May 19, 2017

Priced Out in Paris: Tomme Caussenarde


In a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, I read that it is more expensive to live in Paris (#5 on the list) than in London (#6), New York (#7), and San Francisco (not even in the top ten, though Los Angeles is tied for #8 with Seoul and Copenhagen).

Some interesting take-aways from the report (because let's face it, all we can afford in these cities is take-away):
  • "European cities tend to be priciest in the recreation and entertainment categories."
  • It's partly the strong dollar pushing NY & LA up the list (which still doesn't help explain why  SF is not higher...)
  • "Weak confidence in the euro means that Paris is the only euro zone city in the top ten. Despite a weakening currency, Paris remains structurally extremely expensive to live in, with only alcohol and tobacco offering value for money compared with other European cities."
No relation to Paris, but as long as I'm reading the report and sharing the highlights, it sure is interesting:
  • "In Venezuela the adoption of multiple exchange rates has made pricing Caracas nearly impossible... If the cost of living was calculated using the official rate, Caracas would be more than four times more expensive than New York. Conversely, if black market rates applied then it would be almost ten times cheaper than New York."
The survey comes out twice per year and measures over 400 individual prices in 160 products and services, covering "food, drink, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, home rents, transport, utility bills, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs." The fact that lodging (home rents) is included in that list makes it incomprehensible to me: how is Paris so much more "expensive" than San Francisco? Housing in San Francisco is, from my experience as both renter, owner, and landlord, almost twice what it is in Paris for comparable quality and location. And private schools in San Francisco are literally 10 times more expensive than those in Paris.

Here's what's actually expensive and what's not, from the man (in this case woman) on the street:

Expensive in Paris:

  • Sheets, towels, bedding: bizarrely expensive.
  • Shoes: more expensive than the US, especially kids shoes.
  • Household repairs: for example, I've been quoted $90 to get a zipper fixed on a children's jacket.
  • Locksmiths: it costs about $1,000 to get yourself let into your own apartment if you ever lose the keys or need to re-key your door (for example, if your keys are stolen). That's not the emergency price. That's the normal, plan-ahead price. I have not learned this hard way, knock on wood, but I know it to be true.
  • Housing: high rents for small apartments, compared to just about everyplace else.
Not expensive. Absolutely a great deal in Paris:
  • Doctors, hospitals, medical exams, medicines, and all medical expenses. I am literally planning to come back to France and pay out of pocket in the future, like a medical tourist, for certain things, because even with the flight ticket, it will be cheaper than doing it in the US. For example, annual MRI screenings for my breast cancer which are de rigueur in France but not the US (because they're at least 10x the price there and insurance doesn't want to pay for them) cost me $150 for the total payment with no insurance. House calls in the middle of the night cost around $90. And are excellent.
  • Internet/phone service: is often a bureaucratic nightmare to set up, but dead cheap once you do.
  • Local transportation: no need to park or own a car in Paris. Local transport is great. Adult tickets cost under $2, and you can also buy regular commuter passes that are cheaper per ride still.
  • Bread/viennoiserie (croissants and such)
  • Classes for kids, both private schools and extracurricular activities, which generally run to a few dollars per hour average, rather than in San Francisco, where it's more like $20 per hour and up for any after-school activity
  • Housing: compared to San Francisco, New York, or London that is. It's definitely cheaper here.
  • Show tickets: low prices at nearly all performances, so you can really see any production (if you're willing to go to the nosebleed seats, tickets can be literally as cheap, or cheaper than, a movie).

So you can see why in researching this, I just keep getting more and more annoyed. In a local English-language paper called, appropriately the Local,  the report's author is quoted as saying, "Paris has always been expensive. It’s partly driven by high real estate prices that feed through to retail prices. It's just structurally expensive and the high wages also makes a difference. Parisians shouldn’t see it as bad news. It's partly due to the high salaries there.

One of the reasons Anthony never switched to a local French contract is because wages are so much higher in San Francisco than in Paris. A local salary would be more acceptable if we planned to live here all our lives, but as it is we need to save for our kids' private schools, college tuition, our own retirement, and high medical costs -- American costs of living require an American salary. Our American lawyer friends living in Paris on local salaries say they earn roughly 1/3 what they would anywhere in the US. Wages here, from an American perspective, are notoriously low. Honestly, it's making me want to scream at my computer screen. Or somebody at the Economist.

And if you're thinking how egocentric it is of me to see this from an expat perspective, keep in mind that the Economist's study is specifically meant for expats, so that employers can "fairly" compare the cost of life in different cities for their overseas employees. 

The other way that I know -- deep in my soul KNOW -- that this survey must be flawed is through the ranking of several other American cities:

#21: Chicago
#24: Minneapolis
#26: Washington, D.C.
#31: Houston
#34: San Francisco

I'm starting to wonder if there's bribery involved. Or great gobs of marijuana. Possible a practical joke? There is simply no way that Minneapolis can rank that much more expensive than San Francisco. Honestly, it's ridiculous.

I would bet a million dollars that not one person who has ever moved between Minneapolis and San Francisco would ever agree with the survey's results. And, frankly, I know a lot of people who've moved between San Francisco and Paris, and also London and Paris, and none of those people would agree with the results either. Clearly, the order of expense is London, then San Francisco, and then Paris, and way below that, Minneapolis. Case closed.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Caussenarde

Tomme Caussenarde -- at least this one -- is a pastuerized sheeps' milk cheese from the Grands Causses regional park in l’Aveyron. The name comes not just from the park but also from the breed of sheep, called Caussenarde,  who are well adapted to grazing the very arid plateau.

There's some confusion about the name, which I have also seen written as La Tomme du Caussenard. But there's also some confusion about the cheese itself, which I have also seen labeled as "artisanal cheese from raw sheep milk." It is possible that there are two versions of this cheese -- one pasteurized and another raw.

Either way, they are aged for over a year -- from about 12-15 months -- in an defunct railyway tunnel, which turns out to be a perfect cheese-aging cave: just the right levels of cool and damp with just enough fresh circulation of air.

I am, frankly, surprised that it's pasteurized milk, given the taste (full-bodied), the setting (the highly exclusive fromagerie Laurent Dubois), and the price (yikes!).

So disregarding my natural prejudice against pasteurized milk cheeses, this is a wonderful mountain-style cheese with a great sweet, nutty tang. I love how it doesn't just crumble, it sheers off into clumps. 


As you can see, this is indeed a pricey cheese, at 39 per kilo. So pricey in fact, that I decline to buy a slice and instead get my tastes in via the free samples in the store. Given the amount of business I've given this particular cheese shop (Laurent Dubois at Maubert Mutualit√©), I genuinely, deeply do not feel bad about this. It does mean, however, that my cheese photo kind of sucks. We just get the hint of the cheese, behind all that shiny, reflective plastic wrap. But unless you're going to pay for my hunk of Tomme Caussenarde, that will have to suffice.

Plus, everything about both the survey highlighted in this article and the description/name/ingredients of the cheese is contradictory, inconsistant, and incomprehensible.


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