100 Random Tips For Living In Paris and France in General

I love listacles and I hate listacles. List articles aka listacles are a blast to read and write. But sometimes, some media companies rejoice in writing very vague shadows of listacles that are filled with glittering generalities. It’s like they just googled a thing and used the first ten google results as the content of the article.

That’s not what this is going to be. This is going to be filled with some niche-ass Paris and France tips that I worked hard to learn. There is literally blood, maybe a little sweat, definitely tears in the earning of this knowledge. And because I’m trapped in a house in the countryside during the coronavirus forced isolation, I’m emparting this expat wisdom upon you without context or explanation. Just accept it or learn the hard way, as I did.

  1. Learn to enjoy straight whiskey (if you haven’t already). This is because it’s hard to find a Manhattan here, and if you do find one, it’s probably in fact a not-very-good old fashioned. Sometimes if you ask for a Manhattan the waiter looks at you like you just asked for a MkhtbGk30&%AJD+
  2. Also true of dirty martinis.
  3. If you get on the metro and it’s quiet inside, the riders have all made a social pact to ride in quiet. Don’t be the dude that starts talking all loud.
  4. Always wear clean, matching, hole-less socks. Paris is dirty, so if you go to someone’s house for dinner, you’re probably going to have to remove your shoes.
  5. Carry a reusable bag at all times. Find one that folds up real tiny and stuff it into your bag whenever you leave the house. You’ll find out why.
  6. Speaking of carrying, you’re only going to wear cross-body bags of a certain size here. There’s too much walking and thieving for anything larger or smaller.
  7. Speaking of speaking of carrying, handguns are illegal here. So relax, that pop you just heard wasn’t a driveby.
  8. Take calculus in 11th grade. That way you can figure out which Navigo or set of Metro tickets to buy. If you don’t go to work or school every day, the monthly or weekly passes aren’t worth it. You get over $4 off of a pack of ten when you purchase at once. Do the math, take the ride.
  9. There’s things called “Ticket Resto” and they are amazing. Basically, via your job, you get coupons for $8 to use on lunch (you pay into the program), but they’re also good for grocerie$$$$$$$$ (except on Sunday, because there’s no working on Sunday so you can’t use your work lunch ticket that day).
  10. The grocery stores have either no produce or crap produce. Shop at the marché once a week for the best and cheapest produce.
Tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, vegatables at a French market
Our neighborhood marche on Rue Ordener
  1. At the marché, skip the vendors with the prettiest displays, they’re trying to create an illusion of value to justify higher prices. Price hunt hard, then stick to those vendors so they become your friends.
  2. Speaking of the marché, get your cheese there too. The cheese store is great but they also overcharge. Eggs, yogurt, creams, all at the marché.
  3. Get to restaurants at 7:45. You’re hungry by then anyway because you’re not actually French. This helps you beat the crowds and secure a table sans reservation.
  4. Make brunch reservations or else you won’t be eating brunch.
  5. If the brunch spot doesn’t take reservations, make sure there are other brunch options nearby because there will be a line at Season in the 3rd and you’re too old to wait in line for brunch. Brunch lines are for the 2011 version of you living in West Hollywood.
  6. Just assume that every step you take could be into a pile of dog crap. It’s a minefield out there, be poo-vigilant.
  7. You can’t get wine at Monoprix on a Sunday. They physically block the alcohol aisles. But you can at Franprix, Intermarche and Super U.
  8. People cut in line, especially cute little old ladies. It’s not like the US where line ettiquite is sacred. Therefore you must guard your line spot like a bulldog. Make yourself big.
  9. Always carry change. You’ll need it to buy a baguette, pay to get into a public restroom, or reward the single accordion playing dude on line 12 who has any talent.
  10. Don’t get cravings out of season. Like Trader Joe’s, groceries and farmers markets here only carry what is in-season, which is a good thing except for when you want bruschetta in winter.
  11. French people don’t use Yelp, therefore any Yelp reviews for a resto are from an American tourist who thinks the restaurants near Sacre Couer are legit. Either use the Tres, Tres Bon! app, or word of mouth.
  12. Using your phone in the company of real people is like 4x more rude here. Also no one uses social media which is a bummer, but good to know so you don’t play on Instagram at dinner and piss everyone off.
  13. Don’t ever take line 13 between 4pm and 8pm on a weekday. Or just don’t take it at all.
  14. Velib bikes with seats turned backwards are signalling to you that something is amiss with the bike. You can also turn the seat akimbo to signal this to others if you notice it’s funky.
