What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) about Living in France

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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51 Comments

  1. Great list. Awesome things to miss, and perfect ones not to. I wish we could create a place with all our favorite things from countries around the world. Like the prices of Asia, the culture of Europe and the food of everywhere! Ah, paradise!
    Jessica Wray recently posted..How Does Teaching in China Differ From Other Countries?My Profile

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    • Um if only that place existed! That would be perfect!

  2. I’ve never lived in France, but a lot of these sound pretty similar to life in Spain. My friend’s metro stop is the Sagrada Familia, which I still can’t quite wrap my head around!

    And the inefficiency/rude thing exists here too. It drives me craaaazy and I will NOT miss it if/when I leave Spain!

    Oh, and I totally do the metro ticket thing too haha. Only I buy retiree tickets. Oops!
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..Parc de la Ciutadella – MyBarcelona Episode #3My Profile

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    • Haha I totally would’ve bought retiree tickets if they were available! It’s probably easier to pretend you’re 60 than you’re 8… at least the height thing is less of a problem, haha.

  3. Things I loved about living in France: the glorious pastries, cheese, and wine, the travel, the awesome shopping, how much of a production dinner is, and speaking beautiful French.

    The cons: STRIKES, strikes, and oh, strikes? Trains, buses, and all manner of services being cancelled willy nilly over nothing, university lectures that lasted 4 hours with only a 20 minute break, and rude students who ask questions like, “you’re America?? But you’re not fat!”

    Ah France. You drive me nuts but I love ya :)
    Shannon @Beginnings in Bayern recently posted..Munich Blogger MeetupMy Profile

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    • Ah I forgot to mention how every meal is a production, especially on weekends when lunch is a four-hour long affair. And I hate that too- the back-handed compliments of, “Oh, but you seem nice, you’re American?”

  4. It’s funny, I never fell hopelessly head-over-heels in love with Paris and to be honest, when I left in March, I was glad to be leaving. But now, I’ve had a few pangs wanting to go back – the food is definitely the big attraction! Although, I definitely do not miss the horrendous bureaucracy (CAF was a nightmare)!
    Naomi recently posted..Unexpected surprises about visiting CopenhagenMy Profile

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    • I couldn’t agree more- the bureaucracy is the worst but the food is the best! :)

  5. Oh man, that photo of the kitchen mess reminds me of no matter how great your au pair family is, you’re definitely D-O-N-E after the year is up. The goods in Paris sure outweighed the bad though – that’s what’s important!
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..onesie party.My Profile

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    • That could not be more true- after a year of living with a family I was sooo ready to start feeling like I owned my own life again. Sometimes it feels like you’re a kid again when you live with your employers!

  6. Ah, “having to look good all the time” sucks! I hate having to get out of sweatpants to run to the grocery store. Really, really.

    One thing’s for sure: French definitely misses YOU. I’m happy you’re making the most of your current adventure though!
    Danielle recently posted..bad day remediesMy Profile

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    • Aw, that’s so sweet Danielle! I’m thinking about visiting in the spring so I definitely expect to see you :)

  7. ya, Paris is expensive

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  8. Great post Ashley! I always love these kind of lists :)
    And since it’s freezing in Europe right now (today’s the first day of subzero temperatures — I bet you don’t miss this all that much), there’s absolutely nothing I crave more than a hot chocolate at Paul’s! Need to go back to France ASAP!!
    Julika recently posted..A New BeginningMy Profile

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    • That’s another thing I forgot- I don’t miss the overcast skies and rainy weather! And actually the hot chocolate in that picture are the ones we had in Alsace :)

  9. I spent only 4 days in Paris, and perhaps it was the fact that it was mid-January and rained every day, or perhaps it was my high expectations but it didn’t instill that “oh my god I want to live there forever” in me that I thought it would.

    Personally, I loved sitting on patios and drinking mulled wine next to a heater, the food was delicious, and the cheese was obviously a highlight. I did really like the city… just not as much as I thought I would. I’ll have to go back in the summer months to see what it’s really all about.
    Shaz recently posted..How to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam (and not end up in the hospital)My Profile

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    • In my experience Paris is a city that grows on you- I only started loving it when I had lots of friends there and had found the quirkier neighborhoods. And you’re right- it’s so different in January than it is in June!

