This was originally a post about things that are significantly cheaper in France compared to the United States. But – in an effort not to bore everyone about food (it isn’t incredibly revelatory that cheese and wine are cheaper where they are produced) – I decided to expand this on the costs and promises France has to offer.
Everything, as I learned in DC while living with my aunt and uncle, has a cost and a promise. A monetary cost or an emotional cost. A monetary promise or a fulfilling promise. You just can’t escape it.
I’ve been working a lot lately on returns on investments. Proposals, reflections, and hidden returns. Economics tucked into my watercolors and notepads. The idea of thinking of everything you do as having a cost and a promise is the same as an economist calculating a return on investment on a house, a car, an education.
France is filled with hurdles – but it is also filled with so much life. Let’s explore:
Let’s get the monetary costs out of the way first – the cost in this case being extremely high taxes. For example (and I am not shy about sharing my salary since it is already on the internet in multiple places), my bulletin de salaire tells me I cost my employer 1,317.01€ per month. But my gross income is only 965.90€ per month. After taxes for healthcare, elderly care, welfare, transportation, the independence of the weak and elderly, and transportation (the tl;dr of this is socialism), I come out with a paycheck of 790.12€ per month.
Well, in socialism, the costs are high but so are the promises. Going to the doctor would only cost me 6€, the buses are only 1€, no matter where you are going in the region, and I’ve heard rumors that if I do another year of assistantship I would qualify for 0.50€ a month of social security (enough to live on forever…). Universities are cheap and/or free for French citizens. If I ever hear back from the CAF, that means I’ll be getting some money for housing assistance (the key part in this phrase is “if I ever hear back”).
Don’t worry, Dad. I’m not a socialist. I still want that money.
Expensive, expensive rent. Somehow, I – the girl with no money – have found myself living in two of France’s most expensive cities, Paris and Aix. (Maybe this is why I have delusions of being nouveau riche.) Even for my little matchbox at the top of a six floor walkup I’m paying more than half of my salary.
Once you walk up all those stairs, there is a view of the Aix roofs that seems to go on all the way to the Mediterranean. Sometimes, I stick my head out the window as far as I can to see if I can see a cathedral or bell tower. If I feel sick, I open the window and take a deep breath – I figure if people are bottling and selling the air here, it must have healing properties.
Once you walk down all the stairs again, the market is two steps away, and I can get a clementine with a feuille from Corse for .25 centimes and a lecture from the lady at the grocery store who in fact doesn’t want all my pennies.
Language barriers. This is mostly a cost with my landlord, a sixty year old man who has one of the thickest Marseillais accents I’ve ever heard who I think told the building owner all the stair lights are out and that my ceiling still leaks when it rains.
A deeper understanding of not only the language itself, but the root of the words. Case in point: Normandy. My friend Corinne asked me how to say débarquement (landing) in English – I had only ever learned of the troops landing in Normandy as an “invasion”. She said it couldn’t have been an invasion because everyone was happy they were here – the same historical event presented from two perspectives; two words unique to the speaker’s country of origin.
Bureaucracy/visa requirements. Everyone and their best friend and their grandparents wants a copy of any paper on which you sign your name. Everything requires at least three pieces of paper, which will all promptly get lost and have to be redone at the last minute. Everything happens slower and I’m fairly positive my building only gets mail three days a week, where there is no individual mailbox but rather a shelf with an increasingly growing pile of mail intended for deceased residents.
I can’t really think of a good promise for this one beyond the knowledge that the cheese is cheap and the wine is even cheaper.
WhatsApp, Skype, and free international calling have been game changers for all expats and study-abroaders. That, and being able to tell family and friends that if they ever need a bed in France, they have one.
BONUS PROMISE(S) (just because I can and sorry economists not everything has a cost)
The smells of lavender in the morning, baguettes at the boulangerie, and rotisserie chickens at the market. The old, decrepit buildings in varied shades of orange, yellow, and pink. Cheap trains and airfare. A slower pace of life – a more pleasure-filled life. Accordion players on the street. Paintings and art everywhere. A higher appreciation of life, food, and culture.
I think the only suitable conclusion for this is that I can never be an economist, simply because I reflected on all the worst parts of France and ultimately it didn’t balance out. But, then again, neither does my checkbook. ♦