8 Coping Tips for Living in Paris

For a recent talk where I was asked to give for newcomers to Paris, I decided to share some of my coping strategies for living in a foreign country. I came up with a list of eight things that I do when it all seems too much.

Like this morning, when I woke up and found that before I hit the “Save” button and called it a night, my cable company dropped my connection, which deleted two-thirds of this post.

graffiti

Fortunately, I’m resilient now, and no longer a stranger to having to re-do things over and over. I sat right back down in my proverbial Aeron saddle and re-wrote them, which only took a few hours. Curiously, while I was typing away, a representative called me on my cell phone to try to get me to stay on as a customer. When I mentioned that he had to call me on my cell phone, since my land line service (which they provide) didn’t work, he didn’t see any irony in that. He probably also didn’t understand a few choice words I used, since I said them in English, which was a good thing.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of things you can do, including ripping your cable company a new one, that’ll make you feel a lot better when all seems lost and you feel like everything is conspiring against you. Like me, who courageously sat back down and started from anew—with an amazing bar of dark chocolate with toffee and salt (see #1), and went back to work.



1. Buy yourself some nice chocolates.

When you’ve torn out what’s left of you hair dealing with your cable provider non-provider, when the bureaucrat at city hall sends you home for a copy of your mother’s third-grade report card, notarized, or when you go to four different copy centers trying to send a fax to your financial institution back in the states to wire money and each one has a different excuse why their fax machine isn’t functional (my favorite one was that “…there was a fire in the neighborhood and we can’t send faxes”—but I figured he wasn’t lying since he spent the next ten minutes rifling through the phone book looking for another fax center in the area), those are times when you need to remind yourself of what the French do so well, and that’s make chocolates.

Luckily in Paris, you’re never really far from a chocolate shop. (Thinking about it, I wonder if that’s the reason.) But if you really want to treat yourself to something special, stop into Jean-Charles Rochoux for a box of dark chocolates filled with liquid Chartreuse. Hustle over to the snug corner enclave of Michel Chaudun for a little brown case of dusky-brown pavés, which are so creamy-smooth, they’re served with dainty wooden picks.

Or go for the big kahuna and splurge on the €34 box of mixed chocolates at Patrick Roger. Don’t even bother making your own selection; just let them pack up one of the boxes lines with chocolates which they’ve designed to go together. You might think it’s a lot of money, but last I checked (well, not that I have…), therapy is around 3x that price, so it’s a pretty good value, (see #3, below) which should make you feel better, too.

macarons

2. Go to an amazing bakery and have a really good pastry.

There’s nothing like French butter and if something made with it won’t keep you from rifling through your files, looking for the other half of your round-trip ticket back, nothing will.

Ladurée, of course, is almost like a pharmacy, with the double-sided cookies lined up like prescription tranquilizers, ripe for abuse. Step into the quaint shop of du Pain et des Idées and nab an apple-filled puff pastry turnover or swirly pistachio pinwheel pastry. Or grab a croissant (but only before 11am, while they’re still shatteringly perfect), and wolf it down on the sidewalk, letting the flaky crumbs scatter to the wind.

You’ll be so happy, you won’t even feeling like kicking the pigeons swarming at your feet. In fact, you may whistle a happy tune to them, à la Blanche-Neige.

3. Start a blog to share your feelings and experiences with the world.

3. Go shopping.

It’s what we Americans do best. We’re experts at it and it’s our special way of warding off problems and dealing with any real issues. Natural disaster? Go shopping! Malevolent action by zealots resulting in total death and destruction? Go shopping!

The problem in France is that there aren’t a lot of bargains to be had, and there’s no TJ Maxx or places to satisfy that craving on the cheap. If you’re depressed, it’s really no fun going into le Bon Marché and dropping €135 on a pair of jeans, even if they make your butt look amazing. (This is not the time to think about your backside, you’re concerned with helping the other end. Remember?) Still, you need to buy something shiny and new to get you out of that funk, even if you couldn’t fit a packet of index cards into your crammed-full apartment.

So take the métro just to the outer edge the city limits to a giant hypermarché, like Auchan (at La Defense or Bagnolet) or Carrefour (Montreuil). Fill your cart with French sea salt, red wine (see #8), and DIM men’s briefs, which are worth every cent for the way they make you feel underneath it all. And if you’re worried no one else will see them on you, you can be happy with the knowledge that those skimpy briefs take up less room in your apartment than a few boxes of paperclips, because you need them in every possible shape and size, or a fax machine.

4. Take a trip out of Paris.

Paris is a tight, crowded city where remarkably, two million can seem to be in a collective bad mood at the exact same time. After a while, it was wear one down and even our all-American optimism can’t sustain us.

France is manageable via TGV and you can go anywhere in France in just a few hours, and be reminded what a great country this is. (And if you think you râle about the denizens of the nation’s capital, you’ll find out from other French people that you’re not alone.)

