“Paris is always a good idea,” declared Audrey Hepburn. I thought that moving to Paris was a great idea until we were living in Paris. If you’re coming here because you love Paris, you will probably love Paris (most of the time). If you’re not a Francophile or you love to judge strangers, you will want to read this 3,000 word long article on why we don’t like living in Paris as expats and why we’re leaving France. This is my opinion about being an expat in Paris and based on MY experiences living in Paris, so please read it before judging me. I’ve included lots of pretty photos of Paris to compensate for being such a negative Nancy because Paris sucks (for me).
We’ve been living in Paris for two months. If you’re here to tell me that I haven’t tried hard enough or that two months isn’t long enough, try to read a bit before you judge me. This is the most personal post I’ve written in a while. As a note, I’m American and we’ve lived in the Netherlands and Belgium (briefly). This are my comparison points.
Most important fact to get out of the way: It’s a privilege to live abroad, especially in Paris.
There are plenty of things about Paris that I love: the architecture, food, wine, ability to travel within Europe, and rich cultural heritage of France. I adore France otherwise, but I’ll have lots more about great things to do around France as well as Paris soon. As a travel blogger and someone who is into history/culture, I absolutely had a blast going around Paris exploring secret Paris and pursuing my passion of writing. However, I worked full-time in a very different career before we moved to France, which was a fairly quick decision with a fast turnaround (1 month). I’ll write more about the things I love about Paris soon, however there’s a lot of things I don’t like about living in France and this post is about my reasons for not wanting to live in Paris anymore.
I’ve felt like there was something broken in ME for not loving living in Paris. That said, I’ve sacrificed a lot to be here, including my previous career and my financial independence. I thought that I’d enjoy living in Paris and it would click (so I kept putting off writing this although I thought about writing it a million times). However, it never clicked. I’ve posted a version of this in an expat group, and I was floored by the overwhelmingly positive response, including messages from people who felt like they couldn’t SAY it to anyone.
So, my reasons why we’ve not loved living in Paris, and why we’ve left Paris…
I’m not a Francophile.
I think that it helps to be infatuated with French culture although it’s not a guarantee that you’ll love living in Paris. If you’re someone obsessed with France, it’s easy to pinch yourself in the bad moments and say I LIVE IN PARIS! Good for you, but the rest of us are here dodging dog poop on the sidewalk and hoping that the pickpockets won’t take our wallets on the Metro. (Side note: I love the Metro. Maybe I’m weird, but it’s a fantastic subway system!)
I’m so tired of stepping in dog poop. I’m almost ready to buy little bags for every person I see with a dog. Just clean up after your dog. I have a cat, and I do the litter box regularly.
Paris is not what I thought it would be
I never expected Paris to be like a movie (like some starry eyed Americans), but a lot of people come here anticipating it to be a dream full of champagne, the Eiffel tower, pretty dresses, macarons, and romance. I was never that person, and if you come here starry-eyed, you might be disappointed. However, my husband got a competitive job offer in Paris and on paper, it looked good, and we thought that we’d live comfortably here as the cost of living in Paris seemed not so different from the cost of living in Amsterdam
. It’s a big city and as someone who grew up in New York City, I left New York as I didn’t want to live in a big city.
I’ve heard from a lot of expats who moved to Paris for love that it’s been really hard to break into their fields like they hoped that they would, even with fluent French. Don’t underestimate how competitive the expat job market is in Paris.
My biggest reason for not wanting to live in Paris: Paris expats unable to work
A lot of trailing spouses who move to France are unable to work due to visa restrictions. (Trailing spouses are the name for spouses who follow their significant other when their spouse gets a good job abroad.) I was luckier than a lot of spouses that I was granted the ability to work due to an uncommon visa.
However, I was locked out of the labor market for my career path as a non-fluent French speaker. As someone with a graduate degree and international work experience, I was deeply frustrated to see the gap in my CV growing and the only work that I could get involved switching careers/industries. I have worked in the service industry, but that was years ago.
