Destinations Expat Life France Grenoble

5 Things That I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Grenoble

December 4, 2017

Hi friends. Now, before I get into this post, I am going to add a little disclaimer because some people get really pride-bitten when people share negative experiences that they’ve had in their cities. Many Grenoble-folk have recently sent me hate messages when I once mentioned online that I am happier in Paris (there’s this weird Paris-hating trend everywhere). I have been promoting Grenoble for the past 6 years on this website and on Instagram, but that does not mean that I have had only GREAT experiences here. Not everyone will love Grenoble. Not everyone will be able to find work in their field in Grenoble. Not everyone will like the culture. If you want to learn a few of the cons from an expat artist’s perspective, enjoy the post. 🙂 I am writing this post for my 23-year-old self, an optimistic American artist who moved to Grenoble determined to make it work — and for others who may find this information useful.

 

1.) The mountains are gorgeous, but you will start missing sunsets and horizon lines, and may even feel trapped (physically and emotionally). 

How can you not love looking at the three mountain ranges surrounding Grenoble? Okay, some people may not enjoy mountains, and I respect that. I am in Grenoble every month, and I still can’t help snapping away and sharing my photos on Instagram. Grenoble is known as the ‘Capital of the Alps’, for good reason, and the mountains and Bastille park is one of its main assets.
But, of course, there’s a catch. The mountains contribute to a ‘couvette’ culture (which I won’t get into…but it’s very linked to the local pride I was talking about and the hate that comes along with it any time you criticize their city! I literally got de-friended on Facebook by a grenobloise when I said that I prefer Paris over Grenoble). As my Grenoble friends have told me, not ever seeing a horizon line can affect one’s personality, one’s perspective, and I feel that this almost tiny detail has created an insular micro-culture within Grenoble that is very different from other French cities. This may be why people say that many Grenoblois(es) are ‘closed’ — however you want to interpret that. Once I left Grenoble to visit other small and big cities in France and abroad, I was always surprised on how nice and open people were in the art world. Now, if the French are known to be blasé, you should check out Grenoble — the infamous indifférence grenobloise that I constantly heard about upon moving there may very well do your head in.
I’ve come to realize that I am kind of crazy about sunsets. Since moving to Paris, I enjoy sunsets all the time. In New York, oh my, the sunsets are glorious (including the reflections on the glass buildings). And back home, growing up near the ocean, the sunsets were spectacular. I love the mountains, I love the water, I love sunsets….but you can’t have it all. Or can you? (I’m looking at you, Rio!)
Grenoble’s geography contributes to another important negative factor:

 

2.) Lack of clean air is a thing. And the weather may not be pleasant! 

Look, I was told early on that Grenoble is both the hottest AND coldest city in France. In my naivité, I thought, “Well, I’m a New Yorker. The weather can’t be worse here than in NYC!” New York has really, unbearable humid summers and very cold, yet dry, winters.
But, in Grenoble, you may not have AC in the summer (most apartments don’t have air-conditioning in France), and the winters are actually really cold —  a humid cold that I never experienced in the US. So, for the first time in my life, I was so hot in my apartment in Grenoble to the point where it was impossible to sleep. There was no AC, and the level of heat could not be helped with fans or with misted water. The humid-cold is felt deep in your bones. Also, I lived in an old building, and my apartment would not heat up properly, so I’d be shivering in my own apartment. With a life of extreme comfort in the US (always having had AC and good heating), this was hard to deal with and, thus, I was prone to getting sick.
Maybe even worse: the pollen and the pollution. Perhaps it has to do with the surrounding mountains (I’m not an expert on this), or not, but the pollen was unbearable for me (I never had allergies in the States), and I’d fall ill constantly. I had never experienced smog either, and walking around with red, burning eyes and choking on the polluted air is enough for me to never have children in the area. It was honestly a disturbing thing to experience heavy smog; to not have access to clean, breathable air. Even if just for a day.
I experienced both Grenoble and Paris during their peak pollution days last year, and the pollution in Paris, although felt, was not nearly on the choking/trying-to-hold-my-breath level of Grenoble’s.
Grenoble is great for outdoor sports, biking, hiking up the Bastille and so on…but what a bummer that it comes with so many negative health consequences.

 

 

3.) There are friendly people, and really stuck-up people. It depends on who you meet and where you work/interact with people. Artists beware. 

This is a sensitive subject, and due to the hate messages I have gotten from Grenoble folk, I won’t get into it in a frank, New-Yorker way. I went as deep as I am going to on point number One, which you may have already read above. I am not fond of the overall social culture (I have my own needs as a painter that are different from most), and as an artist, the small yet elitist contemporary art world in Grenoble was shockingly severe and xenophobic, with a few rare exceptions that took me 5 years to find. If you are not involved in the art world you may be confused, so I will try and be brief.
I have had some of my worst social experiences in France while in Grenoble — for example: at the CAB (Centre d’Art de la Bastille), with other local art associations and artists and with some of the graduates and staff from the local art school. I have had discussions with some of the Grenoble art school professors about this, who confirmed my observations and shed much light on the local elitist ways. A sort of insular, mafia mentality. Yet, I can go into a gallery or art school in Paris, New York or Geneva, and be welcomed in a bizarrely un-snobby way (Shouldn’t big cities be snobbier and more elitist than Grenoble?!). The local art world and its élitisme is really bizarre to me, and I won’t get too much into it. I’m not sure how relatable this is to most of my readers! But, local Grenoble artists (born and raised) who know the art world much better than me, have completely agreed with me. They are the ones who mentioned the “couvette” culture.  There are some cool, open-minded local artists and art-world people, but let’s just say, I can count them on one hand.

