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Paris vs New York, A Tally of Two Cities

Why is it not surprising that no sooner did I get the luggage up the stairs from my week in New York, that the sky in Paris turned gray and it started to rain. Yep, that’s Paris. As someone I know intimately said, “You don’t come here for the weather.” (That was me, in case you didn’t know.)

Photo credit: My (Part-Time) Paris Life credit: My (Part-Time) Paris Life

Paris vs New York, by Vahram MuratyanParis vs New York, by Vahram Muratyan

New York GarbageNew York Garbage

Paris in Manhattan, Paris vs New York, by Vahram MuratyanParis in Manhattan, Paris vs New York, by Vahram Muratyan

Manhattan in Paris, Paris vs New York, by Vahram MuratyanManhattan in Paris, Paris vs New York, by Vahram Muratyan

Abundance of Product, New York Grocery StoreAbundance of Product, New York Grocery Store

Each time I return to the States, I have a “reverse” culture shock and it’s impossible not to make comparisons between the two countries and in this case, the two cities: Paris vs New York. There are plusses and minuses on both sides of the Atlantic which are weighed and inevitably, the scales get tipped to the eastern side.

While the time I spent in New York couldn’t have been more wonderful and fulfilling (including blue skies and lots of winter sun), as I was in the car on route to JFK Airport, having taken the street route through Queens rather than the clogged freeway, I was looking at the massive brick apartment buildings and the retail barns along the broad traffic-laden avenues thinking about what kinds of lives are had by the people living in those high-rise buildings? I didn’t want to be one of them.

The view of Manhattan is stunning from the riverside boroughs outside The City — it’s a surrealistic landscape that resembles jeweled Legos®. From inside The City, from my Paris prism, there is a lot of ugliness, punctuated by a few architectural gems. But, generally esthetics have not been valued by the city planners.

Every time I’m in New York, I wonder when they’re going to stop piling up the trash in giant plastic bags long the sidewalks with pick-up only twice a week (sometimes three), and opt for some sort of garbage bin system that gets picked up daily like in Paris. Lately, however, the streets of Paris seem dirtier than in the past — the doggie poop has been reduced, but bits of paper and trash litter the sidewalks and I wonder if people are more lax or if the clean-up crews are doing a less-than-perfect job of it.

The roads in general are not well tended in New York and outside on the highways — as we discovered when we drove up to Woodstock…and of course, littered with offensive advertising. I used to think that was normal until living in France where this doesn’t exist. France excels in keeping their roads beautiful — in Paris and all of France they are tended to pristinely with construction and improvements to the roads a constant nuisance to keep it that way.

Both cities have a lot of homeless for which they should both be ashamed. It’s tough to know which was worse. My Marais neighborhood has a recognizable homeless community that is every bit a part of the scenery as any of our residents and no one bothers to do much about them as they camp in the same spots night after night.

One primary advantage New York has over Paris, that shocks me time and again, is the overwhelmingly pleasant and friendly customer service. This may be the one thing in France I’ll never quite get used to, as an American where the customer is king and money is the driving force. There are many reasons for this weakness in the French cultural landscape — one that we many never be able to change, given their feelings about money (dirty) and those who handle it. Part of the conflict, too, is that Americans simply do not say “no” if they can help it, where as the French always say “no” first and then must be convinced that “yes” is possible. It was so refreshing to feel appreciated for having patronized an establishment, which happens much less often in France — where often you are made to feel your presence there is just a bother to the clerk who doesn’t want to be catering to you or handling your money (he has no self respect for such a profession).

Friends who are in business who have lived and worked on both sides of the Atlantic do claim to feel a true sense of freedom in the U.S., and that is not an illusion. They are much freer in their business lives without oppression from a demanding administration or oppressive labor laws, as they are in France. This is one reason for the improved customer service — they have the freedom to take care of their customers first and the IRS second. Ideas can more easily become reality and that sparks even more ideas — this is something I desperately miss while tied up in the “straight jacket” of following the French administration rules. It’s no wonder so many young French have moved to New York and other cities around the world seeking the same kind of freedom to realize their dreams.

So, one can make a lot more money in the U.S. with tax rates so much lower, but costs are much higher, too, and one can live in France for a lot less money. Sticker shock sets in when I see the price of groceries and rent in New York. Property priced about the same for purchase rents at about double the rate in New York as Paris. My daughter’s West Village apartment is equivalent in value to a similar apartment in Paris’ most expensive district, but she could rent the apartment for at least double. While both cities have a form of rent control, New York’s is more lenient (Maximum Base Rent system) to allow the landlord to cover expenses. I fear that Paris’ current laws will lead to less investment to maintain the quality of properties by landlords who can no longer afford it, or less investment in general if profits can’t be made. Rent control ultimately drives prices up, not down. Google it and in five minutes you’ll find out why it causes the opposite effect than that to which it is intended. (I wish Madame le Maire Hidalgo had done that before she instituted the controls!)

Now that I’m back in Paris, I’m happy to be here, in spite of its imperfections. Could I go back to life in the U.S. on a permanent basis? Maybe, but it’s not very appealing given the current political climate, and I fear that I’d always be longing for being in France, while when in France, I don’t long to be in the U.S. except for brief visits. If you ever try living here for an length of time — say one year — you’ll know exactly what I mean.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group


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P.S. After over 20 years living in France, we have learned the ins and outs and the inside information on moving, living and working here. Interested in discovering the differences living here? We would be happy to help you make your living in France dream come true. Have a look at our Working and Living in France page and contact us today!


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