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Learning to Call Paris Home: Lessons From my Apartment

It’s been a week and a half since I’ve relocated to Paris, leaving the comforts of California and adapting to life in another country. Besides roaming the streets of the city and going to class, I spend the rest of my time in my apartment learning to adjust with my living situation. When I decided to move and study abroad in Paris, I had a vague understanding that I wouldn’t have as much space as I do in California. However, I wasn’t quite prepared to handle living in a multi-story apartment building. In the short time that I’ve been abroad, there are a couple differences that I’ve learned to adapt in order to start calling Paris my home.

Lesson 1: Accessing the apartment

 French stairwells are steep and narrow

Every day I climb a creaky, narrow and steep staircase that spirals up the middle of the building to reach my apartment on the fifth floor. Instead of starting on the first floor like back home, I enter the building on the “rez-de-chaussée”, or the ground floor. I had read in French textbooks about this phenomenon, but I still catch myself getting disoriented in buildings. In addition to that, I also learned that the most desirable apartments in France are actually on the ground level, as opposed to the top level in the United States.

Lesson 2: The Bathroom

 French showers don't include a wall attachment.

I’d like to say that I do not embody the American stereotype of taking a long time to get ready. However, my “simple” daily routine is slowly turning into a huge ordeal. The showers in France typically do not have an attachment to hold the shower head in place, so showering has been reduced to a hilarious endeavor. A typical shower includes squeezing myself into the narrow stall, trying my hardest to not flood the rest of the bathroom and contorting my almost 6 foot tall self into various positions to wash all the soap off. I’m suddenly very aware of how much space I occupy.

Lesson 3: Water

 We bought a water filter to combat the hardness of French water.

While on the topic of bathrooms, I’d also like to mention the harshness of French tap water. My hair wasn’t frizzy or hard to manage in the United States, but the water in France is doing horrible unspeakable things to my hair. No matter how much I wash it, the hardness of the water lingers in my hair. I wake up every morning trying to brush out the bird nest on my head just to have a frizzy head of hair by the end of the day. Be prepared to handle some bad hair days before finding an acceptable routine.

Lesson 4: Noise Level

 Wearing heeled shoes in the apartment causes a lot of
noise — especially for our downstairs neighbours.

As the 5th level residents in a 6-floor apartment, we have quickly learned about how easily sound travels through the building. We can hear exactly when our neighbors get home, from the “rez-de-chaussée” all the way to their own apartment. We’ve had to be especially mindful of our daily habits like talking loudly on Skype, wearing heeled shoes in the house or even playing loud music, especially since we have hard wood floors instead of carpet. Our quest to blend in like the French is less convincing when you listen to our noise level in the apartment.

Lesson 5: Smaller Living Areas

 Our recycling after a week of living in the apartment.

Americans are spoiled in how much space they occupy, as seen by the massive cars on the street, the sprawling green lawns outside their houses and the grandiose size of beds. Since moving to France, I’ve had to give up the luxury of space and accept the smaller living quarters here. We’ve had to take out the trash more frequently because the garbage cans are smaller, cook separately because the kitchen is smaller and even hang up the laundry because we don’t have a drying machine. Living abroad is immensely more painful when we’re forced to acknowledge our overtly American habits.

Kristine Xu is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France. She is currently a Junior at California Polytechnic State University.

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