NYC and Paris. Two cities known for being creative, vibrant and trendsetting. Beyond their beauty, both are among the most famous spots to find oneself. Being a compulsive urbanite, I left my bustling French City of Lights to settle down in the Big City of Dreams and subsequently learn how they differ.
When I first visited NYC five years ago, I had quite a different experience. Back then, every word used to describe New York was either a superlative or hyperbole.
Today, things have changed. This time I surprisingly found myself consistently colliding with the culture norms of the Big Apple.
But I was determined to adapt to and understand the culture of this country adopting me. I felt compelled to analyze some of these new personal, social and professional situations I was suddenly facing.
Here are some examples of those cultural shocks. Five differences in the way people of Paris and New York deal with the daily struggles of life.
*a recent transplant to New York City
Honoring the Morning
Paris people are used to slowly starting the day by hanging out at the coffee machine and talking about the latest bitchy gossips. But New Yorkers have a precise morning routine. A routine that they would kill you over, if you dare disturb it.
New Yorkers rush to their coffee shop each morning, waiting no longer than a minute to receive their cup. They sip it while focused on their phones and morning subway commute, not looking up as they bump into me.
Simple Acts of Kindness
Rudeness is a trait that most of us in Paris would be genuinely happy to admit to. So when I moved to New York, I was stunned by the sympathy and consideration of everyone I met. The warmth I was welcomed with, constantly being told things like,
“Let’s hang out and be friends,” made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland.
As a self-respecting Parisian girl, I also immediately turned suspicious. I looked for the underlying reasons behind this overall tenderness. Turns out it wasn’t magic. Or love at first sight.
Rather something called American politeness. Not hypocrisy, just actual politeness.
From what I’ve seen, in America a “neutral” face is a big smiling grin, small talk is an art, a hug is just a way to say “hi” and an apology is more than a likelihood if your personal space is transgressed.
In Paris, someone who does not know you will never talk to you. A smile is rarely seen. And bumping into someone in your way without saying sorry is practically a tradition. This is called arrogance, and contrary to New Yorkers, this is the preferred norm.
But it’s not all bad in Paris. Building a friendship with a Parisian is something you do for real and on a long-term basis, not just on the simple purpose of politeness.
Fake and nice or truthful and mean. I have yet to figure out the better of the two combinations.
The Challenge of a Good Conversation
Bars and cafés are well known in Paris as the perfect places to socialize and relax before, while, after work. They get crowded quickly because, well, packed places suggest popularity. But despite that, there is a good chance you won’t feel overwhelmed with the noise of the crowd around you.
And when they are not bitching about other people or yelling at you, Parisian people can actually be delightfully quiet and enjoyable to chatter with.
But having a drink in New York? Probably one of the most demanding and intense experiences possible. And the headaches that I get after two hours are unbearable. There is this fight to hold and monopolize the discussion, otherwise risking the opportunity to ever talk.
Why does talking have to be that loud? Does it concern the American freedom of speech? Or maybe New Yorkers just talk like that?
Were you aware that working in Paris could grant you with a theoretical 35-hour work week, five weeks of holidays per year, the right to free social security, the obligation to retire at 62 and advantages like paid transportation or paid lunches? But this comes with the cost of one of the lowest purchasing powers and highest taxation levels in Europe.
Plus the right to work beside exclusively grouchy people.
At least in NYC, you can be genuinely joyous when you are given 10 days of annual vacation or work less than 45 hours a week, even if you have to pay for your own social security, transportation and lunch meal.
Think twice about which side you’d prefer to be on.
Lazy or Fast,
Easy or Convenient
People in New York fill their schedules and strive for a busy lifestyle. So to help them find additional time, they have built an app for ... well, everything.
They can get whatever, whenever, wherever.
Need a ride?
Pitching in for a birthday?
Need a date?
On one hand, I’m impressed with the multiplicity and the immediacy of services. There is a strong will to make each of our crazy daily lives a little bit easier. Or is it just laziness?
I’m not sure.
The Parisian epicurist vision associated with long-term pleasure and happiness, confronts this hedonist way of immediate satisfaction in life.
It explains why Parisian people can spend two hours having lunch on a terrace, find themselves typically late to meetings or eventually reimburse the money they owe you.
You might even spot a Parisian spending hours in a crowded store during their weekend because they’d rather buy offline.
And they are proud of that.
The Curse of FOMO
Being something of a curious, hyperactive socialite, I don’t miss a single opportunity to wander between a nice exhibition, a new festival or simply a home-cooked dinner with my friends. Paris is definitely one of the best places for that.
In Paris, it wasn’t always as big an issue. I didn’t always have to choose and miss what was left out.
But in NYC, making choices between all the options of how and where to socialize has always been a Cornelian dilemma. Blame Instagram and other social media apps that keep reminding you what you’re missing.
I started suffering from this Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) thing when I moved here. I got torn between all the different options and opportunities that were passing by each second.
I feel guilty because I am sitting in front of my computer instead of enjoying a gallery vernissage in Chelsea, a charity art sale in the Bronx, a rooftop party in the East Village or an Apple store opening in Williamsburg.
Like it or not, the struggle is real.
New York, you are killing me.
“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” ― John Updike
I could go on like this for a while.
There are many things that make these cities what they are and why I cherish them so much. Things beyond their oversized ego and weirdness.
The truth is I am still deeply, madly in love with you, Paris ... and your people. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have lived and grown with you for the last four years.
But I sought a place to grow my maturity, foster my creativity, look for bigger challenges and nourish my envy of living in another culture.
New York got my heart and asked me to continue my path with her.
And I said yes.