  15. Use an agency to get an apartment. No matter how hard you hustle, how many you visit, the system is literally against you if you’re an expat or just arriving.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
  1. When you are renting an apartment, higher floors get more sun and less noise, but consider how many flights you feel like climbing (unless the building has an elevator). In my experience, 4th floor is the limit before it gets ridiculous.
  2. Get everything delivered to a Relay point. Delivery guys don’t even try to follow your delivery instructions to get into your building let alone find your door. EXCEPT for Ikea and Zara for some reason. They’re great.
  3. Oh yeah, Ikea hack for Paris only: because the Ikea is outside the city and few people have cars, they deliver to your door for very affordable prices starting at around $5 and the service is exceptional.
  4. House plants are slightly overpriced here. Find affordable plant stores away from super posh or touristy streets, I saw some good ones a few blocks from the Chateau d’Eau stop on line 4.
  5. Speaking of line 4, it’s always busy and crowded as it stops at Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, Chatelet, Les Halles, and touristy areas like Cité. If you must take it, sit or stand in the accordion-like area between cars where few people dare to go.
  6. Need to get some groceries but you’re tired of interacting with people and being reminded you suck at French? Monoprix usually has self-checkout stations for human contact-less trips to the store.
  7. Wondering why your baguette is dry and airy? It’s because it’s a baguette ordinaire, not traditional. Learn more from my biased paris bread guide.
French baguette and brioche
Baguette Tradition and a weird brioche puff that I don’t really like but my husband buys them.
  1. Almost no apartments have dryers, so get used to hanging things on one of those drying rack things. Pro Tip: think ahead and wash sheets when you’ll be gone so they dry by the time you get back, and wash things you don’t plan to wear the very next day.
  2. The Local France tends to have very up-to-date news, if not without typos and some odd writing styles. I got over the erros during the metro strike when I was just happy to get the news in english.
  3. I feel like concerts start a little earlier here and don’t last very long. Rumor has it that the French want to get out and get back to the cafe or bar, or even a late dinner. Sometimes the time printed on your ticket isn’t doors, it’s when the opener starts.
  4. Place de Clichy is an absolute disaster zone during rush hour.
  5. If you have to go to the doctor for something not terribly life-threatening, your bill will likely be under $100. Mine have been around $30.
  6. However, if you need to see a specialist, you’ll need a recommendation from your doctor and then will have to wait a long time for an appointment.
  7. Amazon is a little slower in France than it is in the US, and the selection is also a touch limited.
  8. If you’re packing to move, keep in mind that towels are freaking expensive. In fact a lot of common homegoods seem to cost a lot more. I’ve been shocked at the price of toasters, towels, underwear, cutting boards, cups, table cloths, and hangers.
  9. Wondering how movers will get all of your shit into your tiny apartment? If your stairs are narrow, they put it on a weird lift thingy and toss it through the window. If your stairs are wide, one old dude might carry it all up by hand, one box at a time, as they did at our apartment.
  10. Don’t leave things on the landing outside your door or in public spaces, it’s frowned upon.
  11. There’s a store called Picard that is like if they made the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s an entire store. Food is tasty, prices are fair.
  12. You can still see movies in English! Most films are shown either in their original language with French subtitles, or in French. Look for “VO” in the description (version original).
  13. Many cafes, especially more traditional ones, are anti-laptop. Some more modern spots advertise free wi-fi. Check out expat groups on social media to find one near you. A few that I know of are Cafe Pimpin and Le Recyclerie in the 18th, Comets Cafe in the 11th, and all Wild and the Moon locations.
  14. If you want a sure bet spot to work, try coworking places like Hubsy that come with coffee. They charge hourly though, so a day of work can cost over $25. Drink your weight in lattes to make it worth it.
  15. Any medical-related groceries will not be at your grocery store, you’ll have to go to the pharmacie. I’m talking ointments, vitamins, tylenol, cold meds, anti-bac anything. I have seen bandaids at a grocery but that’s it.
  16. Thus far, we’ve only been able to purchase the 2mg version of melatonin. Grab the 5mg or 10mg good stuff when you’re in the US.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
  1. No one here uses conditioner, and there aren’t many options at the grocery store. You may have to try bigger beauty-focused pharmacies like Citypharma if you really need conditioner to live. Also in France it’s called “apres shampooing” lol.
