The Irish in Paris get honest about life in the ‘City of Love’

Ah, Paris.

The baguettes; the berets; the way those locals can wear a scarf... A city that applauds beauty and pleasure with a croissant in each hand; it’s a place that seems to melt even the hardest of hearts. It’s somewhere we’ve all probably dreamed of eloping to at one point or another, if we're honest enough to admit it.

But what’s it really like to live there? Is romance lurking around every corner? Is the Eiffel Tower really visible from every window view?? Surely it’s not all “oo la la” every day. Surely the bread must go stale at some point...

We asked nine free-wheeling Irish emigrants what they have to say about the reality of  life in one of the world's most romanticised locations; from the horrors of commuting rudeness to the joys of cheap medical care. If you have your sights set for a stage in Paris, then let this be thy blueprint.

Mes cheries, this is Paris.

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Why Paris?

Some came here for love (no surprise there); others for the chance to pursue their fashion dreams in the home of haute couture (again, this makes a lot of sense). But the rest? The reasons why these Irish individuals moved to Paris vary from the simple lure of the adventure and the chance to learn a new language, to the desire to live in the heart of Europe and enjoy the pleasures of life in its every form. In short; they all wanted to get a taste of “la belle vie”.

“I actually moved over for love. My fiancé is from Paris. I didn’t plan on staying at the beginning, it was only supposed to be for the summer, and that was nine years ago!” - Aideen Slevin
“Paris, way back in the 80’s was the only place for fashion.” Emma O'Carroll
“I went on holiday to Paris in September 2017 and I fell in love with the city. I think the architecture, the tiny winding streets and the different quirks in each arrisdonment attracted me to come here.”  Elly Coughlan

However, there’s much more to Paris than the visual and entertainment side of things; take the reliable metro which gets you from A-B with impressive speed and regularity (that is, when a strike isn’t taking place, “which is often”).

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Best bits about Paris

When it comes to the French capital’s “best bits”, our Irish-Parisiens spend a lot of their time gushing about exactly the kind of things we might expect; the many art galleries; the beautiful architecture; the sheer level of culture and history to be seen…

“Canal Saint Martin in the summer time with good friends and wine is the dream, as is strolling around le Marais on a Sunday morning.”  - Caoimhe O’Dwyer

*Sigh*

However, there’s much more to Paris than the visual and entertainment side of things; take the reliable metro which gets you from A-B with impressive speed and regularity (that is, when a strike isn’t taking place, “which is often”). Then the practicality of being located in such a prime position on the European continent is another distinct highlight.

Related: I'm newly single and this is what my solo trip to Paris taught me about self-love

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In fact, it’s Paris’ locality that has allowed Denise Horan Duchemin to arrange special, spur-of-the-moment “mystery tours” with her children:

“Since the kids are old enough to appreciate travelling, I have introduced the ”mystery tour” concept. Every so often, I organize a trip or a day out that my kids and husband only find out about when we get to the station, airport, etc… It’s great fun and gets us out of our routine. We have done Amsterdam, and Brussels and a few day trips around Paris.”

For singer/ songwriter Ellen Quinn Banville, it’s the Parisien approach to life – their appreciation for life outside of work – that makes life here so enjoyable.

‘It would be unusual, in my circle at least, to have someone at a party ask “what do you do for a living”. It’s more “what are you into”/ “what’s your thing”; they’re more interested about the ways you make sure your life isn’t just “metro-boulot-dodo” (a great French-ism that means “metro, job, bedtime”, it refers to the mundanity of the weekday grind)”. Ellen has been told that the goal is to “Live well. Enjoy your free time. Never stay any later in the office than you’re required to… And to always take August off”.' - Ellen Quinn Banville

And although French men are known for their romantic ways, the issue of cat-calling and being approached, “hit on” and generally pursued by complete strangers can vary from annoying to scary.

The bad bits

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Not all would agree with Ellen’s laid-back sentiment, however. Caoimhe O’Dwyer describes the pace of life as “very hectic”, whilst many refer to the fast-pace lifestyle and the “appalling”  rudeness of commuters on the metro (this seems to be the one situation in which the Parisien reputation for rudeness reigns strong).

Something even worse than commuters, though? The copious amounts of paperwork that is required within the French admin system. “You need a piece of paper for everything, and about 12+ to find an apartment! It’s a real pain” says Dominic  Mac Suibhne. Eadaoin McDonagh reasserts this further, “nothing is ever easy, straight forward or online!”

And although French men are known for their romantic ways, the issue of cat-calling and being approached, “hit on” and generally pursued by complete strangers can vary from annoying to scary. As Denise Horan Duchemin puts it, “You need to have your wits about you”.

