I have a thing for George Orwell, and with the Paris portion of my own Down and Out story written, I felt like I needed to try London next. In 2016, after 8 years in Paris, I embarked on what became an 18-month stint across the Channel.
Many have explored the cultural peculiarities of the two cities. I get it, they’re different. But now that I’m back in Paris, I never thought I’d miss so many things about London, things that make it different from Paris beyond the clichés. The great London experiment has left me seeing Paris in a whole new way.
Top: Sabrina Mazzeo / Tom Parsons. Bottom: Montse Monmo
First things first: food. In London, there’s just so much of it that it’s impossible to make sweeping generalizations. It’s a vast buffet of choice. You can eat anything anywhere, and even the supermarkets have fresh produce and choices unheard of in Paris. I could really go for some spaghetti squash noodles right about now.
Top: Samuel Zeller. Bottom: Erica Berman
I won’t complain about the Paris dining scene, of course, but the buffet doesn’t stretch as far as it does in London. There is less of a chance that I’ll be surprised by some random Georgian BYOB bistro or a pop-up cookie dough counter while strolling Paris’ streets.
Top: Toa Heftiba. Bottom: Erica Berman
It’s not a critique. It’s not an insult. It’s not even a plea for change. It’s a simple observation that in London, food is more playful, especially for those of us who don’t particularly care to count stars or Yelp reviews.
Samuel Zeller / Bruno Martins
London. Is. Big. As I stroll and cycle my way through Paris now, I can’t help but be struck by how close everything is. From my apartment near République, I can be at Jardin du Luxembourg in what feels like minutes. It’s wonderful, mostly, but I get pangs for London’s vastness at times.
Top: Tomas Anton Escobar. Bottom: Ali Postma / Angela Compagnone
Before the London experiment, the Left Bank was more of an abstract concept than an actual place I’d visit. Now, it seems like a stone’s throw from anywhere in the city. In London, everywhere is a trek. These London commutes were often deterrents for nights out or meeting friends, but part of me really appreciated them, because I felt like I was always discovering new places within the city.
As a cyclist, I miss London’s long streets of bike lanes that I would cruise along, zipping along the Thames with the other helmet-clad enthusiasts. I miss being able to get lost in a new neighborhood or a vast stretch of green park or along a lazing canal. There are places to find these sorts of things, usually outside Paris, I know, but it’s just easier in London. There’s simply more to discover.
Top: Blubel. Bottom: Simon Rae
Londoners are nicer — is that fair? Probably not. For every sweet-tempered person I met, there was another who would inexplicably knock my coffee from my hand in an ill-tempered (or perhaps alcohol-fueled) rage. True story. It depends where you are and what you are doing, but comparisons on the temperament between Parisians and Londoners prove futile.
That said, there is something to note in the openness of London that, whether happy or angry, people are generally very engaging. Talking to people in a train or in a pub is OK. People share knowing glances and laughs all the time. Workplace banter is du jour and you can even have a friendly conversation with most any cashier. “Oh, you’re American? I love Americans,” a man said to me once while handing me my black coffee and cinnamon roll at the Prêt a Manger near my work. I gushed. My baker in Paris never cared.
Back in Paris, the silence is deafening. Of course there are people who will banter with me in French or English, but it’s less the rule and more the exception. Human connections are built, not assumed in Paris. London, however, seems to facilitate the opposite.
Do I miss London? Yes. Am I happy in Paris? Of course. Do I want to live in both? Definitely. It’s a wonderful problem to have, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my conundrum.