The 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Paris

There are many, MANY guides to living to Paris. Some are super optimistic and positive, some do a 50-50 mix of the good with the bad nicely sugarcoated, some like to go all out with the nitty-gritty bullshit. All are valid in their own ways (though I have some problems with the overly optimistic).

But for some reason nobody seems to talk about these part of living in Paris. I searched everywhere and the only mentions I found were hidden threads on travel forums.

So here goes:

The 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Paris

1. There are mosquitoes EVERYWHERE

Seriously, I have been eaten alive this summer. On the metro, at home in bed, at the park – mosquitoes love me. It’s really not that surprising: there’s a very large river that runs through the middle of the city, it rains quite a bit, there are many parks, and – oh yeah – a large part of the city used to be a swamp.

Because most buildings in Paris don’t come with screens, at night the mosquitoes come in and feast. I like to sleep with the windows open regardless of weather, but I’ve had to start closing them after too many nights of being woken up with painful mosquito bites on my hands and legs.

And don’t think you’re safe because you’re on the metro: my coworker and I both ride line 9 into the office, and we start the morning by comparing the new mosquito bites we’ve both received.

2. The water is HARD

I noticed a strange thing happening when I first arrived here: my hair always seemed to be dirty. I would wash it and by the next morning it would look like a greasy mess. Pretty soon my hair, my favourite beautiful hair, was limp, dull, dead. I’m not going to lie – I cried about my hair a lot. It seemed like nothing I did changed it, and the more I washed it the worse it got. I tried not washing it, I tried expensive shampoos – nothing changed.

And then my skin started getting even worse. My skin was dry and itchy – and not just from mosquito bites. My skin-tone was dull, I was breaking out like crazy, and again nothing made it any better.

Finally, after many tears of frustration and some long nights of googling, I discovered the problem: the water in Paris is unbelievably hard. The water, often running through very old pipes, has a very high calcium and magnesium content. And just like scaly bathrooms, it can lead to very scaly skin and hair.

The solution? I rinse my hair with apple-cider vinegar every few days, and have switched to the Oil Cleansing Method. These seem to be helping, but I honestly feel like my hair and skin texture isn’t my own anymore.

3. Nobody picks up after their dogs

Okay so this one you see a bit more often. All you have to do is spend some time walking through a residential area to really get an idea of what I’m talking about: dog shit minefield. It’s not in the tourist areas – you won’t find dog shit coating the sidewalk of the Rue de Rivoli – and it definitely lessens in the summer, but the rest of the year it is a fucking free-for-all.

In my old neighbourhood by Oberkampf, there was one corner where there was fresh dog poop every single day. I’m pretty sure it was some asshole who lived in a nearby building, walked his dog around the corner, then took him home immediately afterwards.

There’s some dispute about why that is, with people saying it’s because there are too many dogs and irresponsible dog owners, and others saying that it’s because the city doesn’t clean up enough. The streets of Paris are honestly filthy and the dog shit is a major part of it.

One argument I’ve heard is “Well it’s the city’s responsibility to clean up the streets, so I’m letting them do their jobs.”

4. You will destroy your shoes

I love walking. It’s kind of my “thing”. I will walk for 45 minutes rather than take the metro sometimes. A few weekends ago I went for a 6 hour walk. There’s nothing like walking to clear your head, help you think, and calm your anxiety.

I am pro walking.

Yet even without my penchant for taking hour long walks to distant neighbourhoods you still walk a lot living in this city, and that takes a toll on your shoes.

Here is my typical day:

  • Walk down 4 flights of steps (the 50-year-old elevator trapped me inside it once and now I refuse to use it)
  • Walk 10 minutes to the metro
  • Walk 5 minutes from the metro stop to my office
  • Up 4 flights of steps to the office (no elevator)
  • Down 4 flights of steps for lunch
  • Walk to the park or to a local restaurant (5 minutes)
  • Go for a walk or run errands at lunch for 5-10 minutes
  • Walk back up 4 flights of stairs
  • Walk back down 4 flights of stairs to head home
  • 5 minute walk back to the metro
  • 10 minute walk back to the apartment
  • Back up those 4 flights of steps

That’s a significant amount of walking, and doesn’t include any detours for drinks with friends, shopping, groceries or errands.

And boy, have my shoes taken the brunt of it. I honestly don’t know how all the Parisian women I see seem to keep their shoes in spotless condition. It seems impossible – maybe they have many pairs of the same shoes and just switch them out continually?

One thing I know for sure is that they’re buying better quality shoes than me – something I hope to remedy soon. Another difference I notice is that more women wear some form of heel here. There are ballet flats, yes, but also flats with a bit of heel. This must protect the shoe at least a bit, right?

I have no clue. So far the death-toll on my shoes has been 2 pairs of ballet flats and 2 pairs of flat boots.

5. People will help you on the Metro

Wait, what? A positive thing about living in Paris? Did somebody else write this? This has been one of my absolute most pleasant surprises after moving to Paris.

I have changed apartments five times in nine months. Each time I have moved all of my stuff (one heavy suitcase, one medium duffel bag, one small backpack) on the Metro, schlepping up and down the many, many steps and through the streets.

Every single time someone has offered to help me, often carrying my luggage up 3-4 flights of steep metro steps.

Now, I will admit that part of that may be connected to the fact that I am a tiny-human-woman and people take pity watching me lug a suitcase that’s as big as I am up the steps, but I’ve seen just about every kind of person both lending a hand, and having a hand lent in return.

France, and Paris in particular, is well known for how rude people are. Frankly I’m not going to contradict thatI find many people to be very rude. A lot of it is cultural differences and language barriers, but there is definitely a rude undercurrent of behaviour that I’ve seen from strangers, colleagues and acquaintances that I’ve never seen in Canada.

And yet I don’t think I’ve seen a single person struggling with a bag that hasn’t immediately been offered help from some of these rude, cold-hearted Frenchies.

There are of course many, many other things that nobody tells you about living in Paris – after all, how could anyone tell you everything? – but I’ve yet to see anybody talk about these.

What about you? Anything you’ve noticed from visiting or living in Paris?

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