Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Same, same, but different

I’ve moved to a smaller city. That’s right, Paris is smaller than Melbourne.

Paris has a population of 2.2 million people, as compared to Melbourne’s 4 odd million. It also only has an area of 105 km2, and now that I’ve lived here just shy of a month, you actually do feel how small the city is and how accessible everything is. Melbourne on the other hand has an area of 8,806 km2, and therein lies the technicality. The Parisians are very particular about this too!

The city of Paris consists of 20 districts or arrondissements, the boundaries of which have remained relatively the same since 1860. The Parisians are quite staunch about what areas they call ‘Paris’ proper, and if you live in one of these 20 districts then you live in Paris. Otherwise, if you don’t, then you’re not a Parisian. So technically speaking Paris only consists the ‘city’ of Paris. Although, if you want to speak about the metropolis of Paris, which includes both the inner ring and outer ring of suburbs, something we would still consider Melbourne and is only 15 minutes from the city, then the population balloons to 11.6 million people over an area of 12,012 km2.

Two things have struck me about Paris. First, Paris is actually very similar to Melbourne in many many ways. Second, Parisians suffer from ‘arrondissement anxiety’, similar to status anxiety, or at least that’s what I think. One of the first things you speak about when you meet someone new in Paris is which district you live in, and then you mention your closest metro station. Immediately after that a certain level of judgement is passed.

Arrondissements of Paris
The river Seine cuts through the city and creates the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The districts are arranged around the river and spiral outwards like the pattern of a snail shell (see map). The first district was number 1 and so on. Each district has ‘quarters’ within them which characterise the neighbourhood. It’s hard to get a sense of what each district is like unless you’ve experienced the city for a little while. This was my dilemma when I was trying to find an apartment to live in over the internet whilst I back in Australia.

I eventually settled on the 17th district. Why the 17th? Well I was told it was lively, lots of theatres and restaurants, which was true as I was only around the corner from the Moulin Rouge, and it had a bohemian arthouse vibe. So I found a place just off Place de Clichy which is the hub of the 17th. Six days into my Parisian life I had the predictable conversation of where I was living, to which I was bluntly told I should move. Move! Why? “Place de Clichy is a terrible place”, they said, it’s where all the people from the ‘suburbs’ come into town and hang out. Ok, right!

Geisha by Jef Aerosol
 I likened Place de Clichy to something like Brunswick Street Fitzroy in Melbourne, or perhaps the up and coming bohemian trendy area of Brunswick. Place de Clichy is a bit rougher than the equivalent Melbourne versions, although I was using the term ‘colourful’. However, there is awesome urban street art on the walls of my street done by internationally famous French artists. My favourites are stencils done by Jef Aerosol, who I’ve subsequently gone and seen a small exhibition of his work.

My apartment consisted of two rooms basically, a bedroom and living room. There’s the usual amenities of a bathroom and toilet, whilst the kitchen was more like an itsy bitsy kitchenette. The place is cosy enough, and functional for one person, but it is the tap...tap...tap...tap, tap, tap,tttap, ttap, tapping sound coming from the inside of the wall in my bedroom that caused me to hate the place. The tapping was the sound of water dripping onto a pipe, which was mostly likely due to the old style water radiator that was in my bedroom that was causing the problem. Now, in the dead of the night when this tapping would start out, it would seem like someone had a hammer and chisel near my ear and was carving out a famous Parisian monument!

First the tapping was intermittent, then it become regular until finally it was constant. I tried in vain to sleep. I wore ear plugs whilst also sleeping with a pillow over my head, but it didn’t matter what I did, the insistent tapping bore through all my soundproofing techniques. It became an unbearable form of water torture to the point that I was maybe getting 3 hours sleep a night. Remember also that this is amongst starting a new job and having my handbag stolen...I was quickly becoming strung out.

Bob Dylan by Jef Aerosol
It wasn’t until towards the end of my second week of my French existence that I realised that perhaps there might be some truth to Place de Clichy not being quite the best place to be setting up camp in Paris. Let’s put it this way, I’m a tough cookie and grew up in the west of Melbourne, but I didn’t necessarily feel all that comfortable walking home late at night, and it was one incident, whilst innocuous, that I had decided enough was enough. Coupled with an apartment I couldn’t possible fall asleep in until summer when I could turn the heating off, I decided to move.

