Living in the Midwest after Paris is challenging for most people. At first is seems like a break to “la campagne”, but then you realize life amongst the cornfields is not as provincial as it seems. You are bombarded with overly air conditioned stores, produce that seems to be available all year round shiny with wax that tastes like disappointment and farmed tilapia that swims around all day eating its own poop.
There are bonuses to Suburban life. However, it is hard not to miss a wonderful place like Paris. Here are my tips for making the most of your suburban life:
- Walk… Get outside and move around. Personally, I jog. It’s hard, because we drive freaking everywhere. I miss the walk to work and the stairs in the metro. I miss being forced to be outside in the fresh air. That’s one of the most difficult and crucial things about coming to the American suburbs… You have to make an effort to get fresh air.
- Read… I was sucked down the wormhole of reality television after I arrived. Everyone was watching it and it was good, but there is such a thing as watching too many botoxed middle aged women try new plastic surgery procedures and scream at each other about who had a Xanax that day. I could feel myself being tricked by consumerism and I just didn’t like it.
- Find your food: After living in New York where your international options tend to be endless, finding the things you love can be difficult. The Midwest does have a few things, but it’s harder to find some of our favorites like Raspberry Pim’s. I know, I know. It seems super specific, but those are one of the many things we miss. We also miss basic chocolate bars, delicious in season fruit, cheese and natural wine… and non-natural wine.
- For cheese, we have found a couple of good options. There are some nice gourmet cheese shops around, but they are so expensive we just tend to pass or stick to something very basic. I try to stick to imported cheese. There is a lot that is manufactured here with a European brand name, but the imported cheeses are what I prefer… Unfortunately, they are still pasteurized. Also, Vermont cheeses can be pretty delicious.
- Fruit: Trader Joe’s is wonderful. We buy their organic bananas right now for 19 cents. They have great and inexpensive in season fruit.
- Wine: Also Trader Joe’s… I never went in NYC because we weren’t close to one. Now, I want to go every day. They have decent French wines around $7. Bonus: Their freezer section reminds me of Picard! We just tried their macarons… Of course it isn’t the same as buying freshly made, but they are wonderful.
- Chocolate: Whole Foods. Again, there are some specialty stores and expensive chocolate brands that are great, but I am talking about every day stuff that in France you start to take for granted.
- Coffee: Buy a Nespresso machine. My sister-in-law forced me to buy one when she stayed with us for a week. I couldn’t thank her more. It’s real coffee.
- Meat: It’s a trickier one. We are in Iowa, so we do have some good options for beef, but it isn’t as simple as just going to the counter of your grocery store. We are considering buying half of a cow from a locker, but I’m not a huge fan of freezing. We have a great local grocery store chain that has a wonderful meat counter.
- Find your social life: Social life is very different in the Midwest. It’s hard to just have people over for a quick drink or meet up for a coffee on a park bench. People are busy and it’s just not really a part of the culture. We found some French friends, but also just make a big effort to have some dinner parties and go see people.
- Make your house your restaurant: I love to cook and my husband has learned to cook since we’ve been together. We make foods that we miss and are experimenting now with our own bread rather that buying the overpriced stale baguette at the store. Farmer’s markets are a great part of Midwestern life and the farm to table is catching on. I have to admit that we are in a very suburban area and there are a lot of great cities in the midwest with wonderful grocery stores and produce. It’s just not a demand here.
- Travel: Don’t spend everything on your mortgage. We love our home life in the midwest now that we have a child. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the cost of living. There can be pressure to have a nice house and be on the same social latter as your friends. We don’t have a comparatively large house, but because of our small apartments before, we still seem to only be living in half of it. Anyway, all that to say, save and travel. Flights from the Midwest are cheaper than they ever have been and we are definitely trying to take advantage. I just found a flight for $467 from Minneapolis to Paris. Of course, the US is also a wonderful place to explore and if you haven’t been here for a while, forget about Paris and enjoy this wonderful country.
- Look at the bright side: We are here primarily for family and work. My daughter is my parent’s first grandchild and I love to watch them together. I also like not being on the bottom of the totem pole and being in the rat race of NYC. It was fun when I was single with no responsibility, but the Midwest really is a nice place to live. Try not to bring your Parisian pessimism with you. It’s a different place, not a bad or worse place. Take some time to adjust, embrace the place you chose to come to and leave any snobbery at the door.
- Shipping options: If you are really desperate for something that you don’t have in the US, use ColisExpat. This site gives you an address outside of Paris that you can ship your things to and then sends it to the US. It isn’t any pricier than having a family member send it to you and it’s convenient.
- Clothing: See #8 for ColisExpat in order to take advantage of Les Soldes. Otherwise, a lot of American department stores carry some French brands. I will buy a couple pieces of Sandro and Maje from Bloomingdales. Petit Bateau is in the US and some of the best French things are American… Like Levi’s! My strategy though is to wait for a trip back to Paris and stock up. It makes it fun and keeps me from buying too much in the interim. Every other time, I end up with some Repettos and a coat. Something that I don’t really like buying in the US.
- Amazon.fr: I use this to buy 3 things…. Toddler shoes, books for kids in French and books for adults in French… Also, the little random household items that we miss. It’s not prime and takes a bit longer, but I haven’t had a bad experience yet. I definitely use it differently than Amazon.com… By that I mean a lot less!
- Shopping: Something about the suburbs makes you want to have the newest and nicest products. Try to resist that urge. I didn’t really feel like that in NY or Paris, maybe I did but it was more single lady stuff. I am trying not to buy things just because we have somewhere to put it in our new house. I am also not in a race to do some things that seem standard like finishing a basement, upgrading vehicles, etc.
Those are my eleven tips to surviving the American Suburbs after life in Paris. I hope it helps! I do have to say that I do love where we live. It’s not as exciting or as romantic as Paris, but there are so many great things about life here. Each place has it’s pros and cons.
Thanks for reading.