An American’s take on living more simply in France
By ADRIAN LEEDS
When we moved to France, we gave up the big house, all the cars, things we no longer wore and opted instead for an apartment half the size, without conveniences like a sink disposal, elevators and Jacuzzi tubs. At first I wondered why the French hadn’t caught on to all these conveniences. Then we started to become accustomed to lights being on timers so as not to waste electricity, hanging the laundry instead of using a dryer and shopping daily so that we could buy fresh fruit ripe enough to eat the same day.
What we had before was not really quality of life, but something disguised as that—quantity of life. We were taught that through our hard work and knowledge, we would earn lots of money and live an easier, healthier, happier existence. The buzzword was “future”—to think that the reason you do something now is to achieve a better “future.”
But “future” never came. It never does.
The French have a “power of now” built into their society, which is one of the reasons quality of life is improved. Their social security system provides a huge safety net that removes stress and worry about one’s future. For example, unemployment and retirement benefits are substantial, along with job security and guaranteed vacation periods. With healthcare benefits and other given rights, including decent housing for all, one rarely has to worry about having a roof over his head at a healthy old age. With a lot less fear of the future, it’s a lot easier to live in the moment.
No, it’s not a perfect system—far from it. It can reduce the incentive to work hard, earn more money and improve one’s standard of living. At the height of vacation season, stores and restaurants all over Paris are shut tight with signs on their doors that read something like: “Réouverture 24 août” (“Re-opening August 24”), with no care that they are not earning money to pay their rent. Even my local post office is closed for vacation!
As an American with a capitalistic indoctrination living in a society that is strongly socialist, I’ve discovered that utopia is somewhere in the middle. It takes both political sides to tango well. One cannot provide employment benefits if there is no employer earning enough to pay for the benefits. Decent and inexpensive housing for the tenant requires a landlord who can pay his mortgage with adequate rents. Education cannot be free nor healthcare provided if the government doesn’t tax its people. But if the taxes are too high, the incentives to earn more, achieve more, are weakened.
While we had a very high standard of living in the states, we found a much higher quality of life in France. We discovered highways and tiny country roads in pristine condition, and a countryside that’s not littered with advertising signage. The tiniest of towns still offers cultural activities, fine dining and fresh foods. The sense of community is strong, and support for local producers is evident by virtue of the people who applaud them and make use of them.
Everywhere we went we found warm, friendly and generous people who were open to us as foreigners in their land and proud to show off their accomplishments. They took us by the hand and helped us every inch of the way.
In September, I celebrated my 16th year in Paris. I love living here. Life isn’t easy, but it’s rich and challenging. And the quality of life is about as high as it gets. Will I ever leave? Who knows. Never say never, and never say forever. Remember, life is in the present. As long as the moment is good, there’s no reason to change it.
Adrian Leeds is author and editor of The Parler Paris Nouvellettre, editor of The French Property Insider, producer and editor of Insider Paris Guides, electronic guides to Paris, and author of Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants. Learn more about her life and work at www.adrianleeds.com.