Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 06/15/08

Personal Experiences from Paris, France

Paris, France 06/15/08

Background:

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

No - Bucharest, Romania.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1 year, 7 months.

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

I am a U.S. Embassy employee.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

7-8 hours travel time from Washington, D.C.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy personnel will either live in a government leased apartment in the city or one of two housing compounds in Boulogne or Neuilly, in the suburbs of Paris. Commute time from the housing compounds is 45 minutes door to door and anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes if you live in the city. The housing staff will encourage you to accept an apartment in one of the housing compounds, but if you are single or a couple without kids, try to get an apartment in the city. Your quality of life will be much better and the apartments in the city are NOT old, dark, problematic apartments as they housing office often portrays.

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

Food is expensive. If you are assigned to the Embassy you will receive COLA which is designed to cover the added expense so don't complain about the cost, just go buy what you need. As a single person, I shop at the Monoprix, or smaller stores like the fromagerie, charcuterie or Picquard (heavenly gourmet frozen food store).If you are assigned to the Embassy, you will have access to the military base in Belgium and can save money driving there every so often and stocking up on staples. Families usually shop at the military base once a month and supplement with runs to the larger grocery stores like Auchon. Auchon and Monoprix both deliver. Everything you want is available here, you just have to find it. There is also a China town and ethnic stores in Paris.

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

Everything is available here, but to save money, bring greeting cards, home office supplies, crock pot (eating at home saves a lot of money), car parts, tolietries, work clothes, or anything else you use frequently. You can buy everything you want here in Paris or order it through the Internet, you just have to wait for it to arrive.

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

I have seen McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but try not to eat there since there are so many other wonderful places to eat. Try to go to a traiteur (Chinese, Lebanese, etc) instead of one of the above fast food places if you are in a hurry - or even a schwarma stand - the food is much better.

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Daily Life:

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

I have access to the APO, but the local post offices are very reliable and not too expensive to send letters/postcards. You can also get money orders at the local post offices and they are all over the city.

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

Domestic help is extremely expensive. At least half of the folks have housekeepers, but usually one time a week for 4 hours, 10-12 euro an hour. If you are busy, it is a great time saver, but I would rather spend this money traveling!

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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?

I use my ATM card and pay a 1% transaction fee. There are usually not problems using your ATM card here, but check with your bank before you arrive so the fees don't surprise you. There are ATMS all over the city. If you are an Embassy employee, you will probably open a local french bank account and can use their ATM without incurring fees (after you deposit funds into your french checking account).

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

Yes, the American Church of Paris is a good place to start, but I believe there are several other english-language religious services available.

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

If you live on one of the Embassy housing compounds, you will have free AFN television. If you live in the city you need to buy a french television - multisystem televisions that receive SECAM will not work as the french broadcast in SECAM-L.There are cable companies that offer different packages, just like in the U.S. I believe Astral offers a good package for around 50 euro per month.

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

The more French you speak the better! If you do not speak French, you MUST learn some...

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

Paris is NOT a good city for people with disabilities! It is not uncommon for metros to have no escalators and 90% of buildings do not have ramps for people with wheel chairs. The French have a long way to go to improve in this area. I heard there are tourist agencies that specialize in tours for people with disabilities if you have the money to pay for it.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right side - same as in the U.S.

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

Everything is expensive in Paris since the dollar is so weak, but public transportation is good and safe. A monthly metro/bus pass is around 53 euros, but if you live in the city and will walk a lot, a better choice is a carnet (10 pack of tickets good on metro/bus/tram). Each trip is 1.10 euro. Taxis are expensive, but if you are out late at night and the metro has stopped running or if you are in a hurry, you just have to pay the price.

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3. 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?

It can be difficult getting parts for your American car here as dealers may not carry the parts for American models. The parts can be ordered, but it can take 2-3 months sometimes for the parts to arrive. Singles can survive without a car here. You can rent one if you drive deep into the country side where the train does not go. Families have a bigger need for a car. I would suggest checking with the local dealer here to see if they carry parts for your American car or buying a car here locally so you will have an easier time getting it fixed. Some folks have found cars through French Ebay or Craigslist. If you are a woman and don't speak french you wil have a hard time getting your car fixed. The French generall drive smaller cars in the city, but you can drive large or small cars in Paris. You will have a hard time parking a large American car in the city.

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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?

High-speed internet is available. If your computer is over 3 years old, you might need to purchase an internet card to receive wireless internet here (France uses a different signal of course).Newer laptops don't seem to have a problem. I have a telephone/internet combo through Orange that costs about 52 euro a month. I can talk long distance to family/friends for hours for free so it is a good deal. Customer service with the internet companies is horrible, so if you have any troubles setting up your system, you will need a French speaking friend to help you out or pay someone to come to your home and install it.

