Last night, over drinks in the 9th arrondissement with two expat friends, the discussion turned to Americans in Paris. The two men I dined with had never met before, so I listened in as they swapped “Why I moved to Paris” stories. And while each had numerous reasons—culture being chief among them—both men agreed that, unlike in the U.S., there was absolutely no pressure to be successful in Paris.
In a society where talking about money is vulgar, showing the spoils of financial windfalls just isn’t done. This is in stark contrast to the U.S., where “keeping up with the Joneses” has long since been supplanted by an “if the Jones have it, we’ll have two” attitude.
“Living above your means” is not a foreign concept in the States. The recession we’re supposedly just coming out of is proof of this. The collapse of credit and housing markets is a direct result of people spending money they didn’t have and couldn’t repay. People lost thousands (or millions) of dollars in the stock market, but that money was never real, anyway.
In Paris, people don’t buy more than they need. They don’t show off what they have. And therefore, they don’t measure their own success against that of others. So, whereas success in the U.S. is measured by the size of your home, the type of car that you drive and the handbag you carry, in Paris, nobody is measuring you.
At least not in polite conversation.