Before moving to Paris, I’d always imagined myself living in one of those beautiful Hausmannian buildings somewhere in le Marais or on the top of Montmartre. I had this romantic and completely unrealistic idea of what an apartment in Paris looked like, and the thought of high living costs, hardly enough space for one person, nonetheless furniture never even crossed my mind. Nor did the fact that most of those buildings don’t even have an elevator (and there’s the answer to your question how Parisians manage to stay slim when they eat so much sugar and fat).
In my head, a Parisian apartment would be less pricey than any basic 45 square meter apartment I’d ever rented in the city center of Oslo, Norway, which is where I lived most of my adult life until I moved to the US for work before eventually settling down in France, two years ago. In my head, all Parisian neighborhoods looked like le Marais and Montmartre, and surely, I would have a view over the Eiffel Tower. In my head, there would be a boulangerie (bakery) right across the street from my building, where I would buy fresh croissants and pain au chocolat every morning and enjoy them on my charming little balcony while watching Parisians ride their bikes or scooters to work.
If you are someone who already resides in Paris, you’ll totally shake your head at everything I just said. Because, this version of Paris does not exist in the world of middle-class people like myself (and maybe you). I hate to break it to you, but you can not be a waitress at a charming French cafe or a struggling artist/photographer AND live in the apartment of your dreams in Paris. Or, you can, but your entire salary will go towards paying rent, which means you can’t spend any money on chic outfits, wine and cheese or even the croissants from the boulangerie. And what’s the point of living in Paris if you can’t even LIVE a little?
There’s obviously the option of living in a colocation (shared housing), so if you’re a very social person who’s into that, go for it. But if you’re an introverted loner like me, living with a bunch of strangers in the apartment of your dreams, might just kill the ambiance a little. The only way you’ll ever be able to (sort of) afford an apartment in a beau quartier (nice neighborhood) if you’re on a medium budget and don’t want to live with other people, is by living in an apartment the size of a closet, with no elevator, perhaps not even any air conditioning, probably no balcony – but if you’re lucky, you might have a view over the Eiffel Tower. Which is also why your apartment is a hundred euros more expensive than your friends’ same size apartment with no view over the landmark. So enjoy that view for all its worth, while sitting on your bed – which, apart from the toilet, is the only place you have to sit in your tiny studio apartment. You really didn’t think there’d be space for chairs in there, did you? Honey, there’s not even space for a houseplant. Well, look on the bright side; you can cook dinner, shower, watch TV and pee – all at once!
Now, let’s talk about les quartiers, shall we?
Since I used le Marais and Montmartre as examples before, I’ll use them again now. Those neighborhoods are perfect examples of how Paris, as a whole, is portrayed in the movies. Paris is portrayed as squeaky clean, artsy, romantic and wherever you look, the architecture will make you go “wow, that’s freaking amazing”. This portrayal is very one-dimensional, if you ask me. But before moving to Paris, this idea was my ultimate dream. And now that I live here, I actually prefer the OTHER Paris. I’m not saying I don’t love the art, the romance, the…uhm..cleanliness? Because I do. But given the option, I’d rather settle down in the République and Oberkampf area and enjoy the view of graffiti on random buildings or the Statue de la République, spend all my money in the many cool and instagrammable restaurants and coffeeshops in the area, and watch protesters riot on the main square – if I have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Instead, I don’t even live in the city center. I live in a banlieue (French for suburb). Parisians hate the suburbs. They might even hate you a little if you live there. The word banlieue can not even be pronounced without spitting it out like it’s a curse word. Why there’s so much hatred towards the banlieues is beyond me. Maybe that’s just Parisian snobbery? Who knows.
The biggest problem with living in the suburbs, is that I need to take public transportation (or the car) to get to the city center of Paris. I also don’t have immediate access to the coolest restaurants (although there are some nice ones around here too) and there are no coffee shops here. Most of the people here are elders who live in the old houses around here, and immigrants who live in the apartment buildings. You know, people like me. Instead of Hausmannian buildings, we live in communist buildings. Instead of having a view over the Eiffel Tower, we have a view over….more buildings.
On the other hand, everybody here can afford to have a car. Everybody can afford a spacious apartment (ours is 45 square meter). I have plants. My toilet and my shower are not in the same room. There are two beautiful parks close to the apartment – and one of them happens to be next to my favorite bakery as well. And you can see the Eiffel Tower from there.
Most importantly, I feel safe here in my banlieue.
So, should you move to the city center or the suburbs?
Only you know the answer to that. It all depends on what you’d be willing to sacrifice – because you can’t have the cake, and eat it too (unless you’re rich).