the un-romantic-ness of Paris


Paris holds a certain mystical romance for most people – the Eiffel Tower in its splendour or walks along the Seine River somehow strikes a chord with most people. For a lot of us, visiting Paris is a dream come true. For me, studying, living and working there was my worst nightmare (well, perhaps second to the migraines and depression). Sometimes I still marvel at how I survived the city for an aggregate of 2.5 years in total and still remained sane.

I spoke about the author Daisy Wong in another blog post, and one book I read from her was anecdotes from her travelling – and I clapped, actually applauded loudly to myself when I read the chapter about Paris. She spoke about the pungent smell of pee in the Paris metro, and that’s just the beginning. Homeless loitering around the metro, petty thefts on the metro, people who bum in through the turnstiles with you at your beep of the ticket (oh magnetic ticket cards were a novelty back then when we’ve been using it for the last decade in Hong Kong) etc. How does that compute to “romantic”?

Oh and if you don’t speak French, don’t you even dare to mutter anything because you will only get a condescending look of utter disbelief. Plus if you stand in line at a supermarket, chances could be that you get totally ignored by the cashier and they wave everyone behind you to proceed—for whatever reason I got that treatment some 7 years ago I still haven’t been able to figure out. You also have no right to complain about lack of redistribution of manpower at immigration going into France, even though there are 10 officers idling around with their morning espressos, peacocking in front of massive queues. Of course Paris has its charms and on a sunny day with blue skies I loved sitting at a roadside café and people watch—but don’t expect any kind of customer service with a smile, you will be lucky if you don’t get a growl.

Working there is another art. I know a lot of people love the sound of their own voices but none so much more than some of my French colleagues. 3-hour meetings?! Really? What do we have to talk about? I’m definitely more productive when I’m at my desk responding to clients’ emails or out meeting them. I am baffled, to this day, about how a group of 15 people sitting in a stuffy meeting room, droning on about their respective pages on a power point presentation but otherwise typing away under the table (if they are remotely courteous) on their blackberries contributed to the sales target figures. Nor do I comprehend why colleagues of the same department like to make things difficult for each other. The inefficiency and laziness of some of the staff are not unparalleled, in all fairness, but the blatant-as-a-matter-of-fact attitude in doing so, is infamously unique.

I don’t discount my experience in Paris and there are fond memories indeed.

Food and wine to say the least, and before my departure I did adopt the Parisian contempt for tourists, especially those from a certain united country babbling boisterously on the metro looking for a McDonalds hamburger in the land of exquisite cuisine. And do I miss the pain au chocolates and crème brulee! But when they gave me a new posting letter, I was, to say the least, more than elated to leave the wretched city that everyone finds romantic.

Many people are envious of my time in Paris. You have every right to. But really, honestly, from the bottom of my heart—been there, done that, ça suffit!

(To my French friends: I love you all, no offense! And ok, I still like to visit Paris and eat pain au chocolats.)

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.