For all the times I've ever gotten, "What, you're kidding! You live in Paris! How can you have problems??", I refer you to what has been dubbed the Paris Syndrome. Yes, apparently there is a phenomenon among Japanese tourists that might make you think twice the next time you're hesitating between travel plans to the city of lights or a beach in Tahiti (regardless of what you look like in your bikini this year). Looking for paradise on earth and all that jazz, these tourists infiltrate Paris every year only to be shocked by the reality that awaits them. Forced to return home in a disillusioned stupor, they are then diagnosed with clinical depression. And that's how the sad little story ends--don't believe me, check it out on Wikipedia here.
So I apologize in advance if I give some of you who have never been to the Frenchy capitol a small case of the Paris syndrome, but there are some misplaced happy bubbles that need to be popped today. Of course, some of these stress factors might not be applicable to those visiting and might be exclusively reserved for those living here. You might have a grand ol' time, completely unaware of what the reality of staying a bit longer than your week long stint entails.
- The prefecture. This topic deserves a whole post so I gave it one here.
- It's a big big city with lots of people. And with any big city, you'll find busy, stressed, I don't give a crap about you people as soon as you step out your front door. Be prepared for some rudeness.
- But do you wanna know what my biggest cultural shock was when it came to moving to France? Grocery stores! Who would have thought right? Living in Paris proper it's rare to own a car and even if you do, you're certainly not going to face the definite probability of a silly traffic jam just to go to the grocery store. No--you're going to buy a granny cart! (true confessions--this took me a year to realize and another to find one and buy it...before I was trudging all those plastic bags by hand!)
Ain't she a beaut?
Now imagine that you roll that thing to your local grocery store. You can try to shop for the week, and maybe if you're an Italian supermodel, you'll actually manage to get everything that you plan on eating into that ever so fashionable granny cart. That is of course, if they have everything in the store. A few things that stores haven't had in stock while I've been grocery shopping: eggs (that lasted a month!), flour, paper towels, toilet paper, skim milk, and specialty items (at least in France you can always count on them having wine, cheese and yogurt in stock!).
Heaven forbid you hit the cheaper grocery stores where they make up for the discount in lack of customer service. You quickly learn to never ask a salesperson where a food item is. I've also been followed around the store (because I look so suspicious you know!) then chastised at the counter by the guy because the cashier forgot to ask to take a look in my granny cart before checking out (as if that was my responsibility). Let's not forget the time where the store alarm had been tripped and remained blaring my entire half hour shopping experience (it would suddenly stop, everyone in the store would start clapping, then it would start up again...). Once an entire aisle was flooded with water and I don't know how many times I've seen the staff at various stores decide to do their food stocking or floor polishing right during rush hour (they even sometimes get mad at you, the customer, who's in their way!).
Then there's the vegetables--sometimes it's up to you to weigh and label them (you'll get angry stares from everyone in line while at checkout for that one bag of tomatoes that you forgot) while other times the cashier does it for you and still other times there's actually a vegetable guy who does it for you (and no signs indicating which one it is!). And then if you actually survive making it to checkout the battle's not over yet: first you'll wait in line from anywhere from 3 minutes on an amazing day to 20 on a more typical that you'd think day. Once you finally see the end of the tunnel, have you decided how you're going to pay? Every store (even those belonging to the same chain) will have different requirements. Some allow you to use your credit/debit card from 1 euro onward, some it's 8, some it's 10 or even 15. Checks are accepted in some stores, not in others. Forget the cash back bit. You'd think cash would be accepted everywhere but be careful--I've had a one euro coin refused because it was too dirty (I promptly went home and cleaned it and didn't have a problem the next time), and I've gotten glared at because I paid for a minor things with a 20 or I didn't have the right amount of cents to go along with it (I now apologize right from the start if I know I'm paying for something with a larger bill!).
And to top it all off, you get the privilege of frantically bagging your own stuff so as not to hold up the line and lugging that stuff up the x amount of flights of stairs to your awaiting mini fridge. Lucky are those in Paris who scored an elevator as part of the deal.
We'll just have to save the rest of the list for another time!