119. First Impressions of Life in Paris

What is life like in Paris? Find out in this episode. Transcript available below.

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How’s life in Paris? Find out in this episode. It’s quite a long one (1hr 30mins) so feel free to listen to it in stages. You don’t have to listen to it all in one go. You can listen to a bit, pause, listen to more later, pause again, finish listening to it. This is easier if you use iTunes to download and listen to the podcast.

There is a transcript to some of this episode. I wrote some of it myself, but the rest was contributed very generously by Krissy. Thank you very much Krissy! So now there is a transcript for THE WHOLE EPISODE! :)


You are listening to Luke’s English podcast. For more information visit www.teacherluke.wordpress.com.

Hello, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to be talking to you again and I am for some reason speaking in this kind of way. I don’t really know what this intonation or rhythm pattern is that I’m using.
It’s something related to being like a kind of presenter character. I think that on the news or on the radio they sometimes speak like this. That’s why I am doing it. It could also be because I’ve had a little bit too much coffee and that made me do it, because I don’t normally drink coffee. You see, I normally drink tea and so if I have a bit too much coffee, it kind of makes me start to speak as if I am a TV presenter on a very serious television programme. But I’m not gonna keep speaking like that. I’m gonna be normal. Ok, so that’s me being normal now.
OK, so in this episode I’m gonna tell you all about my first impressions of life in Paris. Some of this episode is transcribed. You’ll be glad to know, you can read a transcript of some of this, if you go to the website which is teacherLuke.podamatic.com. You can find the transcript there. You can read it, if you want to. You can sort of read it and listen to me while ..eh you can read it while you are listening to me. That might help. You can just read it, if you want to. If you don’t ..if you can’t stand the sound of my voice anymore, then you can just read it or you can just ignore the transcript completely and just listen. It’s up to you. It’s your choice. I’m just giving you a little bit of extra freedom to decide how you wanna live your life and how you wanna deal with another episode of Luke’s English podcast. So, some of this is transcribed, some of it is not. You hear me kind of speaking off the top of my head as it were.
I am now in Paris. I am sitting in the apartment in which I am living here in Paris and it’s very exciting and very new experience for me, so I am gonna be telling you all about it in this episode. So the transcripts which you’ll find on the website starts here. So if you’r wondering when the transcript is gonna begin. It starts now, okay. So ….

I recently moved to Paris. I’ve been here for about 6 weeks. This episode is all about my first impressions and experiences of living here. It is about my experience of moving to Paris, but it is also about the experience of living in another culture, so in many ways this is a cross-cultural case study. And if the expression ‘cross cultural case-study’ sounds a bit boring, you could always think of this episode as a bit like “Mr Bean in Paris”, in which I am Mr Bean – a kind of bumbling, foolish English man making loads of mistakes and generally making a fool of himself. That might help keep it amusing. Just keep in mind the image of me getting everything wrong in a famous European capital city. It could be a crap ‘fish out of water’-type movie. Like, “He was a boy, she was a girl, he was English, she was French and the city was Paris. When Luke Thompson moved to Europe to be with the girl he loved, he got just a little more than he bargained for!”. That’s a kind of movie trailer for my life in Paris I suppose.

Anyway, if you have ever lived in another country, you may be able to relate to my experiences of being a fish out of water. If you are thinking of moving to another country, you may be able to learn something about what it is like to be out of your comfort zone. If you are from Paris or France, you may like to know what it is like for an English person to live in your city. If you have never been to Paris, but you have always wondered what it is really like, let me share my experiences with you. You may have noticed already that this episode contains lots of vocabulary and expressions relating to cross-cultural experiences. You can read most of what I am saying by visiting my website which is… teacherluke.podomatic.com (no longer active) or teacherluke.wordpress.com

I must say at the beginning that I only wish to express my own experiences of living in Paris for just a few weeks. If you are Parisian, French or know a lot about
Paris or France you may feel that I haven’t covered the whole picture yet. I don’t consider myself to be an expert on Parisian life by any means. In fact, I feel like there’s so much that I don’t know! So, don’t be offended if I have got the wrong end of the stick and misunderstood certain things about life here in Paris. I don’t imagine you would be offended to be honest.

Let me also say that I have not completely left London behind. The two cities are very close. On the Eurostar (which is a train that connects the two cities – it goes under the sea, yes under the actual sea!) it’s really easy to travel between London and Paris in just a couple of hours. Some people say that London is a Paris suburb, or vice versa. (Obviously, I reckon it’s the other way round because London is bigger than Paris) So, I still maintain my connection with London and with Britain. I will be regularly going back to London to see my friends and my family, to catch up on what’s going on in London and to keep in touch with my work colleagues at The London School of English. So, this is not going to become Luke’s French Podcast. It’s still very much Luke’s English Podcast. In fact moving to France makes me even more aware of my London roots. I’m an Englishman at heart. Living in France gives me more perspective on this, and on the culture of the English language, and hopefully (depending on how things go) here in France I will have more time to devote to doing episodes of the podcast that focus on the English language, culture and all the other things that you have come to expect from Luke’s English Podcast.

So, let me tell you what you’re going to hear in this particular episode.

First, I’m going to talk a bit about cross cultural awareness, just to provide a bit of a context to the whole thing. Then, in no particular order, I’ll go through my general experiences of life in Paris. What I’ve found different or similar to life in London, what I’ve found difficult or challenging, and what I’ve found enjoyable, inspiring, and funny about life here, so far. Please leave your comments if you want to share, and as ever you can always send me a donation to show you care, if you fancy it! It’s completely up to you to decide how much you wish to donate, from just £1, $1 or €1 (to be honest I hope you choose the £1 because, well, it’s worth more because of exchange rates, so if you have to choose, then go for £1 maybe). Well, from, like 1 pound, dollar or Euro to a hundred thousand billion trillion pounds if that’s what you think is appropriate. I am, of course, aware that a hundred thousand billion trillion pounds (£100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 I think…) is more money than there actually is in the world, but, you know, maybe Roman Abramovic listens to this. You never know… You can dream… Anyway, it’s really easy to donate, you just click a donate button on my website and it’s really easy to make a donation really safely using PayPal. OK that’s it. The begging bit is over.
Abramovich is currently the 5th richest person in Russia and the 50th richest person in the world, according to the 2012 Forbes </wiki/Forbes> list, with an estimated fortune of UK£8.4 billion.

