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7 Everyday Things That Surprised Me When We Moved To Paris

7 Everyday Things That Surprised Me When We Moved To Paris

Because I'm right on the cusp of not being a newbie in Paris, I don't want forget the feelings that had me walking through the streets wide-eyed and observant. 

In the first few months, I kept a Notes list of everything I had a question about: words, people, stores, cigarettes, ham and more. It got pretty long. And while some questions were answered quickly, there are others that I still wonder about.

This week, I decided to create a post based on that list, a few everyday things that baffled me when we first arrived in Paris. You'll find that (obviously) most of these are quite easy to adapt to!

A Very Descriptive Address

When we first moved here, we couldn't figure out our apartment number. I was used to having proof that we occupied a specific space. You know, like we do in the US. if you live in an apartment, you have a "number", whether it's #409, Apt C, Unit 7 or something else. 

The addresses here are very long and very specific. Your mailing address is simply your building number, 18 Rue Charlot, for example. Mail gets delivered to you there, but your gardien/ne will accept it and put it in your mailbox for you. Things get a little more complicated if you want something delivered straight to your door or need the cable company to come fix something...

Let's use our previous example, 18 Rue Charlot. That's just the start. You then describe exactly where you live - batiment B, 2eme etage, porte droite. In English, this means "go to building B, we are on the second floor, door on the right." Though confusing to someone not used to the system, it's pretty efficient. It tells people exactly where you live, while #409 does not.


The Metro Doors

Riding the metro is simple once you figure it out. But in the process of getting it down, there is one very important thing to understand - the doors. You will encounter three types of doors - the one that automatically opens (very easy), the one with the button, and the one with the silver handle. At first, I assumed that every door was automatic. I would stand there waiting for the door to open. Sometimes, another person would step in front of me to push the button or lift the handle. Whoops.

These days, I sometimes spy small groups of friends looking at the door, trying to figure out how to open it...


The Internal Phone Ring

In the US, when you call someone, as you wait for that person to pick up, it rings. Almost like you can hear the phone ringing on the other side. In France, the internal tone is not the same. I was caught off guard the first time I heard the slow and steady beep. What happened?! I thought I made a mistake and dialed the wrong number. Nope, c'est normale.

Sound sample coming soon...


Pushing Your Card Allll The Way In

In the US, most people pay with their cards. Here, it’s a pretty even split between cash and card, possibly leaning towards cash. I've adapted and find myself counting out exact change for bigger grocery store runs and tiny boulangerie purchases alike.

One month in, I had been using my card almost exclusively. I was very accustomed to the US method of quickly shoving your card into the machine and immediately pulling it right back out. I tried that a few times here and failed. Thankfully, I learned quick and now know the right way to use a card machine: push the card into the machine and leave it there. The machine will let you know when it doesn't want your card anymore... with really loud beeps.


So Much Ham

Shopping for cold cuts in France is wild. My first time at the supermarché, I just stood there confused. Talk about paradox of choice; there are so many brands and types available. And I didn't know what the words meant. Luckily, purchasing ham is not a big commitment as each package comes with just two or four slices. That was another thing that confused me - why would I want to buy only two slices? 


Baguette v. Tradition

I always thought a baguette was a baguette; essentially the same everywhere, though some boulangeries would inevitably make better ones. But alas, that is not the case!

There is baguette and then there is a baguette de tradition. Tradition are heartier, taste better (in my opinion) and are a bit more expensive. Some boulangeries only sell tradition, some don't sell them at all. After practically disappearing between the 1950s and 1990s, the French decided to revitalize the traditional way of baking bread. A new law defined baguette de tradition. The criteria included things like being mixed, kneaded, leavened, and baked on premises, never frozen, no additives, and must use only natural bread yeasts. Thankfully this fairly recent edict means that we get to enjoy une tradition in the 21st century.


The Magical Shift From Bonjour To Bonsoir

Greetings are très importante in France. I've learned that hello and goodbye are just as important as please and thank you and putting that into practice is easy. But one thing that continues to elude me is the magic hour where the greeting switches from bonjour to bonsoir. I somehow always happened to be out and about at this time of day. But I’ve finally found (what I think is) a good rule of thumb: either when it's starting to get dark outside or when people are done with work for the day, whichever comes first based on the season. 

I could go on...  But now to you, friends. What are some of the unusual everyday things you have encountered during your travels? Or maybe when you moved to a brand new city or country? 


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