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.