paris, france - anonymous' reflections after years there in their 40s

posted by anonymous on 05/07/14.

4

How much time have you spent in Paris?

I more or less moved over here in 2007. I spent 2009 working in Amsterdam but the rest of the time has all been spent in Paris, so it's coming up on seven years in Europe.

How old were you when you came to Paris? Where were you before?

I was 44 when I moved over here and I came from the Bay Area. No kids, no property and never been married and I KNOW I never could have done this if I checked the boxes for 1 & 2.

What brought you to Paris? What made you choose Paris over any other place you could've gone?

Good question. A little background first... October 2007, I had just gotten laid off from my Silicon Valley job. I was planning on leaving of my own accord around the first of the year as I was burned out and, more specifically, totally frustrated because there was absolutely no room for advancement nor was there any place to go within my old company. So, rather than leaving on my own, I got a nice severance package. Now I could afford to take a bit of time off to decompress and recharge my batteries a bit.

Initially, I thought I'd go to Australia as it was summer, I have a good friend in Sydney and I thought I would go up to Cairns and do some scuba diving out on a live-aboard on the Great Barrier Reef. As I'd just been there in 2004, I was a bit reluctant to go back so soon when there are so many other places to go. Weird, one Sunday night I was 80% going to Australia and, within 24 hours, I was 80% going to Paris. A big part of what changed was that I forgot that I knew how to travel cheaply. I looked into dollar vs. euro and found it not too bad. Secondly, I remembered apartment rentals are significantly cheaper than hotels--especially for a significant stay.

So, I came to Paris as a tourist for seven weeks, extended my stay and extended it again--all because I KNEW that I could not only survive over here but thrive too.

What are the people of Paris like? In what ways are they different than people in other places you've lived?

One of the first things I discovered was this myth that exists in the US, and later, I found out, in the UK as well, about how rude and snooty the French can be. I've always had a basic belief that people are either good or they're assholes--regardless of race or nationality or any other factors. Moving here really re-affirmed that idea, to a large degree. I found that, if I made an effort to speak French rather than being the Ugly American, I got such greater positive responses and had greater interactions with the locals. I found the French really like Americans and that it's more frequently frustrating for them to deal with Americans with whom they have difficulty communicating, i.e. French-speaking Americans vs. English-speaking French.

One thing that's definitely noticeable to me is that there is not this undercurrent of fear that is so noticeable to me in the US. After 9/11, fear became everything and it's still very pervasive. Over here, I don't feel that at all. There aren't the huge numbers of guns nor are people anywhere near as aggressive nor as arrogant. I went back to the US about 18 months ago, and I had a couple of minor confrontations whereby, with one guy for sure, I really thought he was going to pull a piece and start firing. Crazy. Sure, there are guns over here but nowhere near the saturation levels and there are real penalties for using them, so people who do have them don't use them.

How did your race, nationality, gender, accent, etc. affect how you were treated or how people reacted to meeting you in Paris? Positively? Negatively?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the French, and Parisiens in general, genuinely like Americans. Again, this goes counter to the myth of the snooty, arrogant Parisien but, all in all, I found a positive level of acceptance here. The French have a very long history of being a sort of haven for the dispossessed. Look at Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and other African Americans who found the French openness and acceptance refreshing and liberating--especially in the eras of which they left the US for France.

How did the language barrier affect you (if it all)?

Huge, huge, huge. My French is not so great. If I weren't an IT guy--which truly is an English-based profession, then I don't think I would have lasted here at all. It's not that I don't try to speak French or anything like that, it's just that so much of what I do is in English. Since so much of computer technology has its roots in the US and in English, so much of the available documentation is in English. So, I think in English, my clients are anglophones or they speak very good English, if they are French, so sometimes, I just don't have too many opportunities on a day-by-day basis, to really get out there and mix it up with the French. Add my age to the mix and the idea that it's much more difficult to learn a foreign language as one grows older, then it gets to be quite daunting, to say the least.

Do you have any observations or stories to share about dating, relationships, gender norms, or sex in Paris? Or any impressions of how these things are different in Paris than in other places you've been?

Funny. I've dated a few French women in my time over here and no, I don't really have much to add. Some of the differences and/or challenges can be very nuanced. Granted, I've not ever been one to use blanket labels, i.e. Italian women are always like X or French women never do Y. I find such perspectives extremely limiting and unfair. People are much too diverse--even within individual cultures--to ever accurately say things like that. I try to see individuals as just that, and not part of a cultural subset. However, I do have this sense of Latin women which does seem to hold true, and that is this idea of them being fiery and passionate. Granted, this is based on a specific ex of mine here in Paris, who is half French and half Sicilian. However, this is a more nuanced distinction in that it's more towards a certain regional bloodline, for lack of a better term, kinda thing as opposed to a geographical or nationalistic sense of characteristics.