I had invested time in getting a Masters degree and work experience in my chosen professional career. However, I really wanted to continue my career in Paris. I hoped that my previous experience working internationally in another European language would help for more international companies. However, English-only positions often asked for fluent French. Given the state of the expat job market in Paris (which is quite competitive), being a specialist isn’t always enough for getting a job as a non-fluent French speaker (although it can be).
While in Paris, I met a number of expats who moved to France for love who didn’t have specialized educational degrees past a college degree (if they did). That situation made it very difficult for them to be competitive on the general job market despite being intelligent, well-educated people with a good level of French. If you’re reading this thinking on how to make your move to France go smoother, I really suggest becoming fluent in French and pursuing a good professional degree from a French university if you don’t have a Masters. Similarly, a bachelor’s degree is important if you don’t have one. A friend of mine has a M.B.A. from a French university and that degree has certainly helped her in France.
Back to my situation in Paris: Not being able to find good work has made me dependent on my husband. I typically don’t write about our relationship; however, Paris has shifted our relationship dynamic from one where both of us kept independent finances to one where I was dependent on him for paying the rent. For some people, this is fine, but I was not comfortable with it. I prefer our dual income lifestyle where I had more independence, even if it gave me the flexibility to pursue my passions.
I feel for those reading this who have to wait a year plus to be allowed to work, only to struggle to find jobs, particularly ones that aren’t set aside for English speakers (e.g., au pair/teaching English).
Living in Paris is not the same as visiting Paris
I had visited Paris some years ago, and I enjoyed Paris a lot after staying with a local who took the time to show me her favorite places. Living in Paris is not like visiting Paris. Real Paris is expensive and seven euro beers (for a pint) made me cringe. When you live in a city and deal with the bureaucracy and mess, you see it for what it is, and Paris involves a lot of persistence/resilience. I always thought I was a persistent person, but maybe I’m not that tough.
All the magical things about visiting Paris aren’t the same when you live here. The Metro is packed during rush hour and the charming hours of the shops become a lot less so when you forget to go grocery shopping on a Saturday for Sunday (when everything is closed). It’s still a gorgeous city, and I remember this whenever I find a beautiful quiet street or look out at the rooftops from the window of my double chambre de bonne.
Being on vacation with minimal concerns about money is very different than living in a city with a limited income that is split between food, groceries, bills, and other things that normal people pay. I can’t go out to lovely restaurants every day. The city is still so instagrammable, but instagram isn’t always pretty behind the scenes.
That said, I’ve loved playing tourist in Paris while living in Paris. However, that doesn’t really dictate how you live in a city. I’ve been become obsessed with “secret streets” around Paris and just exploring all the different arrondissements. However, you can’t play tourist 24/7 if you’re living in Paris if you need to earn money. My husband rarely got to experience this side of Paris while working full time and really felt like he missed out a bit on the better parts of Paris without the crowds as a result.
Every single Parisian resident hates dealing with the bureaucracy. I’ve wasted so many hours of my life sitting in the prefecture waiting room. Sometimes you go, wait five hours, and you’re told that you need to go to another office by a civil servant who criticizes your French on your first day in France. Then, you manage to reach another office on the phone and you’re told that the original office was correct. Then, you return, wait for four hours, and you’re advised that you need to go to a different office. It’s a cycle of frustration. If you don’t speak French at all, it will not go well without a translator and there are people in the expat community who specialize in this. That said, try it out without one and see how it goes. It might go terribly.
High cost of living in Paris / Housing market in Paris
Compared to New York City and London, Paris seems somewhat okay. However, compared to other European capitals, it’s pricey. As someone acutely pointed out to me, it’s my fault for wanting to live in Paris proper for my first couple months. We pay over 1,200 euros for a double chambre de bonne. A normal chambre de bonne is a former servant’s room around 10 square meters with a shared toilet with 6+ apartments. It is up on the sixth floor of the building up a narrow staircase.
As the housing market is so tight, a filthy furnished apartment can be rented for an obscene amount of money because it’s a good neighborhood and an old building. Also, real estate agents want to see your assets and contracts, so without a second income or some assets, it’s hard to qualify for decent rental apartments in Paris due to the income ratios that require making around three times the rent. Having a non-working spouse will not help much in this situation.