 

4.) It’s a rich area with a lot of jobs, but not for all. Jobs are a lot harder to come by than you would expect if you work outside of the main industries (semi-conductor/research/etc. industries). 

Some say, and even I may have said, “If you work hard and keep trying and being positive, you can make Grenoble work”. This is complete bologna.
If you live in a city where there are little to no jobs in your industry, you will probably not be happy. When you can’t pay your rent, cannot eat properly and can’t go on vacation, there’s not a positive outlook that’s going to help you out. You can be unemployed temporarily and still have hope, but as the years go on you’ll be wondering why you’re still living there.
I wish I knew my job options (or lack there-of) before coming here. As an anglophone expat, you can definitely find work if you’re dedicated and willing. Tant mieux if you speak French too. You can obtain an English-teaching certificate and teach in the private sector industry, for soutien-scholaire or elsewhere. You can do temp work. Perhaps work in a hotel or restaurant. For a start-up. You could, and should, visit the Women’s Working Network of Grenoble and other expat resources for advice and connections. I think that if you’ve just moved to Grenoble, as an expat or college student, that you should be excited, and that it is a great city to spend your first two years in France in (My first two years here were exciting!). I think if you’ve just moved here that you will probably have a great time with no regrets — there’s a ton to explore. Just look into this blog’s archives!
But, there may not be much variety and the jobs may not be ones you enjoy, and they may be very far from the industry you want to work in. This can be okay temporarily, for your first few years here, but perhaps not great for the long haul. And, I believe in rare chances: There could be an awesome, fulfilling job for an anglophone artist somewhere, but the odds are slimmer than in the bigger cities where your industry (eg: art) thrives in.
I disliked the lack of culture and diversity here so much, that even if I had THE dream job and was a millionaire, I would have still been miserable (after the first 2 honeymoon years). Money is important and you need it to survive and to enjoy a certain lifestyle, but money won’t make you love a city either.
If I got ONE job interview a year in Grenoble I was lucky. Since moving to Paris, I could get a job interview every TWO WEEKS! And, there are so many different job opportunities, in various fields…INCLUDING art! And I’m an expat with a degree that means nothing here. If I don’t like my job I can quit and easily find another. This ease of finding work, and interesting work at that, is probably one of the biggest things that shocked me when relocating to Paris from Grenoble.

 

5.) Lack of art, cultural stimulation and entertainment.

When it comes to fine art, Grenoble’s hayday was in the 1970’s. There were actually quite a few private art galleries at the time. There were artists being able to earn a living through art sales (this took place mostly in the antiquaires neighborhood). Since then, those artists (some of which I know personally) have re-located to other cities (mostly Paris) where they can continue to sell work. Today, Grenoble only has two private art galleries in the entire city (one of which only opened a year ago). The city has since transformed into a sports and science and research-centric town, and it continues into that direction. The Silicon Valley of France. The place where you go to ski.
There’s the absolutely gorgeous Musée de Grenoble, but if you want more fine art/contemporary art stimulation, you’re going to have to travel outside of the city. And Lyon won’t quite do it.
In Paris, I have been loving all of the art shows, the museums, the theaters and of course, the restaurants and nightlife. Grenoble’s nightlife scene just doesn’t do it for me. To each his own. The restaurants are limited. The bars are over-run by college students. If you’re a student from a small town and you’re moving to Grenoble, good news, it may be freakin’ awesome for you! When you’re in your mid-twenties and above: meh.

I have been promoting Grenoble online for six years. This is my first post about the other side of Grenoble — from my unique perspective. Think twice about leaving a hate comment. Trust me, I can go on and talk about the infamous crime and the drugs and all that, but I’ve made this list as small as possible, and I hope some of you find it interesting!

And for the Paris-haters; try living here first for a few years before you judge. I didn’t think I’d like Paris that much and was against moving here for a while, and I’ve realized that it is not at all like I thought it would be! It is a much more exciting, interesting and welcoming city that I could have ever imagined.

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8 Comments

  • Reply J. December 4, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    This was a great post. I’ve been more of a silent reader of your blog, but I moved to Grenoble about two years ago, and even though I loved it in the first few days, I lost my enthusiasm very soon. Now it’s grown on me a bit, but still, can’t wait to live in another place. I’ve experienced all the things that you mentioned, but from experience I learned not to bring them up, because people have this blind love for their beloved Grenoble, and they can’t take any criticism. Thank you for putting your thoughts out there!

    • Reply Grenobloise December 5, 2017 at 10:52 am

      Hi J,
      Thank you so much for your message!