  2. Speaking of Citypharma, it is a gem. Great prices, amazing selection. It’s overwhelming, that’s why they have white coat-clad employees on the floor. They’re friendly and full of information. They’re probably also making sure you don’t steal.
  3. Coat check is a big deal here. It’s freezing outside and hot inside. You don’t want to hold your jacket through that entire Angel Olsen show like I did, do you? That’s why there’s a long line at the coat check.
  4. That reminds me, some venues only take printed, paper tickets. They won’t scan the PDF from your phone. Maybe I need an article with tips for concert-going.
  5. Vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, and brussells sprouts for some reason are preceded by the word “chou.” So they are chou broccoli, chou romanesco, chou fleur, and choux de Bruxelles. Just telling you so you aren’t humiliated at the cafe at your French school like I was.
romanesco
Not Romanesco. CHOU Romanesco
  1. Release tortillas from your heart if you move to France because tortillas here are… odd to say the least. For some reason they aren’t stretchy, they kind of just tear. And taste wrong. Even at Chipotle.
  2. If you bring a US lamp to France, be sure to only use French bulbs, otherwise it will smoke and probably explode.
  3. Pace yourself at the French wedding. It will last until 5am, so you have to as well. Also read this guide to what French weddings are really like.
  4. The climbing gym on Blvd. de Clichy in Pigalle is tiny and people are oblivious to personal space. It’s a bit of a journey, but the Arkose location in Pantine is huge, and the extra space helps people act like humans.
  5. Parisian faucets and water fixtures are always cloudy and covered in some kind of deposit that resists all scrubbing and cleansers. Apparently it’s calcium, and requires an anti-calcaire product you can get at the grocery store.
  6. It’s really hard to find ziploc bags here. Randomly, Ikea sells reall good ones, two sizes in one box.
  7. If you like a claw clip for your hair and you have thick or curly hair, stock up in the US. Claw clips here are all very slim, and I have yet to find larger or wider options.
  8. Finding a good fitness class is hard, not gonna lie. Supply is low and expensive, and classes get booked a week or more in advance if they’re actually good. Many are not good. Parisian fitness classes are scorned as being low on rigor. I recommend Fit Ballet and Casa Yoga.
  9. You can ask for more bread at a restaurant if you run out, and they’ll just give it to you! It’s not like LA where they give you some bread with the tapenade and you run out and they tell you they can’t give you more for free. The bread keeps coming.
  10. Many French TV networks are free, and you can stream them online. They’re paid for with our taxes or something like that.
  11. No one really tips unless the service was great, maybe the server accomodates you after you were a pain by adding two more diners or something. In tourist areas, servers sometimes pressure you to tip because they know you’re American. Only do it if you want to.
  12. In customer service, “no” is just the gateway to further negotiations. If you’re at La Poste and they say your package isn’t there, but online tracking says it is, just keep politely prodding. Maybe they can check again? Can they kindly find out where it is perhaps? After a few rounds, your package will magically show up.
  13. Keep a physical and digital file of all of your utility bills, identification documents, anything else that seems useful. You’ll need it to open a bank account or something else important at some point.
  14. Say “bonjour” to everyone. Passing someone on the stairs? Bonjour. Cashier makes eye contact with you at the register? Bonjour. Asking a rando on the street for directions? Start with bonjour.
  15. Eat slower. Everyone here waits until everything is “pret” to start eating. Then they don’t eat and speak at the same time. If you are American, you’re going to need to eat slower than usual.
  16. Don’t use up all of your stomach space on the plat. Dinner, and sometimes also lunch, is like a 4-course situation, and not all the courses will be out at once, so you won’t even know how deep in you are. There’s the main, then cheese and bread, then maybe yogurt or fruit, AND THEN also dessert. AND THEN coffee or tea.
  17. You know how entree is the main course in America? I don’t know why, because it means entry or to enter. Therefore in France it’s the appetizier–this actually makes perect sense. Plat is the main, or plate.
  18. That reminds me, cheese is eaten AFTER the meal in France, not as an appetizer like in the US. Sometimes if you’re doing a planche or a more chill grazing situation, the cheese will be out. But for a seated dinner, cheese is after.
  19. There’s a great dining area on the 8th floor of Printemps with beautiful views of Paris. It has several gorgeous restaurants at varying price points, and a terasse where you can dine. It’s not terribly touristy, even given the area.
View of eiffel
View of Paris on a pre-spring day on the terasse of Printemps. We ate moules frites.