I don’t really do any language teaching in this episode, although I will be doing more stuff in the future – getting back to basics and doing more language oriented episodes with grammar, vocabulary and that kind of thing. Alright? I realise I’ve been doing a lot of just sort of random talking into the microphone recently but you can look forward to episodes in which I deal with grammar and vocabulary. The real nuts and bolts of the English language coming soon.
However, I’ve managed to write some pretty detailed notes for this episode, and a transcript of a lot of what I’m saying. I don’t always do that, but this time I have. So, like I said before do check out teacherluke.podomatic.com and you can read a lot of this and that can really help you to work out and learn a lot of the English that I am using.

So, first, a bit about cross-cultural awareness.

Whatever your situation, it is always good to have some sense of perspective about the place that you live in. Remember, you may think that the way of life that you are used to is the normal way. That your way of life is correct, and another way of life is wrong.That’s a pretty basic way to put it but I think we all think this to a certain extent. We take for granted many of the things that we eh….I can’t read my own writing today. Okay, I look at an edit because this is Luke’s English podcast you know. I like to keep it real. So even though I just can’t even read what I’ve written here ..I don’t care. I’m just eh I’m going to keep going. I am not going to edit this bit out just to show you that it’s still the real Luke’ English podcast here.
So, that’s a pretty basic way to put it but I think we all think this to a certain extent. We take for granted many things about the way we live.

It could be little things like the way we dress, or the way we eat. Or it could be bigger things like politics of the country we’re in or the religion or something. I think most of the time we get used to our own way of life and consider it to be normal. It is only when we leave our culture and live in another one that we realise how different life can be, and that maybe our way is not the only one.

Living in another country (not just on holiday, but permanently – for at least a few months) can be confusing, it can be frustrating at times, but it can also be exciting, refreshing, inspiring and humbling. It can open your mind.

I think everyone should experience living in another country for a while. Living abroad can make you more tolerant and patient with other people. It should at least. That’s the idea. Hopefully it doesn’t just confirm any xenophobic attitudes or prejudices you had when you visited the country. I’m sure that’s the case sometimes, but for the most part like to think it helps us to realise that it takes all sorts to make a world. It’s good to remember that our way of life, our habits and familiar routines are not the only way to live. When we step out of our comfort zone we get the chance to realise that we are not always right about everything, and that there are other ways to live your life. Hopefully, living abroad helps to prevent us from getting too arrogant or big headed, like “Oh, the rest of the world is stupid and my country is the best” – I actually think we feel this way more than we like to admit. It means we are more willing to see differences in the world as something to celebrate, rather than something to fight about.

That’s the idea of course. That’s the theory. In reality, on a day to day basis, living abroad can be difficult, confusing, dangerous, infuriating and hilarious. It takes a while to really get used to living in another country. It probably takes about a year to feel that you understand things, but really you never get completely used to it. It’s a constant learning process. But it’s good to keep learning. In my opinion, when we live abroad, certainly at the beginning, we learn about 3 things: About the new culture that we are living in, about the culture we have come from, and about ourselves.

Culture shock. I’ve talked about this before. I don’t really believe it is a shock. When it’s bad you feel frustrated with the other culture, or even angry because you see what they do as wrong or ridiculous. It can also make you question yourself and make you feel pretty small. You might not even realise you are experiencing culture shock. You might just feel a bit annoyed that everyone is apparently doing it all wrong. That’s really common. “These people are stupid”, you might think. You make judgements. You might even offend people without realising it, because you’re not aware of little cultural rules that youre breaking. You might get offended yourself. It depends on why you are there in the first place. So, really it should be re-named ‘culture-frustration’, ‘culture-rage’, ‘culture-depression’ or ‘culture-neurosis’, but of course none of these are particularly catchy titles. Of course, culture shock can also be really great! When it is good the feeling is pretty wild. It feels like a crazy adventure which sweeps you away. You can feel inebriated by the excitement and wonder of a new experience. It can be very liberating to be removed from the shackles and limitations of the culture you come from. Certainly, that is why a lot of people travel or decide to live abroad. Travel broadens the mind. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that. But just in case, allow me to share a couple of sayings made by famous people, on the subject of travelling, just so you are absolutely sure that I am 100% right about this (as if there was any doubt about that!

Mark Twain, the famous American author said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Let me say that again but slightly better:
Mark Twain said:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
So what he means is that travel basically kills your predjudice, kills your bigotry and kills your narrow-mindedness.
Bigotry is a kind of sort of very narrow-minded view of things that are different. So if you kind of… if you are a racist or sexist or very old-fashioned in the way that you think then you might be guilty of bigotry and narrow-mindedness that just means you got a very conservative view of world rather than a kind of open-minded liberal approach.

St. Augustine said:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
I think that’s pretty clear what that one means.

Samuel Johnson said:
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”
Anyway enough about all that. Let me tell you about my experiences in Paris.

