Written by Maria Jose Contreras (@chocowithmilk)
I moved to Paris in August 2014 as an Erasmus student and stayed there for 6 months.
Apart from developing a risky relationship with butter, I learned 10 important things while living in Paris. If you are thinking of visiting anytime soon, perhaps they can help you to adapt and make the most of your experience. Let’s get going…
1. Bonjour Madame Chic!
You will immediately learn the basic rule to fitting in: less is more. Effortless chic or how-last-minute ponytails soon become the sexiest way to wear your hair.
Parisians love neutral colors (black, beige, cream, gray, and navy blue will make you feel like a croissant wearing a beret).
2. Paris can be cheap… or you can be optimistic about money
Paris is a super-expensive city. I mean, it’s Paris, and you can feel grateful if you find a 9 sqm apartment for $600 per month. However, I eventually learned to live in Paris on a tight budget (i.e. the $300/month of my scholarship sighs). Once I went to the supermarket and had to WhatsApp my mom because I couldn’t believe I had spent $20 on only two bags of groceries. Voilà… I was becoming a Parisienne.
Franprix, your Navigo pass, and the book carts showing up on each street, will be your best friends while in Paris.
Tip: If you want to make your life easier when it comes to finding the perfect apartment, I strongly recommend you check out Spotahome. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy.
3. Ooh Là Là! I speak French!
It can seem weird after three years studying French as one of my primary languages at college but trust me, I moved to Paris completely convinced that a dog could parler français better than me. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Once I started practising on a daily basis, I realised my French was much better than I had thought. One day I was shopping with a friend and the shop assistant commented on how good our French was. I could feel the tears coming out of my eyes.
Now, seriously. If you’re considering moving abroad to a country with a language different from the one(s) you’re fluent in, and it is the language itself that worries you the most: stop! We humans have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi for destroying our self-confidence when it comes to speaking a foreign language. Really, get over it, move on, and live your adventure. You’ll be fine.
4. Be polite. Always. Period.
First rule of living in Paris: It’s imperative to say Bonjour whenever you enter a shop or restaurant and say Merci when you leave. Say it or you’ll regret it. Second rule: In Spain, America, and so many other countries, we’re used to talking loudly (which for us is “normal volume”), but the French don’t agree, so you better keep your voice down to avoid some curious looks.
But let’s be honest here, no matter how hard you try, someone’s going to yell at you. But hey, it’s part of the game. Don’t take it to heart.
5. Fat in Paris? No way.
Yes, you’ll be eating pastries and bread every day (I didn’t know my stomach could digest a whole baguette within a few minutes until French butter made me do it). However, Paris has made a deal with the inventor of stairs and you will walk all of that food off. Which means if you see there’s an elevator available at a metro station, please love yourself and take it … it’s there for a reason.
6. Parisian apartments are smaller than average.
Imagine you could get a coke from the fridge without leaving your cozy bed. Well, in Paris this is a pretty normal occurrence. Even though I was among the lucky students who lived in a real apartment, where the shower was in a different room to the bed, I remember one night at the apartment of one of our friends. He was living in one of those tiny spaces on top floors that used to be the maids’ apartments. Romantic, isn’t it? Well, I thought so until I had to pee. Our friend told us all the micro-apartments in the floor shared a toilet, which was in the corridor. Laura came with me. We opened a door and saw nothing so I said “not this one”, but then she pointed at the floor and there it was: the bathroom – a hole in the floor.
7. Not to mention the size of most coffee cups…
Judge for yourself here.
For everything else, there’s Starbucks.
8. It can be the loneliest city in the world…
One of my favorite memories of living in Paris are the coffee breaks at Cluny and Clignancourt with Alvaro. Caffeine made us melancholic and we used to talk about how lonely Paris seemed to us. I’m not sure if it was only a student’s perception (it’s hard to have a social life when you are a student in an expensive city like Paris …) but Paris is one of the loneliest places I have ever been to, even as an Erasmus student.
Photo source: Maria Jose Contreras (@chocowithmilk)
I’m not saying it in a bad way, though. Paris teaches you to make it on your own – to be alone and get to know yourself better. See it as an opportunity for personal growth (it’s not without reason that Paris has attracted artists from all around the world seeking inspiration).
9. …But it will make your Instagram feed look awesome.
I’m talking about the Haussmann effect here. No matter how gray the sky looks, Paris will always look awesome in your pictures.
Paris is also the place where your scruples are lost and you’ll suddenly find yourself having a photo shoot in a cemetery … Because, well, it’s Paris.
10. Paris sera toujours Paris
Sometimes, while sharing wine with friends at the Seine (because you’ll actually do this a lot) on a starry summer night, or going to see the Eiffel Tower sparkling (sparkling!!), you’ll have to pinch yourself twice. So be sure of one thing: you will always leave Paris thinking of the next time you’ll be back.
Written by Maria Jose Contreras (@chocowithmilk)
If you enjoyed this post, check out more of our France-related articles:
- 10 Things I Learned While Living in Paris as an Erasmus Student
- How To: Find an Apartment in Paris
- 7 fancy things to do in Paris on a student’s budget
- Paris Tips from a Local: Secret Places, Top Spots and More
- 7 Books to Read Before Moving to France
- Which is Better, Paris or Lyon?
- Housing in Paris: Best Places to Live in Paris for Expats