Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 04/20/09

Personal Experiences from Paris, France

Paris, France 04/20/09

Background:

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

Previous expat experience in France.

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2. How long have you lived here?

We have been here for two years.

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

U.S. government service.

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

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Varies hugely depending on what your employer does for you. U.S. Embassy housing is in very bourgeois, boring parts of town. Most people have 3 BR apartments regardless of whether they are single or married with a kid. The embassy compounds are outside the city proper, but not necessarily a much longer commute. Embassy housing is way more spacious and in fancier neighborhoods than if you had to pay your own rent.

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

In general, food is a little more expensive, but the quality is often higher. We buy produce at our local outdoor market and feel like overall it's a good deal. Meat from the butcher is really expensive, but you can taste the difference over U.S. grocery store meat. We try to spend our COLA and enjoy eating the better food. We have access to the mediocre U.S. Embassy commissary, which is very reasonably priced. Some drive to military bases in Belgium/Germany (2.5/5 hours away).

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

We would bring more of our furniture because U.S. Embassy housing is generally spacious. We brought personal items like contact lens solution that are much cheaper at discount stores in the U.S. than in France. Pantyhose is really expensive here... and all clothing items can be had more cheaply in the U.S.

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

Fast food:McDonald's, its French analog Quick, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos, lots of doner kebabs! Decent restaurants: yes, the sky is the limit. Cuisines you can't find many places in the U.S. (for example, tons of North African, more Eastern European/Central Asian, sub-saharan African). Tex-mex is very bland. Not many bargains near the U.S. Embassy and embassy housing.

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

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Daily Life:

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

Since we have APO (now DPO) access, we get most of our letters and packages through that system. 7-10 days from the East Coast is the norm. It is more expensive but faster for people to send things from the U.S. directly to our Paris street address.

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

No info, but you can get recommendations for part-time housekeepers from the Embassy newsletter.

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

Paris has great public pools. If you want to pay for something like Club Med gym, feel free. The U.S. embassy has a small gym that is supposed to be getting refurbished. Big green spaces in the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes.

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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?

Basically the same as in the U.S. You need a card with a chip (such as a French bank card) to use automated ticket machines in the metro, train stations, etc. The French are a little more likely to carry cash and pay restaurant checks and the like with cash.

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

Numerous - listed in the FUSAC.American Church, American Cathedral, St. Michael's Anglican, St. Joseph's Catholic, to name a few.

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

The IHT is readily available but more expensive than comparable French papers. Imported WSJ and UK papers also pretty easy to find, more expensive. Satellite is available for TV if you're willing to pay for it. Most French basic cable packages include an international CNN and maybe a couple other English-language channels (Al-Jazzeera?)Our cable package would let us pay more for a few more English-language 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?

You could get by with just "bonjour," "merci," excusez-moi," etc., but you will enjoy your interactions with the French much more if you can speak their language.

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

The metro is shockingly unfriendly in this respect. Even where there are elevators and/or escalators, they're often out of service. The RER is a little bit better, but the bus system is extensive and adapted to wheelchairs (and strollers!). There are problems with curb cuts and the like, but informative unofficial websites with this info. For tourists, folks in wheelchairs can often to go the front of lines at tourist attractions and get in for a free or reduced rate.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Taxis would get expensive if you took them all the time.

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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?

We brought a small city car that's sold in the U.S. and Europe. It was suitable, but even better would have been not bringing a car. Traffic in Paris is bad enough that even leaving town for the weekend, the train is more relaxing. And the TGVs sure travel faster than the car!

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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?

Yes, we have been really happy with our local phone/DSL/cable combination that costs 30 Euros a month and includes free calls to the U.S. and a number of other countries.

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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?

We used a U.S. phone and purchased a SIM card and pay-as-you-go service here from one of the big companies (SFR). We were happy with that.

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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)?

Yes, quality vets that seem comparable in price to the U.S.Pet-sitting/walking adds up on the local economy at about 10 euros a day.

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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?

Hard to say. U.S. Embassy has de facto work agreement, but I know almost no spouses working on the local economy who aren't self-employed. The Embassy has a SNAP program, but it has not been able to help many spouses find work on the local economy. French language skills would help a lot.

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

Business dress at work. Paris is a fashion capital, and people tend to be dressier than in the U.S.Only wear sneakers and a windbreaker if you are actively doing sports or want to be identifiable as a tourist. Don't wear shorts here - ever?And it doesn't really get warm enough to bother with sandals in the summer.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's hazy on warm days, but in general nothing to complain about.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

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

No personal security concerns, given a modicum of common sense... safer than DC, in other words. Awareness of your surroundings goes a long way against pickpocketing, which is common. I'd avoid certain RER lines at night but feel safe alone on the metro very late as a lone female.

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

No health concerns we are aware of. Medical care is as good as in the U.S., and more affordable. Easy to find English-speaking medical professionals.

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

Significantly cooler than Washington most of the year, except the one week of each summer there is a heat wave and everyone wishes they had air-conditioning. Winters more mild than DC - no snow to speak of in Paris. Lots of grey, chilly days - including in the summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

No personal experiences, but there is a fair variety. Some people with younger kids put them in French public schools.

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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?

No personal info, but people say good things about the French creches for preschoolers and ecoles maternelles.

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

Yes, lots.

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Expat Life:

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

Very big. Lots of American/anglo tourists, too.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally high among expats, but lower in the U.S. Embassy community, where lots of people have a sense of entitlement and/or unrealistic expectations. Yes, you'll have to go out and make friends if you want to have them here.

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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 could never run out of new things to experience here. However, don't look to the U.S. Embassy for an automatic social life.

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

Depends a lot on what you make of it. As part of a couple, I can say it can be great for couples in terms of things to do. The French can be hard to get to know as a temporary expat, and the U.S. Embassy does not have a strong sense of community, so we would recommend looking for a social system elsewhere.

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

Yes - certainly a thriving and visible gay scene.

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

The French themselves are generally more prejudiced against people of North African or "Arab" descent than people of sub-saharan African descent. I think expats get a pass, though I have at least one South Asian friend who would disagree. No gender or religious prejudices to speak of. Many French consider themselves pro-Palestinian and there is some anti-Semitism, but Paris has thriving Jewish communities.

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

Multicultural smorgasbord of art, movies, French-language theater, other cultural events. Lots of interesting public programs, including the annual Museum Night, Music Festival, etc. Tons of French history and "patrimony."Good sporting events. Paris Rando Velo for even amateur cyclists!Wonderful travel opportunities throughout France and Europe (high-speed trains, low-cost airlines).

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

Couture?? Pastries??" Antique" French furniture at Emmaus, the equivalent of the Salvation Army? Find your own...

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9. Can you save money?

We have saved some money despite lots of travel... probably because we have foregone any shopping while here and mostly eaten our own cooking!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat! We'd put more effort up front into our French-language skills and to meeting people outside our work community.

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

Sportswear, sense of entitlement, stereotypes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Inside voice, good manners, rain jacket.

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

Peter Mayle is amusing and contains some broad cultural insights, but the non-fiction ideas below are much more highly recommended.

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

Peter Mayle is amusing and contains some broad cultural insights, but the non-fiction ideas below are much more highly recommended.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

There's a lot set in Paris, but for actual insights? Maybe "La Haine (Hate)" for a glimpse into the disadvantaged suburbs. "Etre et Avoir (To Be and to Have)" for a glimpse into the charm of rural France. "Charade" is partly set in a fictional U.S. Embassy and is worth a watch.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Travel! The time will pass fast. The charm of France is mostly not found in Paris (despite its own appeal as a big international city). Eat and drink everything! But in moderation, like the French.

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