Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 09/26/10

Personal Experiences from Paris, France

Paris, France 09/26/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, also lived in Mons, Belgium.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Seven hour direct flight from Washington, DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

21 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Wife of US State Department employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We live in a large, beautiful apartment very close to the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. Sky high ceilings, parquet wood floors and charming historical accents abound. However, ancient apartment living is very noisy. We can hear everything our neighbors above and below are doing (and we try to keep our children from making too much noise). Street noise can be a big problem at night too since we are in a fairly central location. My husband takes a bicycle to work which he loves and I can get anywhere quickly by foot or via public transport. Note that closets are not common in old apartments. Prepare to stuff your suits in small armoires.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I order most of my groceries online and have them delivered directly to my door for a small fee. This is a HUGE advantage. You have little grocery stores around every corner, so it's never a problem to run out for a loaf of bread or liter of milk. I will miss the convenience when we leave. As for cost, everything is more expensive than in DC, and some things are insanely expensive. Imagine buying all your groceries at Whole Foods. But, wine is cheap!

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We get anything we need through the DPO.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

I need to exercise daily restraint so as not to drain my bank account or bust my waistband!This is such a wonderful place to dine. BEWARE: It is insanely pricey.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

You can find anything you need here: plenty of organic foods (bio), though it may be a tad bit harder to find strictly vegetarian foods.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We don't have screens here so it's a good thing we don't get a lot of bugs! Big, slow black flies arrive in the summer months but they are easy to eliminate. We haven't had any problems with ants or other creepy crawlies in the apartment. Note that lice is an ongoing issue with kids in school and summer camp.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Fortunately, we have a DPO address, and I order through Amazon.com and other online retailers regularly. We even order dog food by mail. The Science Diet we feed our dog costs four times as much if we buy it here!

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We have a housekeeper come four hours a week to do deep cleaning and ironing. We pay 12 euros an hour which is standard to high. Babysitters charge around 10 euros an hour, too.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are some gyms but they are pricey. Many people walk, jog or bike in the parks.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I use ATM and credit cards all the time. Be aware of your surroundings as you withdraw money from an ATM. I know of people who have had their money grabbed.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are services in all languages and for all faiths here.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We have Numericable cable TV and set the decoder to broadcast in English as possible. Our TV, phone and internet are bundled through Numericable at around $110/month (for premium Hi-Def channels).

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I highly recommend learning French. Many people will speak English here, but you will feel so much more integrated into the culture and vibe if you learn French. At the very least, learn greetings and other cordialities.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

I'm amazed at how unfriendly this city is for people with physical disabilities. Even walking through Paris with all your faculties can be hazardous at times with reckless drivers, constant street construction, cobblestones, steps, and random poop piles on the pavement!

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

I rely on public transportation daily. It's efficient, albeit crowded, and it's people-watching at it's finest!

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Bring a small car that you are not afraid to dent and scrape. Parisians park by touch here, and you will squeeze into parking spaces you never thought possible.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell service is reliable and ubiquitous. Like everything, it's not cheap.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Very good vet care. Well-behaved dogs are rock stars here.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

If you speak French, yes.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

French women like to dress to the nines. I gave up on tottering around on high-heels though. Go for a black, gray and purple (Carla Bruni's favorite color), invest in some stylish scarves, and wear stylish but comfortable black walking shoes. Men wear suits or jeans and Lacoste shirts. It is a city where people will judge you by your shoes! People are thin and narrow-shouldered here, so larger people will need to shop elsewhere for clothes.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

We know of numerous embassy folks who have been broken into. Professional burglars are in and out of apartments in a flash. Take care to double lock doors and keep windows closed when not home. Also, pick pockets are typical in congested areas and public transport. There are also a fair number of mentally ill people who can be quite unsettling as they rant to themselves on buses and metros. Still, I feel fairly safe here and just use common sense as anyone should in a big city.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is great. SoS Medicine is a service where doctors make house calls 24/7. Pharmacies are on every corner, and prescriptions are affordable. My daughter had her tonsils out here, and my husband had hand surgery, and we were very pleased with the care. Expect ongoing coughs and colds at least six months of the year. My children have never been so sick. I try to ply them with vitamins and carry hand sanitizer.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality in Paris can be quite poor at times. I often feel like I'm breathing air in a giant parking garage. My oldest daughter has asthma and she has quite a bit of trouble here between the poor air, the damp weather, and the ongoing chest colds.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The weather here is tolerable but is one of the least attractive aspects of living here. It gets very cold, windy, rainy, and dark in the winter months. Summer is unpredictable and we are always unsure how to dress. We wore coats and scarves through the third week of May this year. I think a major reason there are so many colds and respiratory illnesses is the always fluctuating weather.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Our girls attend Marymount International School and they love it. I like the fact that the school is small, the children wear uniforms (a great equalizer), and the location is very serene. Marymount offers a very nurturing environment and a strong arts program. My girls are always excited to go to school and that speaks volumes.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Marymount has a great 'Learning Resources' department to assist with any learning challenges.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, the schools offer afterschool activities, and the city has wonderful programs -- though they can seem a bit cryptic to join as they are in French and require a bit of paperwork and hoop-jumping to register for.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is enormous! It's great to be able to go out and forge your own international social circles. Tout le monde is here!

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale varies. Paris is a great place to live, but it's not easy by any means. It's a lot of work to get from point A to point B, it's very expensive, the weather can be depressing, and it's got all the hurriedness and congestion of a big city. You need to find your happy place and return to it often.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

You can fill your dance card very easily!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think the city can be a challenge for families with young children due to the lack of green space. Some of my friends with younger children live out in the suburbs, sacrificing city convenience for backyards. My children like it here but really miss having a yard and easy access to neighborhood friends. Families with teens would enjoy it here, and singles and couples have endless options!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, it's a good city for everyone!

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There is a lot of tension right now with the burqa ban and anti-Muslim sentiments. Also, Sarkozy had thousands of Romanians deported this summer. While this is an incredibly diverse city, there are interesting ironies.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

France is a beautiful, diverse country. We have really enjoyed seeing 'every corner.'Favorite spots include Biarritz, Bandol and the Bourgogne region.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

It's Paris! Open a Rick Steves guidebook and start your bucket list. As a foodie, I LOVE all the open air markets and wonderful restaurants. It's a good thing that all the walking and stair climbing counteract the cream sauces.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Wine, jewelry, porcelain, designer clothing, ..... the list is endless.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Paris is a stimulating city with amazing aesthetics-- from gold gilded statues to golden flaky croissants. A feast for the senses around every corner.

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11. Can you save money?

No.... seriously, come here for the extraordinary experience, but don't expect it to be cheap in any way.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I love Paris and I am so thrilled to live here. However, I am glad it is for a limited time. This city feeds my mind, but it doesn't feed my soul. You will love the food, drink, music, art, and architecture, but you will crave fresh air, a sky full of stars, and and quiet nights. It's also hard to live amongst stern-faced hurried people. I miss smiles from strangers and orderly waiting lines and random small talk. I guess that's just life in a big city. If you get out into the French countryside, you can find these things.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Bright-colored casual clothing, big dent-free car, and BBQ grill.

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella, long black coat, walking shoes, camera, French phrase book, shopping pull cart, laminated metro map, and appetite for fine living!

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

My Life in France by Julia Child, Paris to the Moon, French or Foe.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Amelie, Ratatouille, Paris When it Sizzles

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is BIG CITY living, and the expat community is large and scattered. It would be easy to become isolated and insular in this environment. You need to forge your way and make it work for you. Again, this is an exciting, amazing place, but it's not easy. Keep that in mind. Especially if you have young children.

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