People back in London keep asking me questions like:
-So, how is Paris then?
-How’s it going?
-What’s it like living in Paris?
-Do you smell of garlic yet?
-Do you feel homesick?
-Is it different to the UK?
-Are you experiencing culture shock?
-How are you enjoying the food?
-What are the people like?
-Do they refuse to speak English to you, even though they could if they wanted to?
-Have you got a job yet?
-Have you learned French yet? What’s it like learning a foreign language? Is it difficult to pronounce the words? Do people really say “ooh la la”, “zut alors!” or even “hoh-hee-hoh-hee-hoh”?
-What do all the buildings look like? Are they beautiful?
-Are people really fashionable and chic?
-Have you put on loads of weight because of all that rich buttery food?
-Are waiters really rude to you in restaurants?
-Do people hate you because you’re English?
-Have you managed to understand the ridculously complicated Metro system yet?
-Have you managed to get an apartment yet? Because apparently that’s really hard if you don’t have a bank account.
-Have you managed to get a bank account yet? Because apparently that’s really hard if you don’t have an apartment.
-What’s it like driving in Paris? Is it strange driving on the other side of the road? Have you driven around L’Arc de Triomphe? Is it as impossible and life-threatening as everyone says?
-What about getting a taxi? Apprarently that’s impossible.
-What about the night life? Have you been to the Moulin Rouge? Is it like that movie? You know, the one about the Moulin Rouge, with Nicole Kidman and Ewan Magregor. I can’t remember what it’s called, but anyway, have you been to the Moulin Rouge?
-Have you seen any sexy French movies yet? You know, the black and white arty ones, in which people lie around on beds smoking and undressing?
-What are the girls like? What are they LIKE? You know, are they…? Do they…? Will they…? Have they…? How often do they…? What about their…? Hmmm? (Sorry, I’ve got no idea what you mean)
-Have you been up the Eiffel Tower? How long did it take? Did you walk all the way up? What’s the view like?
-Have you been to le Louvre? Did you see the Mona Lisa? Did she seem happy or unhappy to you, or somewhere in between?
-Have you had sex with Carla Bruni yet, because everyone else has, apparently?
-Do they really eat snails & frogs’ legs and loads of garlic?
-Does everyone drink champagne and red wine all the time?
-Have you started riding around on a bicycle yet, wearing a stripy top, with a beret on your head, a moustache on your upper lip, a chain of garlic round your neck and some baguettes in the basket? or is that just a cliche?
-In fact, what’s it really like Luke? What does it look like Luke? Look, Luke, like, what’s it like, what does it look like, Luke? I mean do you, like, love it? A lot? or a little? Please, let us listen, Luke, to you, like, letting us learn a lot about living a life in …
uhh I got that completely wrong.
So this is difficult because I wrote this earlier on, okay. I wrote a list stuff because I wanted to do a really well prepared episode of Luke’s English podcast. But maybe you know, I shouldn’t try and write notes down because when I read a sort of script somehow it seems a bit unnatural. It doesn’t seem to be like I am really engaging with you. But anyway there is not much more of this script left.
Let me just try that second bit again. I am sure that you’ll forgive me just bear with me etc etc.
So what’s it really like, Luke? What does it look like, Luke? Look Luke like . What does it like look like, Luke? Do you like love it, a lot or a little?
Please let us listen, Luke to you like letting us learn a lot about living life in
le French capital of Paris.
OK. Let me try and deal with it all. Now I recently noted down some thoughts on Paris, and how it seems a bit difference a life in London.
So this section is not transcribed because I am just talking off the top of my head, but below you can see the notes that I used for this bit. It may contain some of the language that I used.

OK, this section IS now transcribed thanks to the work of Krissy who sent the transcription in. You can read the transcript below. Transcribing takes a lot of work, time and effort but it’s often a rewarding experience because it really focusses you on listening. Thank you Krissy for your transcribing work!

