Paris versus New York City

2016-01-03 7 min read

    I just got back from a 10 day vacation in Paris and couldn’t help but compare it against New York. That’s what traveling does - forces you to compare what you’re comfortable with the novelty you’re exposed to. Some make you appreciate what you have while others make you want more. In any case I wanted to share my thoughts while they’re still fresh.

    • Public transit: One of the first things you notice after living in New York are the public transit systems in other cities. New York has a reputation for having one of the best (one of the best?) in the world and I was curious to see how Paris handled it. The first thing I noticed was how short the platform was - rather than the multiple block stops in New York the Paris platform is enough for a 5 car train - and sure enough that’s the size of the Paris trains. Each station I’ve been to had accurate time estimates and it felt as if the trains ran frequently and I never had to wait longer than 6 minutes although I’ve only taken it during the day. One thing that’s struck me as odd was that it seemed as if every train had their own method of opening the door. In New York the doors open automatically but in Paris you need to either hit a button or pull some sort of level to get the doors to open. The way the stations were labeled felt friendly to tourists as well - each time you had to decide on an uptown or downtown train it would list each of the stops along with the potential transfers along each route which made it very easy to orient ourselves. The last thing I want to mention is price: the NYC subway costs $2.75 right now and you have to pay a fee for the metrocard itself. In Paris the fee is €1.80 which is just under $2 at current rates and you can buy 10 at a time for €1.40 each - significantly cheaper than the NYC subway.
    • Bike and car share programs: New York has Citibike and Paris has an equivalent version called Vélib. I didn’t get a chance to use it so don’t have much of an opinion but the rates they offered were significantly lower than a non-annual Citibike pass. A daily Citibike pass is close to $10 whereas you can get day of Vélib for €1.70 and a week for €8. In addition to a bike share program, Paris has an electric car share program with stations prevalent across Paris. I didn’t get a chance to use these but it seemed like a really neat idea that reminded me of ZipCar without the burden of needing to return the car to the original destination.
    • Neighborhoods, not districts: This might be entirely due to where I stayed and wandered but each neighborhood felt like it’s own little city. We’d walk around in a neighborhood and it would have everything one would need - a bakery, a cafe, some grocery stores, a few restaurants and bars, a dry cleaning place, and a few boutique shops. It made it seem that one only needs to walk a few blocks to have everything they need. In New York it feels as if there are districts - the flower district on 28th, the diamond district in midtown, the theater district near Time Square, the rug district on 31st, the lighting stores in chinatown - but it didn’t feel as if Paris was structured the same way. Paris of course is known for the shopping on Champ-Elysees but that’s more the exception than the rule. The only other area that felt like a district was a series of falafel shops in the Marais. Of course this may be completely wrong and only visible through my tourist lens.
    • Architecture: Compared to New York Paris is ancient and its architecture and layout reflects that. Due to Baron Haussmann’s work during the 19th century Paris has a consistent look and feel which adds to the beauty. Paris barely has any skyscrapers since the majority of the buildings were construct before the elevator era. I was also struck by how mixed use the buildings were - many of them were businesses on the ground floor while the higher floors were residential. New York definitely has a bit of that but still feels as if it has some areas that are resident focused while others are commercially focused.
    • Price: Based on my conversions and research I expected Paris to be a lot more expensive than it actually was. The biggest reason was that the exchange rate was hugely in my favor ($1.1 per €1) but even then the cost felt offset by the listed price including tips and taxes. For example, if I go to a restaurant in NYC and have a $14 dish it’ll end up costing me close to $18 due to the tax (8.875%) and tip (~15-20%). At an exchange rate of 1.1 dollars per euro that’s equivalent to a €16.37 dish. We went to a few grocery stores and the prices for fresh food felt reasonable and only a tad bit higher than what we were used to. We also got a chance to look at some posted real estate listings and they seemed cheaper than NYC - but the apartments are generally smaller. This is a pretty biased view since we spent it as tourists and didn’t have to buy clothes or any real house items but I suspect all in all it would be pretty comparable, if not cheaper, than New York.
    • Panhandlers: In NYC it’s typical for people to look away and rush by someone panhandling but what struck me about Paris was that people would stop and have conversations with them. Even more, people were stopping with their children to chat and seemed to be engaging in meaningful conversations. My French wasn’t good enough to pick up the contents but the fact that people actually stopped and had conversations struck a chord with me. We talk about treating poverty and homelessness but unless we treat them as people and provide proper respect it will be for naught.
    • Restaurants: Not too much here but one thing I wanted to point out was how diverse the streets of Paris were compared to the “front” of the restaurants. The host and waitresses at nearly every restaurant we ate at had the “classically French” look - I’m not sure whether this was intentional but it struck me as odd given how much diversity we have in NYC.
    • Public restrooms: I haven’t seen this anywhere yet but Paris has free, public, self cleaning restrooms. It’s a bit slow since you have to wait through the washing cycle for each person but the fact that it’s publically available and free amazes me.
    • Cabs: For the most part we used the subway but we had an interesting experience when we used a cab. The driver suggested an alternate route to the one provided by his GPS and it took us a bit longer than expected to get where we were headed. Instead of charging us what the meter showed he admitted fault and told us to pay a lower amount. Despite our protests he stuck to the lower amount. I’m not sure if this is a common experience but I’m extremely doubtful something like this would ever happen in NY.

    Combined, these make it seem that I prefer Paris to New York but I honestly haven’t figured that out. Paris seems to have more progressive policies than New York but I’m basing that purely on my 10 day trip and actually living and working there may be entirely different. It feels as if Paris takes public services more seriously - the public transit is cheaper, more frequent, and more robust since I didn’t experience a single stall or failure which is sadly a common occurrence in New York. I’m also aware that I’ve only spent 10 tourist days in Paris and may be approaching it through rose-colored classes. I’d love to get thoughts from people that have lived for significant periods in both.