My biggest issue is the cost of groceries (although it’s cheaper in the suburbs). French food is excellent, and the quality of food in Paris is great. We shop for veggies at the local markets. However, a “cheap” healthy dinner in Paris can cost us up to 15 euros for two people. In Amsterdam or Brussels, the average meal that was 100% equivalent would cost about 10 euros. Similarly, the cost of going out for drinks can be a bit crippling at times where a pint of beer can easily be 7.50 not during happy hour. (It’s way more affordable to buy a cheap bottle of decent French wine for about 5 euros from Monoprix. That said, I absolutely loved the wine in Paris, however being on a tighter food budget dictated wine less often.)
As a note, I was delighted by how affordable and GOOD healthcare and education are in France. Although we don’t have kids, I could definitely see how you can save thousands of dollars compared to living in the United States.
I’m not fluent in French.
I’m not bad, but I’m also not good at French. I stumble around hoping that nobody will notice how terrible it is (they all notice), and when you’re dealing with anything official, you need to know French. Similarly, to find work in Paris, it’s best* if you’re fluent in French. *If not, at least B2/C1 level is what people want to see, so if you’re intending on finding a job in Paris, work on your French for a while as you’ll need it for everyday things even if the job itself isn’t in French. (That said, Parisians have a decent level of English, so I’m a bit shocked when people complain about English not being spoken well here.) We ended up here by mistake, however, if I had known that we were moving here a year ago, I would have started French classes.
My bigger issue regarding French in Paris is being locked out of the job market for my career due to the language barrier. Before you tell me that it’s naive to move to a country without being fluent in their language, I intended to become fluent long-term and I moved for my husband’s work, not my own. We only had about 1 month to figure out our move to France after deciding to move to France. It was a bit spontaneous, unplanned, and not really the best decision given that my French isn’t good. I started learning immediately after we decided to go to France and I have multiple French books that I worked through while living in Paris. I realize that knowing French CAN change your life in France, however it’s impossible to become fluent within only one month.
What nobody tells you about living in Paris:
You can’t complain to anyone
When you’re unhappy as an expat, especially in a place like Paris, it’s really difficult because you can’t talk to your non-expat friends about being unhappy abroad. They often tell you that you’re lucky to live abroad in Paris (Reminder: You are!) and that they’d kill to be in your shoes in PARIS. (Paris can only be written in CAPS when you’re reminding someone else that they’re living [your dream] in PARIS.) I’ve experienced this quite a few times, and it’s tough because you want to be close with people, but if you cannot be honest about your feelings with a close friend asks you how living in Paris is, … simply, you feel fake. Similarly, when you meet new people in Paris, it’s tough to gauge the degree that you can discuss how you feel about living in Paris as an expat without risking your new friendship. As a result, I’ve rarely had an outlet for my frustration.
EVEN ON THE INTERNET.
You’d think that the various expat groups on the internet would be a good outlet for this, however many people in the expat groups in Paris seem to find it impossible to allow others to be HONEST about their feelings by telling others that they can leave if they’re unhappy. Similarly, according to some folks, it’s always your fault: there’s something wrong with YOU, you never tried enough, your French isn’t good enough, or some decision that you’ve made has been terrible. That’s the thing: I know myself and I’ve been able to shake it off, but if you’re in a bad situation, it really doesn’t help to be told that it’s your fault and you should leave if Paris isn’t working out like you hoped.
Remember that what is someone else’s dream doesn’t need to be YOUR dream. It’s easy to let the expectations of others weigh on you and bottle up the anxiety/frustrations that come with trying to make life abroad in Paris work. Being an expat is NEVER easy, especially being an expat in Paris. Many expats say that it gets better after a year while others say that living in Paris becomes less bothersome over time as you learn how to deal with the bureaucracy. However, many of these expats never really fall in love with Paris if it never clicked from the beginning although many head to other French cities and love living in France. They’re often in a love/hate relationship with Paris. However, they’re at peace with their decision to live here (potentially with their French spouse) and at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with airing your frustrations.
Hello grumpy Paris expats reading this….
To all the Paris expats reading this who are relieved to read someone who’s not glamorizing Paris, I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Being honest with yourself and others feels great. There’s nothing wrong with being honest about your feelings although not everyone will want to hear it.