Okay, so I am going off-script now. This bit isn’t transcribed which probably means it’s going to sound a little bit more natural maybe slightly hard for you to understand, but you know let’s make that sacrifice because it’s better, isn’t it, if it sounds authentic and natural. I think so.
So, in no particular order, here are some notes in a little notepad which I scribbled down just recently and so this is in no particular order. This is very random.
So, what does it look like? Well, I remember when I first arrived in Paris I arrived in Gare du Nord Station, that’s the North Station of Paris and it’s not the most beautiful area of Paris but nevertheless, I immediately got a sense of the kind of atmosphere of the place and it sort of struck me as being somehow very 1920s or very kind of old fashioned. Just the way that the bistros look with the front of the restaurants and bistros with the chairs, the beautifully sort of decorated chairs and tables and the canopies that you find outside bistros and restaurants. When I see those things it somehow strikes me as being untouched by time. I can imagine most places looked exactly the same since the whenever like the 1920s or even earlier than that. So you know it’s very evocative kind of the images of Paris that we have seen in old movies or paintings and things like that. So immediately get a sense of this history. It’s like a long history obviously in the buildings there are many very large grand-looking buildings. All over the city and there is a long history many many difference of stories many different things of that occured here, of course, you know with the big things with the French Revolution at the end of the 19th century – I think at the end of 1978 I think.
Okay, I have to do an edit here and correct myself, because what I’ve just said was completely wrong. The French Revolution actually happened near the end of the 18th century basically between seventeen eighteen nine and seventeen ninety nine and as you should know really, it was a period of great socical and political change in France, that had a massive impact on French history and an impact generally around the world. And that was when the monarchy in France was kind of removed and instead of a monarchy it was replaced by a Republic. So basically the Royal family were taken and killed on… I think the storming of the Bastille, the Bastille day is the 14th of July. It’s celebrated here in France. It’s a kind of French Independence day you might say, another way they celebrate Independence day in America where the French Bastille day is basically the day on which they celebrate the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the French Republic, as we know it now. So it happened at the end of the 18th century. I just had to correct myself there because I couldn’t allow myself to tell you something that was wrong. Should have checked it in advance. But there we go. Like I said I’m kind of new here, new here in town so go to forgive me if I made the odd historical mistake. But I have corrected myself now so everything is fine. Good. On with the show. There are a few sort of episodes in the revolution but that’s only one of the biggest differences in terms of the sort of constitutions or the way the state is run in France. That is quite different to the UK because they don’t have a Royal family it’s a Republic. They actually… there was a revolution and they took the royal family and chopped their heads off because they didn’t really like them. Whether that’s really… I mean they celebrate this of course on Bastille day and of course as you may know they used the guillotine. They got a little bit guillotine happy actually in sort of so anyone they.. I don’t really know the deep history of it but it seems a lot of people just ended up getting their heads chopped off. Did it fix all the problems? I don’t know but I think it probaby made a big difference. But anyway there is a very sense that this is a Republic and this is everyone is very much aware of their rights and their sense of equality and brotherhood and all that kind of thing.
That’s the idea whether on a day to day basis when you are walking along the street. I don’t know if people seem that much more together or if society seems that much more fair or well-balanced. I can’t really see whether France being a republic is clearly better than let’s say England being a monarchy. I think in the end it’s still pretty much the same thing.
So, I find that in Paris much of the city is very similar. I mean that maybe that I am new to the place but a lot of the street seem to be really similar very very similarly designed. You get these long terraces, these very large imposing terraces on these long avenues and very grand-looking streets that have big monuments at the end. These avenues which were designed by Houseman. I have mentioned him before this architect who kind of designed many of the streets in Paris. So it does have a kind of uniformity to it, which…It’s not just uniformity in the facades of the buidlings but in the sorts of shops and things that you find in the streets. I find that I get lost really easily in Paris. It could also be the way that the streets are laid out. It’s not like a great system for example as you get in Barcelona or many places in America. You get this very long diagonal streets which all meet to me as kind of a big circular junctions and these big circular junctions like the one that you get at the Arc de Trioumpe have sort of seven or eight streets coming off at a diagonal angles so the city that all seems to be all in diagonal streets which makes it pretty confusing for me. So I get lost easily. All the streets seem to have the same types of shops. There is always a café, a bistro and a tabac which is a tabacconist, a boulangerie and a Japanese restaurant. There is always a Japanese restaurant for some reason. They love Japanese food here. So whenever I was walking around in Paris with my girlfriend quite often when we walked past a boulangerie she’ll go: Oh oh this is, this is the best boulangerie in Paris’ and then we end up down another street she’ll go on: oh no no no this is the best boulangerie in Paris and as far as I can tell there’s about nine best boulangeries in Paris but certainly the quality of the bread is very good. I mean compared to England. The French bread, you know, baguettes and things, I mean, it might seem to be quite a basic simple thing but for me as an English person the bread is like really good quality and really delicious. It’s a bit of a luxury but something that people here enjoy every day. In England we are just used to the normal everyday loaves of bread which, you know are not quite as soft and delicious as you get here. You get these baskets of bread on the tables in restaurants, bread fresh, hot baguettes of bread from the local boulangeries and things. You actually can smell the smell of cooking bread in the streets, and other things like croissants and stuff like that. So it’s lovely it’s luxurious to eat such good quality bread and pastries. A lot of it does seem to contain a lot of butter. I mean croissants such as basically it’s basically butter in kind of solid forms as far as I can tell. How can they manage to get so much butter into these things but I suppose that’s the key to making the taste so good. But they..I don’t think I can eat them every day. They are not really healthy enough. Certainly the eating habits in Paris are different to the eating habits in the UK. I mean, you know in the UK we are not exactly famous for our eating habits, are we? Well, we are famous for for having bad eating habits or at least having bad food. but Paris on the other hand is famous for its cuisine and famous for having excellent food, of course. We all know that. But, then you know there are certain things that are different about the way let’s say dinner habits in this country .
In the UK it’s quite common to have cheese at the end of a meal. So you start with a like a starter of some kind something savoury as your first course. Then the main course then would be, you know, like some sort of meat and vegetables or something and then after that you have a dessert something sweet and you’d have coffee and then right at the end you have cheese.
