WTF Paris?! Things Expats Don’t Understand



I’m a pretty happy expat these days. It’s been nearly eight years in Paris and despite some dark moments where all I wanted was to return to my New York life, when I visit other countries now (including the US), I’m thinking about Paris when I think about home.

That said, it’s not all rosy macarons, is it? French people and French culture are complex, easily incomprehensible. There’s a particular way of doing things and by god, that’s not going to change! Because if it worked during the Renaissance…

The other day, I asked my husband to call our accountant/friend about a fairly straightforward tax question. (I swear it’s not as boring as this setup sounds. Scratch that, it is.)

Q: Can we do this?
A: No.
Q: Are you sure?
A: I’m sure. You can’t do this.
Q (Because I’m poking husband in the arm, Ask him again! That doesn’t make any sense): You’re absolutely sure? Maggie’s saying it’s something you can do in the US.
A: Well, I suppose if you really want to do it, there’s a way (proceeds to tell us the way to do it).

Grrr. This is typically French. The immediate answer is “no” and only if you keep insisting will you get a “yes.” It’s exhausting for someone who grew up in a “customer is always right” culture. But this is the country I live in and these are the things I have to live with.

We thought we’d ask other expats what still makes them go, WTF Paris?! However (like me), nearly everyone prefaced their complaints with how much they enjoy Paris life. If our relationship with France were a Facebook status… “It’s complicated.”

Illustration by Nath Araujo. See more of Nath and her lovely work here.


Beautiful young French women who smoke! Just stop! The cancer and wrinkles. I can’t even.
– Chrissy, Canadian expat, 6 years

People here wear too many clothes. Late May or early September, you see so many heavy coats and woolen scarves. Often in weather conditions that would have the Brits running naked through the streets with joy. And people look at you like a child abuser if your child is not similarly layered up. The first sign of a drop of rain, the playground empties. This caution isn’t helping them—they all get so many colds. Toughen up Paris!
– Jennifer, English expat, 3 years

Telling you off while being extremely polite about it. I’m always left a bit bewildered about what just happened. It’s really an art. I’d rather be told ‘fuck off’ or flipped the bird, at least it’s clear!
– Caroline, American expat, 4 years

French malaise is really a thing! Maybe it’s the grey skies, but Parisians seem to be less optimistic than New Yorkers. Unfortunately, I think the glass-half-empty attitude is rubbing off on me a little.
– Megan, American expat, 5 years

What gets me most about Parisians is their indifference to dog shit. And their aggressiveness if you point out their dog just shat in front of your door.
– Joyce, American expat, 45 years

The way you have to show a justificatif de domicile (i.e. electric bill, lease) for every little thing—sometimes it doesn’t even seem like it has to do with what you’re trying to buy.
– Susan, American expat, 17 years

The constant chastising. I am 40 and I’ve a pretty good idea as to how the world works. A few weeks ago I dropped the kids to school; on the way back, the lollipop lady laid into me for not crossing the road correctly. I was alone. There were no cars. Fuck off. Sometimes I have to remind myself what age I actually am.
– Nicky, Irish expat, 15 years

Those weird weekend variety shows. It’s like a circus of the old and strange. I kind of love them, though, because they’re so bizarre and retro.
– Sharon, American expat, 7 years

Why do people hesitate to smile?
– Dominica, American expat, 3 years

French people ordering coffee in a pub. And grownups riding kick scooters, especially in the metro!
– Adrian, American expat, 15 years

When cool new animated films come out and the VO are only after 8PM so the only option is to take the kids to the dubbed French version. We tried that with Frozen and neither my daughter nor I enjoyed seeing it that way. This is currently the case with Hotel Transylvania 2, which my kids and I would love to see … just not dubbed in French.
– Helen, Australian expat, 8 years

They have to eat bread With. Every. Meal.
– Cleopatra, American expat, 6 years

The ability to stop and have a conversation anywhere, anytime. Middle of a doorway, hallway, etc. requiring everyone to go around them or stopping traffic. Meanwhile, they aren’t fazed at all!
– Nathalie, American expat, 20 years

At breakfast, why do they have their hot chocolate in a bowl then dip their beautiful, crispy, flaky croissant into it? It makes the croissant wet and soggy and leaves flaky bits floating around in the hot chocolate.
– Nhan (My Love for Paris), Australian expat, 3 years

Do you have any WTF Paris?! observations? Share them in the comments below or over on our FB page.


About Author

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.


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