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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

10 Things I Miss After Moving to Paris That Surprised Me

Moving to Paris has truly been full of ups and downs. Administratively, the paperwork, phone calls, and logistics one must do for things that are relatively simple in the United States (like opening a bank account) are almost complete nightmares. On the other hand, we get to live in a beautiful city with truly wonderful people, incredible art, phenomenal food, and access to other amazing parts of the world by a quick train ride or flight.

As our life here continues, I’ve tried to keep an awareness of the things that surprise, frustrate, or inspire me. I know that one day I’ll look back and realize how far we’ve come to settle into this new culture and country, and that it can be easy to forget about all the small nuances of fitting into life here!

There are things that amaze me about the French – they’re ability to control their dogs so well that they don’t need a leash, they’re affinity for bread and desserts while somehow avoiding obesity, and they’re demand from their government for high quality and regulated food and a work-life balance that leaves most Americans rolling their eyes with secret jealousy.

One of the easiest things to reflect on are the things I miss about my life back home. Of course, I miss big things, like my family, my dogs, and my friends. I also miss small things, like jumping into my car when it’s pouring rain instead of trudging through it with a wet umbrella, and I miss having so much storage that I never have to wonder if I should keep or toss something.

I also notice things now that I hadn’t before, like the amount of space people have in their US homes. “Dang, look at all that living room space this lady has!”, I mutter to myself while participating in a YouTube workout video. Recently, a woman I follow on social media talked about a “reading nook” she created for her kids, and I thought “Where does she find the space?!?” before remembering she was in an actual house. And, of course, I miss being able to explain myself or fully understand someone who is speaking to me without saying, “ummm je ne comprends pas. Parle-vous anglais?”.

These are things that I thought I might miss once moving here. However, there are lots of small things I miss that I hadn’t expected! Here are ten of them, and it’s quite possible that as time goes on, I will be able to make another list with just as many items.

10 Things I Miss After Moving to Paris That Surprised Me

1. Popcorn

Do the French eat popcorn?!? They must, because you can find over-priced kernels every once in a while… but you have to find a specialty or American store in order to find microwave popcorn. And although you can find them in the U.S. for deals like $1 for 5 bags, here you’ll pay upwards of 7 euros for the same.

Chris and I have learned to make stovetop popcorn, which is surprisingly fun, but we don’t eat it anywhere near as often as we used to (for those who know us and our family well, you know popcorn is basically a weekly staple in our home). Chris and I wonder if they serve popcorn in the movie theaters here – we intend to find out.

2. Peanut butter

Okay, I know this is an obvious one, and I thought I had prepared myself mentally for not having peanut butter. In fact, I don’t even think I ate that much peanut butter at home. However, there’s something so comforting about putting peanut butter on an apple or a banana for a snack or tossing it in a smoothie for breakfast. You can find this in some grocery stores, but it’s almost always creamy (where my crunchy folks at?!?!) and it’s super expensive.

3. Black beans

Wait, I miss black beans?! Yup. Not something I thought I’d miss either, but after realizing I couldn't find them at any grocery store, I asked a local about it. Black beans?!?! She mused. I’ve never heard of them. Supposedly they can be found in some Mexican specialty stores, but I haven’t seen them yet. And on the subject of beans, it seems much more common to find dried beans than canned beans here. Did you know that if you don’t cook dried beans a certain way, they contain compounds in them that are poisonous!?!?! I didn’t. Bring on the canned beans, I miss my chili.

4. Chili powder and Red Pepper Flakes

Speaking of chili, I haven’t found chili powder or red pepper flakes anywhere. The spice that you would think is chili powder, piment, actually functions more like paprika. For spice, we’ve been using hot sauce (thank you, siracha) or cayenne powder.

5. Coffee to go

Strangely, I don’t really miss the taste of American coffee (it’s almost always espresso here or a variation of espresso – macchiato, cappuccino, etc.). However, I do miss holding a hot drink and sipping it while I mull around town or bustle through traffic. There’s something that just makes me feel… important if I’m holding a steaming cup of jo while walking around.

Parisians will be sure to remind me that there are plenty of places to get an espresso to go (I see people walking around with them!) but... where are they getting them!!?!?

6. Hair Conditioner

The women here have beautiful, shiny, natural looking hair. Honestly, I've never seen so many good-looking women in one city in my life. However, conditioner is only found in some shops – for the most part, stores only have shampoo. If they do have conditioner, it’s usually a hair mask (maybe that’s why their hair always looks so good???).

7. Spray olive oil/Pam

Okay, maybe this is a weird one. And maybe it’s because the French are environmentally conscious and spray cans are probably not the best in terms of using or recycling. But we sure miss just being able to spray our muffin tins, pots, or pans with a little olive oil to keep things from sticking!

8. Taking leftovers home

Here’s a funny one for you. I admire the French for showing up to meals with a healthy appetite. They don’t tend to snack very often – from what I have read and heard, they eat their meals at 8am, 12pm, and 8pm with a snack around 4:30pm (the snack is called the “gouter”, pronounced goo-tay, and means a taste). This means that when they show up for a meal, they are ready to eat. At the same time, they get reasonable portions (not the four servings of pasta you might get when ordering one dish from Olive Garden). However, I’ve never left a French meal hungry.

Because they show up ready to eat, it is uncommon to have leftovers to take home. Picture this: you go to an Italian restaurant in Paris with a few friends. Every single person orders their own pizza. The pizzas arrive and they’re the size of a small pizza in the U.S. Everyone eats their pizza and leaves without leftovers!

It’s both wonderful and frustrating that there’s not “take away” containers (“to-go”, as we call it) if you just can’t finish your meal but also can’t stand the thought of leaving your extra food to be tossed when you leave.

9. Wearing comfortable clothes or sports-wear to run an errand

You will not see a Parisian wearing yoga pants or sweat pants to run into the grocery store. In fact, these things are worn for workouts exclusively. I might be able to get away with it as a pregnant woman, but after reading and hearing about people being scolded on the metro or in a store for wearing yoga pants, I haven’t dared to risk it. Instead, I grumble while putting on real pants to run down the street to grab a baguette. C’est la vie.

10. Knowing where the heck to buy things and what they should cost

Maybe an obvious one, but moving somewhere new always makes it hard to know where to buy things and how much they should cost. Especially items of which I have no reference. Children’s clothing? No idea how much it should cost. Kitchen appliances, like a slow cooker (mijoteuse)? Don’t know where to buy that or how much to spend. Thank goodness for Amazon, Ikea, and Facebook marketplace (where we bought both a crib and a hand held blender! Success!).

With a little one on the way, we are blessed to have many family members and friends planning their visits here. Better believe they’re coming with jars of crunchy peanut butter, packets of red chili flakes, and popcorn kernels!

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