Well here in France, in Paris it seems they start with an aperitive, often which will be kind of like a kind of sweet tasting alcoholic liquor of some kind and then go on to the first course which could be you know similar to the first course in the Uk really a kind of savoury plate of, I don’t know, it could be some pâté or something like that and then the main course lots of things, lots of steak, raw beef, steak tartar, which is basically for me it looks like just a load like mince beef that the chef forgot to cook. But no that’s the correct way to eat it here and it’s kind of something that peopole eat a lot. Just a plate of raw beef. It’s not really my cup of tea yet but I am sure that I’ll grow to like it. So a kind of main course obviously is not just raw beef. There is loads of different main courses, lots of delicious kinds of food and then desserts and you have these very rich cakes and very delicious desserts and so on. And then after that.. oh no no I am quite wrong. The cheese comes before the dessert I have discovered. This is for meeting dinner at people’s houses they actually serve the cheese first.
Now my girlfriend is French who is kind of very surprised to discover that we have cheese at the end and in, I mean, in many some people’s opinion, some French people’s opinion this makes the English strange. This is just one example of the little differences that we notice when we, you know, live life in another country. Yeah, we have the cheese in the end. In France they have the cheese before the dessert. So in France it kind of goes.. it sort of goes, sweet savoury savoury savoury sweet. They have to end on something sweet. You can’t end on savoury whereas in England we do, we end with the cheese sometimes.
You know, I’m splitting hairs really it’s not a massive difference. Now, I know nothing about wine but it seems that most people here kind of have a fairly decent knowledge of wine and great varieties and things like that. When you order a wine in a restaurant the waiter presents you with a very long wine list and you are supposed to very carefully choose which wine you like to buy where as I am just like: Woa, which one is the cheapest? You know. I don’t really know very much about wine. But you know I hope to learn. I am certainly doing practise.
Café culture is totally different to pub culture. Obviously as you already know from previous episodes of Luke’s English podcast when you go to the pub you you go to the bar. You have to approach the staff at the bar and you get your drinks and your food there and you come back to the table whereas in Paris you go and just sit down and you let the waiter come and serve you, so basically it’s the responsibility of the waiter to know exactly what’s going on. The waiter should be able to observe who has just arrived who is sitting at which table and what their orders are and things like that. So you just go to a café, you just sit down, just relax and wait for the waiter to come and serve you which is lovely. I mean I am really getting used to that now. It’s great to be able to just going to a café to just seat yourself down at a table and just start watching the world go by while the waiter comes, you know, and brings you coffee or you know water or beer or something like that. It’s very pleasant. When I first arrived though I didn’t really know what I was doing. You know I would kind of avoid going to cafés because I was scared. Scared that I would do something wrong and scared also that I would have to speak French because that is slightly stressful for me. My French is improving and I understand of course that for it to improve properly I need to put myself into these slightly stressful situations but I am very very conscious of sort of breaking some little social rules or very conscious of I don’t know coming across as rude. So, you know it’s little bit stressful. So I would kind of go to cafés and I would think: ‘Can I really just sit down, do I just sit at a table? don’t I have to like announce to the waiter that I have arrived and I’m going to to be sitting over there.’ It seems it seemed somehow inappropriate for me to just plonk myself down at a table and expect to be served, you know. But I am getting used to the services. It’s nice, it’s nice.
It’s quite common to actually go and sit at the bar in a café and you get your coffee served directly and just stand at the bar and drink your coffee like that. I see a lot of people in the mornings when they are in a bit of a rush, they kind of manage to stop for a few minutes and just get a quick coffee and it’s a bit cheaper if you buy the coffee at the bar. The coffee is a little bit different here than it is in ,well, in the UK, I suppose and in America. It’s that sort of Italian style, expresso coffee which is really good and the drinking culture not coffee but drinking alcohol is a little bit different. There is less, it seems that there is less ‘binge drinking’. Now ‘binge drinking’ is an expression that you might sort of read in the newspapers in the UK. ‘Binge drinking’ means drinking a lot, quite quickly in a very short period of time in order to get drunk, and a binge is when you, you know, drink or eat a lot of something in a short period of time, so you can do like a ‘chocolate binge’ if you love chocolate and then you feel very guilty afterwards or a decent binge drinking, that’s where you go to the pub with your friends for a few hours and you drink lots, before the pub closes. Now maybe..well people say that binge drinking is a huge public health issue in the UK, because it’s very unhealthy you know and it costs the national Health Services a lot of money and that may well be true. Part of the reason, I think that we have a binge drinking culture in England is that our pub opening hours are a little bit strange. That’s certainly one of the complains that people have when they come to the UK. They go: Why do your pubs close at eleven o’clock? That’s ridiculous. That’s when, you know, we are ready to start drinking not stop.
Well, in England I don’t really know why the pubs close at eleven o’clock. But they do. Even though many of them have 24 hour serving licenses. Most of them still close at eleven or twelve o’clock. As a result, perhaps, what happens is that people go to the pub and they drink quite a lot in quite a short period of time, because they know that at eleven they won’t be able to get any more. So they kind of do all their drinking in just a few hours and then of course you get people coming out onto the street on a Friday night at 12 o’clock just completely pissed out their minds, getting into fight causing trouble and starting chaos in city centres on a Friday night. But I don’t get the impression it’s the same here. The culture is slightly different. People don’t seem to binge drink quite as much and people certainly drink but they don’t do it the seemingly irresponsible way, that we do in the UK. They seem to sit down and eat and drink at the same time, rather than in the UK where people kind of will stand up in very crowded pubs, drinking often, missing out on their dinner and just going straight to the pub and just drinking in the evening, very unhealthy, whereas in France people tend to sit down. They drink with their food, you know, they enjoy savouring the taste of wine rather then just seeing it that they need to drink in order to get drunk.
So that’s pretty good. I think it’s pretty healthy. Of course I have seen French people getting really drunk at parties and things like that, but it’s not quite as common in my experience as it is in the UK. It all seems a little bit more civilized, perhaps. Champagne in France is cheaper than it is in the UK and in the rest of the world. So in England Champagne is a luxury. It’s the sort of thing that you only drink on special occasions, whereas here in Paris, it’s more common to enjoy a glass of Champagne. In fact I have been to a couple of parties here where I have seen loads of bottles of champagne in the baths. So they keep all the champagne in the bath covered in ice. Now, I don’t think it’s that common. My French friends tell me that it’s not very common, but to be honest I have been to four or five parties here and at least two of those parties had bath tubs full of champagne. So either I am hanging out with very decadent people, or it’s sort of more common to drink lots of champagne at a party then it is in the UK.

