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!