Frank Chen

Frank Chen

diving into the city of light (paris series 1)

I'm writing a short series about my time living abroad in France. Doing something like this helps me remember and simultaneously update my friends to the fact that I haven't completely disappeared off the face of the earth.

Living in Paris was meant to be the start of a sabbatical for both me and my partner. At the end of two months, I would continue doing whatever the hell it is I'm doing (unsure), and she'd go back to work (fixing sick pets).

I haven't publicly written about this trip much, except about the whole "training our dog so we could bring him" part. We made it there and back with Speck in cabin and everything went ok. He didn't try to break out of his carrier or scratch his eyeballs out, but he was also drugged, so maybe that's why 😂.

upon landing

From Charles du Galle airport, we hailed a taxi to get straight to our apartment in the 6th arrondisement (6éme). For those who don't know, Paris is divided up into these districts. Yes, there are characteristics to each éme - for example, the 7th takes the cake for being quite uninteresting, but that's mean.

Our taxi driver ended up being a very kind, heavyset French man that moved more smoothly than he looked capable of. Of course, no amount of French language practice on my end could've prepared me to be understandable to the standard French taxi driver.

I recall spitting hotdogs and bananas out of my mouth and watching his eyebrows reach the ceiling in confusion. I ended up having to just point to our address written on a sheet of paper.

"Ah, voila! Sixéme." was the response I got. I think that meant good news. This wouldn't be the last French interaction that revealed the extent to how unprepared I was to deal with the French language. More to come on this later.

traffic

No European experience would be complete without a crazy taxi ride.

Our taxi driver was an expert fidgeter, letting off long sighs, constantly switching lanes, and picking up calls from his friends on his hands-free. I've never seen such a combination of distraction and impatience efficiently expressed without causing an accident. Any opportunity he got, it was pedal to the medal until we were almost all the way up the next car's asshole. Then came the impatient sighs and drumming of hands on the steering wheel.

If we hadn't been greeted so kindly by him, I would've expected a mean ol' curmudgeon. Driving in the city was no joke. I saw a grandma on a walker get further than us on one of the streets because the light only turned green for two seconds. Lucky for me, I wasn't behind the wheel - shit like this would infuriate me as a driver.

It did help me reflect on my own impatience and tolerance for driving back in the States, especially when you see it in a different context. Stuff like "red lights every 300 meters" all of sudden don't seem that bad, but at the same time, driving in general to get anywhere just begins to look like a serious quality of life issue. It's convenient in a U.S city, but dull. In somewhere like Paris, it's not dull but you don't fucking get anywhere.

Adding to the long list of things that don't help city traffic, everyone fucking jaywalks in Paris. As long as there's a free moment, someone will cross the street. The police don't seem to give a shit either. During my entire time there, I don't think I saw any cars, bikes, or humans get pulled over for anything traffic related.

Road upsets were generally resolved between the parties at fault in what seemed to be conversational exchanges. I saw a pedestrian pull over a scooter guy because one of the guys was taking liberties with the traffic signals. They had a stern conversation in French with hand gestures, which I imagine went something like this:

"dude, it was red for you" 😤 "what, you didn't see me? I have right of way" 👀 "wake up, man, this cross street has a walk signal, look it's red for you" 🚦 "sorry, sir, I'll be more careful next time" 😓

I wish I could listen better in French, this was based completely off body language and intonation. It could've very well been a polite "fuck you asshole 🙂" without aggressive shouting.

Everything by words. In America, getting this close to someone's face generally means you've passed the middle-finger stage and you're at the "you wanna fight", punching, spitting, or guns stage. I don't think I've ever seen courteous conversation on the road.

As you might of gathered, Paris traffic is pretty horrendous on a weekday. There are regular gridlocks of cars honking the shit out of each other at any given intersection. Also, people just like to block intersections getting to where they're going (which doesn't help the honking situation). Needless to say, the French like their horns (French horns, anyone? ba-dum ching 🥁) and aren't afraid to lean on them for extended periods of time.

So here are my recommendations if you're in Paris on exploring mode:

  • bike & walking (fresh air, beautiful city, cheap, easy to get somewhere) is better than
  • scooter & motorcycle (fresh air, beautiful city, less cheap, requires skills) is better than
  • metro (no fresh air, scenery sucks, cheap, hot, crowded, germy) is better than
  • bus & car (basically aren't gonna get anywhere, sorry)

apt

Our apartment in Paris was across the street from the famous Café de Flore as well as Les Deux Magots, two famous literary cafes. We also didn't plan on that, so we got super lucky.

For the lack of police traffic presence, we pretty much heard sirens at every hour of the day and night. To make myself feel better, I assumed it was serious business and anti-terrorism at work to make myself feel better that my sleep and ears were slammed pretty much the whole time.

Also, some random guy in our apartment building was playing techno 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From the minute we arrived and left, it was going on. Rock on, friend, rock on 🤘. Also, shut the fuck up man, I'm trying to sleep 😂.

It became this fun game of trying to discern why there was music on 24 hours a day. It was residential so, not a restaurant. Also, restaurants close. Wasn't a club, and clubs aren't open 24 hours a day. Continuous party? Coke and Monster drinks induced financial markets trader or white-hat hacker? Or, if the music went off, the apartment would explode like the movie Speed (moving bus can't be under 50 mph otherwise 💥)? 🤣 I dunno, we never figured it out. Wrote it off as white noise. You know ... city personality. I didn't come here to get sleep anyway.

By the time we got to our apartment, we had been stuck in metal tubes, airports, and taxis for almost 24 hours, so we were basically running on fumes. I'll stop here. More to come.