...But it’s not all bad!

Free time

Free time in Paris is spent, it must be said, exactly as whimsically as you’d imagine. From mornings strolling around one of the city’s many parks, to swoony afternoons in Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, finished off with wine and cheese boards along the Seine... There’s no doubt about it, “la belle vie” is alive and well in Paris.

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And when our overseas siblings aren’t setting the scene for the perfect romcom backdrop? They spend a lot of their free time “walking, walking, walking”. Oui, walking seems to be a huge part of Parisian life, and according to Eadaoin McDonagh “getting lost and discovering Paris is like a hobby in itself”.

For all its airs and graces it seems that Paris still falls short when compared to home in certain instances…

The Irish community in Paris

Although there are nowhere near as many Irish in Paris as they are in the likes of New York or London, there is still a tight-knit, welcoming community here. Organisations such as the Paris Gaels Gaelic football club, The Irish Cultural Centre and the Irish in France association have acquired a brilliant reputation for getting the Paris-Irish together and helping to set up networks and long standing friendships all over the city.

“I joined the Paris Gaels gaelic team over here. I hadn’t played gaelic since secondary school and I’m still not great, but it doesn't matter how good you are, it’s just a great way to meet new people and keep in touch with your roots” - Aideen Slevin
“We’re really lucky to have a community here and resources like the Irish Cultural Centre. During the Repeal the 8th campaign I organised a couple of fundraising gigs with my band and was blown away by how much of a community there was here – everyone came together, wanting to contribute something from afar.” - Ellen Quinn Banville
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“I am on the board of the “Irish in France”, an association that aims to bring the Irish people living in France together through a wide range of community events and initiatives. Last year we organised the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade in France and this year it promises to be even bigger! ” - Kate Solovieva
Related: Picture perfect cafes in Paris that’ll make you want to book a trip ASAP

Missing home

In general, our expats say that they make it back home anywhere between 1-4 times a year; a reality made possible by the short flight transit time (1hr 40mins) and the relatively low cost. For all its airs and graces it seems that Paris still falls short when compared to home in certain instances…

“I miss the ocean and of course all my wonderful friends and family! I’ve realised since moving to Paris how I took the ocean for granted when it was on my doorstep.” -  Elly Coughlan
‘Paris hasn’t grasped the concept of comfort food yet. “Pub food” doesn’t really exist in Paris. There are days when it’s raining or it’s late at night and all I want is to sit down in a cosy bar with some hot apple pie and tea or a pint of Bulmers and bacon fries… ” – Dominic  Mac Suibhne
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Throughout these interviews, all but one said that they had no intention of moving back to Ireland any time soon. That one was Emma O’Carroll who, after over 20 years working in Paris’ fashion industry, says that she’s had enough and wants to return to the simple pleasures of home.

“The cheese and onion crisps and golden crisp chocolate, the sausages, the brown bread and of course, a 99 cone (double flake please!). I’d love to get home by 2020 and invest my expertise, network and knowledge into making fashion/ interiors/ product design happen from sketch to store.” – Emma O’Carroll

Being here has helped me to realise that my freckles and pale skin are beautiful and shouldn’t be hidden.

Adapting to the culture

But the question remains, have the Irish living in Paris adapted to the chic, sophisticated and salty ways of the world’s most fashionable city? Or do they continue to hold onto their roots with gusto?

“I never felt particularly Irish until moving here and I feel like being away from home has made me appreciate Irish quirks and traits much more. We’re a friendly bunch who are always good craic and I love that - I think it’s probably what I miss most about home!”  Ellen Clarke
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“At first It was hard not to feel insecure looking at Parisian women who seemed so confident and elegant with barely any make up, no fake tan, and simple (but chic) clothes - this kind of natural beauty just isn’t as embraced as much in Ireland. However being here has helped me to realise that my freckles and pale skin are beautiful and shouldn’t be hidden.”- Eadaoin McDonagh
“I must admit I’ve picked up the café au lait and a croissant habit every morning on the way to work at the bar in a local brasserie. It’s a simple thing that just gives a real sense of belonging.” Emma O'Carroll

When it comes to renting you just do your research and have all necessary documents ready.

Accomodation in Paris

As already mentioned, the French are sticklers for admin and documentation, and nowhere is this more profound than in the search for a home. However, there are ways around the perils of habitation-hunting, and many have found the Irish community to be extremely helpful in finding suitable accommodation.