      After all the hate on Instagram — the private messages insulting me — I thought… “You know what? I can back down and never mention it again, or I can NOT be afraid and make MORE noise.” I cannot stand bullies, and I’ve met too many of these types in Grenoble (and online), that it is actually what inspired, and gave me the courage, to finally make this post!

      For some reason one can talk about disliking (even hating) Paris, New York and other cities — but not precious Grenoble. Ugh! Even on a blog in an Anglophone Expat website, someone in the comments said they were not happy (in Grenoble), and the expat author of the blog replied saying “Well, looks like you need a change of attitude.”!

      I had two friends in Grenoble, from Grenoble… I had mentioned that I miss the art-world in New York, that in New York there are over 700 galleries and I miss all that art, all those shows….they became defensive saying that “Grenoble has a ton of culture” (Grenoble had ONE art gallery, with kitschy stuff, at the time), and continued to bully me online. I had to block them. I have a ton of these stories.

      So, it means so much to me that this post resonated with you. As I titled this post, these are things that NOBODY told me about before moving to Grenoble. A lot of these things took me over 5 years to completely wrap my head around. I know that this post will help some people.

      I lost my enthusiasm over time as well. As I mentioned in the post, I think it’s great for a year or two, especially for an expat still grasping onto the French language and culture. It can be a cool, temporary landing spot. By my 3rd year, the depression, the “being in an Alpine prison” thing, kicked in, in full force.

  • Reply Diane December 5, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Really interesting! I’ve never been to Grenoble, but I can see why its allure might not be for everyone and would wear off after a few years. The super hot summers and humid cold winters would not be my thing at all either. Glad you were able to make a change for yourself by moving to Paris. Life is too short! Wishing you a very merry holiday season! 😉

    • Reply Grenobloise December 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Hi Diane,
      I have been away from the blogging world for a while, so it’s so great to hear from you here! I did not think I was going to update this blog again this year, but recent events (Grenoble online bullies) inspired me. It’s very encouraging to hear from kind people, and fellow expats.
      The allure sure does wear off for some people, especially if you’re from a big city and are used to having a plethora of fun and stimulating things to do.
      I actually didn’t fully comprehend how bad the weather was in Grenoble until moving to Paris this year, which has a much more moderate climate! It’s not all at this grey, cold city that I kept hearing about!
      Yes, Life is short! If I had one regret, it is not having moved to Paris sooner!!
      Thanks. Have a fantastic holiday season as well! x

      • Reply Diane December 6, 2017 at 5:02 pm

        Ugh, it really saddens me to hear you’ve been hassled by bullies. I don’t understand people. You are entitled to your opinion and if someone doesn’t like it, they can just move along. Why try to tear you down while validating their own point of view? It’s so strange to me why people react like that.

        While reading this (and J’s comment also), it got me thinking about France in general and people’s rose-colored glasses mindset toward life here. Like if you say anything critical about France, you’re doing it wrong or must not be happy or any other host of reasons. People saying this are ones who probably never spent more than a week or two of vacation in France. As a blogger, it’s a super tiring attitude to encounter, when people think that life in France means life will be perfect and you just skip along with your wicker basket to the markets and live a perma-vacation. Not the case!
        Again, enjoyed the read!

  • Reply J. December 5, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Yes, the bullies … see why I’m not using my real, full name? They can find you! It’s a bit surprising because here in France you can complain about absolutely anything, which is something that I love! But not about Grenoble, apparently.

    Having browsed your blog for a while, I still have no idea how you survived here. It gets specially challenging in winter time!

    • Reply Grenobloise December 6, 2017 at 11:14 am

      Hi J. Yes, probably better off not to use your full name. If you ever want to contact me personally, feel free. This comment section is a safe place. I approve posts before they can be published as well, so if anyone tried to insult you, I would not approve their comment. So far I have not had a hate comment on this blog — it seems like the haters are more likely to PM me on Instagram.
      What do you mean about them finding you? You mean like, tracking you down and confronting you in real life, mafioso style?!
      I know right!… In France one can complain about everything EXCEPT this one tiny city in the Alps!

  • Reply k_sam December 7, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I spent the first five years of my time in France in Bretagne, and identified with pretty much everything you wrote here (except for the abundance of jobs in my region lol). It was really frustrating to me when people who had only ever been there on vacation would go on and on about how great the region is and refuse to accept that there were any downsides to living there as a foreigner. It’s like Brittany has obtained some kind of mythical status amongst both the French and expats alike. And sure it *can* be great for vacation, but living in a small village nearly broke me. The nearly year-round drizzle was so depressing, plus there was the bone-chilling cold you mentioned, the dislike of foreigners in general, lack of jobs, etc.

    Like you, I had been biased against Paris, but now I’m convinced it’s just a rumor non-Parisians spread in order to scare their children from moving away from home. 😉 Life in the capital has been nothing but good to me – people are friendly, I have access to movies in VO, international food and there are tons of cultural activities as you mentioned. Not to mention how much easier it is to travel from here. I say – just let the haters hate all they want!

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