  1. Don’t ever order a smoothie, it will be warm and watery. If I find a good smoothie option, I’ll let you know.
  2. No one carries their coffee around in to-go cups, it’s always enjoyed in place. It’s weird at first, but then who would really want to consume anything on a metro, blegh.
  3. There are no stop signs in all of Paris. As a pedestrian, you might have the right of way, but that car isn’t slowing down the same way it would in the US where it may have to stop regardless. Every intersection is a game of chicken.
  4. If you’re crossing a one-way street, still look both ways for bikers who might be riding the opposite direction. They’re silent and deadly.
  5. Restaurants typically only anticipate one seating per evening. If you see a full restaurant, it doesn’t mean a table might open up in twenty minutes. That table is going to be full all night. People literally leave all their stuff at the table and leave for a smoke twice in one sitting.
  6. You have to wave and say excuse me and ask for what you need at stores and restaurants. It’s actually rude here for the server to keep stopping by and asking if you need anything, therefore it’s not rude to wave them down and ask for the check.
  7. I’m not sure, but I think that the dynanmic in #78 is because nothing is more important in French culture than the current conversation. Meals will wait for someone to finish their story. Lines at the store will stand still until the conversation between cashier and customer is over. Sidewalks will crowd in service of two people talking.
  8. No one wears sunglasses but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The sun is harsh, protect your damn eyes.
Shelby wearing sunglasses and holding baguettes
Me, refusing to be daunted by the number of people who give me funny looks when I wear my sunglasses on a cloudy day.
  1. If you’re on the metro and it’s crowded and you have a suitcase and you need to get off, you’re going to have to be a real bull about it. No one is going to budge for you unless you very loudly yell “PARDON EXCUSEZ MOI” and push through with all of your might. I’m not exagerating.
  2. There are signs on busses and metros reserving seats for the elderly, injured, or pregnant women. People actually heed these signs very observantly so you should too.
  3. The Left Bank of Paris or La Rive Gauche seems far away and maybe lame. It’s across the river after all. It’s actually a very nice place with beautiful parks, museums, trendy restaurants, and historic streets, don’t be biased because it seems far from the action.
  4. Stop and buy a baguette on your way home. You’re going to run out soon anyway, and you’re not going to want to go back down and up the stairs in two hours. Just buy the baguette.
  5. Paris is not an avocado desert! You can actually buy avocados, though some are kind of flavorless and watery. At stores, the origin of the avocado is usually stated, and those from Mexico are frequently tasty.
  6. That said, avocado toast here is somehow middling. No matter how well intentioned it is on your brunch plate, it usually needs salt and some additional fat or spices.
  7. Verbal contracts here are binding. If you get a job offer, you don’t have to wait for the contract and all of that to be sure that you actually have it. Also true in house buying, etc.
  8. Don’t go to Fountainbleu or nearby Barbizon on a weekday, it’s empty and sad. Save it for a weekend.
  9. That said, do go to Fountainbleu or Barbizon on a weekday if you’re trying to rock climb or hike, it will be empty.
  10. The green trashcan is for bio trash, yellow is for all packaging, white is for glass. Don’t take an apartment within earshot of the white trashcan otherwise you’ll hear glass breaking nonstop.
  11. People try to pickpocket you right as you pass through the metro gates so that you can’t turn around and chase them. Hold on to your shit as you swipe into the metro.
  12. If you use the wrong gender when you say “one,” you will throw a French person off. Sure sounds the same to us, but they will not meet you half way on this. If it’s a feminine noun, use une. Masculine, un.
  13. Haribo World Mix is the best Haribo assortment, followed by Happy Life, then Schtroumpfs. Polka is the worst assortment.
Haribos at grocery store
The best aisle of the grocery store: The bonbons.
  1. Every non-French person I know who moves to Paris has developed severe eczema, including myself. Correlation is not causation, and it might not happen to you, and it’s not the end of the world, but something to think about.
  2. Pack, buy, or bring more socks than you think you need. This is a closed-toe shoes city because it’s wet and dirty.
  3. Paris shops are small and specialize almost exclusively in one type of thing. EXCEPT FOR Fnac and the behemoth BHV which sell everything.
  4. You’re not going to wear heels in Paris.
  5. No one is going to speak more slowly or clearly for you, don’t be offended, I’m just letting you know.
  6. You’re also not going to wear shorts unless you’re in an exercise setting.
  7. Everyone who recommends a Mexican food place to you is wrong.