  10. I’ve been hesitant to check Paris out again as an adult after a less than stellar experience with most of the locals as a child. Looking at the photos is so beautiful and the food looks so good but I remember encountering just so many unfriendly people. Although the art scene alone will probably win me over. Just looking at your photo of the gallery makes me wish i was there haha.
    Jamie recently posted..Goats n’ shotguns – Kroombit Park Cattle Station AustraliaMy Profile

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    • Thanks, Jamie! I would definitely recommend giving it another shot- the food alone is reason to return! :)

  11. cute post, it’s always fun to read summarys/lists like this. brave of you to admit you bought child tickets!! i remember being in paris, and all the girls were stick thin and dressed to the 9′s
    rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Is Interlaken Too Touristy?My Profile

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    • Yes, most Parisians are very fashion and body conscious, something that’s to get into when you’re not loaded and stick-thin as well!

  12. I have to say… anytime I went to Paris, I was never too enthused about the place. When I think about it, the first thing that comes to mind is the dog shit and the rude customer “service”… I did have a positive experience in Arras when I went to visit my cousin 2 years ago. It was nice to have a positive experience in France after having such a negative association with the place for so long.
    And man, I give you mad props for dealing with that dirty kitchen and a note to clean it up. I would not be able to do that for a year. Nope.
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..Reflecting On A Few Things: Optometry School Is Like…My Profile

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    • Haha it did get pretty old, I have to admit… and that’s good you had fun in Arras, I had a wonderful time visiting the north of France as well!

  13. I love your reflections on life in Paris! I too love the food. When I moved here I didn’t appreciate goat’s cheese much, but now I know I will miss it so much when the time comes to move. I appreciate the slower pace of life here and being able to do things like enjoy drawn out, lingering meals and having coffee in a cafe for hours. I completely agree with that the price of things is crazy expensive though!

    Reply
    • The cafe culture is the best! I really wish we had that in the United States (that and pubs). And agreed, goat cheese is the best!

  14. Such an interesting post! I’ve visited Paris several times but always thought it would be wonderful to live there – and I still do, but it’s also good to have a reminder that no matter how much you idealize a place, nowhere is perfect! And, on a random note, I totally love goat cheese and your line about that made me laugh!
    Laura recently posted..A Nostalgic Return to Mackinac IslandMy Profile

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    • Haha glad I have a fellow goat cheese enthusiast reading, I’m dying without it in Asia! :)

  15. Merci pour la déclaration d’amour. France is your country now. Much more to discover. Come back anytime. The cofee might improve.

    Reply
  16. I love lists like this! They are always a great way to juxtapose the good and bad of each place (and every place has both). It seems like your good outweighed your bad! I’m heading back to Paris in May for the first time in over five years and I am most excited about the food. You have gotten me excited again!
    Bridget @ A Traveling B recently posted..Sunday Snapshot: Captiva IslandMy Profile

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  17. I agree with you about goat cheese–when Lou and I were there I
    almost always had the goat cheese salad. I did not do a lot of
    shopping, but at the La Lique shop the help was very cordial, as
    was Fuchons and a few others. Trying to purchase perfume turned
    out to be more difficult–the help young and a little impatient.
    In any event, Paris is lauded to be the most “Romantic City”
    in the world, and it seems that is what a lot of visitors expect.
    Paris is the French, and the French are people, and can be
    unpleasant, and impatient . I think American clerks understand
    that in order to sell, you need to be a salesperson–pleasant and
    helpful. This could be one of our characteristics as persons, and
    I think it desirable. In some ways do you think as Americans,
    we are happier and more relaxed? Contrary to what a lot of people think,I found envy by the English and the French. There is a big cultural difference
    between Americans and Europeans, yet we feel their heritage, especially
    from the English, and it seems a lot of us are in awe of the French
    Love, Gamma

    Reply
    • I think there’s a really interesting, love-hate relationship between America and France (we both make fun of each other but then copy each other quite a bit). And I would say overall Americans are more open and friendly than the French- we’re taught from a young age to always speak up and approach others. Love, Ashley

  18. I feel like so many areas of France are different and even if you live in the same city as someone else, your experience might vastly differ from theirs. Like out where I live, no one is really dressed to the nines or cares how they look when they go to the grocery store (generally speaking, there are exceptions) and I like that because there’s no pressure like there was in NYC to look a certain way. I think I’ll always miss certain things from home (and have written about those things a few a times ;-)) like Target and iced coffee and people who make small talk and are friendly. And healthcare here is leaps and bounds above the US system in my opinion. But since this is my home and I don’t really have plans of leaving, I just take the good with the bad. And I find that if I open my eyes, there’s a lot of good!
    Diane recently posted..Ask Tom Tuesdays: The best of both worlds – Part 2 – French healthcareMy Profile

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    • That’s so true that France differs a ton in various parts of the country. That’s so true- there’s so much good in France that the bad is overshadowed!

