusting in general. I’m not saying this is a constant state of affairs, but it does force me to stop being such a pushover sometimes. Especially living with roommates, I’ve learnt that some people will take advantage sometimes… And that’s not OK.
- I need to be proactive: This stems from number 4 in that people in Paris have a habit of thinking about themselves a lot. For this reason I not only need to stand up for myself but go after what I want and let people hear my voice. This is something that I’ve learnt mainly from living alone as a 23 year old. I am in a point in my life where I want to do so many things, but my mum isn’t going to help proof-read my resumé and cover letter anymore… It’s time to be proactive and decisive in my actions.
- My parents are right: OK… I don’t want to give anyone a big head here, but parents don’t just have years and years of life experience for nothing. When I think back to what my parents taught me about health, relationships, work ethic, money and even happiness, only now is everything that they said starting to make sense. I’m lucky to have parents who have good values and have only my best interests at heart. A lot of their advice to me used to be met with an eye roll and a dismissive “Yes mum, yes dad…” but while I don’t like to admit it, all their advice has helped me so much in understanding the world and my place in it.
Now, I’m not claiming to be some authoritative and wise spiritual nomad who has found the meaning of life in Paris. Um, far from it. I know I have so much left to learn and I am going to continue to make mistakes, a lot of them painfully embarrassing, no doubt. But I have to say that experiencing a different culture for a whole year has widened my perspective on a lot of things.
Being in my early twenties, I’m really glad that I could experience this at this stage of my life. It’s another thing I’ve noticed about people who live in Europe.—because it’s so easy to travel to other countries, it’s really common for young people to go on exchange, learn a new language, live for a few months in a place they have no previous connection to… And I can see that these kind of experiences help people to be more open minded and culturally sensitive. I can only hope that it becomes more common for young Australians to do the same.
It’s all about being Seine-side during a Parisian summer… When the city heats up, everyone heads to a body of water – no matter how murky or suspicious.
And that’s what I did this weekend. It’s nice to slow down a little and take some time for myself. I am still thigh-deep in French administration, but I’m accepting this as a perpetual state. So, I have made this a weekend of lounging in parks by the lake, perching myself on a sun-drenched terrace on a warm evening, picnicking with new friends and admiring the view from the river Seine.
And it’s clear — this is actually what Le Parisien does with their weekend. Hordes of people turned out at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, worshiping the sun in bikinis and even boxer shorts. A stroll in the Jardin des Tuileries with an ice cream in hand is also a favourite warm weather pastime. But nothing quite beats apéro along the Seine — speakers blasting, corks popping, laughter chiming… It’s the start of summer in the city.
Spring is settling in nicely in Paris… We’ve already had days perfect for picnicking along the Seine. And I’m (finally) starting to settle in too. A new apartment means a few administrative tasks have been taken care of, or are at least in the process of being taken care of.
On the one hand, it’s been about seven months since I left Perth, and I do miss my life there. But on the other, it feels like my life here is only just coming together. There are times when the big city is just so chiant that I want to transport myself to a sunny spot on the sand of Mullaloo Beach.
Take the day I took these photos, for example. I’d planned on enjoying a stroll around the city on my day off, but it didn’t take long for me to feel “over it” after walking past someone vomiting on the footpath at 10 o’ clock in the morning, being grabbed on the arm by a man on the street who said something in an eastern European language I didn’t understand, and an encounter with a homeless and obviously mentally ill man who was mumbling incoherently and flicked an elastic band on my arm. En plus, I was feeling a bit down after having my wallet stolen in the metro the weekend before because – let’s face it – Paris isn’t that enjoyable when you don’t have any money.
However, I still appreciate all the lovely (and simple) things about this city. There’s no shortage of great exhibitions, live music, good food, and sometimes all you really need is a baguette, some friends, maybe a bottle of wine, and a square of grass in one of the many beautiful parks.
Ah, gay Paris. The city of light and love, beauty around every corner you turn.
… Well, why that is true some of the time, Paris can also be a city of bizarre social paradigms, loneliness, overpriced lattes, and a whole lot of bureaucracy. Having lived in Paris for almost six months, I feel I am somewhat qualified to make the following observations about the subtleties in the differences of Parisian and Australian culture (in some cases not so subtle). It’s not all accordions and croissants, after all. So, if you’re considering relocating or simply holidaying in the beautiful French capital, there are some things* you should know.
*This is by no means an extensive list…
- Your hair will be in a constant state of oiliness from the pollution as well as smelling like other people’s cigarette smoke.
I wash my hair at least every second day in Paris and dry shampoo is my new best friend. I can recall many times when I have washed my hair in the morning, feeling fresh and ready to start the day, only to walk outside of my apartment block and straight into someone else’s smoke cloud. It gives a lovely odour of stale cigarettes for the rest of the day.
- You will be asked your “origin” every time you speak to someone new in French.
Speaking French with an accent, or making some slight mistakes, often ignites the curiosity inside every Parisian. “What’s your origin?” they will ask, which by the way is a fairly normal question in French. And while it’s nice that people want to learn more about me or are just indulging in curiosity, all I really want to do is just buy this nail polish, finish this conversation with the sales assistant and get the hell out of Sephora.
- Strange men will approach you on the street and ask you out… without even asking your name.
Dating culture is fascinating, isn’t it? And while in Paris it’s still seen as a bit out of the blue to ask someone on a date in the street, it’s happened to me about five times in four months. Yet during my whole life living in Australia, I don’t think it happened once.
- The world of French manchester won’t make any sense.