Stairs and Stares: The Little Differences Between Paris and Los Angeles

The main reason I moved to Paris from LA was for change. We wanted France’s specific brand of difference, but after working and living the same way for over a decade, I was down just to feel anything different, no matter what it was. This is a pretty clutch perspective to have going into a new city, country, culture, as it helps you to be okay with the millions of differences that throw you off as you try to complete even the most mundane of daily tasks.

Some differences are good, like affordable-to-free healthcare, amazing bread, and seven weeks paid vacation. Some suck, like dog shit everywhere, not a lot of elevators, and no Mexican food. But overall, I think we’re net positive as far as the transition goes, and we’re enjoying the way all those little differences are still discernable, adding texture to our daily lives.

That said, there are some odd differences that never ocurred to me to be ready for when we moved, which I’ve assembled into a tidy list for those of us “list people.” I’m big on caveats because I was a fact-checker at one time, so I should caveat by saying that I am comparing only to Los Angeles, not the US as a whole. LA and California are their own unique little beasts or snowflakes compared to the rest of the US, and honestly, I think I don’t know a thing about my country, but I do know LA. With that said…

Speaking of Change… Change

In LA, I had a cheeseburger piggy bank that someone gave me for my 28th birthday, and I put all loose change into it for years. Quarters went into my car for metered parking or the pinball machines at Walt’s Bar on Eagle Rock Blvd. Those are the only viable uses for change in Los Angeles. Maybe also leveling a table at a cafe.

But in Paris? You use every last cent in Paris. Five 20 cent pieces will buy you a baguette. A few more, and you have a coffee. People ask you if you have exact change to make life easier for them. Meanwhile in LA (and I’ve also heard, NY), there are stores that only take cards. I had to switch from a full-sized wallet to a tiny coinpurse just because of the change entering my life. Also because when I was pickpocketed I realized I needed a less-grabable wallet.

Dirty Hands

Because we no longer drive, we are always outside, interacting with the world without the protective barrier of a car window. I never realized how many things I would touch in the course of a day, and how many of those things are kind of gross. You touch doors and Metro handles and poles and scuzzy bathroom doors. I’ve never been a germophobe or one to carry hand sanitizer, but I had to break down eventually and buy some. This realization became even more real after the corona virus outbreak, but we’ll get to that later.

The lovely metro. So simple. So useful. So full of germs.

