The Paris Life You are Sold on Instagram is a Lie

The Paris Life You are Sold on Instagram is a Lie

Living in Paris can be wonderful, but it isn’t the dream marketers want you to believe.

Palace hotel rooms filled with flowers. Breakfast on a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Vespa rides through cobblestone streets. An endless stream of Paris Fashion Week parties. Ahhh, isn’t life in Paris a fairy tale?
Sure, if you’re one of the 0.01% of residents who actually get to live this type of life.

On the surface, “Instagram Paris” is offering you visions of cafés and fashion and romance, but you’re really being sold the prospect of happiness. That well-worn concept that happiness is to live like the French — cultured, elegant and eating daily pain au chocolat that magically never reaches your thighs.

However, just as fairy tales tell an idealized story of love, the image of Paris pushed by brands and Instagrammers is a privileged, airbrushed version of French life. These selective, carefree portrayals are not what the vast majority of Parisians experience. Remember all those young women who moved to New York thinking their lives would be like “Sex and the City”? Well, moving to Paris also tends to be a mixed bag. Arriving blinded by glittering Eiffel Tower lights doesn’t do you any favors.

Think about it — if all it took to live a postcard life was to move to Paris, everyone and their mother would move here and stay forever.

It is absolutely true that since moving here I’ve had flashes of la belle vie — I’ve even posted many of them on Instagram! But my normal days also consist of the same elements they did back in the United States: spending a lot of time at the office, dealing with creeps on the metro, and wiping up last night’s baguette crumbs.

But no one moves to France for the fantasy of cleaning up baguette crumbs. That doesn’t sell purses, perfume and Eiffel Tower prints. And it makes sense for brands and Instagrammers to sell you a privileged French life — that’s the story people want to see. The problem occurs when expectations of Paris don’t come with a reality check.

The idea that moving to Paris will give you a perfect life can be harmful. In a message exchange I had with a fellow expat reader, she compared the cliché image of Paris to an advertisement in a glossy magazine. You see this beautiful photo of a perfect woman and her perfect life evidently provided by whatever product she is holding. What you don’t see is the team of stylists, makeup artists, photographers, lighting experts, airbrushers, and more that went into creating that one image.

Selling the beautiful French life (or the beautiful French expat life) on Instagram also includes a lot of brands and money and people behind the scenes making it look real. And they do a good job of it! The “I moved to Paris and now I live in a dream of pretty dresses, wine and parties” accounts tap into the desire all of us have to escape, to be mysterious and adventurous, to have romance. The reader said she wished she understood this better before moving to Paris — it would have saved her some disappointment. (The extreme version of this is the Paris Syndrome, in which the reality of Paris is such a break from someone’s expectations that they have a mental crisis.)

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these fairy tale Instagram accounts or the similar media portrayals — people want an escape, people want to dream, we all love pretty things! I followed many of these accounts before I moved to Paris and I still do. But these (mostly) women are telling a story just like a movie, often with money and manpower behind the scenes making it happen. For almost all of us who move here, that life is untouchable.

Your real life in Paris may also be full of beauty and delicious food and vespa rides, but there won’t be a team of marketers behind you. You’ll be navigating the immigration process on your own, riding the bus with us regular folks, and will have to find your own magic in this beautiful city. Better to know before your pieds are standing on French soil that the Parisian life you’re sold on Instagram is a in fact beautiful product — Paris™.

How did your expectations of moving to Paris line up with the reality? Leave a comment and share your experience!

5 thoughts on “The Paris Life You are Sold on Instagram is a Lie”

  • Paris If a city like any other but had great history and culture. While many cities shaped and continue to shape themselves in the most modern styles Paris protects its identity with regulations – is: limiting building height in most areas and forcing owners to maintain a certain type of facade. All that makes for a beautiful city but you also have to deal with pollution made worse by a system that is not flexible enough to solve the issue. There is also the issue of pervasive homelessness (tents) made worse by international crisis in nearby areas and political inaction.

    Despite all those issues, which I find completely normal for a city with Paris’ political structure, Paris is an amazing place and has fantastic food from around the World, I believe the best/most accessable parks in the world for a city its size and great transportation – although I would recommend you avoid driving in the city in general.

    • While I agree with nearly all you say in your comment, I have to pick up on the bit about parks – I lived in Paris twice when i was young, and it was precisely the lack of parks (or the presence of only those disappointingly un-user-friendly parcs à la française) that depressed me the most. Yes, there are nice “squares”, and the two Bois on either side of the city, but for real, take-a-break-from-city-life right in the city centre, rolling, walkable-on grass and trees, I’m sorry, but you just can’t beat London – a city of comparable size, yet the parks are so much nicer, nearer, greener, friendlier, more countryside-like…

  • Buttes Chaumont! 😁 I can’t imagine a more user-friendly park! and the Parc de Belleville! 😁
    But I get what you are saying. There are small friendly parks everywhere but except for those two – which are magnificent – the other large French parks – Tuileries – are designed for the way the French use their parks. That suits me perfectly, but it might not suit everyone.

    • Yeah, I love Buttes Chaumont! What a fantastic place to run or just relax. I was really amazed the first time I went to that park and realized that Paris has a waterfall! I avoid the touristy parks…most of them are just a good way to get your shoes covered in dust 😛

  • I guess it depends on where you live in Paris. I have tons of areas that I can stroll in without any cars/traffic – plus, I don’t have to be/live in London! 🙂 If you make it back to Paris, I would recommend checking out coulée verte – it runs 2.5km+ through the middle of Paris to Bois de Vincennes on a re-used above-ground train line.

    My comment was really to point out to people that if you live in Paris, it is better not to live in the super touristy areas which have many of the smaller and/or heavily trafficked parks. There are tons of great areas just around the center (in the 9-20th arrondissements) that have great access to parks, are are right next to the center and often a short métro ride away from everything!

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