As I mentioned in my article on Mauritian sausage rougail, I only moved to France as a young adult, despite being half French and having a French passport. I grew up in England before moving to Mauritius at the age of 11, where I spent 7 years, learning French in a French-speaking secondary school.
I then moved to Paris at the age of 18, with a mashup of different cultural notions in mind. Despite my French heritage, I discovered the city of light with all the wonder of a foreigner. I got to know the place bit by bit, even though some things still surprise me every once in a while! I am very interested in the concept of expatriation and I wanted to begin a discussion on that topic on this blog by publishing a list of the 20 things that surprised me the most when I moved to Paris in 2010. I hope that expats living in Paris will recognize a few things on this list!
- Public transport, also known as « la RATP »: in Mauritius, public buses would turn up every 40 minutes or so and wouldn’t always follow the route they were supposed to. So you can imagine that I was very impressed when I discovered how fast and dense the Parisian subway is! I tried out the tramway, the RER and buses once I was more used to the city, but I remember being greatly impressed by the metros that would pull into their stations every minute or so.
- The sheer size of the city: I was always getting lost, especially in the beginning. 7 years later, I still get lost quite easily when I go somewhere new. There are less areas I don’t know now, but still.
- The road numbers: it took me a while to figure out that even numbers were on one side of the round, uneven numbers on the other.
- The notion of left and right banks: I am still a little confused by the concept of the whole city being defined by its proximity with the Seine river.
- How fast Parisians walk! I walk much faster now, just to avoid being run over by the crowds.
- People not paying for a ticket in the metro. I could barely handle my metro card, figuring out where to change trains, all the people everywhere, doors to open and pickpockets to look out for. Not having a ticket would have been far too stressful.
- Chocolate and baguette given to young children every day for their afternoon snack.
- New films coming out every Wednesday.
- Condom vending machines in the metro. Lovely.
- Bakeries everywhere. Everywhere!
- A fresh baguette for one euro or less. Pure bliss.
- Those weird handles on the metro doors: I was extremely nervous when I had to lift that awkward lever to open the door on line 6 for the first time, with a bunch of Parisians losing their patience as I struggled with it.
- The size of the shops! Especially the Gibert Jeune book shops, where I went a lot when I first moved to Paris. I couldn’t remember having seen so many books in one place before.
- The Eiffel tower that you see all.the.time
- People insulting each other while still saying “vous”, the polite term for “you”. That still makes me laugh, even today.
- That aggressive noise in the metro to warn you that the doors are about to close. I used to be incapable of jumping into the train when that noise started, I was too scared I would get stuck. Things have changed a lot since!
- Dog poo everywhere. I considered it a personal triumph to have not stepped in dog poo for almost 5 years in Paris. Then it happened twice in one week and I felt a bit less cocky. But since then, my shoes have stayed clean!
- The firemen’s calendar. I wish someone would explain to me why I should want one.
- The French culture of non-security: hardly any smoke detectors in houses, people not wearing their safety belts in cars…
- The “étrennes”, a cheque you’re supposed to give your building’s caretaker at Christmastime to thank them for their services. I only heard of this practice after 6 whole years in Paris. I hope I didn’t upset all the people I didn’t give money to over the years!
When you moved to a new place, what were the things that surprised you the most? I am thinking of writing a similar article to this one but on Mauritius this time: is that something you could be interested in?