So once again in my life, I was faced with the desire to move across the river and find a new place in the more becoming Left Bank.

I can tell you that finding a new apartment in Paris is much like finding a place in Melbourne, the competition for quality properties is stiff. I set my sites on the 15th district. For the same rent I could get a bigger apartment in the district where most Parisians live. It also isn’t that far, although tricky by metro, from my work in the bourgois, toffy, district of the 16th. The 15th is also just up the metro line to uber trendy St Germain with all of its bars, shopping and restaurants.

Surely my luck in this town had to turn. So in my third week of my Parisian lifestyle I was going to apartment inspections. Finally I stumbled across the perfect one! Newly renovated two room apartment with a full size kitchen that I would consider to be another room, never been leased before, with brand new appliances including a full-sized fridge (a rarity in Paris), oven, dishwasher, and front loader / tumble dryer combo. It is also in a classic Parisian stone building with typical French doors, and a decent courtyard, which the apartment is right next to. Gold! Yep, merci beaucoup, thanks very much, I’ll take it!

My new front door
I spent last Friday night packing up my old place and moving to my new one. Interestingly, it took me about 3 days to pack all my stuff in Australia to move here, and only an hour and half to gather my belongings to move yet again. Mind you I had already purchased a few things like manchester and decor, and had groceries to move also, so I’m not sure how I managed to do it so quickly. Poetically, there was no tapping sound during the whole packing process.

I love my new place. Whilst it’s sparsely furnished in terms of crockery, utensils and wardrobe space, I’m making an exciting trip with a friend (who is equally excited) to IKEA on the weekend. We’ve hired a mini Renault van called a Kangoo for the day so we call fit all of our flat packs in. My dad will confirm that I can proficiently assemble sturdy IKEA furniture which he was impressed with when he saw my kitchen buffet back in my Melbourne pad.

As for the similarities between Paris and Melbourne, there are surprisingly many. Like Paris, Melbourne is full of cafes, restaurants and bars. There is a huge culture of enjoying wine and good food, and hanging out in cool bars. Not unlike Melbourne where its bars and quality restaurants define it’s cosmopolitan character. Just like in Melbourne where I can sit and drink loads of coffee and watch the world go by, as my regular coffee buddies will tell you, I do just the same here in Paris.

Paris also has a love of arts, theatre, and history. Melbourne’s many theatres and art productions are similar in that respect, although perhaps less grand. Interestingly, Paris is separated by a river as I mentioned, as is Melbourne, and it too has trams as does Melbourne.

Paris is also a sporting city, just like Melbourne. Whilst it only has one major sporting stadium, Stade de France, built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup holding 80,000 people, it hosts a number of sporting events. Ruby is huge hear and they get a great attendance for the big matches, particularly for the Six Nation Championship. Paris also hosts the closing stage of the Tour de France which finishes down the Champs-Elysees, and like Melbourne, it hosts an international tennis event, that of the French Open at Roland Garros National Tennis Centre.  And no city would be complete without a beautiful racecourse, whilst smaller in terms grand stands and surrounding areas, Paris has the famous Hippodrome de Longchamps racecourse where the country’s most famous race, and richest outside Japan, the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe is held each year.

Finally, Melbourne has been ranked in the top three of the World’s Most Liveable City index since 2002, whilst Paris is among the top ten cities in the world in which to live, according to a British review conducted last year.

Hopefully now I can settle peacefully into my new city. Although, I think I’m so very lucky to be able to experience both cities – they are the same, same, but different!


  1. Fabulous blog Talz am loving the read each week!! Post some pics of the new apartment and the surrounds facinating. I have lived in France too but a little town called Epinal near Nancy. Paris sounds divine!! Love Eliza

  2. Kangoos are on the road here too - be careful it doesn't fall over - they don't look too stable. I hope the dripping doesn't turn out to be your coffee machine!!

  3. Hey T - thanks for a great, colourful read (shocked when I read about the prada purse burglars). Glad to hear you've sorted your apartment woes. Looking forward to the next instalment with an Ikea update - are the queues as long in Ikea Paris as in Melbourne at 4pm on a Saturday??

  4. Hmmm ... I had to check this:

    Metropolitan area of Melbourne
    Population: 4,000,000
    Area: 8,806 m2

    Metropolitan area of Paris
    Population: 10,197,678
    Area: 14,518 m2

    Dont small down my Paris :) :) :) :) :)