Slow Grocery Lines

America is big on not waiting for anything, no matter what. If there are more than two people in line to checkout at the grocery store, it signals abysmal operations at that store, an inept management, a lazy checker. For this reason, once the lines get more than 2-deep, another checker is called to open up a lane. In France, literally no one cares if lines are long. There are only three cash registers at grocery stores anyway, and I’ve never seen more than one open, even on the busines days. At first I was shocked and like an American, reflected on the poor management of the store. Then I just got used to it. Then I began to love that I’m no longer in a rush.

Stairs

Want a better butt? Move to Paris. Even if I abandoned my car in LA, I could go weeks without climbing a single stair, let alone the five flights to my own front door.

Jokes aside, the lack of elevators here, even in stores and Metros, is actually almost criminal–how is a person with limited mobility supposed to get around? I tried to research what the government does to help these people, but can only find info for how tourists with limited mobility can get around.

Stairs in Montmartre.

Stares

People here stare at you and don’t even feel bad about it. Maybe it’s healthier than the LA I-am-staring-at-you-but-I-don’t-want-you-to-know-unless-maybe-you’re-interested type of staring. At least it’s not hidden, but it was very awkward for me for the first few months.

At first I thought it was just me–I have black hair and olive skin but can look like I hail anywhere from Southeast Asia to South America to Italy (I’m a weird mix of Mexican, Spanish, Irish, Northern European, various other anglo origins, more Irish than I realized until my parents did 23 And Me). People get confused in LA, so obviously they’d be even more confused in Paris where most people look… French. My husband let me know it’s just a thing people do here and it didn’t necessarily reflect on me at all. I read up on it and found others had also noticed it, and had heard that it doesn’t even have to signal romantic interest, they just might be curious about you. I’ve grown to like it because now if someone has a coat I like or an interesting face, I can just stare at them and not feel badly about it.

Carry Everything

In LA, your car is your office, backpack, locker, mobile carrier of life stuff. It has shoes, hand cream, gym attire, emergency food, an emergency novel, water, a blanket, a flashlight if you’re smart, chargers–anything you might need throughout your day. In Paris, everyone walks around with at least two or three bags. Most women have their purse, plus a canvas tote that serves as their locker. They may also need it in case they buy something during the day and they need a “sac” for it. If I was going to be away for several hours either working or at French classes, I had to bring a backpack for all of that life stuff and carry it on my back. I guess it’s better for my health than hauling it around in my car, but it took some time to even realize how much stuff one needs in a day, now that it’s not all at ones disposal in the parking lot.

Sleeping In

I never realized LA was such an early city. We’d wake up at 9am on a weekend and lament that it was already too late to get a table at Sqirl and that Civil Coffee would already be full of tourists by the time we got there. I’d wake up at 6:30am on weekdays and be out the door by 7:30am to get to work, home by 7pm, bed by 10pm to do it all again the next day. Now I sleep until 9am and maybe don’t even finish dinner until 10pm–I don’t even recognize myself.

Lack of Productions

In LA it’s very normal to experience traffic down a main thoroughfare due to a show or movie filming nearby, blocking part of the street. Certain neighborhoods get used consistently for certain eras or stand-ins for other parts of the country consistently. UCLA is any IVY league school. WeHo is always for metatheatrical shows about the industry. Highland Park is a small town, or it’s just Highland Park if they’re filming Maron. South Pas is the East Coast or anything from the ’50s or ’60s. You hardly bat an eye if you see a local store covered in blackout tarps with white trucks surrounding it, you just know.

I didn’t expect it to feel odd that there’s never any filming in Paris. If anything, that should be more normal. But I realized that anytime there is a lot of equipment somewhere blocking the way, a lot of lights, or a loud explosion, I just assume it’s part of a production. My brain literally guesses the interference is part of a false reality before it even contemplates that it’s a real thing–that’s weird.

The charcoal latte from Wild and the Moon. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s one of the only coffees that can make me feel like I’m in LA.

