Paris, France

Fiona

 Paris Cheaper?  Mais non! C’est bizarre.

Fiona moved to Paris about 5 years ago and she finds life much cheaper in her Parisian neighbourhood of Le Marais than it was when she lived in Elizabeth Bay in Sydney.

Who would have thought: Paris cheaper than Sydney or Melbourne, Perth or Brisbane?

Certainly the strength of the Australian dollar can account for some of this. But, so too, does the fact that when you live in Paris, you live in a neighbourhood and you know where the markets are, the wine shops, the bakers and the grocers.

Fiona pays 1300 euros a month for a large but handsome one-bedroom apartment in Marais near Place des Vosges. It is in the very convenient 4th arrondissement.

The apartment would now be worth about 500,000 euros. It was bought for 120,000 euros eight years ago. But Fiona is not interested in buying. Renting is so reasonable and the law really favours the tenant.

After all, she could rent her dream two-bedroom, 90 square metre, parquet-floored apartment overlooking the Seine for 2,500 euros a month.

Her current apartment is in an old 1860s block and it faces into a large internal garden. It is one-bedroom, yet spacious with lots of light, and has a large living area that leads onto the kitchen. It is very Parisian.

Fiona says that her cost of living is “tons less” in Paris than in Elizabeth Bay.

“If you come to Paris as a tourist you are likely to think that it is expensive. But when you know – like you do after you live anywhere for a while – the markets on Thursday to Sunday which have everything from flowers to every possible form of food: meat, fruit, cheese, vegetables, bread – I just simply can’t compare.”

“I certainly can’t compare the precociousness of Australian restaurants. I could take us for a set, two- course lunch here for 14 euros (about A$20) to 40 restaurants within walking distance. And the dish of the day – plat du jour – it is so funny, it is terribly French, oeuf mayonnaise – it can be quite funny, but it can be extremely inexpensive.”

“You are coming to the most visited city in the world, but you are really living in this beautiful village. You throw away all those material possessions like a car. You join the city and you cycle on your bike and you take the metro. If I was to cross Paris, coming home from dinner, it would cost 10 euros in a taxi. It is not expensive. There are now English language taxi services and phone companies.

“Phones are so cheap. My mobile calls any mobile in France for free. All my landline calls are free – international calls as well. And it costs 35 euros a month for the landline and internet service.

“My mobile is another 15 euros a month.

“All up 50 euros ($A75) a month for communications. And I am running a business.

It has taken a few years but Fiona now understands the nuances of Parisian ‘village life’.

“I learnt here that all the locals patronize the local businesses. They use the hairdressers, the beauty salon and go out to lunch on Saturday locally. They earn their money in this arrondissement and they spend it in this arrondissement. I think they shell out – they buy flowers, take the kids to lunch.

“I have three schools in this street including the best in Paris – a primary school. If I walk out my door at 8.30am there will be 15 or so bicycles ridden by men with the school kids on the back and they are going to the most elite school in Paris. It is so sweet. Outside the school, they post up the menu every day of what the children will be served for lunch – always three courses, sometimes four, including cheese. This is so the parent, who delivers the child there, will know not to serve the same thing at night. If your child doesn’t eat his spinach at lunch, you will get a note at the end of the month saying ‘you must ensure he eats greens because he didn’t like spinach’.

“People don’t go to private schools in France because French state education is so great.”

Unlike some others who fell into France by chance, rather than intentionally, Fiona always loved Paris.

“I had been coming to Paris since my 20s - from when I lived and worked in London, which I did for 14 years. Amazingly.

“What I had been writing about for years – the business of fashion - has Paris at its centre. This is where it is. And I obviously wasn’t going to break away from that. It is what interests me and what I know and this is the centre of where it happens.”

Fiona also believes she was influenced by her mother and her upbringing in rural Australia.

“I grew up reading books called Madeline in Paris aged five. I loved my French teacher at school. My mother who longed for her subscription magazines from England on gardens and things, although she is Australian, said ‘Darling, this place is just ghastly, all the trees are the same and it is a dust bowl’.”

“I think my mother planted something in my mind.”

Fiona came to Paris in her fifties. It was her dream and as she got older she realised that her dream was drifting away from her. She needed to grasp life afresh. 

“I rented out my flat in Elizabeth Bay and I came to this apartment which I knew about through a friend. But it wasn’t the first time (in Paris). That was comfortable. I had a few friends in Paris, I was familiar with the city, I had worked in and out of here all my life, had some French – about the same now! I never said to anyone ‘I am leaving Australia’, I didn’t know – could I survive, could I earn the money?

It was a process of discovery for Fiona.

“The first six months, first year, second year – it was working. I had an income. I could do it. I then made a decision to sell my apartment because I found Australian tenants just too difficult. When it rained and a tile came off the wall, one particular tenant spent two weeks in a hotel while the tiles dried. At my cost. It was an ongoing headache renting out an apartment in Sydney.”

“I had a lot of treasured possessions. But the apartment I live in now would be 20 per cent of the size of my Elizabeth Bay apartment. What I decided to do was to ‘sell or take’, not to store. So I had a pretty emotional clear out. But I kept what really mattered to me. I had seen the legacy of people opening up storage units after five years and finding rusting fridges. What a waste of money. So I was just ruthless. Sell most but keep the things you love and adore. Possessions aren’t everything.

“I brought furniture, pictures, lamps (to Paris). I have things that reflected where I have travelled and lived all over the world. And those heavy fucking books.”

Fiona was finally truly Paris based. Then reality struck.

“I remember thinking – now if my world goes belly up I am really in trouble.”

Five years later Fiona still loves living in Paris.

And like so many people who take the great leap and move into a new life in their mature years, Fiona suddenly grabbed hold of her youth again.

“I feel younger here”, she said.

“In France, everything in the pharmacy to do with sex and staying younger and thinner is cheaper. So much cheaper.

“I am not spooked about going to the hairdresser. In Sydney, it would be ‘how much is it going to cost?’ Here it is under 100 euros for a cut, colour and blow dry and it is the best.

“The French are very impetuous, so you can just walk in off the street with no appointment - 25 euros for a blow dry.

“There is everything you need to feel better about yourself - and it is on tap.

“I go to a gym. It is incredible: the women at 65 who have sinewy bodies. They never gain weight.”