If you’re living in Paris and not happy here, I give you a lot of credit, and I hope things improve for you soon. Facing your unhappiness is difficult and hard, but there are two ways to solve unhappiness: to face it head-on or wait for it to pass. You don’t know how long it will take until you’re happy and I think that it’s important to take steps to combat your unhappiness to become happy again.
There is power in recognizing that you’re unhappy because it means that you can start taking steps to be happier whether it’s leaving or finding something fulfilling to spend your time doing. That said, I do recommend trying to see a therapist as they can really help you deal with depression if you’re dealing with that.
I wrote this post about living in Paris as a way of making others not feel so isolated for feeling this way about Paris and I hope this made you feel less alone. It’s not all sunshines, sunrises without tourists ruining the view, and delicious pastries. Don’t be afraid to share your story. You would be surprised how many people feel the same way. I’ve also been delighted by the Grumpy Expat Facebook group, which is a place where you can share all your negative Nancy rants about hating Paris. Seriously, let that frustration go.
To prospective Parisian expats….
If you’re moving to Paris, I wish you the best of luck. It’s a TOUGH city, but I hope you love it. It’s not for everyone. However, it’s really hard to know before you move to a new city (or country) if you’re going to love it or hate it. I hoped that I would love being an expat in Paris, but I was wrong. There’s absolutely no shame in trying out living in Paris and being honest with yourself if it doesn’t FEEL right. Just be realistic.
If you came here to write: YOU SHOULD LEAVE
For everyone who came here to tell me that I should leave, I left some months ago. Feel free to raise your glass of wine.
To the keyboard psychologists/everyone hate-reading this…
At the end of the day, can we just be understanding (and maybe even supportive) of other people’s decisions without being judgmental? I don’t understand this pushback in the anglophone expat community when someone says that they’re not happy in Paris. It seems that everyone is a psychologist and you’ll receive a free session analyzing everything that you’ve done wrong and/or how you’re a horrible unhappy person who would be unhappy everywhere.
I was happy before we moved to Paris. We were forced to move due to our visas expiring, so I think that has impacted my experience in Paris considerably as I spent years learning Dutch and integrating into the Netherlands
only to restart from square zero. For me, the Netherlands is my
happy place that makes me feel at home although it has its own downsides/quirks (like everywhere). Nowhere is truly perfect.
If your expat life in Paris is good complete with amazing friends, the perfect apartment, dinner parties, Seine picnics, and/or the perfect partner, good for you. I truly mean that. Finding your happy place is tough and if living in Paris makes you happy, I’m happy for you.
I simply encourage you to let others have a safe place online (or even to your face) to air their feelings as bottling unhappiness is bad. Instead of analyzing WHY they are unhappy, let them feel comfortable to talk about it. You can encourage them to find hobbies that make them happy or even see a psychologist if they’re dealing with depression. Not everyone is looking for pointers on how to improve, so unless you’re a certified psychologist, consider if it’s productive to point out these issues.
If there’s only one takeaway from this article for you, think when you hear that someone is having a difficult time adjusting when moving abroad. Be sympathetic and understanding. A listening ear can be really important when you’re feeling alone and sometimes you don’t need to say anything if you can’t be supportive. Or even better, be supportive.
We’re officially on our last day in Paris. I’ve fallen in love with parts of this city, the food, the wine, and I’ve made some fantastic friends. I don’t regret leaving at this point. However, I’m still excited to return as a tourist to see more of Paris and France There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being honest with yourself and moving on with your life. Happiness is something that we should all aspire to no matter where it may be: Paris or elsewhere.
So, tell me… Are you happy in Paris? What do you love/hate about Paris? What have I leave out or get wrong about being a Paris expat?
Please tell me how YOU feel about living in Paris.
That said, this is NOT a typical article for this blog before you judge my entire blog based on this one article as I don’t usually write about expat related issues. If you’re looking for pragmatic, helpful, and honest tips for travel in Europe, you’re in the right place. If you want to read some more inspiring guides to Paris, click for an off the beaten path Paris guide and a guide to the covered passages in Paris.