I’m gonna say it: there’s no good coffee

There I said it. Okay, okay, saying there is absolutely no good coffee is a bit extreme. There are places that are roasting or coffee-focused and make decent coffee. But LA, and many other major US cities boast exquisite coffee opportunities on every corner. They offer nuanced beans prepared a variety of ways. You can get a lavender latte that tastes so good it justifies its silly existence. You can buy cold brew that would breathe life back into a corpse. The Starbucks in Paris doesn’t even do cold brew and the iced coffee is barely worth the small price tag. I got a charcoal latte at Wild and the Moon once just to feel like I was in Los Angeles for a few minutes. It was close, but no cigar.

What’s The Deal With French Breakfast AKA Petit Dej AKA Petit Déjeuner

If you’re an expat, there’s a chance you’re like me and have a love-hate relationship with expat groups on Facebook. Yes, you get tons of great tips and ideas for where to eat, how to not get arrested, doctors who have mercy on non-French speakers, etc. But, the price of such compatriotism is dealing with dumb questions. And yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question, and in expat Facebook groups, the dumb questions are the ones asking why things aren’t like they are at home. One I saw recently that chafed me was “why don’t the French eat a proper breakfast?” which usually comes more from Brits than Yanks.

Proper is of course, a relative term, because to me, the French have a far more proper breakfast than I had as an American. As a 9-6er with a commute, my breakfast was a coffee and a scream session at other cars on the 110 South. This would be a crime in France, where breakfast AKA petit dejeuner is a ritual that is necessary in order to get out and greet the day.

For the uninitiated, French brekkie is more of a moment in the day than it is a gastronomique experience. As with so many things in France, it can only be done in one way: some type of bread, most likely a baguette with butter and/or jam (confiture), potentially a croissant, coffee or tea, and a very tiny juice. Walk from cafe to cafe in search of more, you won’t find it. If you’re in a tourist zone, you can find some cheese omelette options, but they won’t be egg mountains filled with ham and peppers, saddled with hashbrowns and two strips of bacon. In fact, now that I’ve been here for a few months, I’ve kind of forgotten what else people used to eat for breakfast–cereal, oatmeal, overnight oats (I’m from LA), a breakfast sandwich maybe? More like whatever I can grab as I run to my car, if even that.

Literally my breakfast today. Not pictured: croissants.

So in a way, the French do have a proper breakfast, it’s just not warm or fried or meaty, but they are extremely dedicated to it in all its bready glory. Running late? Doesn’t matter, they will still eat their petit dej. Have nothing in the frigo to even eat? No worries, they will find something to gnaw on; you can spread jam on almost anything if you’re desperate enough.

It’s understandable for a Brit to want more, as they’re as dedicated to a specific breakfast style as the French are, albeit a much meatier, beanier, warmer style. But when you go to a new country, it’s probably safe to expect that they do meals differently just as they speak differently and dress differently and greet differently. Maybe that’s what is irksome about the “where do I get a real breakfast in Paris?” question; it assumes there’s one way to do a thing, and if you start with that nonsense you’re going to get real pissed real quick. The irony is not lost on me that in this foreign land, there actually is one way to eat breakfast.

McDo even has a breakfast formule in keeping with French tradition, to which one might add a McMuffin.

However, huge disclaimer that weekends are another thing altogether where a brunch style straight from America reigns supreme. That’s when three course, hollandaise-christened, syrup-drenched, egg-topped extremes are reached, if you’re savvy enough to have made a reservation, mind you. Then you can get your sausage and potatoes. But Lundi a Vendredi, it’s just bread and jam and if you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.

For Us Americans: What Is This Paris Transportation Strike, AKA La Greve

I used to keep diaries growing up and would fail to write in them for extended periods of time, then I’d come back and say, as if my diary was sentient, “sorry it’s been like two years, I was super busy with school. I still don’t have a boyfriend.” That kind of just happened with my posts here. Sorry it’s been 20-ish days, I got really busy with work, had an extreme allergy to my apartment, took a trip back to LA, then landed on December 5, the first day of the strikes in Paris.

