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‘Paris is pointless if you live in the suburbs’

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?

'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

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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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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