Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 01/15/18
Personal Experiences from Paris, France
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Various places in East Asia, West Africa, and Central America.
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?
Washington, DC. 7 hour direct flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Foreign Service Officer
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are basically two options for FSOs: one of two USG-owned compounds in Neuilly/Boulogne or leased apartments downtown. The compounds are ideal for families but tend to go to younger officers, who generally aren't thrilled to be assigned there. However, units are in the process of being combined to make them more attractive to families, so things are changing. The compounds are very nice and are in quiet, safe, wealthy neighborhoods, but they are not centrally located near nightlife. The leased apartments are spectacular and almost universally loved.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Bread, cheese, and wine are incredibly cheap (and delicious). Other groceries are about the same. I have found Paris to be cheaper than expected. I also order many products on Amazon from the U.S.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Spray deodorant, salsa, anything spicy.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Incredible food scene. Take advantage of midweek lunch specials at Michelin restaurants. Restaurant prices are a bargain compared to the U.S. in terms of what you get, especially in the $15-40 category. However, there are probably fewer options to have meals in the cheap (under $15 category). Non-French food is also disappointing for the most part, aside from maybe Vietnamese. Asian cuisine is mostly terrible, and French people are intolerant to even slightly spicy foods. Sushi is often limited to a choice of salmon or tuna and nothing more exotic. Chipotle may be your best bet for Mexican.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic Post Office.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy and compounds all have small gyms. There are of course gyms in Paris, but French people don't work out nearly as much as, say, people in Washington, D.C. It's not considered desirable to be seen walking around with a yoga mat, as in DC. With the amazing restaurant and bar scene on offer and tendency to meet up for drinks after work, you may find yourself struggling to find the time/motivation to work out. I did.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, I use credit cards almost exclusively. Barclays has been great to work with and put an alert on my account for frequent travel in all of Europe so that I didn't have to notify them each time I traveled.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is not necessary but is definitely helpful.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, metro's are not handicap accessible. Sidewalks can be difficult to navigate.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I have a monthly pre-paid card for the daily commute on the metro. The Parisian metro is infinitely more reliable than Washington's, and you rarely have to wait more than 2-5 minutes for a train. Other than the metro, I use Uber or Uber Pool exclusively and do not use traditional taxis. I've never had a bad experience with Uber and the price is significantly less.
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?
I brought a medium sized SUV but did not use it often. It was nice, however, for occasional trips outside Paris. The Embassy was very helpful and found (and paid for) underground parking near my housing after a bit of trouble finding a spot large enough for the vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, no problems.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Take a good, hard look at what the embassy recommends, as they are not necessary totally current on the best options. The French telecoms market has diversified greatly in recent years. I went with the company "Free," which has an office quite close to the embassy. Unlimited calls (including to the U.S.) and data for $20/month with no contract, and it works almost everywhere in Europe as well as in the U.S. You can't beat it. All you need to set it up is a credit card; no bank account required.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suit and tie for work and work-related events. Quite formal. Outside of work, do try to dress smartly to fit in. No shorts or sneakers and definitely no white socks. Dark colors and scarves are key.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, obvious terrorism concerns, as well as pickpocketing and usually non-violent theft. Vigilance highly recommended.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Mostly okay, it seemed. Embassy MED office is great and can recommend options. SOS Medicins will send a doctor to your home if you need help, which is pretty convenient.
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?
Varies, with occasional episodes of moderate to high air pollution. Usually only for short periods of time, though.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I imagine it would be difficult to be vegetarian and almost impossible to be vegan here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It does rain more than you probably expect, but it's also not as cold as I expected. Long periods of darkness in winter, but the long days in summer are wonderful.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Wetter than you probably expect (think London), but overall lots of beautiful days too. And you can always sit outside on covered terraces thanks to space heaters.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Extremely large. Morale is generally high, but the community is not very tight-knit because people tend to scatter on the weekends and there are so many activities available during the week.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Drinking wine on terraces. There are tons of Meetup groups.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all. However, single Americans may be surprised to learn that French people do not "date" in the way we do. This may cause some serious cultural misunderstandings in terms of romance. Speaking personally, I found other European expats in Paris to be much more enjoyable in terms of dating. Tinder is available and used widely, as well as a few local spin-offs.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It's so easy (cheap) to travel from Paris to the rest of Europe. Flights can often be found for $20-50 on the budget carriers, and if you're determined, you can fly back early Monday morning from places like Italy and still be in your office on time. Traveling within France is also wonderful, although more expensive. The food and wine scene is spectacular. The museums, the culture, the architecture.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
French people are not rude as some Americans think, and the U.S.-French relationship is strong and generally friendly (nothing like it was in the early 2000s). I never sensed any kind of animosity toward Americans. However, I did find the French to be a bit insular, and surprisingly difficult to connect with beyond the level of acquaintances. I made a real effort to speak French and learn about the culture, but unfortunately I had only minimal success and eventually found myself giving up and turning toward other expats (especially other Europeans) more and more frequently. I had more trouble integrating in France than in any other country I've lived in. It's worth noting that Paris may be more difficult in this regard than the rest of country. Romance with the French was even more disappointing.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cheap American wine.
4. But don't forget your:
Salsa, umbrella, appetite, and sense of humor.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Dessine-Moi Un Parisien (or, in English, Stuff Parisians Like), La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life, 60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong, A Moveable Feast, Midnight in Paris (film).