So, let’s see. I have noticed that often you find that water flows through the streets. So by this I mean the gutters in the streets. The gutters are the bits of the edge of the street, between the pavement and the street. The gutter. That’s where all the water will flow down. So for some reason, I don’t really know why, perhaps if you are French or Parisian, you know the answers of this and you can tell me why. But it seems in the afternoons often, you get lots of water flowing through the gutters, so you’ll get these long streams of water flowing down the gutters in the streets, which is, it seems very clean, perhaps it’s the way they clean the gutters out . . and it’s quite nice to have all this flowing water around, unless of course you step in it, you know, in a pair of converse all stars in which case you may very well get wet feet.
But it’s quite funny to see, quite interesting to see all this flowing water and I think to myself: ‘Isn’t that a huge waste of water?’
But maybe in France or in Paris, you know, water conservation is less of an issue. In England we seem to have to look after our water a lot more. We are very conscious of saving water, but maybe in France that’s less of an issue. And it’s not just in Paris that I have seen water flowing down the gutters of streets. Also I have seen it in towns in the south of France, when I have been there on holiday. In fact I remember as a child, my family we used to go to the south of France every year and we’d spent our summer holidays in little villages and towns in the south and when they used to flow the water through the gutters of the streets my brother and I and my dad and my mum we’d play games. We’d make these paper boats out of pieces of paper and then sail them down the streets. So seeing the water flowing through the streets is kind of…. it creates a nice atmosphere. I suppose it cleans the gutters and it reminds me of my childhood holidays in France. Maybe one of the reasons that they flow water through the streets is because, sometimes the streets are a little bit dirty.
What I mean is there is quite a lot of dog turds there. There are lots of dog turds on the street. Lots of dog poo. I think you know what I am talking about. Dog shit! Yeah, of course, shit is the rude word. Dog poo. There is quite a lot of dog poo on the streets. Now, that for me is slightly ironic considering the buildings are so nicely presented, that people are very smart, they obviously care a lot about their appearance and yet on the streets, you get quite a lot of shit and piss as well. It’s not uncommon to find kind of urine stains on the pavement, because I don’t know, homeless people maybe, maybe homeless people decide that they can just urinate on the pavement. But I am sure, it’s not just homeless people. I think it might be, you know ‘not homeless people’ as well. Maybe on a Friday night after a few drinks, that they need the toilet and they just say: ‘Well, I just go right here in the street.’
For me that’s quite as a Brit, that’s quite odd, because it’s pretty rude or unacceptable to sort of urinate in a public place like that.
And yet often on a Saturday morning, I’ll go out onto the pavement and I see going to piss stains on the streets. I don’t know maybe if you gotta go, you gotta go. But it seemed a little bit strange for me. I haven’t yet pissed in the streets, but maybe, you know, the day will come when I do it myself and then maybe that’s when, you know, I will finally have sort of be initiated into real Paris life.
So yeah, dog poo on the street. So you’re going to watch out when you are walking around. If you don’t watch where you are going you might step in a turd. So, you know, be careful of that. It doesn’t happen very often. Mainly because I think I am quite cautious, quite vigilant and I manage to avoid stepping in the poo. But maybe that’s why they are going to wash the streets a bit. They need to wash away all the crap. I don’t know.
Well, I don’t know. I have yet to see kind of poo floating down the street, but you know. I am sure it’s going to be entertaining when I do see that, yes.
Yeah, so tramp’s piss or other people’s piss, I don’t know.
Every now and then you do get a lingering smell of urine in the air, but that’s balanced out by the lovely smells of perfume and fresh bread but you know, it’s not uncommon to get a little whiff of urban urine, let’s call it.
Let’s see, what else.
Cars, driving. Driving here. I noticed that cars tend to bump into each other a bit more. I think this is because parking spaces are really few and far between. They are really limited. There isn’t much space to park your car. So when you do find even a tiny space, you squeeze all the way into it and even if that means bumping into the car in front of you or into the car behind you. It seems to be fairly common to like bump to even, you know, the cars to press bump against each other in order to fit into a tight space.
In London if you so much as touch another person’s car with your car then you could be in serious trouble. And if you scratch someone else’s car then you, you know, you feel obliged to leave your telephone number or to apologize in some way or to just escape the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. Whereas in Paris it seems to be more of an every day thing that you might bump into people’s cars. I am not a car owner myself, so I don’t really know, but maybe French people, Parisian people get equally as angry if someone bumps into their car as a British person would. It’s just that it happens more often because there is less space for parking here. I don’t know. But I’ve certainly seen cars bumping into each other a bit more. Is that strange. That’s strange, isn’t it? Are they just bad drivers or are they just inconsiderate? Or is it just that there is less space? I haven’t really worked that out, yet. But driving for me is quite a challenge in Paris. Mainly because obviously in the UK we drive on the left. So the car goes on the left side of the road, whereas in Paris, like in most other countries in the world, yes I admit it, most of the other countries in the world drive on the right. In Paris they do the same thing. They drive on the right. You sit on the left of the car, but you drive on the right. So that’s a bit strange for me to get used to, of course, obviously I am used to sitting on the right hand side of the car controlling the gear stick with my left hand, but when I’m in France, I sit on the left side of the car, control the gear stick with my right hand, and I drive on the right side of the road. It’s very complicated, I know. But how it feels is that, when I am in the driving seat it feels like this: Too much car on the right. The car is really big on the right and not enough car on the left. So I am very conscious that somehow I’m going to, you know, crash into something on the right side of the right hand side of the car. So that’s pretty weird. Plus, also, just generally, it seems a bit more chaotic to drive in Paris. I’m really not used to it at all. One of the worst experiences was when I was driving my girlfriend dad’s car. So that was already pretty stressful, but not only that. I was driving into Paris from the country side. So driving into Paris generally means you have to drive around the ring road. There is a big road that goes all way round Paris, and it’s called the Boulevard Peripherique and it’s a ring road that goes around Paris and it’s very busy and it’s kind of.. the drivers can be a bit of aggressive and it’s a bit chaotic trying to find the right exit and so on. You got to be very vigilant and very careful. But the most frightening moment for me was when I was entering the Peripherique from a slip road. So a slip road is the road that you use to get onto another big road. In this case the Boulevard Peripherique, the ring road going around Paris.
