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A Measure of Success in Paris

measuring-successLast 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.


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4 Responses to “A Measure of Success in Paris”

  1. Barbara says:

    I agree that we Americans are under a lot less pressure here to have the right car, shoes, etc. But I think that for Parisians, success comes in a different form. Family name, school attended, and location of country house come into play more than income and material goods. As Americans, we don’t feel pressured by any of this because (i) it’s not our culture to feel pressured by such things and (ii) we couldn’t do anything about it even if we tried. I don’t think many Parisians necessarily feel “pressured” by these issues because much of it is beyond their control as well. But I know some that are resentful.

    A thought-provoking post…sorry my comment is a little hurried!

  2. Lindsey says:

    What always exemplifies this for me is how French women shop. They are more likely to spend a lot of money on a FEW quality pieces that they alternate and wear for years than shop regularly at cheap stores. The French can’t pretend to be anti-capitalistic but their consumerism manifests itself differently than in the States.

  3. I agree with Barbara, but just want to add that success or what is perceived to be successful is pretty much pre-determined, as she stated: name, especially if a “de” precedes the surname and most definitely school. The French may not flaunt their success, but they are an extremely classist society. Class = success, nest-ce pas?

    Also it’s cultural, the French are heavily taxed, so they don’t want to show wealth for that reason.

  4. joshua says:

    In Paris at a house party I attended a few weeks ago. I noticed that, albeit diverse – nearly 30 expats, french, barmen, cadre,… and a really great ambiance – I arrived late and couldn’t help but notice congregations.

    Apart from that, apart from my own aspirations, I’ve never felt pressure to be successful.

    I find it refreshing!

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