When we first got to Paris we thought, “No problem. We’ve got this.” Acclimating to a city you LOVE shouldn’t be too hard and even if it is hard, it’s the fun hard, you know? The kind of hard where it (almost) doesn’t matter that your ground floor apartment wafts in the sweet smell of garbage every time the sun shines because you have a ground floor apartment and the sun is shining in Paris! Just drown your sorrows in one of these and cry me a river, amiright? Because the operative word in there was PARIS.
But sometimes, every so often, you realize it’s just not going to happen. Sometimes you find yourself thinking, “Nope, I’m American.” Take, for example, when you come face to face with that infamous French bureaucracy (that paper is ever so slightly creased at the top right hand corner and we do not accept creases at this time, come back with something we can actually work with) that make you looong for the beacons of customer service at your local DMV. When, after three last minute reschedules, one no show and waiting an hour after your scheduled appointment outside on the sidewalk because the door is locked, your new hairdresser informs you (when he’s finished) that your bangs just look uneven because he dried them differently and you’ll get that inch back when you do it at home on your own, you know, because you’re the expert, and you wish you were back in the States being asked if you’d like some water while your highlights sit.
Thing is, until you’re not home, you don’t realize the deep and unrequited love you have for things like supermarkets. And ice. And bottomless coffee. Dear Sweet Lord do I miss bottomless coffee.
On the flip side, how did I ever live without fresh baguette every morning, and Vélibs, summer picnics that last all day, French butter (!), the wonderful “Bonjour monsieur” or “Bonsoir Madame” at the beginning of and ending to every conversation…the list continues but I digress.
So while it’s wonderful, unfailingly wonderful, here are 5 things I really miss now that I’m in the land of bisou bisou:
I guess I never really realized how much I loved choosing from 172 different cereals in Stop and Shop and how endless those 22 aisles seemed. And please let’s not even get started on the bulk buying wizardry that is Costco. You’re going to ask, do you really need a 10 pound bag of basmati rice? To which I’m going to reply, doesn’t everyone? Sometimes a years worth of toilet paper just feels right.
These choices aren’t just limited to food though. Shopping malls are all like “it doesn’t matter if it’s raining, there’s a covered parking garage and we’ve got everything you need, right in one place!”
And diners. Man oh man do I miss the 10 page, back and front menus at the diners. You can get anything you want, at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Substitutions? No problem. On the side? My pleasure. I’m pretty sure if you ordered ice cream on your pot roast but only touching the carrots that veteran waitress wouldn’t even bat an eye.
Boom. Welcome to America.
2. Screen windows.
This may be only slightly influenced by the fact that Provence was a whirlwind shit storm of bug-tacular proportions and probably mostly because since living in Paris I have discovered that fresh air flowing through an apartment is a serious faux pas.
When we first arrived in Paris we threw open our gorgeous windows with that reckless expat abandon and were only slightly confused at the wall of shutters covering each and every window across the way. There we were, hanging over our balcony, playing Edith Piaf on repeat and performing all of our daily tasks for the world to see. Mon dieu, one can only imagine the conversations our neighbors probably had about les nouveaux Américains.
Le courant d’air is not something to take lightly. It frightens Parisians of every arrondissement- all of whom can detect even the slightest breath of wind coming through that tiny crack under your front door. It doesn’t matter that it’s noon in July and the sun is currently forcing the heat index to rise to never-before-seen heights. Shut your windows, close those shutters and bunker down- you want to be sure that your inferno of a residence is properly melty at a balmy 110 degrees (after all, opening a window will let the heat in). Fresh air can be found outside, and that’s where it should stay.
Oh, and don’t even think about mentioning a ceiling fan.
3. Free bathrooms.
Literally every five feet in America, there’s a place to do your business, in case you need to do your business on your way to doing your business.
In Paris, not so much. This strikes me as odd considering the amount of wine consumed on benches and in parks and basically everywhere that’s not your apartment. Sure, nicer restaurants are the exception but sometimes (read: often) those cafés only give you a small pot to piss in.
4. Customer Service.
In Paris, customer service boils down to whether or not you can convince them that you are worthy of being helped. You have to earn it, which basically translates to straight up groveling. Getting on your hands and knees isn’t ruled out entirely either.
I’m pretty sure in the States you could return a broken old submarine to The Disney Store and they’d thank you for coming in. That or they’d apologize profusely for not ever selling antique submarines, preventing you from returning your antique submarine and would you like to fill out a comment card recommending we start carrying them so that you could return yours sooner?
5. American Holidays.
THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS. That is all.
(Don’t get me wrong, the French holiday/day off situation is da bomb. I think there’s something like six public holidays in May alone, but none of those involve roast turkey, stuffing and squash casserole smothered in gravy sooo…Basically what I’m saying is think it over, Paris.)
Laundry is a necessary evil. Like salad. But, much like salad, you need to have at least some in your life to operate efficiently. If you’re lucky enough to have a washer in your apartment, this one’s a little easier to swallow, but in the end it still kind of sucks. Like salad.
Washing machines of all nationalities have this fun time warp thing where a 45 minute cycle actually means it will be finished in 2 hours, but in Paris, it gets even better.
My machine has this mystery threshold that I’ve yet to figure out, where I throw in one sock too many and poof- everything comes out half dry. Not damp. Dry. Like the shirt has never even seen a drop of water. Like it’s been clawing it’s way across the Sahara searching for a laverie.
So okay, your washer has enough space to fit maybe one outfit. But once it’s “done” where do you put it? My tiny studio apartment is almost always covered with shirts and pants and underwear since the drying rack I bought could only hold so much and moving it every two seconds to get to my closet or kitchen or bathroom results in half of my freshly washed yet still somehow medium dirty clothes falling on the floor anyways.
And do not be fooled by the “washer/dryer” combo in Paris. You really only have a washer and a setting on your washer that makes steam after the wash, which does pretty much absolutely nothing to dry your clothes. Welcome to the land of stiff bath towels.
It’s funny what you end up missing once you’re in unfamiliar territory, things you never considered or gave much thought to, until they were gone. Unscented laundry detergent. Donuts. USD. But when you’re trading it in for a city like Paris, well, you come out ahead every. single. time.