When I found out I would be studying in Paris for a year, I was over the moon. My dream of living in the city of lights was finally coming true! I had already spent one year as an assistante de langue teaching English in a small town in Eastern France so I thought I was accustomed to life in France. However, life in a big city is way different than life in a small town. I would soon learn that Paris had its own specifies that I would have to get used to. Even after visiting Paris a handful of times before, living in France, and studying the culture, I still experienced some culture shock in Paris.
1. Suppressing my Smile
Americans are known for being happy, friendly, smiley people. When I first came to Paris it was so hard not to smile all the time! I was pursuing my passion in my favorite city in the world and couldn’t have been happier. Parisians however, are not known for their smile. I’m not saying they never smile, just that they only smile for a really good reason. Americans have a reputation for not being as genuine because we smile about everything. In order to not draw attention to myself I had to remind myself to suppress my smile as I strolled along the streets of Paris.
2. Metro Assertiveness
I consider myself a polite, laid-back person. When riding the metro that personality changes. I still try to be polite as possible, but after riding the metro in a big city, I learned to be much more assertive. If you want to get a seat, get a spot in the metro car during rush hour, and not get stuck walking behind slow people, you need to think fast and be proactive!
3. Saying No
In addition to learning how to be assertive in the metro, I also had to learn how to be assertive in the streets of Paris. Multiple times a day you could be stopped and asked for money, to sign a “petition” that is really a scam in disguise, or even just for directions. Paris didn’t completely make me cold hearted; I did stop once in a while and give a coin to a homeless person or help some lost tourists. Most of the time, I had to say no or no thank you and keep walking. There are a surprising number of scams and pickpockets in Paris so you have to be very cautious.
4. Watching Out For Pickpockets
Speaking of pickpockets, I only every had to deal with this problem when visiting big cities as a tourist myself. Now that I was living in a big city, I had to be very aware of my surroundings and belongings. I’ve never had anything stolen myself, but a few of my friends have had their phones stolen. Keep your important belongings secure and within your sight, especially in crowded places like the metro or by touristy places like the Eiffel Tower.
5. Waiting in Long Lines
Paris is a populous city in addition to being a top tourist destination. Wherever I went there always seemed to be a long line. The grocery store, the cinema, museums, and even restaurants all have long lines. Personally I’ve never waited more than an hour to get into a place, but there are some Parisians who will wait up to two hours to get a table for brunch! I’m not saying there are long lines absolutely everywhere; if you go to less touristy, less popular spots you won’t have to wait as long.
6. Navigating Through Big Crowds
Along with long lines, there are also big crowds in Paris. Big boulevards, famous museums, and large metro stations like Châtelet always seem to be filled with people. I’ve had to learn to walk fast and weave my way through large groups of people. In the Summer, I’ve had to strategically secure picnic spots along the Seine and in parks before all the good spots were taken. And since Parisians like to eat later in the evening, I’ve found it easier to find a free table earlier in the evening (around 7 PM).
7. The Smells of Paris
When you think of the smells of Paris do you think of freshly baked baguettes ? Warm croissants? Freshly brewed espresso and café crème? If you go inside a bakery or a coffee shop you are likely to be greeted by those pleasant smells. The smells in streets of Paris are not as lovely. Air pollution, cigarette smoke, and whatever is coming out of the metro all stink up the most romantic city in the world! You might be able to escape these smells momentarily though if you head to one of the city’s lovely gardens or parks.
8. Dressing Parisian
In addition to not smiling all the time, I had to adjust my wardrobe so I fit in. That meant more black, Adidas sneakers, less make-up, and prioritizing versatile classic clothing items. I didn’t completely change my look because I still wanted to feel like myself, but I also wanted to feel part of the city itself. I didn’t want to be targeted as a tourist and be more likely to get pickpocketed.
9. Expensive Cost of Living
Moving from small town to a big city was also a big adjustment budget-wise. Everything in Paris is more expensive than in the rest of France. My rent for a room in student housing last year was more expensive than my rent is now in a two-bedroom apartment in the South of France! Food and drinks are also quite pricey, especially if you are in a touristy neighborhood. You can find cheaper restaurants and bars closer to the universities.
10. Youth Discounts
Most of the culture shock in Paris has been pretty negative so far, so I thought I would end with something more positive! Although Paris can be quite expensive, if you are a student or an adult aged 18-25, you may be eligible for a discount on movie tickets, haircuts, train tickets, and museum entry! Now these discounts aren’t exclusive to Paris, but I took advantage of the tarif jeune a lot in Paris because there are so many museums and events happening all the time! This certainly helped me save some money, which was super important as a student. In addition to this discount there are often other discounts for kids/minors, students, teachers, the unemployed, and the elderly.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know if you’ve ever experienced culture shock in Paris or anywhere else in the world!
À la prochaine,