Paris is not always a good idea.
One year ago today, I arrived in Paris, thinking I would spend a year in the City of Light to become fluent in French. I was to attend CCFS (part of Sorbonne University) as a student then work afterwards.
As I flew over the city, I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, rising above the clouds. My dream was about to come true… or so I thought.
Only a week before, the Charlie Hebdo attack had frightened everyone that my Mum was determined to follow me to the city. The number of young armed guards at the airport and around ‘popular targets’ both amused and alarmed me at first. Were they afraid? Would they be ready?
I won’t go into detail of what happened during my 3 weeks in Paris but I:
- registered then de-registered from the language school
- learned a few things about flat hunting
- as well as getting oneself set up in the city (bank account, jobs, etc.)
- reported a theft
Basically, not the most pleasant way to begin 2015. Thankfully, my short visit to Paris in April later that year was much better but that’s another story. In this post, I will share with you some of my observations on the city and my tips for tourists and new expats. I do realise that everyone will have or have had different experiences of the city.
Observations of Paris
- I love the friendly atmosphere in Paris. Bonjour to everyone!
- As long as you do your best to say something in French, however butchered your pronunciation, the Parisians will appreciate it. I have rarely had poor customer service except for one instance at Fragonard.
- The number of women – young and old – wearing fur (not faux fur) during winter surprised me. Whether or not these fur coats were vintage, I couldn’t help but fear that a mob of angry PETA members were going to jump out of nowhere and attack them. That’s one main difference between Vancouver and Paris.
- Just about every cafe and restaurant has chairs and tables outside during opening hours. It’s a great environment.
- As an anglophone, I had to remember that entree does not mean main course.
- Meals consist of a small appetiser (bread, for instance), then another small appetiser, then the main course, then dessert, then more wine with or without tea or coffee. Dinner takes hours but what’s the rush?
- Generally, Parisian women are slim. You may see them walking into a patisserie but apparently, they don’t finish the entire dessert they’ve bought. That is the secret. (If you have high metabolism on the other hand…)
- Impatient passengers open metro doors as the metro is coming to a halt. Be careful. 😉
- Parking spaces must be quite difficult to find because even the kerbs (curbs) for pedestrians to cross is considered a parking spot.
- There is a lot of dog doo-doo around the city. I don’t blame the Parisians; I wouldn’t want to pick up after the dogs!
- If I remember correctly, a few years ago, many feminists fought for the right to be called Madame (lit. my lady), even if they weren’t married. I personally hate it (I hate being called Madam too – both make me feel ancient). I’ve always preferred Mademoiselle (lit. my damsel) as I think it the most beautiful sounding thing to be called. Every so often, a man will accidentally revert to Mademoiselle, which always pleases me greatly!
Tips for Tourists & New Expats
- After doing my research, I chose Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne. It is taught by semester and there are specialised courses in various subjects to choose from. Overall, it is cheaper than other language schools. Plus there’s convocation for those who have graduated from their level.
- A similar option, though slightly more expensive, is the Institut Catholique de Paris.
Accommodation is going to be your number one task. You need one in order to have a bank account set up and to apply for jobs, etc.
- An expat with limited or no French looking for your own accommodation in Paris? Try:
Warning: Aside from Lodgis, the rest of these sites have more expensive studios and one-bedroom flats. You’ll also need to throw in the agency fee and it all depends on how long you’ll be renting for and if this will be your primary residence.
- The agency fee shouldn’t surpass a month’s rent.
- Some of the flats on the website haven’t been updated so it’s easier to contact an agent directly (via phone) to see what’s available.
- There’s a high demand for flats so landlords can be picky. Be prepared to show that you have the means to pay for your rent and damage-deposit, or have a French guarantor who can come up with the rent if you fail to do so. The convenience of the above-mentioned rental agencies is that you can go ahead and rent the flat before arriving in Paris. While it’s not advised to do so without first viewing a flat, this is probably a good solution for temporary visitors.
- Housing option 2: staying at most hotels can be very expensive. Try Apart-hotels – overall, for at least a 2 week stay, you’ll save more money here.
- Other alternatives: Hostels, low-cost hotels, host families, flat shares, etc.
- Sources for flat and flatshare hunting: pap.fr (in French), American Church in Paris (accommodation board updated around 11am M-F).
Most jobs will require you to have knowledge of French. Here are some suggestions:
- Canadian Embassy office support for Canadians on the working holiday programme
- OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)
- Teach English
- Setting up a bank: To do so, you need an accommodation that can’t be a hotel or hostel. Hopefully, you can use a friend’s address (whereby the friend writes that he/she is hosting you, whether or not that is actually the case).
- Mobile phone company: Orange has a tourist two-week plan with data, texts, and minutes. You don’t need a bank account for this.
- Number 1: BE ALERT. Be aware of your surroundings.
- Do not ever, EVER, put your phone in your pocket unattended.
- Avoid rucksacks if you can. Wear your bag sideways and make sure it’s fully zipped. Always have your hand and/or arm on it.
- Avoid wearing jewellery, even if they’re not diamonds or pearls. (I know this is unfair but this is what a local told me.)
- Don’t sign any petition! No, you didn’t lose a ring and no one around you lost a ring that a ‘kind’ stranger happened to find.
- Look tough (or maybe learn some self-defense techniques).
- If something has been stolen from you, REPORT it to the police! You might never get it back. (Actually, let’s be honest. You won’t get it back.) You’ll be frustrated with the police, BUT at least you’re contributing to the statistics and showing that the crime rate has not, in fact, been diminishing.
- Agree or disagree, Asians (or Orientals) are major targets. The same goes for Arabs – as another girl pointed out to me. You could look and dress like a local but thieves don’t see a difference.
- The RATP app will help you with planning your journey.
- The Fork is a good app to find restaurants in the area.
- The Eiffel Tower is so much better when it’s sparkling! Unfortunately, tourists, it’s illegal to share them on your social media sites. I don’t know if anyone’s been fined yet but at least I warned you.
My last photo of Paris in February:
I’ve just taken away the charm from Paris, haven’t I?
In hindsight, maybe I should have found a flatshare with really goody two-shoes. Who knows. But the events of the November attacks later that year (I was so adamant that a second attack within a year was highly unlikely) made me wonder: Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be living in Paris after all – at least not that year.
Of course, that won’t stop me from visiting. Paris, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a beautiful and enchanting city.