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The French "faire la bise" greeting | © Simon Blackley/Flickr
The French "faire la bise" greeting | © Simon Blackley/Flickr

The Cultural Struggles Every Expat in Paris Goes Through

Picture of Jade Cuttle
Updated: 28 February 2018

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and so it’s no surprise so many people are dying to live here. However the move doesn’t come without its fair share of cultural struggles. Here are a few challenges to be aware of when relocating to Paris.

The cost of living

Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world and this is something you’ll be forced to go along with, even if you struggle to accept it. Within the most central arrondissements, the rent for a tiny one-bedroom studio will easily start at €900, usually higher, and then only increase from there.

What you’ll never quite get used to is the damp that seems to creep through the walls, given that most Parisian inner-city apartments are very old. Of course, you can choose to live in the outskirts, for cheaper and often more modern amenities, but with that comes the problem of transportation, as the outskirts aren’t as conveniently located within the metro circuit as central studios are.


Haussmann’s Paris | © Guilhem Vellut / Wikicommons

Loss of pedestrian rights

Of course, there is traffic congestion in every city, and so the daily road chaos is by no means exceptional to Paris. But what’s difficult to get used to is the fact that all of your pedestrian rights (like crossing a road safely at a designated crossing) seem to go out the window when you move to Paris.

While it is illegal for cars to ignore the common code of conduct, you’ll notice drivers rarely seem to wait for pedestrians and blaze through red lights more often than you may be used to. Eventually, you’ll become attuned to the system and become adept at being on your guard—and giving a stern glare at any trespassing vehicles.

Levels of personal contact

Unless you’re originally from a country where intimate greetings of cheek-kissing or hugs are the norm—as opposed to the more formal handshake—then the levels of personal contact associated with greetings in Paris may well remain a cultural struggle.

Instead of shaking hands, waving a hello or hugging, you’ll be forced to adopt the ways of French people, who say hello to friends by leaning forward and touching cheeks, making a light kissing sound, even if this seems ridiculous, in order to seem polite.

The culture is quite insistent on this notion of politeness, especially at house parties where you’re expected to go round the room giving everybody a cheek-kiss, no matter how big the group is.


Faire la bise © Simon Blackley/Flickr

The weather

This depends on the weather in your home country, but everyone knows that Paris gets more than its fair share of rain. In fact, it’s one of the rainiest cities in the whole of Europe.

Yet no matter how many French poems you read about the rain “pouring over the city like ropes” (Il pleut des cordes), it’s hard to get used to how heavy the rain is once caught in one of Paris’ deluges.

The rain comes down so suddenly that, unless you’re always carrying an umbrella, you’ll still be caught off-guard, no matter how many years you’ve been living here.

The language barrier

If you’re one of the lucky expats who already speaks the language, or has studied French at school or university, then maybe you won’t find the language barrier to be a cultural struggle.

However, many people move to Paris because they’re keen to learn the language. While they may throw themselves into almost every social activity they can find as an excuse to practice their French, it’s unlikely they’ll succeed overnight.

It takes years, if not decades, to master the lingo completely, gaining enough confidence to pass for a local, and it’s the accent that people struggle with the most. The art of speaking through the nose like a natural is one of the greatest challenges for expats trying to fit in, no matter how much grammar they know.