Check specials at the SNCF website. Lyon is a great city and only 2 hours away. It’s filled with great restaurants and chocolate shops. Nice is a change of pace and right by the sea. And Bordeaux is close enough to Spain so that you sip sangria and eat tapas in a mere three hours from your departure from Paris’ gare Montparnasse.

If you’re short on funds, there’s plenty of European-style hotels with basic services, that are just fine. And you can get deals in the chain hotels, which although aren’t my favorite, are always clean and well-located. And they usually have WiFi, in case you don’t want to be too-much away. (Or you didn’t take my advice in step #3, and started a blog. Then I’m afraid you’re stuck.)

paris pas cher

5. Take a trip in Paris.

If you can’t leave the city, take a trip in the city. You can easily escape the hubris by exploring La Chapelle, the Asian quarter in the 13th arrondissement (be sure to visit the giant Tang Frères), or Belleville. In short, get out of the seventh arrondissement.

Last week I was up in La Chapelle, behind the gare du Nord, looking for almond paste, and poked my tête into the shops that specialize in Sri Lankan and Indian foods. Aside from the Dolly Parton look-alike drag queen I passed, I felt like I was transported to India. Giant gourd-like pumpkins, meter-long green vegetables, and the smells of murky spice permeating the air is a great recipe for escaping the city.

Same with rue de Belleville. Walk up the street and you’ll pass African shops selling hair extensions in every color imaginable (except I didn’t see Dolly’s), Arabic dried fruits, Asian dried fish, and plenty of Paris Pas Cher stores, so you don’t need to get your fix at a hypermarket. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend these neighborhoods as good places to stock up on underwear. Unless you don’t mind your privates smelling like cardamom.

frozen foods, very fresh

6. Don’t use logic.

The other day, we set out for the Île de la Cité on our bicycles, to visit the dreaded Préfecture de Police, the epicenter of French bureaucracy. As I turned my bike towards the island in the middle of Paris, Romain pointed his in the complete opposite direction and said that that was the best way to get there.

Scratching my head at the logic, he said that was a more interesting way to go…even though it was a few kilometers out of the way, in the opposite direction. We Americans are “result oriented”. When faced with a problem or a task, we think about how to find a solution. The French, on the other hand, are more concerned with the chemin, or the “path”, rather than actual resolution. And in his mind, why wouldn’t we go the more interesting way?

(btw: I won that one.)

Similarly, someone I know who is was dating a Frenchman and had a certain amount of difficulty seeing some things eye-to-eye. I asked her whether she tried logic, and she told me, “He said he doesn’t believe in logic.” Which is actually a pretty clever trick since you can’t argue with someone who says they don’t believe in logic, which is why it’s hard to win arguments around here.

Which, along with keeping their jobs, is also why the folks at city hall aren’t all that interested in figuring out a way to reduce the amount of visits one needs. So next time you go, open your mind to the other possibilities and clear your agenda for the afternoon. When one person tells you one thing, then a minute later, someone sitting in the same office tells you another, you won’t get so stressed out, but able to see the logic in a system that values making the process as complicated and hard-to-fathom as possible.

Which I will be doing since they told me that all the paperwork I submitted had to be re-submitted, in December, because one single form was missing. But they couldn’t tell me which one. But I guess I’ll find out when I go back in December.

And probably then again in February.

And in May, when I need to begin the process all over again for the following year.

sunglasses

7. Buy cool glasses.

The French have the best glasses. And because many of them have a mutuelle, a supplemental private insurance policy that includes a provision for new glasses, if they don’t take advantage of it, they forgo that benefit. So everyone has amazing eye wear. That’s why the French are so cool.

(Another reason may be explained by a recent appointment to get an eye exam and the darkened waiting room had no lights, forcing us to squint and hold the magazines centimeters from our faces. Is this a way to assure the doctor future business, or was she in collusion with the eye wear industry?)

Nonetheless, take advantage of all the city has to offer because Paris is teeming with incredible eyeglass boutiques. Go to the Marais and pick up a pair. They’re going to set you back roughly the same amount of money as a trip back to the states, with change left over after getting a cheap pair from Lenscrafters, but what’s the point of living in Paris if you can’t hold your head up high. And to do that properly, there should be a pretty cool pair of eyeglasses framing it.

8. Have a glass of wine.

There’s a reason the average French person drinks 43 liters of wine a year, and the average American drinks 7 liters.

I don’t advocate drinking to excess, but there’s something to be said for closing the door of your apartment and nursing a glass of vin rouge after a particularly trying day spent battling people on the métro, waiting in line at overheated department stores, and sitting in underventilated city offices while your paperwork gets scrutinized, then rejected because you didn’t use the right shape of paperclip to fasten the whole stack of paperwork together.

If you want to know why some of those bureaucrats are so unpleasant, it’s because nearly 50% of the women in France don’t drink wine.

