'Paris is pointless if you live in the suburbs'

The Local France
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'Paris is pointless if you live in the suburbs'
Life in Paris: Is life better inside or outside the Paris Périphérique? Josh Melvin (left) says yes but Ben McPartland (right) says no. Photo: Jessie Acosta

Would you consider living in the suburbs of Paris? For the first in our series of tête-à-têtes, The Local France's Josh Melvin (left) and Ben McPartland (right) square up to each other on the issue of whether life is better inside or outside the Périphérique. Who do you side with?


Most Parisians scoff at the idea of moving outside Paris to the surrounding suburbs and they are right to, argues the Local's Josh Melvin (pictured left). But his colleague Ben McPartland (on the right) takes the opposite view arguing the future lies outside Paris. Who do you side with, Melvin or McPartland?

Melvin says don’t move to the suburbs, ever.

Sure, it seems nice at first. You trade in the sixth-floor walk up apartment and its luxurious 20 metres of living space for a whole house at the same price.

Suddenly the clerk at the post office is helpful when you ask for assistance sending a package abroad. Wait, did the clerk actually smile?

And of course no more sudden whiffs of pee as you walk down the street.

But the discontent starts with a two-hour bus/train/metro ride or brisk walk to get to work. It’s a trip so long you need to bring snacks, reading material and water.

After a few times of making the bus/train/metro/bus/velib’ trip to visit friends who still live in the city, you kindly encourage them to come and see you in the ‘burbs once in a while. They laugh at the suggestion.

Your arguments in this case are few, however. Nightlife in your town is in part confined to whatever is happening at the local McDonald’s past 10pm. Standing in front of the mirror one morning you wonder, am I putting on weight?

You suffer mostly in silence. Your partner and the kids, they love the new town. They adore the fact there’s nothing there, it’s called ‘open space’! And because nothing is going on, there is permanent silence.

Left exhausted by your daily commute-athon and making the kilometre-long hike to most amenities, you start driving everywhere. In the beginning it’s just for food shopping or to pick up a new piece of furniture to fill your enormous, empty house.

But then one day, like an addict selling your children’s milk for your next high, you feel the shame of driving to the bakery at the end of the street to pick up a baguette. You buy an extra pastry to smother the dark feelings.

And the shopping mall. No more Galeries Lafayettes or the little shop run by the guy whose name you know and that sells phone cards, dried fish and bins of candy on your Parisian street. Best forget about that.

Real life now consists of the terror and violence of merging into the emergency evacuation-like shopping traffic at the massive hypermarché (which you had to drive to!). It’s a place where commerce and combat are combined.

Later and still angry over the speeding ticket you got in the mail, the third this week (DRIVING!), you bump into the neighbour. You start with pleasantries and then you’re pretty sure you hear something about how there are too many immigrants in France. The city starts to feel far away, indeed.

The bottom isn’t far now. Terrified by the silence, one night you blare electronic music in an upstairs room of your house. Then after returning to the main floor, and in a pointless act of nostalgia, you tap a broom handle on the ceiling.

“Taisez vous, oh!”, you shout which is basic Parisian for "please be quiet".

Your partner and children are awoken by the racket. You force a nervous laugh, but they are clearly worried by your behavior.  

So don't move to the suburbs.

McPartland on why the future lies in the suburbs:

A fellow Anglo expat said to me recently: 'What’s the point in living in Paris if you have to live in the suburbs? I would just go home if I had to live out there.'

Although this expat Paris zealot certainly has a point due to the current gulf between la vie in Paris and on the other side of the Périphérique, he’s failing to look to the future.

The 'doughnut effect' which has seen the jam-filled centre of Paris prosper to the detriment of the crusty outer ring of suburbs surely cannot be maintained for much longer.

“Doughnutitus”, a malaise which has long affected Parisians will soon have a cure. The illness, which makes them do strange things like queue for hours just to get the chance to see a flat for rent or to spend €400,000 on an apartment the size of a suburb vegetable patch, or to spend up to €10 for a beer on the terrace of a café, will soon be a thing of the past.

And when they find the cure Parisians will flock to the suburbs, where you can buy a whole house with windows that allow a glimpse of the sky for the same size as a 56-square-metre apartment in the 10th arrondissement, where your living room looks directly into your neighbours' bedroom, just a couple of metres away.

In the suburbs you’ll be able to have a chat with your friendly neighbour - yes, friendly - without having to shut out the sounds and sights of their bedroom antics that kept you up all night.

Out in the suburbs you can get some space, maybe even a parking space, and you can breathe some fresh air for once and you can step out of your door without the fear of getting run over, slipping on dog poo or being tutted at because you are walking too slow.

Granted one of the problems of living outside Paris at the moment is the lack of life or more to the point the lack of 'bo-bo' (bohemian-bourgeois) cafés that give Paris its unique atmosphere and where the locals spend 80 percent of their adult lives.

But the reason places such as Clichy, Les Lillas and Montreuil etc, all just outside Paris city limits, don’t have that bo-bo Parisian atmosphere yet is because there are not enough bo-bos there. But if the bo-bos go, the bars-à-vin and the planches mixtes (cheese and cold meat boards) will soon follow. 

OK there’s the transport issue, I’ll grant you that. The thought of having to take the RER every day brings on mild anxiety attacks, but the Grand Paris project, which plans to increase or build new Metro lines in the coming years to link Paris to the banlieues, means those commutes will hopefully be less painful, as long as you move to the right place.

And Paris’s new mayor is also aiming to keep the Metro open late at night at weekends, so getting home after a night out in 'central Paris' (or zone 1 of Grand Paris as it will soon be called), should not be so bad.

I know it takes a leap of faith for Parisians - even Anglo ones - to cross the Périphérique (my better half comes out in a rash every time she crosses the ring-road) but it won't always be so traumatic.

It’s time to face the future, without feeling ashamed.



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