Ah, France. The country that I called home for nearly a year. The land I tearfully left almost four months ago. There was so much about living in France that was lovely; I particularly miss all the French goodies that are difficult to procure here in Asia, like wine, cheese and bread. (Don’t even get me started on cheese.)

But life in France wasn’t all macarons and Matisse; there were certainly downsides to living in baguette-land. Without further ado…

What I miss:

Weekend Trips around Europe.

London 2013

From top left clockwise: a snowy December day in Cologne, Germany, the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, a picturesque square in Colmar, France, and red phone booths in London.

In Europe you can visit surrounding countries with relative ease, and I love how such a remarkable range of linguistic and cultural diversity exists within such a relatively small space.

During my time in Paris I made time to visit an apple farm in the north of France, Christmas markets in Cologne, the magnificent mosques in Istanbul, London‘s quirky neighborhoods, and the medieval cities of Alsace.

 

My Town.

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Saint-Germain-en-Laye

While living an hour and a half from Paris was definitely a pain in the cul, I couldn’t help but love my beautiful 10th century town. Boasting a château, an enviable market and lots of winding, medieval streets, Saint-Germain-en-Laye was always a breath of fresh air from Paris’ fast pace.

 

Speaking French.

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During my time in France my command of the French language drastically improved (meaning I could kind of talk at the end, versus knowing not a single mot at the beginning). I personally think French is the world’s most beautiful language – I still adore the sound of it.

 

Hot Chocolate at Paul’s.

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Because there’s nothing better on a chilly winter day than a mug full of melted dark chocolate.

 

The Art Scene.
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I love how Parisians are so incredibly nonchalant about art- they just love it, duh. I’ll never forget asking a French guy I was seeing at the time what he was up to on a lazy Sunday. “I’m at the new exhibition at the Grand Palais with some friends. You?”

I’m sorry, but an American guy would just never say that.

There are so many incredible museums in Paris and they’re always hosting fascinating exhibitions (my personal favorites are the Grand Palais and Pompidou). I doubt there’s another city in the world that’s quite as art-obsessed as Paris.

 

The Home-cooking.

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Still-warm baguettes, apple tarts in fall, super-fresh butter lettuce, tiny magenta radishes dipped in salt, a decadent cheese course after Sunday lunch, a Staub Dutch oven filled to the brim with choucroute garnie… I miss cooking French food so much.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.21.41 AM                                                                      Choucroute garnie: my favorite winter dish ever.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.24.43 AM                                                                                  My daily breakfast: toasted pain de campagne with goat cheese and creamy Fjord yogurt with raspberry jam. Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.25.04 AM                                                                Roast chicken thighs with rosemary… served bone-in, skin-on, of course.

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Making crêpes at home- I always made my dessert crêpe with peanut butter and jelly. You can take the girl out of America but you can’t take America out of the girl.

And I don’t just miss home-cooked food actually. I just miss all of France’s amazing food.

Confession? I think I miss goat cheese the most. Desktop11

Clockwise from left: pistachio and cream gelato from Pozzetto, tarte flambée in Alsace, GOAT CHEESE and bavette aux échalotes with fries and a glass of red wine. Heaven.

The Postcard-worthy Among the Commonplace. trocadero

This was one of my best friend’s metro stop. No big deal.

 

Learning about daily life.

I loved spending a year in France because I passed through all the seasons; from the first dusting on snow atop the ivory Sacré-Cœur to the verdant bloom of the Seine’s banks in summer.

I was also present for every holiday (except Christmas), and by living with a French family I celebrated them all à la française.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.25.56 AM                            Galettes des rois in the bakery window for La fête des Rois, King’s Day in January.

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Lily-of-the-valley for sale on May 1, French labor day.

My Friends.

Tajine June

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Wine-heavy dinner parties, nights out in Paris that ended at 7 a.m., house parties in Le Marais, afternoon tea at friend’s apartment, drinking cider on the banks of the Seine in summer, Thursday morning runs in the forest, picnics in the park… so, so many good times with such great people.

 

What I Don’t Miss:

The Dysfunctional-ness.

The whole “c’est la vie”, deal with it, attitude got old quickly. As did the dog shit everywhere.

And I’ll just say it – sometimes Parisians  can be downright rude, especially in customer service situations. My one visit to the American embassy in Paris reminded me of all of this, which was efficient, 15 minutes long and incredibly pleasant. Sigh.

 

The Cost.

It’s no secret that France, and especially Paris, is very expensive. Here are a few examples of the exorbitant prices:

€68 for 8 items of dry-cleaning.

€2.80 for the smallest water bottle at McDONALDS.

€5.80 for 25 centiliters of beer (a small glass, fyi).

None of this is okay. None of it at all.

While in France I earned €125 a week and was saving up for a trip to Asia. Meaning I had to pinch my pennies the entire time and cut my hair in the sink. Yay.


The Crappy Coffee. 

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Contrary to common belief, French coffee is awful. It’s always, always burnt (unless you go to an Italian-run café or a hipster spot like Coutume) and the baristas re-use the grinds. Unless you order your coffee with steamed milk, it’s pretty terrible.

 

Having To Look Good All The Time.

Hungover on a Sunday and needing Advil from the pharmacy? Don’t even think about walking there in a hoodie and sweatpants. But if you just can’t be bothered to gussy yourself up, brace yourself for steely glares.

 

Waking Up To This.

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With a note instructing me to clean it. My life was like Downtown Abbey, except that I lived in the basement.

 

RATP.

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Confession again – for the entire time I was in Paris I bought child tickets on the commuter train and metro. (Sorry, the adult price was €8 round-trip! Like I’m going to pay that four times a week.) So on more than one occasion I was caught by the RATP, the subway police who incited terror in our hearts and fined us.

It’s still a small point of pride that I managed to convince them to let me off the hook every single time. Win.

What do you love/hate about France? Have you ever lived there?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21, traveled the world for a year and now lives in Denver. She's usually in pursuit of skiing, languages and perfectly ripe cheese. Her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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