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What's it like to live in Paris?

Sally Williams

When film critic, photographer and writer Anne Billson lived in London, she yearned for a better quality of life. She found it by moving to Paris.

Aerial view over Paris and the Seine
Anne Billson shares her thoughts about living in Paris

What made you decide to move?

Looking back, it must have been some mid-life crisis, although it was more considered than that implies. I was film critic of The Sunday Telegraph, which I loved. I was writing books, had this fantastic flat near King's Cross, in London, with canal views, and I had lots of friends. But everything was a bit too comfortable. I thought, this is great, but am I going to be in the exact same situation when I'm 60 or 70? I felt I needed to shake things up a bit.

Why Paris?

The idea of being a writer in Paris was slightly absurd, but also rather romantic. I knew it well, having spent a lot of weekends there, especially after Eurostar made getting there so easy, and always felt very disappointed when I had to come back to London. Plus, I'd studied French at school, so I had a basis in it and I liked the idea of trying to improve it.

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What did you leave behind?

My mum, who at that time was in her eighties. Just after I moved she came on Eurostar, and I'm very glad she did, because unfortunately she fell terminally ill quite soon afterwards. Also my friends, except I don't really feel I have left them behind, because with email I am in constant touch and you'd be surprised at the number of people who pop over for a weekend in Paris.

Where do you live?

In the Bastille district, which is in the east of the city, but still quite central. It's a very lively area, with something always going on, even at 3am and I like it very much. I live in a top floor apartment, so it's kind of a Parisian attic, but it's nice and light with great views over the rooftops and if I stand on tip toes I can see the monument in the Place de la Bastille.

How is your French?

At first, I made humiliating, embarrassing gaffes, but, contrary to their reputation, I've never come across anything other than courtesy, encouragement and patience, from the French. I'm now able to hold my own - just. Although I still dream in English and I find having to translate them into French really exhausting.

So what's so good about Paris?

The quality of life, the food and drink and the enjoyment of everyday pleasures like sitting on a terrace, outside a café, with a glass of wine. 

I used to love London, but it is so big and unwieldy and expensive, whereas Paris is more designed for people to inhabit. It's smaller, more compact and easy to get around by Metro. 

Shortly before I left London, I was followed up Tottenham Court Road by a bunch of yobs shouting obscenities at me. Whereas the last time somebody said something to me in the street here was a couple of weeks ago, when a boy who looked a bit like a yob, said, "Vous est magnifique, madame!" No comment needed, really.

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What don't you like about Paris?

The banks, which charge you for breathing and the post office - any parcels sent here from abroad never seem to arrive.

Property is much cheaper here than in London - my apartment cost a fraction of what I got for my flat in London - although now so many Brits are coming over and buying pied-à-terres in central Paris, prices have shot up. Eating, either out or in, is much cheaper and food is much better quality.

So, what do you do all day?

When I moved I gave up my job as a film critic. I felt I couldn't do it from Paris. I didn't want to be on Eurostar two or three times a week. So, I took a year off to work on other projects like novels and screenplays, but after a year, I was offered a job on The Sunday Telegraph reviewing films for their TV pages, which I'm still doing and very much enjoy. Plus I've just finished writing my novel, The Ex

On a working day I get up at 7am, which is easy here because the light is so beautiful in the morning. I have a large living room and use a corner of that as my study. I work until lunchtime and then if I'm feeling vigorous, I'll go to the gym, which is near here. 

After lunch, I generally go out, combining a walk with the cinema - I go to the cinema all the time, and then in the evening, on an ideal day, I will see friends. Otherwise, I watch a lot of DVDs for work. 

I had a French boyfriend for a few years, which was really lovely. But now I'm dating and meeting lots of people.

Is there anything you miss about England?

Marmite. I have friends who bring me a steady supply.

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Would you ever move back to London?

No. I like living in capital cities. I like the cinema and exhibitions and the fact that you can walk around. But if I did move - and this isn't likely at the moment - it would probably be to another capital city or another big city in France. Maybe Marseilles.


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