PARI SUR PARIS
Updated: Jan 28
Paris is more than a big tourist city, than the French capital, than the centre of fashion and beauty. It is more than all that because it is a way of life. Some people are "chosen by Paris" because they were born or grew up here, but others choose it themselves for a job, education or the Parisian dream. Either way if you stay here, you become a Parisian.
It's been four years that I am living in Paris, which is not a very long time, but my love story with this city dates from much longer. I came here for the first time infatuated with a Parisian guy ten years ago and fell for the full package - the guy, the city and the language. Russian native, with no European residence permit, speaking no French, I told myself then that one day I would live here. My path was not straight though: I first lived in Sweden and England for studies, then finally chose a master program not far from Paris to get closer to my both loves - the boy and the city - but the first one dumped me and the second seemed farther than I thought as I lived on the campus of my business school in the suburbs. I then got invited to work in Dubai where I met my husband who happened to be French. Three years later we finally settled down together in Paris. During the three years that we spent here, we have lived in three flats ranging from 23 m2 to 65 m2, have gotten married twice (with a civil and a religious wedding), have changed two jobs each and finally have had a baby. I have seen the positive and negative sides of Paris, I love this city deeply and I am ready now, having accomplished my dream, to leave it for now or for ever. But before, let me tell you more about this city, if you as I once, are dreaming about living here one day.
CULTURAL TREASURE CHEST
Paris is a cultural centre with about 130 museums (read my article "Rendez-vous in a museum"), more than 100 theatres, endless exhibitions for every taste and much more - you will be spoilt for choice here. The most difficult part is to choose and to get a place. So as not to miss the start of the theatre ticket sale for example, it is better to sign up for reminders with the theatre directly or you can get special deals with the websites selling tickets (BilletReduc or Ticketac.com). Parisian metro is also some sort of a giant poster of exhibitions, theatre plays and movies. If you take the public transport here, you are always aware of what is on.
Paris is a culturally rich city not only from the entertainment point of view, but also its citizens. It is definitely not New York or London, but it is also a melting pot of its kind with lots of nationalities from all over Europe, Asia and Americas. All these people cross the world to live this Parisian dream, whereas you, a Parisian already, just need to cross the city to discover new cultures at a bar table. Good news is that Paris is relatively small. At least, me, having lived in Moscow and London, think that crossing the city from one end to another by metro in 30-40 minutes, is very quick.
However, the cultural richness of Paris is not only about tourists, but also about all those migrants who assimilated in France, but brought over with them the taste and the look of their cultures. Repulsive as it might seem at times for the older generations, this multi-nationalism has become more than normal for me. Morroccan food, African textile and China-town of the 13th district are all part of MY Paris today.
One of the cultural gems of Paris is its gastronomy. Of course Paris is the capital of France and therefore you can find here restaurants with cuisines from all over France. However, Paris is also much more than the city of the French food. As in any international city, you can eat here Japanese teriyaki, Pad-thai, Russian borsch or Brazilian moqueca. On the negative side though, you can indeed find anything in Paris, so beware of tourist traps - typically, if you don't see any French person in the restaurant and the menu is presented in 3 languages, this is a bad sign. Unfortunately, the cliché that Paris is famous for its lack of hospitality and bad service, is true.
French people in general enjoy being outside. Whenever there is a bit of sunshine, the whole city seems to have the incredible magnetism for its outdoor parts. Parisian terraces are magic: they are full of charm, they are everywhere, they attract people and however hard you try copying, you will never get the same spirit elsewhere. And nonetheless, they are extremely simple, rarely will you find a terrace with a trendy concept because a Parisian terrace is a concept by itself where everything is SMALL: small round tables, small chairs facing the road so that visitors could enjoy the city which is the main attraction here, no space in-between and of course a "small coffee" as they say in French. These terraces are heated in winter and are protected by a tarpaulin in case of rain, so literally you can be outside in almost any weather. The banks of the Seine are definitely less well protected, but whenever the river reflects sunshine, its docks are filled with improvised picknicks. All you need is a bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese.
Paris is beautiful, especially under the sun. However, don't overestimate the geographical potential of this city. We are in the North of France and the sun is egoist here. When it rains, which happens often, the grey of Parisian architecture becomes the same colour as the sky and gets overwhelmingly depressing.
