Travel and days out

20 things that surprised me about Paris

5 May 2017
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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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. How fast Parisians walk! I walk much faster now, just to avoid being run over by the crowds.
  6. 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.
  7. Chocolate and baguette given to young children every day for their afternoon snack.
  8. New films coming out every Wednesday.
  9. Condom vending machines in the metro. Lovely.
  10. Bakeries everywhere. Everywhere!
  11. A fresh baguette for one euro or less. Pure bliss.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. The Eiffel tower that you see all.the.time
  15. People insulting each other while still saying “vous”, the polite term for “you”. That still makes me laugh, even today.
  16. 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!
  17. 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!
  18. The firemen’s calendar. I wish someone would explain to me why I should want one.
  19. The French culture of non-security: hardly any smoke detectors in houses, people not wearing their safety belts in cars…
  20. 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?

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  • Reply MG 5 May 2017 at 21 h 43 min

    An article on Mauritius would be enlightening to say the least. When I moved to the UK, I felt like a baby learning new things all the time, it was enormous fun.

    • Reply Nathalie 6 May 2017 at 8 h 10 min

      I’ll prepare an article on Mauritius then :)

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