Entering from a slip road onto a motorway in England is pretty clear because the slip road goes all the way down and then it joins the motorway with its own lane. You carry on driving on your own lane and after about a kilometre that lane gently feeds into the rest of the traffic. So I am used to like driving down the slip road and you keep going on the slip road for a long time and then you gently join the traffic.
Here in Paris there is no slip road. You just go the road…
Let me explain myself: There is a slip road but it doesn’t continue for a very long time. It just joins, it just throws you directly into the oncoming traffic. So that was a big shock for me in my first time driving on the wrong side of the road in my girlfriend dad’s car. Very conscious that I shouldn’t damage it. My girlfriend in the passenger seat. She doesn’t drive. So she is completely oblivious to the challenge, to the stress that I am under. And I am there like a sort of.. I am there like a pilot trying to crashland a plane and she is just, you know, enjoying a nice drive in Paris. So I am there sweating, trying not to have a nervous breakdown while I drive onto the Boulevard Peripherique and, you know, no long slip roads. So I’m driving along and I think: Oh, it’ll be a while, so just go along the slip road and then I’ll join into the traffic. But then at the last second, I realise there is no more slip road. Traffic! So that was a pretty frightening moment. I had to slam on the brakes, I had to hit the brakes and I was scared that someone was going to crashing into the back of me. It was exciting, ladies and gentlemen, but you’ll be glad to know, you know, well I did it, of course, you know. I managed to do it. I got onto the Boulevard Peripherique. I made it round. I got off. The car was undamaged. I mean, I lost a few hairs in the process. But you live and learn basically. Though driving is pretty strange sometimes.
Motorists don’t always stop. There is ..yeah, it takes a bit of getting used to. That’s it.
I tend to find just generally in the streets people stare a lot more than they do in London. By stare I mean they kind of look at you a lot more. I feel more selfconscious when I go out in the streets in Paris. I feel kind of aware that people may be checking me out. That they are looking at me. And I don’t think, it’s just that I am paranoid and generally think people tend to look at each other or look at each other’s clothes or appearance a lot more here in Paris than they do in London. It could be rude. Sometimes I think it’s rude, frankly, when, for example, I am standing, waiting for a train and I realise that the person next to me is just quite rudely, just looking at me, looking at my clothes. Maybe they don’t consider it’s being rude. But for me..I think that’s pretty rude to stare. And I encounter that more here in Paris than I do back home in London. Maybe I kind of stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe people can’t help looking at me because they think: Who is this weird freak, who is dressed in such a kind of shabby unconventional way. Although to be honest I am not really unconventional but maybe people just check out my clothes. Maybe that is what people do in Paris. But it seems a bit strange to stare like that at people. But I think people do take quite a lot of care over their appearance here.
People in general I think are really quite chic. They dress very well. They dress smart. They wear these nice silk scarves. They tend to wear smarter shirts and trousers. People are very well dressed. So it’s not really a myth. I think it’s true that Parisians… they like to be well presented and so, when you step out in public it’s the done thing to dress yourself up, to look nice. To look presentable.
But does that gives people the justification to stare at each other? I don’t know. I have certainly learning to get used to that.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination but sometimes I feel that people seem a little bit more rude in public. Maybe they are just more direct and in London people are a bit sort of reserved. But I get the impression of people just being a bit more rude, you know. They as I said, they stare a bit more. They don’t seem to be aware of their own personal space in the same way that we are in London. Maybe it’s just that London is a bit up-tight. But I think that in London we are quite careful not to bump into each other. We give each other a bit more personal space in crowded places like on the underground. We are very conscious of like trying to get out of each other’s way. I think certainly on the underground people are quite considerate. They don’t ..they try to avoid bumping into each other. They try to avoid getting in each other’s way. But I find here in Paris people tend to just bump into each other more. They seem to be slightly less aware of their personal space and so you tend to find people pushing and shoving and bumping into each other a little bit more over here.
Yeah, let’s see.
In London, I think that people on one hand are more polite and considerate and on the other hand you get the sense that people just don’t really care about you at all, which I quite like, you know. I have grown to like that. The sense that you’ve got a bit more anonymity and if you want to dress differently, if you want to be a bit eccentric or slightly odd looking, then you can and people aren’t really going to judge you for it and in fact they kind of like.. yeah do whatever you want, you can dress however you like, and nobody cares. That’s the feeling you get in London whereas in Paris it seems that, you know …it feels like a smaller community. And it feels like people are slightly more judgemental of your appearance. That’s the impression I get. I think people, maybe people in Paris are.. I think are a little bit more conservative I must say. Certainly about clothing and things like that and if you dress a little bit weirdly or differently, I think you can get people are going to stare at you and that feels a bit unfriendly at times. I mean it’s not a big problem for me because I don’t really like to dress that strangely. I am not a goth or a punk or anything like that, but certainly I get the impression that people tend to dress slightly more conservatively here. But very smart, very chic, very fashionable. In fact I think being chic is a kind of a way of life. It’s almost as if the kind of grand elegance of Paris, the beautiful presentation of elegance and the formal presentation of Paris is reflected in its people who are also like sort of slightly formally presented and quite nicely dressed. Obviously I can’t make generalisations. There are plenty of people in Paris who don’t dress formally, you know, they wear jeans and T-shirts, trainers and that sort of thing, but generally speaking there is a sense that people are quite fashion-conscious, quite smart, quite chic and well, Paris is famous for this. It’s famous for its fashion and its fashion brands and boutiques and things like that.
