Life in Paris

3 Surprising Things About Moving to Paris

This week’s guest blogger is the wonderful Elizabeth! Elizabeth is a new expat in Paris, just beginning her adventures (and mishaps!) in France. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, she is a writer and marketer by trade and a wine and cheese lover by passion. It only made sense to start her blog, Another Américaine in Paris, chronicling what happens next in the land of croissants!

3 Surprising Things About Moving to Paris

When I decided to move to France, I knew things would be different. I knew there would be things that caught me off guard. I knew there would be all sorts of confusing, odd, and wonderful things to figure out.

I also knew that, ultimately, France is a civilized country and some things just wouldn’t be so strange. People go to work, live in apartments, buy groceries, spend time with friends – they live their daily lives just like anyone else. How different could it be?

And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Oh Elizabeth, how silly. Of course it’s different. It’s France. It’s foreign. They buy their groceries at little shops and boulangeries and patisseries!

Yes, it’s true. The French shop at the local boucher, the boulangerie next door, the fruit stand across the street. Those are not the things that were surprising.

Here are 3 of the most surprising things I discovered when I moved to Paris:

Grocery shopping is relatively normal. Until it’s not.

That is, big grocery stores still exist and you can go to them and find everything from cookies to fresh vegetables to a new toothbrush. Whether you’re used to a Market Basket or a Morrison’s, your nearest Monoprix, Franprix, or Carrefour is going to more or less be familiar territory.

But here’s the difference – the food looks like food! Natural, unprocessed, quality FOOD! In the U.S., we like our food to come nicely prepackaged in Styrofoam and plastic wrap, fully cleaned and stripped of any evidence that the item was, at some point, alive. Here? You know your saucisson or filet was relatively recently living and breathing. And the fruit (especially bio – organic) looks irregular, off-shape and different colors, so starkly unlike the ultra-consistent, over-engineered fruits we see at home. So refreshing!

You have a relationship with your banker.

Not just your bank, but a particular person at a particular location. This is something that struck me while discussing anything banking-related with my boyfriend while he was in Boston. He regularly said he needed to call “his banker” about this or that, and I often remarked that it was strange. At home, I can – and have! – set up a bank account entirely online, no humans involved.

Here in France? You’re expected to set up an appointment and sit down in an office with a specific person who, after discussing your needs, becomes your dedicated banker whom you are to contact with any future questions or needs. I suppose it has its upsides, but I miss the independence and privacy afforded by banking entirely online (and being able to solve your own problems at any time or day of the week, not dealing with those pesky French hours).

Nothing happens quickly and no one cares if it’s a problem

With only 2 weeks to go before I up and moved to France, our landlady emailed us to say the apartment had been sold and we couldn’t move in, despite our signed contract. Did she care? Not at all. Did she know sooner than that? I guarantee it.

After we hustled to secure a new apartment, we finally moved in only to find that the heat didn’t work. It couldn’t have been more than 10°C in here, and yet when we called the Heating guy, the soonest he could come was a full week out. Neither the landlord nor the technician seemed to mind that we were freezing (and had to leave because it was too cold to sleep in the apartment!).

At home, the land of customer service and I WANT IT NOW!, neither of these things would have happened. And if they did? You would make a lot of noise until they were resolved. In fact, there are laws to invoke if, between the months of September and June, your heat is not working. You would never be left out in the cold (pun intended).

Bonus: Sundays

Why is everything closed on Sundays? Banks and things, sure, but shops? If you work all week long, when else are you supposed to go shopping if you need something? And don’t get me started on closing grocery stores…

Overall, I very much enjoy living in Paris so far. Not that it’s been long, but I don’t have many complaints. I’m fortunate in that I have my own French man on retainer to handle all the complicated things, so I’m not trying to sort them out on my own. We’ll see what the future brings for other surprising, weird, and exciting things that are all part of life in France!


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