Right now, I have a limited, outsider’s awareness of what the current strike is about, but plenty of knowledge of its effects. I’m going to write a biased, only slightly researched account of the whole thing to deliver an American in Paris’s perspective, and if I’m wrong on the facts, oh well because perception is reality.

The Backstory

It’s hard to fully understand the gravity of the strike and transportation shut down because the French are pretty blasé about them, some of them even accepting it as part of life like the weather. Leading up to December 5th, anytime someone talked about the strike at dinners or parties, they’d shrug and essentially say “yeah that’s really gonna suck” while I pried for more details of how bad it would suck, and why it was even happening. The only explanations I was able to get offhand were that the Metro workers were all striking, something to do with pension reform, which needs to happen, but they deserve to strike, it’s their way to show their opinion–all spoken as if they were reading tomorrow’s forecast. My French teacher said he supported them because the French have to be united in these moments, otherwise we’ll just be like America, and I guess he has a point. I didn’t google for more answers until I was at my wit’s end, because I’m selfish.

When I finally did hit up the google, I learned basically that the French pension system is bizarrely complex, too complex for a non-French to wrap their head around, and Macron’s reelection is hinging on whether or not he reforms the system and ends this strike. Macron and team are trying to consolidate 40-something pension codes into one, which would standardize all systems at the expense of many special allowances some unions, like metro and rail workers, enjoyed, like early retirement. That’s really all any of us need to know if we can’t vote and aren’t RATP employees.

What’s the Real Situation With Airports?

The first day of La Greve, I was flying back from LA. My flight was cancelled, then replaced by another flight at the exact same time for some reason. The van I hired to take me to Paris (because the RER and Metro weren’t running) decided not to wait for me, so I yelled at them and took an expensive taxi; not the end of the world. I thought I was going to have to drag my suitcase down the highway to get back. The first few days weren’t bad because lots of folks worked from home. The real shit hit the fan on Monday, December 9. Since then, I’ve heard folks taking three hours to get to the airport due to so many cars being on the road. So yes, getting to your flight is possible, just hard and expensive.

Saint Placide Metro Stop
Crowds at the Saint Placide Metro Stop

90% of Metros Out of Service

The reason Paris can get away with being so small is because it’s dense AF, and if any type of matter that needs to move here isn’t able to in due course, it creates epic bottlenecks. This is true of humans, waste, trains, cars, dust, bikes, mail–there’s literally no room for anything to fall behind pace. So with 90% of metros and busses closed, nothing works.

As a result, I saw some things. I saw intersections with cars woven together like giant latticework. Empty rack after empty rack of Velib bikes save for one with the wheel dangling from its maimed frame. Seasoned bikers (they’re the ones with helmets, not riding Velib) crash into inattentive pedestrians or impatient vans. People screaming at each other as they try to squish themselves onto an already full metro car on the 4 which is still running every few days. A girl riding a Lime between two busses who might have just gotten herself a nomination for the Darwin Awards.

I started classes at L’Alliance Francaise at the start of the strike, which is clear across town from my apartment. I thought I’d take a nice relaxing bus ride since the 4 line was closed, and gave myself two hours to get down to the 6th just in case. The bus was crammed full at 11:30 am, and Ieven saw a woman onboard crying because she was so squished, meanwhile the driver was a human shrug. I biked part of the way, walked part of the way, and it was fine as long as this thing ends soon.

35 Days In

Once we passed the one month mark, this became the longest transportation strike in French history. Right now we’re at day 35 and the constant inconvenience has become a manageable, throbbing pain as compared to the excrutiating spiles of the first few weeks. I’ve just accepted it begrudgingly until I see something really stupid like an ambulance that can’t even get to where it needs to be all so that a very small percentage of the population can maintain a special exception in their pension plans. At moments like that I get salty, but otherwise, I just keep accepting the inconvenience one day at a time, slowly becoming like everyone else around here.

And So…

I think the reason my friends here are so blase about the whole thing is because maybe strikes here aren’t like a fact of life, they actually just are a fact. If you want to attempt a system that represents everyon’s best interest, these things have to happen. Also, like many things in Paris, all your normal activities are still possible, just hard.