The grinding realities of Parisian life

The pedestrian street we’re staying on in non-touristy Paris. Shops open at 7:00 a.m., close at 8:00 p.m.

We rented a car for three days to go on an overnight and a day trip. While those trips were fun, I don’t think I ever want to drive in Paris again. It’s insane.

Now that we’re about to kick off week two of our French residency, the shine is coming off. We’re beginning to understand some of the realities of French life. For instance, driving. 

Maintaining cars in Paris is crazy expensive. Gas is about $9.50 a gallon, tolls getting out of the city are a minimum of $12 each way, and parking overnight easily costs $15, even in the cheap spots. 

But then there’s the actual driving in the city. Even though everyone is driving 30 kilometers per hour (that’s about 18.5 miles per hour), the streets are narrow, cobbled, and often filled with blind corners. The signals are barely visible if you’re the car in front, and you’re probably driving stick, which means you’re always on your toes. 

Gas stations are almost impossible to find. We actually encountered a fill up spot that was just a pump on the curb.

Here you might begin to think: Paris is a lot like Manhattan. 

And it is!

Not in any physical way, but in the way that the city has so many amazing, unique traits that energize and exhilarate. Yet, once the thrill wears off, it can grind you down as you deal with the daily complications of just being here. 

Apartments are small. We’re staying in a 900 square foot, three bedroom apartment with very small rooms and almost no closets. It has an amazing location on a pedestrian market street and lots of windows, but our friends who live here tell us that it would likely cost over €1 million to buy.

The streets are loud – at all hours. It’s not the market street – that shuts down by 8:00 p.m. It’s that streets are narrow, cobbled, with stone walls and cars and drunks that make noise at two in the morning. 

There aren’t that many parks in the city, at least not the kind where you can run around and throw a ball or frisbee. You have to purposely travel to somewhere on the edge of Paris to do that. In somewhat dense Chicago, I have three large parks within walking distance.

And today I learned about packages. An Amazon delivery came for my friends who live here. As it turns out, many times packages don’t end up on their doorstep. Because it’s Paris, many apartments (like this one) are up winding, labyrinthine stairs and hallways, behind multiple sets of locked gates and lobby doors. Lots of times delivery people – even Amazon – just give up and leave the package wherever. And then you have to figure out where the package was actually delivered.

Parisians are snoopy, so maybe your neighbors shake your package, prod it, try to figure out what you ordered. Then ask you questions about what’s inside when you come to fetch it.

The gorgeous streets lined with tiny little shops are fun – until you want to buy something. Sure they’ll sell you something, but will they sell what you want? For instance, we decided we wanted a lint roller to remove cat hair. Where would you go? There aren’t drug stores like in the U.S. that carry everything under the sun. Maybe a dry cleaner? In the suburbs we could go to a Carrefour, which is like a French Wal-Mart, but in the city, there’s nothing like that. 

But still, today for dinner, Teresa and I had a baguette, two spectacular cheeses, two great salamis, and a bottle of cider (with plenty of each left over for a second dinner) and it all cost less than €15.

There are certain things Paris does right, and that’s what keeps us sighing for more.