Well, that’s it. I hope some of these tips help those coping with relocation anxiety and issues. And if all else fails, it helps to remember that some of them are trying just as hard as we are…

we try to speak english

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86 comments

  • Wonderful posts. I love these ‘coping with Paris’ posts – -you have a way of making all the mind-numbing craziness amusing.

    But nothing is better than this line/image:

    Ladurée, of course, is almost like a pharmacy, with the double-sided cookies lined up like prescription tranquilizers, ripe for abuse.

    Beautiful!

  • With these survival tips I would absolutely cope just fine! Especially with the first two! :)

  • Another great post for expats. I live in the 7th. I love Paris, but I also know how trying it can be, my god (especially with banking, la poste, all the paperwork, etc). And how surprisingly homesick one can get in such an amazing city, it almost doesn’t make sense.

    Another tip I would suggest is to take a nice walk along the Seine around sunset. It’s always stunning and really puts things into perspective sometimes. It always helps to see the skyline in such good light.

  • funny, my favorite eye glass (frame??) company is called “face a face” and I absolutely adore each and every frame they’re ever put out. sadly, i have this narrow face where only japanese frames look good on my face. everything else makes me look like a clown.

  • I’ll try to pursue these great ideas on my trip to Paris (leaving this afternoon). For years, I’ve bought all my glasses frames in Paris — Anne et Valentin and Francis Klein are particular favorite stores. Then I have the lenses put in back home. I just love responding to the question, Where did you get those glasses? with, “Oh, a little store in Paris.”

  • I’ve been using the wine coping method quite often. Mojitos at le 404 help too. And rather than chocolates I can’t seem to keep my hands off the medjool dates available at fruit stands right now. But chocolates might do the trick even better. Merci David. And G.Detou has been a light in my life since reading your book.

  • hahaha the pics are wonderfully chosen, especially the first one, it makes me think about Asterix’s comic book cuss words yealings :D.

  • I am pretty sure we could “cope”…nice list……made me remember I got one of the coolest pairs of glasses I ever had 20 years ago in Paris…and they are still in!! -Chris Ann

  • i’m currently living in Rome, not Paris, but these tips certainly still apply! this list is great, although i frequently swap gelato for pastry.

  • Hahahaha! This post is so funny David! I can relate to #6, as I am engaged to a French man and sometimes I wonder where his logic is…. I guess I can blame it on France. The photo of the Picard catalogue and the “we try to speak english” sign made me giggle! I agree that when everything else in France can drive you to near-madness, stopping in to Laduree for a macaron or buying some amazing chocolates or a sublimely flaky croissant will make you forget your anger and re-kindle those loving feelings for the pays.

  • Your tips for Paris are useful anywhere when things become difficult. Thank you, David!

  • Thank you :-). I’m on my way out the door now….

  • “waiting in line at overheated department stores”

    What is it with overheating? We were last in Paris in March. The weather was gloriously brisk, but not cold. Everytime we went indoors, I felt like I was putting on a strip show–pulling off my jacket and sweater as fast as possible before breaking into a major sweat. I quickly learned to spot the Parisians–they were the ones with their coats still on and scarves around their necks. WTF? Oh well, the pastries, chocolates and wine made it worthwhile.

  • David, I love the picture you put at the end of the post! There is an Italian restaurant in the 7th on rue de Grenelle that has a little chalkboard sign: “We speak English sometimes”. Haha.

  • Great post! I lived in the Middle East for 2 years and can happily commiserate with your experience tackling non-American bureaucracies. There, too, the solution to days of waiting on line and getting 12-minute busy signals on the phone was simply a good plate of food — hummus, in my case, but I’d take macarons as well.

  • Thanks for the nice post, David! I would only add that Paris would be different without a whole crowd of expat Americans who really add charm to the local life in Paris….It’s a gift to be so good-mooded “malgre tout”. Only Americans love Paris with such devotion and enthusiasm….and we love them for that ))))

    (Being Russian expat, who lived in many other places (when life really gets on me) I’m always happy to talk to an American who is so fascinated by “everything-French” , that it leaves me (Parisian Russian) wonder “where-exactly-this-city-is-located-she-is–talking-about”) ))))

  • Hmmm . . . I’m pretty sure I’m skewing the average wine intake for Americans. Seven liters?! Please. I love the picture at the end of your post! Sometimes I feel like I should just tack a sign to myself, one that says “I’m trying”. Good for all situations, yes?

  • Thank you for the funny post – I encourage you to use any and all that will help get you through Monday.

  • I’m another big fan of French eyeglass – although I get mine in the U.S. I’m on my second pair of Lafont glasses, and people are always commenting on them. And yes, they aren’t cheap.

  • Toooooo funny. I love the last photo “We try to speak English”

    Working on my Irish citizenship so I can have EU membership, move to France and not have all the carte de sejour nonsense to deal with. But my husband and kids, that’s another story….

  • Oh, and my Father-in-law worked at an opticien, so we have so many cool sunglasses I don’t know what to do with them all! Too bad I have 20/20 vision or I’d have really cool reading glasses too….

