Tabitha Carvan is Senior Staff Writer in the sciences for the Australian National University, and a freelance writer on the side. 

What no-one tells you about moving to Paris

What no-one tells you about moving to Paris


The best thing about living in Paris is that for the rest of your life you get to start sentences with, “When I was living in Paris …”.

The worst thing about living in Paris is the bit where you’re actually living there.

This is not because Paris is in itself a bad place to live (it is, in fact, excellent), but because everyone in all the rest of the world is under the impression that it’s so amazing you can’t ever complain about it.

When I was living in Paris, I used to wonder exactly what magnitude of calamity would need to befall me in order to elicit sympathy from my friends and family back home.

Certainly wheeling my suitcase through a mountainous dog shit on a train platform and then having to look straight ahead and pretend that, despite clear evidence to the contrary, I was not trailing an unbroken skid-mark of shit behind me through the seemingly endless pedestrian tunnels of the subway system was not bad enough.

“Dog turds on the train platform?!” my friends responded. “That is so Paris!”

Yet I can’t criticise this reaction since I also romanticised the transformative powers of the place. I was one of those people who moved there thinking it would be all warm baguettesand street lamps reflecting on the Seine and there, amidst all that, there’d be a new version of me, arms filled with fresh artichokes, imbued with classiness by association.

I don’t like to think I’m a totally unsophisticated person. I might have spent so long telling you about when I lived in Paris that I have forgotten to mention I can also read Proust in the original. In any case, while I know you are impressed, this held little carried little cache with French people, who can actually all read Proust in the original.

They also think that someone holding an armful of artichokes isn’t a sophisticate, but a shopper.

My surroundings did not rub off on me, making me more classy. In fact, I now actually seemed less classy than before, in contrast to my surroundings.

I discovered why faux-pas is a French word. Once in a cafe I got my pinky finger stuck so well in the handle of my espresso cup that I had to discreetly put the cup, with my hand attached, into my coat pocket and work it free in the bathroom using soap. Needless to say, my French companion did not find it amusant even though this is hilarious, beyond question.

I also discovered that no matter where you live, and how romantic the street lamps are, you must still do the laundry, and you must still buy toilet paper. Maybe this is why my neighbours, with whom I shared a toilet in the corridor, chose to use the Yellow Pages instead. There it was beside the toilet, day-by-day, page-by-page, getting closer from A to Z.

“But you’re in Paris!” I would mutter to myself, grimly imagining the hardiness of my neighbours’ bumholes.

When I was living in Paris, I was, unfortunately, the same person I am now. It is a wonderful place, and I am grateful for the amazing time I spent there, but the city where you live cannot make you impressive by association.

No matter how hard you try to ignore it, the mundane necessities of daily life travel with you, as does your personality, like a trail of dog turd through a train station.

Why does this new high-tech cyber security building have old-school blackboards?

Why does this new high-tech cyber security building have old-school blackboards?

When your mother sends you books about a terrible mother and somehow makes it all about you

When your mother sends you books about a terrible mother and somehow makes it all about you