“When it comes to renting you just do your research and have all necessary documents ready. The process is difficult and awkward because you need to supply a host of “guarantees”/bank statements/ documents etc., but this is just a result of France’s strict housing laws which will always benefit the tenant, not the landowner, which is somewhat comforting to know.” – Dominic  Mac Suibhne
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The Irish network has been very helpful in my apartment search here, so I recommend connecting in with it in advance. ” - Kate Solovieva

Bringing up a family

The jury was out when it came to whether Paris is an ideal place to bring up a family.

On the one hand, healthcare and social benefits are “amazing” (GP visits are €25 and the government pays 75% of medical bills), and many parents delight in how the city’s cultural institutions such as museums and galleries provide free entry to anyone under 25 years old; “this makes entertaining young, inquisitive minds on the weekend a lot easier, and cheaper”. On the other hand: apartments are cramped; the air is highly polluted; criminal activity continues to be problematic and the high cost of living has parents working long hours simply to keep their heads above water.

“The French primary school system is brilliant, although the days are long for children; they could be in school from 7am-4:30pm every day, but at least they get most get Wednesdays off!” – Ellen Clarke.
“From being an au pair to a Parisian family with three children I saw how difficult it was for the parents to juggle a big career as well as making time to see the kids.” - Eadaoin McDonagh
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"I was setting up for a gig on the night of the 13th of November. As soon as the first reports of a bomb outside the Stade de France were reported our gig was cancelled and we had to stay in the darkened bar, hiding away from any windows, fielding texts from friends and family at home."

Related: "Two Irish girls get mugged In Paris: An unexpectedly brilliant story"

The Paris terrorist attacks

It goes without saying that one subject that continues to play heavy on the minds of all who have lived in Paris, is that of the terrorist attacks of 2015: both upon the Charlie Hebdo offices on Jan 7th 2015, and on Nov 13th 2015 in multiple points throughout the city. These horrific events took their toll on the people of Paris, and now the Irish contingency recall what it was like living through that experience and how things have been since.

“Yes I was here for all of them… It was really hard and everyone was affected regardless if you knew a victim or not. I was on a street five minutes away from one of the cafes where the attacks happened. It was only when I went inside that I saw what was happening on the TV. We locked ourselves in for two days straight and cried our eyes out. I was constantly looking over my shoulder in the days following the attacks...” Aideen Slevin
“I was setting up for a gig on the night of the 13th of November. As soon as the first reports of a bomb outside the Stade de France were reported our gig was cancelled and we had to stay in the darkened bar, hiding away from any windows, fielding texts from friends and family at home. It was a terrifying time, but then in the following days it felt empowering to go and sit on a terrace and have a wine with friends to defy those who had attempted to terrorise us.” - Ellen Quinn Banville
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“It shook us all profoundly, but we have to live on and keep going. And that is just what the Parisians do, keep going; going out to dinner; taking the metro.  Bags are checked going into department stores and museums, it has now become a reflex to open your bag going into a shop. Parking in front of schools, city halls, museums and universities is no longer possible.” - Emma O'Carroll

Paris Quickfire Questions:

  • What are the Parisians really like?
"It takes time to build relationships but they are definitely worth investing in as they are some of the most hospitable, intellectual and open-minded people.” - Kate Solovieva
"I’d very rarely meet someone who lives up to the stereotype (although one time a woman kicked me in the metro at rush hour because I was standing too close to her!). Parisiens can seem standoffish at first, but once you get to know them they will usually be warm and welcoming and will often try to integrate you in amongst their friends!” - Eadaoin McDonagh
  • Is Paris really as romantic as it seems?
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“Dating in Paris is fun, it almost has an escapist feel because you can find yourself retracing iconic movie scenes. Amelie, Before Sunset etc The backdrop of Paris is quite romantic and kissing along the River Seine is cute. Plus as a gay man, men in Paris are refreshingly direct and know how to make a move without having to be 5 pints deep.” – Dominic  Mac Suibhne
“Paris day-to-day is not as romantic as it appears. That being said, every day I do see men with bunches of flowers on the metro, which is a lot more of a rarity back home! ” - Caoimhe O’Dwyer
“There are so many beautiful hidden places in Paris, all you need to do sometimes is push open one of those heavy doors and a Parisian movie set appears.” - Emma O'Carroll
  • Summarise life in Paris in 5 words
Chic, hectic, poetic, inspiring...magnifique! ” - Eadaoin McDonagh
“History, Style, Art, Café, Cuisine” - Denise Horan Duchemin
“Exciting, inspiring, sociable, indulgent and exhausting! ” - Caoimhe O’Dwyer 
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