A place where quilt cover sets don’t come with the standard pillowcase dimensions… where that practical and familiar 73 x 48 cm of comfort is nowhere to be seen. Instead, you’re stuck with 65 x 65 cm of often flat and impractical pillow. And the humble flat sheet? What on Earth is that? ‘Tis the French way to simply have a fitted sheet to sleep on and a quilt on top. Now, maybe this is making things too simple, but I believe that with a flat sheet, you can free yourself of excess heat that a quilt gives during summer, and provide extra warmth in the winter. Not to mention, you don’t have to wash your quilt cover as often if you wash only the flat sheet.
- The once simple task of picking up a bottle of wine at the supermarket will become a very overwhelming experience.
But… what are all these varieties? Why does the wine section take up half the space in this tiny convenience store that’s barely bigger than my bedroom? And why is the wine so cheap, does it mean it’s bad? The answer to the last question is no, probably not. But I will never know the answer to the former two. Qui sait…
- Finding reasonable accommodation is a lot harder than you think. Like, a lot.
I could perhaps dedicate an entire essay to this topic alone, but I will try to keep the rant to a minimum. Unless you are very rich, finding an apartment that is actually inside Paris, doesn’t have a shower in the kitchen (or a shared toilet in the hallway), is at least 14 square meters and has a proper window can be a real challenge. After five months in the city, I still haven’t found a permanent place to live. The rental and even flat sharing market is so competitive that landlords can charge what they want and stretch the laws when it comes to deposits, guarantors and the rent itself. I believe it’s because once someone successfully makes it into an apartment, there are rules that make it so hard for the landlord to get them out when they don’t pay their rent. Which brings me to my next point…
- The French love their bureaucracy.
Oh, you want to set up a bank account? Well first of all, you need to book an appointment with a consultant (and wait half a lifetime on the phone to do so), then if you’ve only just arrived in Paris and are staying with a friend, you need that friend’s photo ID, a copy of a bill addressed to them and their signature on an attestation form. Not to mention a stack of documents on your behalf. Then in about a week or so, the bank will mail you login details for internet banking, then about two weeks after that you should receive your actual bank card in the mail. If you want to change your address? You again need the aforementioned documents but this time you need to mail them to the bank even though it’s right down the road.
Oh, you need a Carte Vitale? All you need is every document you’ve ever had in your entire life and about 12 months to wait for the card to arrive.
- Making friends with other expats will be so much easier than befriending Parisians.
I’m not quite sure why this is, but it’s true in my personal experience. It takes time for Parisians to open up to new people and build trust. Having said this, I imagine (and am told by my students) that once you finally do become friends with a local, the friendship is very strong. There are so many internationals living in Paris, who connect with each other through Meetup groups, forums, and other organisations. It makes sense — we are all new to the city and are looking for people with whom to share new experiences. Not to mention the language barrier can often be an obstacle…
- Good bread will become something you take for granted.
While visiting family in the UK, a standard lunch is a good ol’ ham/cheese/tomato sandwich. But once you’ve become accustomed to the crusty fresh Parisian baguette, the sandwich isn’t going to taste as good as you’d expected. You don’t mean to be a bread snob, but it’s not your fault if the humble Tesco roll suddenly loses all appeal.
It had been a while since my last aimless stroll around the city. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine… But, having a three-day weekend, I resolved to inject a little culture back into my life. Visiting the Musée d’Orsay for the first time, admiring the Parisian architecture, and rediscovering the Palais Royal. Yes, it’s no secret it’s very well-loved by locals and tourists alike, but it’s with good reason. It remains a calm retreat in the centre of the buzzing city, the perfect place to take une petite pause, read a book, indulge in a patisserie, or simply do nothing. And on this particular day, cold and rainy outside, the garden was empty save for an elegantly dressed woman, perched on a bench and reading a book, an old man sitting by the fountain with only his thoughts, two young men on their lunch break and many people just passing through.
It’s already half-way through January and I haven’t even had a chance to publish a blog post about all the “new year, new me” nonsense. Not that I was ever going to do that.
I will say, though, that it is a nice feeling to think about the year ahead in such a curious, beautiful and intoxicating city. The promise of opportunities, lessons learnt, the chance for a myriad of people to enter my life and change my perspective. So many stories yet to be written — the ones you tell the grandkids and the ones you keep all to yourself, their significance amplified by secrecy.
While it’s not a resolution per se, I’m reminded of the importance of living in the moment… and knowing exactly what that means.
I’m going to be honest and admit I’m not so sure I can survive winter in the northern hemisphere. It has been a cold start to November, and despite having Welsh made-for-arctic-temperatures blood, it has sent a jolt through my weak Australian-raised body.
But, I have to say, if I am going to endure a relentless winter, there’s no better place to be than Paris. After two months of seeing the yellow leaves gather at the base of trees lining the picturesque boulevards, I almost don’t mind that they will be bare for the next three months. Perhaps it’s the novelty, but there’s something romantic about being in a big city like Paris during the winter. Drawing the curtains in the morning to see locals out on the street as they come back from their morning trip to the boulangerie, fresh baguettes under their arms and faces protected from the frosty air by scarves. By night, people gather at the brasserie on the corner, laughing over a meal inside or rugged up on the heated terrace, drinking red wine and, of course, smoking cigarettes. It’s a time to explore museums, read a book in a hidden café, or shop for Christmas presents in the extravagantly decorated department stores.
OK, it’s almost definitely a fantasy conjured up by the part of me that takes Christmas movies too seriously and is a sucker for a Parisian cliché.