10 Questions: A Q&A With My Sister About Life In Paris
My sister and I communicate often, our little messages pinging across the Atlantic. We talk about family stuff, day-to-day happenings for both of us, her wedding plans (!) and more. I know she's curious about certain aspects of what it's like to live in Paris, but sometimes those things just don't come up in conversation.
While we were chatting last week, she urged me to write a new blog post (it’s been over two weeks!). But I couldn’t figure out what to write, so I asked her to send me a list of topics that she was curious about. She did that (yay), and we decided that it would also be neat to have her interview me about my life here in France.
So that’s what we did. Read on for her questions and my answers based on six months en France. Enjoy!
Hey international blog world! While KakaoTalk and FaceTime are amazing inventions, I always have questions I want to ask my sister that don't quite seem important enough. I'm glad I've been given the opportunity to ask these hard-hitting questions :) - H
H: We've all heard that French people and Parisians in particular can be judgmental of tourists, especially when we're on their turf. Are your new people really snooty?
W: So many people that we’ve encountered have been really friendly and nice. Not in a big, smiley way, but in a way all their own. I kind of liken it to a generic big-city temperament; you've got to act a certain way. There's pushing your way through crowds to get to where you're going and learning the patterns of your neighborhood. And with such close proximity, you really get to hear, see and smell a lot - the good (e.g. fresh-baked bread, friendly conversations) and the bad (e.g. public urination, dog poo).
That being said, there are cultural codes that you have to play by. Bonjour and au revoir are just as important as s'il vous plait and merci in France. And if you forget to say them, you might get ignored or feel like you're getting the brunt of a bad mood. But they are just following your lead. Whoops.
H: I know you and Steve don't have a car, so what is your favorite mode of transportation? And what is the most common for you to take?
W: I’ve got two favorites. I like taking bikes through Velib, the bike share program in Paris. You can often bike somewhere in about half the time it would take to ride the metro and there are stations everywhere in the city. In neighborhoods with popular bars or tourist destinations, it can be a bit tricky to find a place to park your bike.
I am also a big fan of the metro for convenience and speed (usually). You can get anywhere in the city with a few transfers. It’s easy and a nice way to catch up on some reading. As for most common, we do a good combination of walking, biking and metro-ing.
H: You came from California which has a specific style since its always sunny, but you grew up in Virginia, where people dress decidedly more functional. Do you feel like you dress differently now that you're in Europe?
W: Yes! But in subtle ways. Coming from California, I didn’t have a very strong winter wardrobe. Once I got here, I acquired some new sweaters and scarfs that are actually made to keep you warm! That's was a nice adjustment. Other than that, I find myself wearing less bright colors, but will see how that changes with the warm weather and the reemergence of my LA clothes. Also, I didn’t come over here with nearly as many clothes as I used to have. I kept it to the basics and so far, it's working for me.
H: Going along with fitting into the French culture, do you feel like you're immediately judged or that it is very obvious that you're American?
W: Not really. I don’t think that we do too many things that put us out there as typical “Americans.” One quick story about when I did feel like an American - Halloween. We went to a French Halloween party and one big difference I noticed is the costumes. The French opt for more death-like and scary costumes, say dead doctor, the Addams family, witches and ghosts. And Americans, well, you know what we do for Halloween. Witty and sexy are usually the name of the game. Luckily we didn’t have too crazy of a costume, but as 70s disco people, many of the French partygoers were a little confused - we weren't scary enough.
H: Have you made many French friends? And how do you communicate with the ones you have. Do you speak in French or do they speak in English?
W: So far most of our friends are Anglophones. We have been to a couple parties with a solid mix of French people. During those times, we can follow along for the most part, but generating our own statements and opinions in French is tough. Our minds, well at least mine, is working on understanding everything that’s going on around us, so I’m not quite quick enough to reply… yet. Long story short, not many French friends, the ones we meet generally speak to us in English. We pepper in some French when we can.
H: You've lived in a lot of different places. Do you and Steve mind living in such a tiny apartment (and not having a full-size oven!?)
W: We both lived in really tiny spaces before moving here, so it feels nice to have rooms with doors! And thankfully, we are no longer in a studio. And we have a really nice shower, which is definitely a bit of a luxury in Paris (if you could have seen some of the ones on our apartment visits...). One thing that would be reallllyyy nice would be if we could both be in the kitchen at the same time. It’s a solid meter squared, so c’est pas possible.
H: Your apartment is furnished. If you could redecorate, what would you add or take away?
W: We were pretty lucky with our place. I've been told that the furnishing could be really disappointing, but we've got a nice couch, bed, and dining table. But there are still a few things I wish we could have. An oven that fits a normal sized baking sheet of cookies or maybe roast a turkey.. Ours works well, but I would rather not have a mini-four in the future. It would also be nice to have a desk or a bookshelf. And of course, more storage space!
H: Now that you're learning French, what is your favorite French word?
W: My favorite French word is voila! It’s very simple and I hear people saying it a lot. It means “here it is” and people can just tack it on to the end of a sentence that you don’t really know how to finish. “…et voila” It’s a little something like ”and that’s that!” or “and there you go.”
H: You've mentioned that there are certain shows you can't watch on your internet because they are American. Are the internet and TV very different in France? And do you watch a lot of it?
W: We can watch almost everything online, but the only thing we can't access is HBO Go. I don't know how we'll watch Game of Thrones in a few short weeks! We watch French TV through Orange and as you could probably guess, it's all in French. There is one channel that shows so many American series dubbed - Grey’s Anatomy, Friends, Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and more. They also dub things like Storage Wars. Um, I had no idea that would be interesting over here. We don’t watch a ton of TV since we’re still not the best at comprehending everything, but when we do, we tend to stick to reality TV since there is typically a lot of see-say. Things like Dance avec Les Stars (ha), Le Meilleur Patissier, and Top Chef. We know a lot of food words, so those shows are easier to follow.
Overall, the internet is basically the same, except for things like Kayak, Airbnb and Amazon all try to redirect me to the French version of their sites. But I still visit the same sites and read the same things. I’ve tried to follow some French companies and sites on Facebook to get more French into my newsfeed. I follow Le Monde, Buzzfeed France and a few French learning sites. I also have English language versions of French news (i.e. The Local France), so I know when a train or bus strike is going to affect my day.
H: We miss you tons over here...what do you miss most about the States!? Name the top 3 things you would bring to France if you could.
W: Well friends and family are at the top of the list, but I can't really bring everyone over and call that "3 things." So here are some trivial things (um, food) that I'd love to have to France.
- Chocolate chips: they are very expensive for a small pack. And I want to bake and eat chocolate chip cookies all the time!
- Peanut butter: duh. It's very expensive and no Jif. And I've mainly seen Reese's brand sold in the supermarché's. We love Jif!
- Mexican food: There is some, but it's not quite right. There are subs with French ingredients and some of them just don't taste the same. I want tortillas and beans and tacos and carnitas always.
H's questions were kind of like seeing Paris with a fresh pair of eyes. Some of the things that I look at with awe when we first arrived, now seem like business as usual. When my dear sister comes to visit, she’ll get to see firsthand what it's all about!
Hopefully, this answered some of your questions too. Let me know if you have any other questions about what it’s like to live in France. I’d be more than happy to answer!