  • Yes, you did leave out the ice cream and gelato — mmm, mango gelato…

  • Thank you for this entertaining post. I just returned from a week in Paris and “i’l me manque!” I’m having a hard time adjusting back to American life. It’s good to be reminded that life is not perfect over there either. Not perfect, but seems to offer the things I value like quality food. Sorry about the TJ Maxx problem, I sympathize. It’s where I go when feeling down. The croissants, baguettes and the like would likely help though. For now I must be contented to read books about Americans who have moved to France in the hope that someday it will be me.
    Thanks for the uplift.
    Renée

  • You have succinctly restored my contentment in just being a tourist.

  • Thanks for such a fun post. It’s true the best thing you can do is throw out logic, it will drive you insane trying to fight the system. It’s probably why there are so many French saying such as “That’s life” or “The more things change the more they stay the same.” I remember being in the UK, trying to set up my utilities at home, meanwhile there were postal strikes and nothing could get done because nothing could be sent and they wouldn’t accept anything else except that piece of paper! I would have driven myself mad!

    BTW, I think people drink more wine in France vs. US because they have better access to the very good wines at very good prices. Why more women do not drink wines there boggles my mind, but I won’t try to figure that one out.

  • Love the coping tips. I would have to add an amendment to one and add another.

    As far as the “Have a glass of wine”, I would add visit Ô Chateau to that one for anyone who is first getting settled in Paris. It is a tremendous way to mingle in a controlled and educational environment. Completely relaxing and will give you courage and some knowledge when going into one of the many wine shops.

    The other would be to indulge in Nutella ice cream!

  • Dear God, man, how do you not want to blow your brains out on a daily basis!?

    I can only imagine how many macarons and chocolates it takes to sedate a man faced with that much frustration!

    Thank God for wine. And French women are crazy for not taking full advantage.

    Your “dealing with the French way of life” posts always make me smile.

  • Thanks so much for this post. Between dealing useless repairmen, trying to understand why things are SO slow with the bank, and at wits end waiting for my carte de sejour so I can apply for a handful of other things, I think doing # 1, 2, 6 and 8 simultaneously may prevent me from jumping off Tour Montparnasse. # 7 may be handy for the hangover resulting from # 8!

  • This post reminded me of the nearly 5 years my wife and I lived in Mexico back in the late 1980′s. The most important Spanish word we learned was paciencia . . . in English: patience.

    The other thing I remember was our oft-quoted reply to Americans who asked us “what do you do down there?” It was “Not much but it seems to take all day!”

    Thanks, David, for a great post. It seems that all countries are the same to ex-pat Americans.

  • I sometimes feel like sending you a goodie-package from Germany for all the hard stuff you keep up with just to entertain us (or that’s what I imagine heehee). So if you need something…

    PS: I learned another new French word from your today yipeee :-)

  • This edition is so funny I am wiping tears from my eyes. Thank goodness you have a sense of humor..and good chocolate.

  • It’s strange how well this post applies to living in Prague…sadly, the Czechs are not known for their chocolate. The fried cheese, though, is a nice compensation.

  • J: I haven’t quite figured out why the fear of ventilation is so strong. I’ve been in places that are astoundingly uncomfortable, and when I make a motion to open a window, invariably someone rushes over to shut it. Last summer I was at a party, in the full glory of August, and when I went to open a window (to let out some of the smoke, too), moments later someone went over to it and clicked it back shut.

    Bruce: Ha Ha! I love that quote. I remember the first time I went to Mexico, the guidebooks said, “Be sure to give yourself a half-day’s worth of time to change money at the bank.” I thought that was so silly. I mean, how long can it take someone at the bank to make a transaction?

    Little did I know that half-a-day was being optimistic. I have learned to give myself plenty of time, but I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s easier just to turn to the internet. I do like shopping at local merchants, but after spending a whole day (literally) looking for a new battery for my phone, I finally gave up and logged on the Amazon to buy a new one, which cost roughly the same as the battery for the phone…had I located one.

    Christine: Yes, the wine is very reasonable here. And you can get decent wine at good prices. I’m not sure why women don’t drink as much as they used to, but I have a feeling it has something to do with la ligne, or keeping themselves thin, which is extremely important to many of them. Fortunately, I don’t have that ambition much anymore..

  • I’m pretty sure these excellent tips will help in my American hometown. Will test them out and let you know. Thanks!

  • LOL – I think that these are great tips for surviving almost anywhere.

  • i loved this post. i may take some of the tips and apply them now as coping mechanisms. That chocolate one in particular or patisserie or croissant.

  • Hi, I just wanted to thank you for writing The Perfect Scoop. I got it last year for Christmas, and I’ve used and poured over it ever since! You blog is just beautiful too, great photography and yummy looking recipes! Have fun being an expat in Paris and thanks from amateur ice cream maker.

