Notes on the Parisian Life…Thus Far

After having recently applied with the Les Powers That Be once again to live legally in France for another year, I thought I’d provide an update on the Parisian Life.

‘Reseau’ was a word–and an important concept–that was introduced to me in the first week of living in France. It translates to ‘network’, the group of friends, acquaintances, vendors, and colleagues that you have around you.

I was advised by Marie, my first acquaintance at my now-daily-ritual cafe, that the ‘reseau’ would play an all important part in my life should I decide to live in Paris for any length of time. She also advised me that the cafe I chose was also of paramount importance because it was within that cafe that I would find my ‘reseau.’

This concept of having your network of friends, family, and coworkers whom you rely upon for advice and insight is nothing new, and certainly nothing unique to Paris. Being an expat, however, brings the concept into particularly sharp focus: when my wife and I arrived in Paris, we knew no one here. We had an email introduction to a friend of a friend, but that was it.

Not the most settling feeling in the world when you don’t speak the language or have an office of colleagues to help you get acclimated. If there was a real emergency, we could contact the police or the American Embassy. In all other matters, we were on our own.

I took Marie’s advice to heart, and, slowly over the past two years, we’ve made inroads into the community here. The investment of time at the cafe, building the ‘reseau’, has reaped rewards, both tangible and intangible.

I’ve met a circle of great people, a few I now consider friends. I’ve been given keen insights into French culture that can’t be found online, in guide books, on tours, or on travel shows. I’ve met and collaborated with creative Parisians on projects that I never imagined would interest or benefit me.

Three months ago, when we were searching (without much luck) for an apartment, I mentioned our situation to one of my comrades at the cafe. He immediately pulled out his phone, dialed a friend, and arranged a visit. Thanks to his generosity, we now rent a slightly larger–and much quieter–apartment overlooking the Seine.

Our landlord, who I’d seen and spoken to at the cafe but never met, was never going to advertise the rental online. He doesn’t want to deal with real estate agents. He doesn’t want to deal with ‘strangers.’ He wants to rent from people he knows, or who know someone he knows. He doesn’t need the money. He doesn’t want a hassle. He wants a sense of comfort. As a result of these factors, and the introduction from a friend, we’re paying 500 euros less every month for a better apartment.

(And if we ever need something repaired in the apartment, I know where to find my landlord…at the cafe.)

A change I’ve experienced is one that I mentioned in a previous post. I pondered the question: would I start to succumb to the charms of the Luxury Capital of the World and cast aside any of my Old Money ways when it comes to being frugal and discreet? The answer is: not so much, in many ways, and hell yes, in one particular way. I have given in to one of the wicked temptations that Paris has to offer, and her name is Cheese.

In the middle of last year, after sampling le fromage citywide at shops, markets, and street fairs (some delicious, some overrated and overpriced), my wife discovered a farmer. He sets up shop 3 days a week on a narrow street in the St. Germain, and from the back of his truck, blesses the masses–and me in particular–with the best truffle cheese I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten quite a lot of truffle cheese, here and in Italy.

So, now, me, who wears sport coats older than most of my baristas, holds onto shirts until the collars and cuffs fray into almost a fashion statement of their own, and resoles and refurbishes shoes until my wife throws down the gauntlet and insists that I buy a new pair…me…champion of all things Old Money…me is walking across the river every Friday and throwing down 45 euros for 2 not-large wedges of heaven (one truffle and one perfectly aged ‘compte‘) and considering myself lucky to have found this Cheese Man. (Cheese Man is our name for him.)

And the cheese doesn’t last a week, mind you. My wife has to remind me to leave her some. Next Friday I will be making my pilgrimage again and happily, without hesitation, paying a premium for this unique experience of artisan quality food.

I don’t feel the same way about wine. I don’t feel the same way–yet–about some of the luxury clothing I see in store windows. The best bread in the world–and I do have my favorite boulangerie here in the neighborhood–is not an issue at one euro and twenty cents a baguette. Likewise, the coffee, at under 2 euros a cup at the counter or bar, is consistently good in Paris.

But I have surrendered to the cheese, my wallet pillaged and sacked like Rome. Count me, then, among the Blissfully Defeated, ready to be conquered again next Friday.

  • BGT

22 thoughts on “Notes on the Parisian Life…Thus Far

  1. It’s the small things that matter most, even if you have to spend a little to get them. Nothing beats sitting on the sidewalk in paris on a crisp morning having a cafe creme and people watching. Also, its paris! Everyone spends copious amounts on cheese, OMG or not haha

  2. Cheese! One of my weaknesses, also. I buy the best that I can obtain and/or afford and savor it always. My bucket list includes some of your Parisian cheese. Perhaps one day. Enjoy, Byron.

  3. Great advice Byron on surrounding yourself with a network of those you trust.

    I just finished your new book, “Old Money, New Woman”. In your Education chapter, you mentioned that college is a wonderful opportunity for women to gain connections who will be lifelong. This is true for me.

    Many of the people I receive advice from are ones I met during my college years. My ‘Reseau’.

    Have a great week everyone!

  4. Byron, this is hands down my favourite post! I am so envious and trying instead to enjoy the opportunity to live vicariously. 😂 Thank you so much for sharing another slice of your life in Paris.

  5. I spend a lot on Portuguese cheese. It goes great with Marmalada (quince jam). I see this totally consistent with the old money value system. We are not misers. We know a good deal. Our passion guides us.

  6. I’d be interested to see a post some day on the insights into French culture that can’t be found on line, in guide books, on tours or on travel shows. Sounds like you’re having a great time!

  7. Uncle Byron,

    A few years ago, my wife and moved to London. We didn’t know anybody. A few months in, we had the opportunity to join one of London’s old “gentleman’s clubs”. Hands down, it was one of the best investments we’ve ever made. We’ve met some wonderful friends, discovered a few new interests, and have made considerable inroads to building our own “reseau” the English way.

    1. That is great, Mark. I’d love to hear more about the experience…here or via private email. My wife and I will be spending more time in London in the coming months. Thanks. – BGT

  8. A very useful site for insights into French culture can be found by typing into Google : France 24 English Streaming, Culture, Florence Villeminot. Navigate from there. Lovely Franco-American lady who has short ten minute clips on all sorts of things ranging from etiquette, cheese, wine, holidays and the French, the BAC etc etc. Informative and entertaining. I often watch them.

    1. Thank you, David. Yes, the France 24 ‘French Connections’ segments are very informative. Highly recommend those. I think Youtube has a great list of them that are 8 to 12 minutes long each. – BGT

  9. Small correction to the above: instead of typing in ‘Culture’ use the words ‘French Connections’. My apologies.

  10. “my wallet pillaged and sacked like Rome”

    Amusing expression indeed, though I believe that you’re getting value for your money. If the price of every item of food would take into account its real cost — including impact on the environment and local communities — the cheese you are buying would possibly be among the least expensive. The Cheese Man doesn’t only make great cheese. If his farming methods are sustainable, he is also providing free ecosystem services. No one is paying him for that.

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