In recent years, books about French women’s lifestyles and parenting have been very popular in Japan. If you visit any bookstore in Japan, you will find books such as “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris,” “Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting,” and “Women, Work, & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility.”
Due to the ideal images portrayed by such books, in which French women are enjoying their lives, working as well as parenting at their own pace, Japanese women have fantasized about “the French way of life.”
We certainly hear news about how France has improved the working environment for women with children, but it still is questionable whether the quality of life in France is as high as those books claim.
When I lived in France, I actually had a hard time and some disappointing experiences. One of the most troubling incidents was when my home appliances began to break down, one after another, and could not be repaired.
On top of that, there were many concerns about the old age of the building, as well as the high levels of lime in the tap water. Although my apartment in a 50-year-old building was considered relatively new in Paris, there were always problems here and there.
As soon as my family and I moved in, we found that the toilet was leaking water. We called a plumber, but he was not able to come immediately. He agreed to come three days later, but he didn’t tell us exactly what time he would come. As a result, we ended up waiting for him the whole afternoon on the day he came.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. Although the plumber fixed the toilet, it began to leak again right after he left. The second time the plumber came, the toilet remained irreparable. On the third attempt, a veteran of the so-called “School of Plumbing” came and finally managed to fix the toilet. It took nearly a month to solve the problem.
We also had problems with the heater. In our apartment, hot water circulated from the basement of the building to the radiator of each room. Often, the water did not travel to the radiator or the radiator did not heat. Although heating contractors inspected our apartment as well as the basement, the problem never was fixed.
In Paris, winter temperatures sometimes fall below zero degrees Celsius (about 32 degrees Fahrenheit). We had to find ways to keep ourselves warm at home, such as wearing thick clothes and having burning-hot stew for dinner. The problem was finally repaired in March, but by then, the weather had already become warmer.
The elevator in our building also didn’t work. We were living on the eighth floor, but the elevator didn’t go all the way up there—it went only to the sixth floor.
After close examination, repairers said that they needed certain parts to fix the elevator; however, they didn’t have those parts in stock. They told us that it would take three months for the factory to make the mold to create the parts. So we simply took the elevator to the sixth floor and walked up to the eighth floor every time we came home.
I was also annoyed by the way French people worked, making no considerations for customer service. When we decided on an apartment, for example, the representative of the real estate company requested that we prepare documents that were necessary for the contract before his winter vacation. If the documents were not handed in on time, the contract could be completed only two weeks after the vacation.
Apparently, nobody could take over the representative’s responsibilities while he was gone. So my husband and his colleagues had to rush to prepare all the documents, and with luck, we managed to complete the contract before the representative’s vacation.
If you are accustomed to shopping at Japanese department stores and supermarkets, where employees feel guilty for making customers wait in line, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by French supermarkets. Many of them had fewer functioning registers than customers, causing the lines to move slowly. And even when there was a long line, the staff rarely opened another cash register. The situation was worse on Saturdays because a lot of supermarkets close on Sundays.
The truth about the myth
Now let’s talk about the myth that “French people have only 10 items of clothing,” which was mentioned in “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris.” I surveyed some people who are either living in France or have lived there. “I know some French women who always wear the same clothes,” said one friend of mine. “But obviously, those are all very high-quality items.”
I remember that a lot of my friends wore similar-looking clothes all the time. Sometimes, I even saw people who wore the same clothes for two consecutive days. France is less humid than Japan, so there’s no need to change clothes or do laundry often. In other words, French people need to change their clothes less frequently than Japanese people do.
So here’s my conclusion from my experience of living in France: Although it is wonderful for people to take a break and vacation, and improvements in the working environment provided better welfare, a certain degree of inconvenience was imposed on consumers.
Although I did have some negative experiences in France, I have to say that for the most part, I loved living there. It is hard to describe the feeling of walking in Paris, where architectural masterpieces such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are everywhere.
I loved spending a sunny day at a café watching people walking by. The city taught me that people can be satisfied with their lives without spending much money. To taste the joy of the French lifestyle, though, one may have to give up some convenience and efficiency.