Specifically regarding sex, I find that the French, as a whole, don't seem to have anywhere near the hang-ups that Americans, in general, have. There seems to be a greater level of openness and acceptance as sex just being a natural part of life rather than this Puritanistic viewpoint that sex is dirty, shameful and unnatural. The other thing about this, is that some forms of predatory sexual behavior seem to be more tolerated here than in the US. For instance, I think that women have a tendency to more reluctantly tolerate aggressive sexual advances from men than they would in the US. I think the basis for this can be somewhat attributed to a sort of victimhood with some women in the US as opposed to the idea here in France that, yes, men do and act creepy but so what. Just shut 'em down, discourage 'em and go on. They don't seem to dwell on it too much. Some of this comes from this French ex who had a colleague expose himself to her at work. She more or less read him the riot act, told him to get bent and pretty much moved on. She did report it at her job, there was a disciplinary action taken, I think, and that was pretty much it. I'm not really sure as it happened before she & I were dating.

Any social/cultural advice for others who might come to Paris? How do people in Paris socialize differently than other places you've been?

No, really no advice and it's mainly because I don't really blend so well here in Paris. Much of French socialization, for the younger folks, takes place within the cafés and with alcohol. Since I don't drink, and I'm not really one for hanging out with others who are drinking, I don't have much to offer within this context.

Does your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities? Are you able to afford a better standard of living than in other places you've lived, or able to afford less?

Good question. Coming from the Bay Area, I'm used to things being fairly expensive--especially rents and other living necessities. However, I've not owned a car in more than six years and I've driven very little over here. I find this to be incredibly liberating as, as is too often the case, I've found myself being owned by the car and not vice-versa. The quality, diversity and high-availability of mass transit here in Paris--and France and Europe too--does a great deal to enhance the livability of the area. Everything is so much more accessible, it seems, and quite cheaply so because of the metro, bus, train, tram and bicycle systems cheaply available to everyone.

What things were more expensive than you are used to and what things were cheaper?

It seems to me that some food items can be quite expensive but I have to constantly remind myself that, when buying produce, the weights are in kilos and not pounds. I see a euro figure and think, "Damn, that's expensive." Then I halve it for the kg to lbs conversion and then realize the price isn't so much after all. Again, there wasn't a whole lot of sticker shock for me moving over here. One thing that constantly blows me away, is the absolute localization of so many things. Bakeries, or boulangeries, for instance, are everywhere, constantly baking fresh bread all day, every day. And a fresh baguette can be had everywhere for 1.00 - 1.20 euro. Coming from the US, where there are so few fresh bakeries as to be an anomaly, it's amazingly refreshing.

How much was an average rent for an apartment? A beer at a bar? A meal at a restaurant?

Not such a clear answer to a fairly simple question. As tenants have many more rights over here than in the US, frequently renting apartments requires that one's dossier be so much more solid before the landlord will take a chance on that specific tenant. When I moved into my current shithole of an apartment, I had no papers so I had to take a "furnished" apartment. The point being that an apartment falling under the "furnished" category gives the landlord a different set of rules than if the apartment was empty. For instance, it's illegal in Paris to evict anyone from 15 October to 15 March because of the winter weather. One would never hear of such a thing in the US. Anyhow, coming, again, from the Bay Area, I'm used to paying $1000 or more for a one bedroom apartment, so it's not a shock that I'm paying 850 euro for a smaller studio. Even if I had the dossier, there's not a whole lot of money I could save if I were able to rent an empty apartment.

As for beverages and meals, it's quite fairly comparable to prices in the US. There are some practices here in France/Europe that Americans find awkward. For instance, café workers are paid a livable wage, so they're not dependent upon tips to sustain them. Take that out of the mix, and suddenly, the need to turn a table over as often as possible no longer enters into the equation. So, it's not unheard of to sit at a table in a café for hours without having spent more than a few euro. The employees don't care as they're being paid the same either way and, I think, it's considered extremely rude to rush anyone. The French are much more relaxed and ritualized in their daily routines. For instance, if a Parisien goes to take a coffee, they're not going to get it to go--they're going to sit in the café and drink their coffee and leave only when it's finished. Although there are the dreaded Starbucks here in Paris, they're not very often frequented by the French.

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