Paris, France

My Town

Paris, France

Patricia Gajo in front of La Voix Lactée (The Milky Voice) by Canadian artist Geneviève Cadieux inside a corridor connecting Metro stations Saint-Lazare and Saint-Augustin in Paris. Photos courtesy of Patricia.

Toronto-native Patricia Gajo (BA’04) studied in Vancouver before starting her career as a fashion and lifestyle journalist in Montreal. She’s been living in Paris for over a decade.

What three words best describe Paris?

Chic. Romantic. Epicurean.

How did you come to live in Paris?

I lucked out in the boyfriend department. (He’s now my husband.) I was dreaming of an expat experience and his company opened a satellite office in Paris. He did not need to ask me twice if I wanted to go with him. We had plans to stay a year, two max. Today we’ve been here eleven years and counting. 

What do you like most about living there?

The European lifestyle. The markets. The wine and cheese. The viennoiseries (French pastries). The cultural activities. The restaurants. The language. The beauty. The energy. The healthcare system (I gave birth to my son here; the services and benefits for moms and kids are outstanding). 

Click on each image to learn more. Captions by Patricia.

Describe your favourite neighbourhood.

Every Parisian says that their ‘hood is the best. I am no different. I live in the west part of Paris in an area called Passy. It is a leafy residential spot with stunning Haussmannian apartments. I like the fact that it is off-grid and calm (with the exception of Trocadéro — a hotspot for Eiffel Tower photos). There are several small pockets throughout Passy, each with its own village feel.

In Paris, home is where your boulangerie (bakery) is, and ours is just down the street. Who can resist the smell of fresh croissants in the morning?

If you could change one thing about Paris, what would it be? 

The social climate is a foremost concern. After that, sidewalks that double as pet toilets are out of control. Please, canine-owners of Paris, scoop your dog’s poop. I’ll never get used to it.

What might surprise a visitor about Paris?

How small but varied the city is. How different one side of the Seine River is from the other. How each arrondissement is a tiny universe unto itself. 

What are your favourite hidden gems or activities that only locals know about?

Museums and cultural centres always have activities just for kids. My son was initiated into the art world via the “Cosy Visits” at the Centre Pompidou, which are guided tours by professional storytellers for babies and toddlers. He’s five now and has an impressive collection of workshops under his belt: building a mini-model of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, doing a scavenger hunt at Palais Garnier, piecing together (a model of) the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, and, most recently, busting out dance moves at the Fondation Louis Vuitton during the Warhol-Basquiat exhibit. Priceless.

Haussmannian buildings in Patricia's neighbourhood, the 16th arrondissement.

What’s the most over-rated tourist hotspot?

If it’s your first time in Paris, you have a hall pass to tick off all the must-sees on your bucket list. Go ahead, take that selfie with the Eiffel Tower. But I am telling you now, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre could be a letdown (a) if you’re not into the history and legend behind Da Vinci’s masterpiece, and (b) if you have to queue. They have now installed a serpentine set of security ropes to tame the hoards of tourists crowding around and grasping to snap a photo. It’s controlled chaos.

How easy is it to meet new people?

Parisians take their time warming up to new acquaintances. I’ve come to respect that. It’s more about quality relationships than chatting up strangers with small talk. On a personal level, as a first-time mom, I found it was really easy to connect with other mothers.  

What issues are particularly important to the people of Paris? 

It seems anything and everything. This is after all THE country of protest. I spoke with a taxi driver in Italy this past summer who remarked, “In Italy, the government can change the price of gas to 5€ per litre and Italians will say nothing. In France, you would have a war!” I’d have to agree.

What is one local custom that every visitor should know about?

Don’t overlook the importance of saying “Bonjour Monsieur” or “Bonjour Madame” to everyone whose personal space you enter — whether they’re looking at you or not — be it the taxi driver, shop owner, waitress, etc. To forget to say “Bonjour” is a huge faux pas, especially if you are about to ask a question, even one as mundane as “Où sont les toilettes?” (Where are the washrooms?) When exiting that same said space, don’t forget to say “Merci” or “Bonne journée” (Have a good day). Throw in “Vous êtes très gentil” (You’re very kind) and you’ll be golden. Parisians equate politesse with respect. And respect is paramount.

Click on each image to learn more. Captions by Patricia.

Looking to connect with your UBC alumni community?

If you live outside our campus communities in the Lower Mainland and Central Okanagan, visit the Global Alumni Network page to see if there’s an alumni ambassador or social media community where you live.

Alumni volunteers also host fun My Town Meetups in locations around the world. Check out our Meetups page to see if there’s a gathering near you — or sign up to host one in your location!