Last year I had a unique experience. I had to spend 5 months on assignment in Paris for my employer. Wow! 5 months in the City of Lights is about the grandest fantasy I had ever imagined. Sure, most of my day was spent working in an office but that still left lunch hours and plenty of free time after hours and on the weekends to experience what it felt like to live like a local in Paris. Safely ensconced in my one bedroom apartment near Mouffetard in Paris's Fifth arrondissement--- the "Latin Quarter", I quickly set about making my way.
What I found out surprised me. Actually living in Paris --as opposed to fantasizing about living in Paris -- is both better than and worse than you expect.
First, the "better than" parts:
Saturdays and Sundays strolling along the market street, Rue Mouffetard is about the best way to spend any time on Earth -- period. What is life ?--you'll find the answer on Mouffetard. From a couple playing banjo and singing French cabaret songs to entertain the crowds for free on Sunday mornings, to the best, freshest, affordable food in Paris, you will find anything you need ---food, entertainment, nick-nacks, specialty shops, fromageries which stock endless kinds of cheese, patisseries, whatever you want. The fish monger calls out the daily catch, the smell of freshly baked bread wafts throughout the street, and you are pulled long in the current of charm.
Mouffetard is said to be the oldest street in all of Paris. Yet the shops are not worn down. So, as you stroll, you almost feel as though you literally have stepped inside a sepia-colored postcard from centuries ago. It's carnival, it's history and it's life.
And, as I swapped stories with other people I knew, I learned that almost each of Paris' 20 arrondissements has something special, something unique about it that makes life livable, something that locals wouldn't easily want to leave.
Paris has the very best metro system I have seen, and that includes New York, Washington, and London. Despite what you may have heard, the Paris Metro is clean, generally safe and runs on time. The exceptions --avoid the RER lines that lead outside the city to dicier areas.
Paris, actually France, has the best health care system overall, according to the rankings from the World Health Organization. And that's true, if you're talking about all but the most serious, specialized care, in which case even France's superwealthy (e.g. Johnny Hallyday, the French rock star) head straight to the United States.
Now, for the "worse than" part:
1. Paris is crowded with bumper-to-bumper tourists in some arrondissements. The areas around Notre Dame in the center of Paris (4th arronsdissement) and the Eiffel Tower (7th arrondissement) are always busy. There is no off-season.
2. Lots of car traffic. Paris has surprisingly heavy car traffic for a city with little to no parking spaces. Go figure. The traffic is mostly diesel cars and buses and had produced such thick pollution that, on some days, you can't see the monuments from afar. Local TV makes a fuss over it, listing the pollution particulate levels and comparing them unfavorably to Beijing China. Well, that may be overdoing it, in my opinion.
3. Expensive. If you live in Paris, you'll have to either work or come with a passive income stream such as a pension or a trust fund. It's also not easy for foreigners to rent long term apartments in Paris. The reason is that apartment owners are able to insure against non-payment of rent with local insurance companies only if the prospective tenant has a job with a French company or if owns a piece of French property. And, even if you fit one of those categories, the sticker price is high for a decent sized apartment, say 500 square feet. That size will cost you about $1700 a month. Now, in France, you must earn 3 times your rent to qualify for the apartment. That means you should count on having $5100 a month in earnings to be able to rent a decent sized one-bedroom apartment in Paris. Of course, if you can do with an itsy-bitsy space, you could get away with having a smaller budget--but not much smaller.
4. The Locals Want to Retire Elsewhere. For what it;s worth, many locals in Paris head south when it's time to retire. Many Paris residents complain that Paris is no longer livable. They view Paris as too expensive. Many protests have happened around this issue alone. Locals feel priced out of the housing markets. One politician Cecile DuFlot, of the liberal Greens party, who served for a time as Housing Minister under Hollande, proposed changes to the laws to increase housing available to working class Parisians. Also, there is a law on the books which prohibits the short term rental of non-commercial apartments to tourists. Violators can be fined about 25,000 euros. Since most apartments are "residential" not "commercial", it means that these apartments are illegal, not matter how ubiquitous they are online.