  19. Oh man, this post makes me miss France a lot—and I was only there for a meager 10 days last Christmas! The smell of melting butter always instantly transports me back to when I would escape the biting winter gusts of the north into a warm, steamy crêperie and enjoy a simple crêpe de sucre with a boule of Norman cider. Mmm…

    In all seriousness, though, I find a lot in common with this list even though I’m in Spain—from the food, to the language, the travel, and even the hot chocolate! I’m amused, though, that “c’est la vie” essentially means “DEAL WITH IT BRO”—it only reinforces the “rude French” stereotype. Spain has a related catchphrase—no pasa nada—that people say over and over again, but thankfully it means “don’t worry about it.” Phew.

    Hope to see more French cooking posts on here, even though you’ve moved on to SE Asia as of late. You know I’m a sucker for anything with butter, onions, cheese, and bacon, so… ;)
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Photo Post: Visiting Alicante, Spain, for the Friends, Not the MuseumsMy Profile

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    • Ah I love escaping the cold for a warm, filling French meal :). And don’t worry- there will definitely be more French recipes up on the blog when I get home and have a kitchen again!

  20. I am so impressed that RATP let you off the hook every time! I spent two weeks sneaking around Paris public transit because my navigo had been stolen, and seeing those uniforms still strikes me with fear even when I have a ticket!

    Reply
  21. Been living in Paris (13ieme arr.) for half a year as a student and I totally loved it. Life is truly expensive there, but what you get is a very dense, imitable atmosphere throughout every single day. You need to take your time to experience the city. Just take the vélib and take ride from Place d’Italie to Notre Dame, or do a 10km run along one of the amazing Boulevards. You’ll always find something new to fall in love with, and I’m really missing it. Ashley, check out Bordeaux, too, I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s smaller, “plus calm”, and next to the Atlantique, and so beautiful.

    Reply
    • Oh that’s cool, I love the Vietnamese and Chinese food in the 13th, so good! That’s true about paying for the atmosphere- there’s a reason Paris is so expensive.

  22. Man, this really seems like a country I would enjoy. This almost made me feel a longing for a place I’ve never been to.

    I don’t think I’d enjoy living in the big city of Paris but I would like to be in close distance so that I could visit when I pleased.

    Can’t wait to visit next summer!
    Matt recently posted..Man’s Search for MeaningMy Profile

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  23. “€68 for 8 items of dry-cleaning.”

    OMG did you do the dry cleaning at the Ritz or what?!

    Same for the beer at 5.80€. Maybe you were living in a rich area (Paris 16e?) when you could ahev lived in a younger (and still safe) and cheaper area, like Paris 11… :)

    Reply
    • I actually lived in Saint-Germain-en-Laye which is a really expensive town. But you’re right, there are much cheaper areas!

  24. I lived in Paris for three months: loved the history, food, wine, and art for sure, but found it hard to make friends and put on real pants when running down to the boulangerie next door to the apartment building. Then I spend a year in small-town (really, really tiny town) Normandy, and loved it (okay, aside from the constant drizzle!). Cheaper prices, friendly people, and just a quick train ride to Paris or Le Havre, which made it easy to travel everywhere.

    In Paris, I really loved Musee Carnavalet in the Marais and this really great Thai place around the corner from where I was living in 11eme! Also, running in Bois de Vincennes (but did not love the metro ride in my running pants and all the glares it got me) and the Promenade des Arts!
    Emily recently posted..Know Your Grapes: TempranilloMy Profile

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    • I’ve been dying to visit Normandy, I’m glad to hear you loved it! And I used to live near Bois de Vincennes, it’s such a nice spot. Also I love your blog name, how clever :)

  25. LOVE: The wine (I lived in Bordeaux), easy travel around Europe, bar culture (I’m sounding like an alcoholic I know), museums and galleries, public parks and gardens, cheese, diversity of countryside (cities! beach! forest!)

    DISLIKE: “Bureaucracy” or lack thereof, sleazy men, lack of vegetarian food options, general pessimist vibe of the peuple, cost of living, weather.

    I’m sure I’ll be back again, I’ve already lived a year in Paris and seven months in Bordeaux!

    Adventures of a Sequin Cat

    Reply
    • Wow, you’ve spent so much time in France! I agree with all that you love and dislike- the bad with the good I suppose! :)

  26. I love the honesty in your post! Although I have not lived in France, I find that many of the things on your pro-con list are similar to things to what I would list about Spain. Yay for wine and cheese–boo for expensive city rent and having to get dressed up to take out the trash.
    Cassandra recently posted..Oam Thong: Spicy Thai in MadridMy Profile

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