"Out" means also out of home, going out, to a bar, to a club or to a home party. Paris never sleeps and is particularly mesmerizing under the night lights. This city is expensive, but between happy hours, good deals and cheap places, its citizens find enough reasons to fight financial crisis by increasing consumption, of alcohol of course. This is one of the reasons why this city is so attractive when you are young and careless. A lot less though when you start having kids and if your budget is very limited.
À 200 À L'HEURE (200 KM PER HOUR)
The idyllic picture of Paris that most of us have when we come here for the first time might be misleading. Paris is not all about promenades under the moon and slow coffees on the terrace. This city moves fast, it never stops and in order to enjoy it, you need to be with it on the same vibe. You are looking for an apartment? Confirm it quickly. Taking the metro? In order not to be overrun by the flow of people, you need to run. This rhythm doesn't leave you the time to wander around with a smile on the face. Here people rarely show their teeth without a reason, if not for snapping - the proof is the metro. Logical consequence is that Parisians might seem aggressive, but only until they take a break with a glass of wine. Once the life slows down, they find back their balance.
COMMUTING IN PARIS
Although, as I said, the city by itself is small, when taken together with its suburbs, where a lot of companies are based and where many citizens choose to live to gain a bit more of precious square meters, Paris suddenly turns into a big beast. To connect to these suburbs, you have to take the regional train network (RER), which doesn't have a good reputation. Dirtiness, frequent cancellation, delinquency and bad smells are the common problems of the RER.
Taking the car is hardly a good solution. Traffic being the plague of a modern city, Paris is not an exception. Not only is it heavily congested, but there are also very few and expensive parking slots. Space is so in demand here, that Parisians do not abstain from lightly pushing the cars in front and behind in order to park.
On the positive side though, within the city Paris the metro is well organised. Metro stations are literally everywhere; whatever direction you take, you will find a "mouth" (entrance) of the metro within maximum a 10 minute walk.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Space is luxury in Paris: at home, on the roads or in public places. Space is expensive and many cannot afford to have enough precious square meters for living. The rent is so expensive that in the French capital most citizens know perfectly well how to cook a Michelin star dinner in a 2 m2 kitchen, take a shower while sitting on the toilet (sorry for vulgarism, but this is hardly a joke) and organise the living room in the bedroom and vice versa. This peculiarity has become so normal for Parisians, that Paris wouldn't be what it is if café tables were larger, typical Parisian balconies had floors and apartments were bigger - at least it would mean that there would be fewer flats so fewer people living the Parisian dream. And indeed, the more, the merrier!
TELL ME WHERE YOU LIVE AND I WILL TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE
Each of the 20 arrondissements of Paris is different and special. Each one has their own character: some are calm, others are crowded, some are tourist-oriented, others are residential, some are chic, so politically right-inclined, others are "popular" and socialist, so no wonder you can tell a lot about a person by the neighbourhood he chooses to live in. We, a family of three, neither too left-minded, nor extreme right - so where else could we live if not in the 15th? I'm joking, of course, there is a criterium of the distance from work and a matter of luck when looking for an apartment. This however is rarely taken into account. As a result, you get a tag the moment you tell where you live. Oh, you live in the Marais? Well, it means you are young, most probably living in a flat-share or in a tiny apartment (or otherwise you are trendy and rich), if you are a guy, you are gay and high chances are you are Jewish. And if this sounds ridiculous to you, welcome to Paris because people here are quick to judge.
YOU HAVE NEVER ENOUGH OF PARIS
Once you think that you know it all, you have seen all the sites, done all the museums and discovered all the hidden gems, you realise that you are wrong. There are so many theatres, small specialised museums, concert halls, new places to go out to and of course new people who open new doors to you.
Paris is beautiful and dirty, charming and aggressive, small and geographically diverse, chic and poor. The city of contrasts as many big capitals? Yes, but at the same time so irresistibly attractive in its unique Parisian way. Thank you for being the playground and the main character of these three last years of my life. I will miss you. Au revoir Paris!
Photo tribute to my friend, Slatki's Godmother and a great photographer Oksana Chaika - @paris_photo_story