  • While there is no TJ Maxx in France there is Tati, which is essentially the same thing. I’ve definitely found great deals there akin to TJ.

  • Nice & funny post – thanks for sharing! For me, it’s finding the pleasures of life (joie de vivre) in whatever city/place one is, to escape daily routine and life complications (- of course it involves loads of chocolate). And what marvelous ones you chose in Paris! :)

    “If you want to know why some of those bureaucrats are so unpleasant, it’s because nearly 50% of the women in France don’t drink wine.” – are the bureaucrats mostly women?! Perhaps I’m trying too much to look for the logic ;)

  • So enjoyed seeing your kitchen on AT, especially the placement of your espresso machine. I think that should be one of your survival tips – how Americans can/should make the adjustment to smaller kitchens. Gotta love your dough-boys – perhaps they are hiding your Lawry’s shaker..

  • i’ve been reading ‘A Year in Merde‘ and ‘Lost in Merde‘– their humor reminds me of yours. have you read them? love them, and LOVE YOU!

  • Love this post…it is right on the mark! #1 (Jean-Paul Hevin), #2 (Laduree & Pierre Hermé), #3 and #6 (if you can’t beat them join them, right?) were my go to solutions while living in Paris and, for that matter, Italy, too.

  • My husband has a Parisian boss here in the U.S. Good God…if someone had just told him #6 a long time ago, he wouldn’t have that dent in his office wall!

  • I have an Italian friend who told me not to take personal offense at the “Parisian treatment.” He said “they treat everyone that way.” He also said that when dealing with people and institutions in Paris, he tells them, “What do I know, I’m Italian” and they are more sympathetic, as if being Italian is a natural and insurmountable handicap!

  • Chocolate, cookies and wine, the best tonics in the whole wide world. :)

  • Again you made my day David.
    I cannot agree more with Italian Linda H that it is very important to tell people and institutions dealt with that you are not French.
    Because of Obama THE thing these days is to be American and please take no risks with this pleasant change of climate.
    Stating your nationality is the one solution for foreigners at all times.
    The French ALWAYS identify themselves in dealing with one another with more subtles methods.
    France – a harrowing class society – is united by a stern credo of behaviour the choreography of which you are taught from an early age.
    You will find very small children acting impeccably in many of the everyday situations, a constant delight and a daunting reminder.

  • Julialuli: I know. Sometimes the things I hear are so funny. (Perhaps I hear them from Americans, too, but I just tune them out.)

    Speaking of logic, I was drinking rosé last summer at a dinner and I offered some to someone else. He said, “No merci, rosé makes you fat.”

    And I said, “Really?”

    “Yes,” he replied, “I once saw a man at a café order a glass of rosé, and he had a very big stomach.”

    So there you have it: conclusive proof that rosé makes you fat.

    Linda H and Suedoise: I don’t personally take offense, because you’re right; that’s the way folks are. I just find it funny, except for the day last week I spent trying to get a straight answer out of someone at city hall.

    Amy: For some reason, they are. Am not sure why.

    Liz: I’ve not found any discounted designer clothes or remaindered KitchenAid or AllClad cookware at Tati, like one does at TJ Maxx.

    You must get there before I do! ; )

  • hey, about discounted designers clothes, I ‘m surprised you never talked about the factory shops in france : “les magasins d’usine” . Several towns as Troyes or Roubaix have those HUGE commercial zones, entirely stuffed with shops of the finest brands, that sell clothes and accessories directly from the factory, at 30% to 80% discount, often there’s a “the more you take, the bigger the bargain” rule. Everything is made there to welcome the families and the customer for the day. It’s some kind of Ikea trip : you go for the whole day, you eat there, you buy a lot of crap and some really nice needed things, you’re exhausted, you swear that you won’t be caught here again, and when you look at the bill of the day you see that damn… it was really a bargain after all :D) .
    As I am from la province, I don’t know if there’s some kind of magasins d’usine near Paris, but maybe there’s some ? that would’t be surprising to me.

  • oh, seems like there’s plenty of them :D. Velizy usine center looks very promising :) .

  • Fantastic post, David, and yes, in principle, after living here for 16 months, I think these are perfect suggestions!! I have a couple things to add, though, because in my “sitch” doing a few of those items up there is complicated for me.

    I have to eat dairy, gluten/wheat, sugar, and yeast-free. This means no chocolate, no wine, no pastries, although I have TOTALLY cheated with macrons, lol — at least they don’t have dairy (I don’t think…), gluten, and yeast, so three out of four ain’t bad. Food and drink-related comforts are not really available to me, though, which pretty much sucks some days and can make coping really tough. This past month, I also gave up smoking and coffee. I know, I know!! :p It’s been pretty hard to have one’s comforts in food, drink, and smoke not be available. Yeah, I chose to eat this way but it was because my body was pretty much falling apart without making these changes. The stress of being in a new place was what triggered reactions in my body to start to give out. I felt I had to make all these changes or suffer. And I am doing a lot better, which is the good news! :) Anyway, it’s still hard to not have some of the coping tools on your list up there.