I am not sure if it’s just that I don’t understand the culture very well, but people seem to be slightly less humourous or maybe slightly less ready for humour. In London, I get the impression that people are always kind of, people use humour, they use self-effacing humour, irony, they make jokes about themselves as a way of getting rid of any social tension or awkwardness, whereas in Paris people are just a bit more ready to, you know, have a conflict, if that’s the way it’s like. If you bump into someone in the street, then rather than kind of going: Oh, sorry, my mistake, it tends to be like updown, get out of the way you idiot. ‘Putain’ by the way is a word that I hear everyday and it’s a rude French word.
I think, acutally it remains bizarre, I think it means bitch or something like that. Anyway it’s just a bit like equivalent to saying the f-word but people say it all the time without even realising it, you know. It’s very common. I haven’t quite mastered it yet, by the way.
But I don’t know if it’s fair for me to say that people seem less humourous. I think it’s more the case that in London people use humour all the time, you know. It’s like people are always ready to make fools of themselves or to use self-effacing humour. It’s a bit of a to joke around a lot and I certainly don’t believe that the Parisians are against using humour. It’s certainly not the case. I think it’s just reserved for certain situations. For example, waiters in restaurants. They are often really quite humourous and I noticed that waiters tend to banter with customers in a humourous way and that’s where the humour is. Or maybe when you are going to a shop. The shop keeper might be a bit humourous with you. But, it’s not the same kind of ironic deadpan kind of humour that you get in England. In fact in France it seems that when someone tells you a joke, they kind of show you that it is a joke by laughing when they make the joke as well. So they share the joke with you. So it’s like:
‘Ah, now I’m telling you a joke’, you know.
Like that. They slap the knee, show everyone that this is a joke, you know. Whereas in England, because humour is always there to an extent, the delivery of a joke might be less obvious and what often happens is that two people who are sharing a joke, they don’t necessarily laugh about it. They just carry on, speaking in an ironic way and just continue the joke because that’s sort of more funny. You don’t actually have to announce that it is a joke, you just continue living and continue the jokey conversation as if it’s just a normal conversation.
What does that mean? Well, who knows. I am sure, let’s leave that up to the sociologists and the cultural theorists and things about exactly what English humour really means. Perhaps I can try and cover it in a podcast episode some points in the future. So it seems that people are less ironic, less deadpan. When they are funny, it’s more obvious that they are being funny and the humour tends to happen in certain places. Maybe in France they put less value on humour. In the UK, we value humour a lot. It’s like a really important part of our daily lives and we like to go around, making each other laugh. We love comedians and we have comedy shows all over the city and every night in the week, whereas here in Paris comedy is less whitespread. I have seen stand-up comedy, French stand-up comedy on TV and there isn’t very much of it. It’s not like in London, where there is just every channel, there is a comedy show on. In France there is comedy, but it’s more like sort of drama in a way. It’s more like comic drama, rather than .. stand-up comedy.
Anyway, as I said I don’t have all the answers. If you feel like you understand French or Parisian culture better than me, please do leave a comment just, you know, what do you think and even if you recognise any of these things in your country, because obviously I have got listeners from all over the world, leave a comment as well. Does Parisian, French culture sounds similar to yours, or different? In what way?
Let’s see! Yeah, it seems that in France people are a bit more formal. For example, when you meet someone for the first time, it’s quite customary to say: Bonjour Monsieur, Hello Sir, you know.
‘Je suis enchanté de vous connaître’ which is like, you know, it’s: ‘I am enchanted to meet you,’ rather than in England it’s like, ‘Hi, how’s it going, well, thanks, very nice to meet you.’ We are a bit more informal, whereas in Paris people are slightly more formal.
I mean maybe these aren’t like giving airs. If you are French, you might think that’s not true.
We just say, ah bonjour or enchanté or salut or something, but just to give you an example.
When I met my girlfriend’s French parents, you know, my girlfriend said, you got to introduce
yourself in the right way. You got to say: ‘Bonjour Monsieur to my dad, you have to call them
‘vous’ at the beginning, you know in French they have the ‘vous’ form and ‘tu-form’. Vous is the formal you and tu is the informal you. Of course in English we just have you for both. Somehow the impression was that I had to be a bit more formal when I met my girlfriend’s parents whereas when my girlfriend met my parents, she was saying: ‘Oh, what shall I say? How shall I introduce myself’? And I said to her: Just say hi, hi and call my parents by their first names. Hi there, it’s really nice to meet you. And she felt quite uncomfortable about this idea that she could be quite so informal on a first meeting. So I think that’s an example of how the French are slightly more formal than the English. I think also the French language is similar to English in many ways. Often, because of all the Latin words that we share. So Latin origin words. So it’s the Latin words, in my opinion which are usually the more formal ones. And in English we have things like phrasal verbs and other expressions which tend to be less formal, but in French they use what in English is the more formal style, more than we do. So it feels like French is a more formal culture in that way. Obviously once you get to know French people and become their friends, then you know, there is no need for formality any more but you get the sense that at the beginning there is a bit more of a formal protocol than there is in England.
Let’s see other differences. Well of course, they speak a different language. That’s a big difference.

Let’s see, sirens. Sirens are different. I wonder if you know what I am talking about. By sirens I mean the noises that police cars and ambulances make. So in the UK police cars sort of go düüüüüüüüülüüüülüüü that kind of thing., right? Whereas in Paris they are going to go büdu büdu büdu anyway. It seems like a small difference to me. Sorry, might seem like a small difference to you, but when you are used to hearing these sounds in the city and then in France they have like a different sound, feels different. It feels a bit like the French sirens are like a melody of some kind. In fact, maybe the best way to express this is if I let Bill Bailey, the English comedian explain it.
So now you are going to hear Bill Bailey talking about sirens in the UK and sirens in France. And he actually explains it by demonstrating the sirens on his keyboard and he then goes into a kind of French song and he sings some French lyrics.
So have a listen to Bill Bailey talking about the difference between police sirens or ambulance sirens in the UK and ambulance sirens in French. I’ll explain or translate the lyrics of the song which he sings in French afterwards.
Let’s see, by the way Bill Bailey’s French; I am sure is not perfect French. It’s a kind of English approximation of French. Anyway I will explain it to you afterwards, if you don’t understand the French.

So, let’s see. Here we go:
Bill Bailey and ambulance sirens: