Our life in many ways is much smaller here. It's not that French live small lives, but relative to the very big and full U.S. life that we left behind last August, what we have here is smaller, simpler, and dare I say it, more relaxing? Some of it may be a factor of apartment living, or of urban life, or of life particularly in the South of France, I'm not sure. On the other hand, this small, simple life here in France, which while quite pleasant, is also a bit paradoxical, because to have it means to put up with some hassles that we are not used to. I've heard others say that life is just a bit harder in France, or in Europe, compared to the U.S. I think in some ways yes, but in other ways, perhaps no.
*SHOPPING for daily essentials: Not shopping every few weeks for jumbo packs of toilet paper as we did in the U.S. means going to the store more frequently here and buying smaller quantities. I always found Costco warehouse shopping exhausting in Seattle, but it's equally physically grueling to walk back and forth across town, stopping at various shops for this or that item (never everything in one store), and then schlepping all back home. (And imagine all this in the scorching heat of summer!) I use my wheeled cart more and more frequently, and when I can, I use delivery service. When we do shop with the car, driving to the megastores in the outskirts of the city, we have to drop bags off at the apartment main floor, and then circle around the city center to park the car in its garage, and then walk back across town to get those groceries hauled up to our floor. Stores are also organized differently here, which may mean standing in various check-out lines for different items, like the kleenex I was trying to buy two weeks ago at Monoprix which was on a different floor than the groceries that I'd already stood in line to pay for. At the warehouse hardware store, Castorama, which resembles Home Depot in Seattle, one has to walk back and forth across a parking lot to three different buildings and stand in three different check out lines to purchase garden items, home furnishings, and building materials. You just can't be in a hurry to get your shopping done.
*daily BREATHING: Living closer to other people on a smaller land mass, and especially in a concentrated urban setting in Aix, much like I had in Helsinki several decades ago, means everything and everybody is closer together: lots of people, little space, and lots of germs. I still remember the wicked case of the Shanghai flu I got in Helsinki over 20 years ago, and these past two weeks, I am afraid that the French flu epidemic has ravaged our town and our family. (See http://www.connexionfrance.com/France-flu-grippe-epidemic-H3N2-13500-view-article.html ) You cannot walk down the street without hearing someone coughing or sneezing, and it just feels like that everywhere we go, hundreds of people have touched that same railing or those same door handles. It's true that people get sick in Seattle, and my sister reports that a school in her San Francisco neighborhood actually closed due to a widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis last month. But the space we have in the U.S., at least in our Seattle life, means we could isolate ourselves a little more easily from others. We've been sick more than usual this year, but perhaps we are simply being exposed to many new and unfamiliar viruses and bugs.