    But I have had to learn to cope. We all do, eh?

    For someone who has a limited budget (a *really* limited one as I am not working and my BF is an English teacher & supports the two of us), even the shopping is out most days. But, I am finding there is still a lot to do to be able to cope, to find the happy and balance inside when living in a place that, at least for me, often makes me feel like I am a completely retarded child (sorry to use such a non-pc term, but I mean it in a colloquial sense, too).

    The suggestion I love the most up there and the one I *do* have available to me & which I engage in regularly is taking trips in Paris. That one item is the thing that has really saved me in trying to handle living in this foreign place — and to milk it for how and what I can. I have learned that what gives me peace in my head is going out in to the city and taking pictures of it. I am not the greatest photographer, but it give my mind something to focus on, something to center it when the merde hits the ventilateur and you think your head is going to explode with it.

    And then I started to blog about those trips, hahaha.

    I am *so* stealing this post idea, to be properly credited, of course. I best write about this on my own blog instead of here. No fair to highjack your post. I loved reading about your eight ways of coping, though, and what I see that the root of this list is trying to say is “Find the enjoyment that you CAN. Find it in something small, find it for yourself, but FIND it.” That’s great advice whether one is living somewhere foreign or not. I see this way-of-thinking in your blog and in how you present yourself living your life in it. You rock. :)

  • I have totally cheated with *macArons*

    I hate it when I typo something like that. :( And I am also feeling guilty for leaving a NOVEL of a comment up there like that, so I thought I would come back and just say that I have a tendency to be effusively wordy when I get really excited about something, lol.

    I’m working on this need to be wordy on my own blog now, heh.

  • I think don’t use (or expect) logic would have to be the #1 coping strategy, especially seems to apply to banks. My banker retired… without telling me or transferring my account. I only knew after several people complained that they hadn’t received my payments. (I had emailed my banker requesting wire transfers.. you’d think there’d at least be an ‘I’m-no-linger-with-the-bank’ reply message? No, that would make sense.) Of course there’s also the mother of all illogical Parisian institutions: BHV.

  • Laurie: My bank has been inexplicably closed for the last two days. I’m wondering if the staff just took all the money and split with it, leaving behind a sign “Fermature exceptionelle”.

    Am not sure if I should be worried or what. But if they’re not open by Thursday, I might make a run on their ATM…

  • Something to be said about the logic part. I think the first week I moved here I gave up on it. At the Montmartre Grape harvesting Festival this weekend, the fire works they were shooting off were landing on trees and nearly starting a fire, and then they closed the bathrooms when there were still hundreds of people buying wine. It made for an interesting, bladder squeezing night.

  • I lived in Chile for two years and had to throw logic out the window. For example, the bathtub mats that I saw were upside down, with the suction cups pointing up. I asked my coworker about it and she said, “Because that way your feet are not in the water.”

    Dealing with the bureaucracy took forever. I learned to take a book every time I paid bills because I knew I’d be in line for a while.

  • Hello David,

    In the past, I’ve had trouble with my personal computer where it would crash for some inexplicable reason. I have made it a habit to copy the contents of whatever I was composing online to notepad (text editor), saving the file before clicking on ‘Save’, which tends to save me hours of work and aggravation. Perhaps you can adopt this habit as well? :)

    Cheers,
    Julie

  • You reminded me of P. Herme’s lovely 10 euro box of chocolates perfect in times of dire French frustration and angst. And then I remembered there might still be one last J-P Hevin caramel lurking in my bag… Found it and gobbled it up in sympathy for your various and sundry plights David.
    Just an aside of my own…this morning as I was whipping through the Metro turnstyle, my ID photo card fell out on the other side. Natch I had to go back out to fetch it and a man was standing there kicking it with his foot!
    WTF?
    c’est la vie in Paris…

  • Oh, how I miss the croissants and macarons! Even the French grocery store croissants are better than the ones I can get here in central PA. Thanks for bringing back such great memories!

  • You are very entertaining!

  • @J and David: the fear of moving air is endemic in most countries outside of northern North America. It carries all sorts of diseases, don’cha know – from pneumonia to plague. Nobody, no matter how ‘educated’, questions the superstition.

  • bonjour David,
    I am a Parisan leaving in Sydney, Astralie!
    i just LOVE( oui j’adorrre )reading you.. a taste of home…
    Somehow This post just made me feel very home sick …
    oui here in Sydney i dont have a David Lebovitz to give me tips on how to cope living in Sydney! Yes OUI where can i find a macaron au cafe or une baguette bien croustillante! halalalalaaa
    kiss from sydney

  • Lisa: I figure that “mal air” (ie: malaria) is one example of the fear of fresh air, but that was ages ago and although I have a tendency to hold onto things a little too long, I think it’s been quite a while since there were any life-threatening plagues swirling around the air.

    emile: I wish I could send you a macaron, but hopefully, there is some Shiraz down there that’ll help you out in the meantime.

