Paris always feels surprisingly and conveniently small and compact, especially coming from North America or other places cursed by urban sprawl.
The city proper is 9.5 km from north to south and 11 km from west to east, and it “only” covers around 105 km2 in total—I’m not dreaming, this is tiny compared to 826 km2 for New York or 12,796.5 km2 for Beijing.
Still, Paris is home to 2.1 million people—and like in many capitals around the world, the widest wealth gap in France.
To see the big social divide and a very different kind of living conditions, you will have to take a train to the metro area. Unlike in North America, the poorer citizens are usually “parked” outside the historic centre. Most French suburbs are nothing like Canadian eerily geometric suburbs—postwar subsidized low-cost buildings, most of them built in the 1960s for immigrant workers, versus rows and rows of mortgaged American Dream detached or semi-detached houses.
Meanwhile, in Paris proper, plenty of people are struggling but quite a few also enjoy the life you and I would never be able to afford—prestigious five-star hotels, huge apartments, haute-couture fashion design and exclusive jewellery.
What makes Paris so fascinating is that considering how compact it is, very wealthy people are somewhat “forced” to live among the rest of us. There are no gated communities, private streets or private shops. Place Vendôme, the high-jewelry hub, is easily accessible to anyone and you’ll bump into people who’ve just spent your yearly income on a neckless. You’ll see people leaving palace hôtels and waiting for their limo as you’re about to take the subway. You can enjoy your ham-and-cheese lunch sandwich on a bench right in front of a fancy restaurant with multiple Michelin stars.
And this is why in Paris, I had a really interesting discussion with Mark on expensive vs. unaffordable.
Like many people, I complain about the inflation in Canada, especially outrageous grocery prices. Yes, I resent paying $3.99 for a stupid and very average loaf of bread at the supermarket, especially when it’s always been $1.50-$1.99 and now, the price goes up every week just because. I completely stopped buying a few food categories because I find them way too expensive in Canada, namely yogurt, meat, and fish. But I can technically buy them, much like I can buy Mark a $100 LEGO set, hell, I can probably buy very, very rare Pokemon cards on eBay. It just wouldn’t be good money management.
Real estate in Paris? Fancy jewellery or clothes? Five-star hotels? Nope. I just can’t. This is truly out of reach.
This kind of wealth gap makes no sense when you think about it. Nobody gets this kind of rich through hard work—this is yet another capitalist myth.
But eh, it was sunny, I like my life and we only had three days in Paris—not the best timing for a revolution.