Stairs and Stares: The Little Differences Between Paris and Los Angeles

The main reason I moved to Paris from LA was for change. We wanted France’s specific brand of difference, but after working and living the same way for over a decade, I was down just to feel anything different, no matter what it was. This is a pretty clutch perspective to have going into a new city, country, culture, as it helps you to be okay with the millions of differences that throw you off as you try to complete even the most mundane of daily tasks.

Some differences are good, like affordable-to-free healthcare, amazing bread, and seven weeks paid vacation. Some suck, like dog shit everywhere, not a lot of elevators, and no Mexican food. But overall, I think we’re net positive as far as the transition goes, and we’re enjoying the way all those little differences are still discernable, adding texture to our daily lives.

That said, there are some odd differences that never ocurred to me to be ready for when we moved, which I’ve assembled into a tidy list for those of us “list people.” I’m big on caveats because I was a fact-checker at one time, so I should caveat by saying that I am comparing only to Los Angeles, not the US as a whole. LA and California are their own unique little beasts or snowflakes compared to the rest of the US, and honestly, I think I don’t know a thing about my country, but I do know LA. With that said…

Speaking of Change… Change

In LA, I had a cheeseburger piggy bank that someone gave me for my 28th birthday, and I put all loose change into it for years. Quarters went into my car for metered parking or the pinball machines at Walt’s Bar on Eagle Rock Blvd. Those are the only viable uses for change in Los Angeles. Maybe also leveling a table at a cafe.

But in Paris? You use every last cent in Paris. Five 20 cent pieces will buy you a baguette. A few more, and you have a coffee. People ask you if you have exact change to make life easier for them. Meanwhile in LA (and I’ve also heard, NY), there are stores that only take cards. I had to switch from a full-sized wallet to a tiny coinpurse just because of the change entering my life. Also because when I was pickpocketed I realized I needed a less-grabable wallet.

Dirty Hands

Because we no longer drive, we are always outside, interacting with the world without the protective barrier of a car window. I never realized how many things I would touch in the course of a day, and how many of those things are kind of gross. You touch doors and Metro handles and poles and scuzzy bathroom doors. I’ve never been a germophobe or one to carry hand sanitizer, but I had to break down eventually and buy some. This realization became even more real after the corona virus outbreak, but we’ll get to that later.

The lovely metro. So simple. So useful. So full of germs.

Slow Grocery Lines

America is big on not waiting for anything, no matter what. If there are more than two people in line to checkout at the grocery store, it signals abysmal operations at that store, an inept management, a lazy checker. For this reason, once the lines get more than 2-deep, another checker is called to open up a lane. In France, literally no one cares if lines are long. There are only three cash registers at grocery stores anyway, and I’ve never seen more than one open, even on the busines days. At first I was shocked and like an American, reflected on the poor management of the store. Then I just got used to it. Then I began to love that I’m no longer in a rush.

Stairs

Want a better butt? Move to Paris. Even if I abandoned my car in LA, I could go weeks without climbing a single stair, let alone the five flights to my own front door.

Jokes aside, the lack of elevators here, even in stores and Metros, is actually almost criminal–how is a person with limited mobility supposed to get around? I tried to research what the government does to help these people, but can only find info for how tourists with limited mobility can get around.

Stairs in Montmartre.

Stares

People here stare at you and don’t even feel bad about it. Maybe it’s healthier than the LA I-am-staring-at-you-but-I-don’t-want-you-to-know-unless-maybe-you’re-interested type of staring. At least it’s not hidden, but it was very awkward for me for the first few months.

At first I thought it was just me–I have black hair and olive skin but can look like I hail anywhere from Southeast Asia to South America to Italy (I’m a weird mix of Mexican, Spanish, Irish, Northern European, various other anglo origins, more Irish than I realized until my parents did 23 And Me). People get confused in LA, so obviously they’d be even more confused in Paris where most people look… French. My husband let me know it’s just a thing people do here and it didn’t necessarily reflect on me at all. I read up on it and found others had also noticed it, and had heard that it doesn’t even have to signal romantic interest, they just might be curious about you. I’ve grown to like it because now if someone has a coat I like or an interesting face, I can just stare at them and not feel badly about it.

Carry Everything

In LA, your car is your office, backpack, locker, mobile carrier of life stuff. It has shoes, hand cream, gym attire, emergency food, an emergency novel, water, a blanket, a flashlight if you’re smart, chargers–anything you might need throughout your day. In Paris, everyone walks around with at least two or three bags. Most women have their purse, plus a canvas tote that serves as their locker. They may also need it in case they buy something during the day and they need a “sac” for it. If I was going to be away for several hours either working or at French classes, I had to bring a backpack for all of that life stuff and carry it on my back. I guess it’s better for my health than hauling it around in my car, but it took some time to even realize how much stuff one needs in a day, now that it’s not all at ones disposal in the parking lot.

Sleeping In

I never realized LA was such an early city. We’d wake up at 9am on a weekend and lament that it was already too late to get a table at Sqirl and that Civil Coffee would already be full of tourists by the time we got there. I’d wake up at 6:30am on weekdays and be out the door by 7:30am to get to work, home by 7pm, bed by 10pm to do it all again the next day. Now I sleep until 9am and maybe don’t even finish dinner until 10pm–I don’t even recognize myself.

Lack of Productions

In LA it’s very normal to experience traffic down a main thoroughfare due to a show or movie filming nearby, blocking part of the street. Certain neighborhoods get used consistently for certain eras or stand-ins for other parts of the country consistently. UCLA is any IVY league school. WeHo is always for metatheatrical shows about the industry. Highland Park is a small town, or it’s just Highland Park if they’re filming Maron. South Pas is the East Coast or anything from the ’50s or ’60s. You hardly bat an eye if you see a local store covered in blackout tarps with white trucks surrounding it, you just know.

I didn’t expect it to feel odd that there’s never any filming in Paris. If anything, that should be more normal. But I realized that anytime there is a lot of equipment somewhere blocking the way, a lot of lights, or a loud explosion, I just assume it’s part of a production. My brain literally guesses the interference is part of a false reality before it even contemplates that it’s a real thing–that’s weird.

The charcoal latte from Wild and the Moon. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s one of the only coffees that can make me feel like I’m in LA.

I’m gonna say it: there’s no good coffee

There I said it. Okay, okay, saying there is absolutely no good coffee is a bit extreme. There are places that are roasting or coffee-focused and make decent coffee. But LA, and many other major US cities boast exquisite coffee opportunities on every corner. They offer nuanced beans prepared a variety of ways. You can get a lavender latte that tastes so good it justifies its silly existence. You can buy cold brew that would breathe life back into a corpse. The Starbucks in Paris doesn’t even do cold brew and the iced coffee is barely worth the small price tag. I got a charcoal latte at Wild and the Moon once just to feel like I was in Los Angeles for a few minutes. It was close, but no cigar.

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