    Julie: Normally, I’ve been backing up the html’d document that I plan to publish in Word, but everything seemed to be going smoothing, so this time I forgot to do it.

    Luckily my new internet provider’s modem & decoder are to arrive today and hopefully I’ll be away from the dreaded Numericable forever…

    Parisbreakfast: That’s odd because normally if you drop or leave something, a French person will come running up to you and hand it over. I’ve lost gloves and other things, and found them the next day, propped up on a flower pot or something.

    Rob: Am surprised they even had bathrooms open in the first place! I’ve gotten used to no bathrooms available, and now I understand why Frenchmen often have to ‘take matters into their own hands’ and use la belle France.

  • Hi David,
    Great post… you are right, while Paris can be at times incredibly frustrating for the expat living here, there are SO many ways to remind yourself that you wouldn’t want to be living anywhere else!

    Talking about taking a trip inside of Paris… last week like so many times before, I choose to walk between places using random streets and I was completely transported… this time to Japan thanks to a great stretch of Japanese shops near Opera.

    Coincidentally, last month I also blogged about my frustrations as an American in Paris…

  • Let me guess – you have SFR (of perhaps formerly Neuf?) I’m in the Tarn-et-Garonne and I have the same problem. Their servers, which are the root of the problem they refuse to acknowledge, suck. I’ve been trying to leave them for 3 weeks now, but I can’t research long enough before they go down again. Eventually, I’ll go back to France Telecom because even though free international calling is out, it doesn’t matter, since it never works anyway. Of course, I already tried to switch once and they lost the order! I’ll let you know how it goes – if I ever get decent service.

  • I certainly understand your frustration over the phone and internet issues–earlier this year, we had a fight with one of the big ones here in the US–okay, I’ll say it, Comcast over their ridiculous pricing increases. I forced myself to keep a civil tongue although I could have let go with a volley of language that would make a proverbial sailor blush. At any rate, after both myself and husband both on the phone with them, we got a different and hopefully better deal. Then with that the internet went off for close to a week until they could get a tech to come to the house to change the modem etc. And when he did show up, it wasn’t the right one and he had to leave and get a different one but managed to still do this on the same day. And the following month there were still some residual issues with the bill, but got resolved……so, yes, I can completely commiserate with you. Obviously, the problems are not just inherent in France.

    Your photo of the store over the #5 reminds me of stores in NYC between 5th, 6th and Broadway etc, I think either on 29th or 30th sts.

    By the way for any one living in Europe, but not wanting to go all the way back to the statesto TJMAXX or Marshalls, TJX company has stores in Europe called TK Maxx and Homesense. I am not sure exactly where, but it would be on their website tjx.com under corporate info, etc. They also have a few chains in Canada as well.

    Thanks for the enjoyable post!!

  • I experienced the same bureaucratic horrors when I lived in The Netherlands, believe it or not, they’re not any more logical there. At least the food is good in France.

  • i’m so glad i’m not the only one who simply doesn’t understand the french at times. unfortunately, the poor student aspect of my life prevents me from doing any shopping therapy, but the pastries, chocolate & wine are all excellent cheer-me-ups. now if only parisian prices for those were something close to the ones a la campagne. i’m going to go enjoy this adoptive city of ours now…

  • Bente: Well, if it’s any consolation, it drives the French nuts, too. Most hate the bureaucracy (except, I guess, for the ones who are a part of it) and everyone hates Numericable, the cable company. (And if you want to hear a French person go on a bender, ask them how they like their bank.)

    They’re just better equipped at dealing with some of these things, or are simply just used to it. The current administration was supposed to streamline things, and I don’t know how much of that has happened. But I think dismantling Numericable would be a start…

  • For sure the most powerful and spot on thing thing you said was about no logic.
    it’s the key to living here without losing your mind. also, taking a chocolate and/or pastry break from some of the mindless insanity you have to deal is also a great suggestion and I have done it many times.

  • My wife & I were just in Paris and, after a few bottles of champagne on my birthday, finally went into Lenotre which we kept walking past since it was near our hotel. Beautiful place and Wow ! – good stuff. I should have at least tried to calculate the impact of the conversion rate but I’m glad I didn’t.

  • It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, there are good things and bad things about every place. Life is an adventure and those of us who have lived (or are living) an expat life are extremely fortunate to see this. When we moved back to California after living in Switzerland, the good memories became dominant and all of those frustrating and irritating things the Swiss did turned into a lot of funny stories that we still love to tell twenty years later. Wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

  • Oooh, I just remembered a good one David!
    My (French) Father-in-Law: “Ne manges pas cette peche le matin.”
    Moi: “Pourquoi?”
    F-i-L: “Parce-ce que ca va te donner mal au ventre.”
    Moi: “Ah bon?”
    F-I-L: “Une fois j’ai manger une peche a jeune quand javais 20 ans et j’etais malade comme un chien.”
    There’s logic for you.
    PS I ate the peach!