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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?

Some Embassy folks are given cell phones, but for those who aren't you have to buy a local phone, and pay for your minutes which you can purchase through the local tabac's or newsstands. It is expensive, but everyone has a cell phone. If you are here for a year or two, purchase a phone as soon as you arrive and sign a contract (one or two year). It is cheaper, but you will be locked into the contract.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Some people here use Vonage, but my internet/phone plan from Orange includes unlimited internet, local calls and long distance calls to land lines in U.S/Canada/EU countries. Just like the U.S. there are phone/internet companies that offer different plans/pricing. What works for one person living in the city might not work for another person living on a housing compound. You will pay for all local calls if you do not have a phone plan.

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Pets:

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

The French have good vets and love their pets. It is acceptable to bring your small dogs to local cafes. Watch out for poop when you walk the streets of Paris!

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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?

I am not familiar with this, but the Embassy has a SNAP coordinator to assist with this.

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

At the Embassy here (and in general), the Americans dress more than at other Embassies. Most men wear suits or keep a jacket at the office and women mix suits with slacks, skirts/blouses etc. Wearing jeans to work is not acceptable. The local French employees get away with dressing casually, but Americans are expected to dress more formally.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate pollution index.

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

Within Paris or the outlying suburbs where most diplomats live, crime is not a huge problem. I feel safe taking the metro at night and walking home from the metro stop too. You do need to take basic precautions as you would in any large city, i.e. not carrying your wallet in your back pocket or not leaving purses unzipped and always carry your purse in front of you. Pickpockets usually look for an easy target. Don't leave belongings unattended in your car, but if you apply basic common sense, you won't have a problem.

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

The Embassy has a French nurse who provides referrals to doctors/dentists in the city. This can be hard to get used to if coming from a smaller Embassy with an American nurse-practicioner, but makes sense since the French have excellent medical care. I have had great experiences with local doctors, dentists, and hospitals here. Similar to the U.S., you have to find a doctor, etc if you moved to a new area. You are expected to pay cash up front for the visit and then file a claim with your insurance company, but I have always been reimbursed quickly and have not had problems.

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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?

Usually rainy/cool. There are short stretches of hot weather, but after a few days it is rainy/cooler again. When it is nice, take advantage of it, sit at a cafe and watch the world go by...

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Schools & Children:

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

I have no personal experience with the international schools, but the CLO's office at the Embassy can provide details. You do have to do a lot of research on your own about the schools and register far in advance to guarantee a spot at the school of your choice. Most Embassy employees send their kids to the American International school, Marymount, or the British school.

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

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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?

I don't have experience with preschool/daycare but know that daycare is expensive. I know that spouses often opt not to work instead of working and paying for daycare. French preschools are available but I have heard that American kids can have trouble adapting if they don't speak french and the french school children often are not quick to accept kids from other countries. Try to find a British run preschool if you can afford it.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

Amongst Embassy employees, the morale seems to be low amongst the lower ranking personnel and higher amongst the higher ranking personnel since they have larger Parisian apartments, speak French, are higher paid and have more perks on the job.

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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?

Paris has a fabulous night life. Everything you could want is here, but you need to work harder at making friends here to enjoy these things with.

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

Paris is great for couples without children and for outgoing singles. There is a lot to do and see but I know that among Embassy personnel, introverted-singles often have troubles adapting and become depressed after a few months here.

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

Paris seems to be a good city for gay/lesbian expats. There are gay bars in the city and areas that are popular with this social group. My gay friends love it here.

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

In day to day life, I have not witnessed problems with racial, religious prejudices but have heard that traditional french are not accepting of African-French, Moroccan-French, etc.

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

Paris is a beautiful city with tons of museums, exhibits, etc. I am so used to seeing beautiful buildings when I walk the streets of Paris that I take a second look when a building is not beautiful. The train system is wonderful and you can take the train to many cities in France and cities outside of France.

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

Gourmet food, wine, champagne, foie gras, cavier, antiques found in the markets outside of Paris (which are not cheap anymore)

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9. Can you save money?

Most people do not...if you are single or a couple without kids and do not have a lot of debt when you arrive, you can live off your paycheck and save your COLA if you bring your lunch to work and don't eat out a lot. If you take advantage of all the travel opportunities and wonderful restaurants in Paris, saving money will be tough.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

Notion that you will get a quick answer to your questions or that Parisians care if you think customer service is bad! Their attitude is you can go someplace else if you don't like it. Leave behind bad wine and bad food, the best food and wine in the world can be found here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Cash (it is expensive here); walking guide of Paris - the best way to see Paris is to walk the streets; comfortable shoes and umbrella.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Amelie, Until September.

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

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Planning is the key to enjoying an assignment to Paris. This is a beautiful but tough city to live in.

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