  • Kristin: That is hilarious. And I can just see it. I wonder if Americans have similar peculiarities that we just overlook, or consider normal?

    I was at a brunch recently and everyone was telling how bad it was for my ventre to drink coffee and milk together, going into digestion details. Of course, everyone was chain-smoking, so I looked at them and said, “How can you be so concerned about your health?—you’re smoking!”

    And recently I was ordering a cake from my local bakery. It was €4.60 if you bought it by the piece, and €6 per person if you ordered it by the entire cake. The woman explained that a whole cake was more work to prepare. I didn’t want to tell her that I was a professional pastry chef for a few decades and it made no sense that individual pieces of cake should be more expensive. Thankfully I just find all that stuff funny and don’t try to understand it anymore.

  • Haha! So why do they sell cafe au lait at every French cafe?

    Ever heard the one about not eating bread while it’s warm? I ignore that too, even when I have fingers wagging at me while I do! One of my favourite things to do in France is buy a good baguette hot from the oven and eat the end on my way home. It’s never given me mal au ventre.

    The cake thing is ridiculous! Wouldn’t it be more work to cut it?? What did you end up ordering?

    It really is better to just smile and nod rather than try to understand the logic sometimes….

  • Kristin: I did not know that warm bread was bad for you. I hope it doesn’t apply to croissants. Because if it does, I’m sunk.

    When people say things like that with the cake, I usually just look at them and figure, “They must be smarter than I am, and know something that I don’t know.”

    After all, they’ve got a shop and are professionals. But perhaps it’s like when I asked a chef who was teaching me something he was demonstrating, if I could add lemon to it, to make it less-sweet. He replied, “No, because they would change the flavor.”

    Um, isn’t that the idea? In the end, I bought the whole cake because I wanted to present it (I’m sure they know that, which is why they price it higher. But still…)

  • No, I think the bread thing is just for bread. You should be good with a warm croissant. Seriously, I’m skeptical about anything French people tell me about food rules anymore.

    I will learn from your experience and never suggest adding lemon to change a recipe. Do you find French desserts are often too sweet? I like a tart lemon or apple dessert and find that in France they are usually super sweet. When I make anything with rhubarb or cranberries for my fiance, he always complains about it being too sour.

    Annoying about the cake!

  • heehee…very funny post chère David.

    May I add one more coping tip in addition?

    Read David Lebovitz’s Blog!!!

    Cheers!

  • Great Post! I could not agree more. I always hit these little shops and fill up my shopping cart as well as my suitcase. We are always amazed at how many food products come back with us and we horde them, we don’t give them away!!

    As well the sunglasses in Paris are the best, I got a pair of Derome Brenners there and love love love them as well it is great to have beautiful chic glasses that not everyone in San Francisco has! Another buy we like to get there are shoes, especially mens. Laudalino loves the Trippen shoes that he picked up a couple years ago and as mentioned above, it is nice to have clothing that everyone else is not wearing!!!

  • It makes fun to read your postings… j’ adore paris

  • Really funny! I think the best thing I have learned from living with the French is one word: NO! When cashiers at Monoprix can’t scan something right and look at me as if I am supposed to a) do their work and go check the price myself or b) not buy the item, I simply look at them, with a smile, and say “No!”. It works every time, almost everywhere. Show some backbone and the French will appreciate you for it.

  • 1. Batteries – you wanna go to “1001 Piles”
    There’s one in Montparnasse, Mo Edgard Quinet
    Another close to place de la Nation ~Bd Voltaire.
    They have everything. Like really anything you’re looking for.

    2. Clothing, designers. You’ve got more in Paris than I ever found in any other city abroad. You wanna try le bas de Montmartre, Mo Anvers, around rue des 3 Frères. Also try and check the Paris Pas cher kinda guides…

    Have fun!

  • David, I really enjoy your blog. It helps me survive between trips to Paris. Is it true that Au Levain du Marais has closed or changed hands? I read that somewhere recently and wish I had followed my plans to go there on my last trip.

  • Mig: They did change hands and, in my opinion, the quality of the bread has gone downhill. (The last baguette I got was like spongecake inside.) But their croissants, I think, are still very good.

  • Thank you for this. It makes me remember that I’m not the only one experiencing all this craziness. The French shrug it off so easily, but I guess they’re born knowing these coping mechanisms and we Americans have to adapt. I’m going to try a few of these out and see if it brightens my next Parisian slump.

  • I finally found these macaroons in Ottawa, and acted a little overly excited by the sight of them….

  • I love this! I live in Izmir, Turkey and though some your specific advice doesn’t really apply here (there is very little cheap lovely wine to be had here, for example), the general idea still holds: eat a good pastry, drink some nice tea, take a trip in or out of your city. Thanks!