Paris, France Report of what it's like to live there - 12/08/08
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?
First expat experience.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
7-8 hours from the U.S. east coast.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments in Paris tend to be at least 25% cheaper than similarly sized apartments in similar neighborhoods in Manhattan, but will probably seem expensive to people coming from other parts of the U.S. Kitchens are often small and under-equipped. Commutes within the city limits rarely exceed a half-hour, except when the Metro breaks down, which can be often.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are of amazingly high quality (particularly if you go to specialty stores -- butchers, greengrocers, bakers, etc. -- rather than supermarkets). Depending on the item, prices are comparable to or cheaper than the United States. Wine in particular is cheap -- often just a few euros for good-quality stuff.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Some over-the-counter medicines (e.g. hydrocortisone cream) are only available by prescription here. Clothes, except for shoes, tend to be very expensive, and dry cleaning is ridiculously high -- bring only wash-and-wear if you can.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are American and French fast-food chains but why would you want to eat in them? French food may not be what it used to be but there are still many great or at least good restaurants here. Most other cuisines are also represented, including a surprising number of sushi places, though quality of non-French food can be hit or miss.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The French postal system is reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Generally available but expensive.
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?
The French have moved to a smart-card system and people with North American credit cards that lack the proper chip may encounter difficulties, particularly for transportation -- many machines in the train and Metro stations will not accept cards without chips. ATMs are everywhere, but be careful of people trying to steal your PIN. Most ATMS are right out on the street rather than in enclosed lobbies as in the U.S.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and most British papers are widely available. Papers tend to be much more expensive here than in the United States.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most Parisians in service industries now speak English, and do so willingly. Still, knowing French is a plus, especially when dealing with automated telephone systems (e.g. for ordering a taxi).
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be difficult. Many buildings and the Metro have gratuitous steps and staircases. Elevators are often too tiny for wheelchairs and there are few ramps.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains and buses are safe, though sometimes unpleasantly crowded. Fares are similar to those in major U.S. cities. Taxis are reliable and relatively honest but a bit more expensive than in the U.S.
2. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Same as in the U.S.
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?
Don't bring a car to Paris -- streets are narrow and parking is scarce and expensive. Better to rent a car when you need to get out of town (and even then, only if you're going deep into the countryside, as the train network connects most major cities and towns).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It's usually cheaper if you get it bundled with your cable TV and phone. But don't expect the cable company to meet even America's pitiful standards of good service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones are ubiquitous here. French people tend to have better manners when using them in public than Americans do. As far as I know, all the major companies are reliable, but costs (especially roaming charges) may be higher than you're used to back home.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Vonage or Skype if you want to save money.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I don't have any experience with this, but the French love their pets so I assume so.
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?
Without French working papers it can be tough. Multinationals are probably your best bet.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People dress up a bit more formally in every setting here than in the United States. Men tend to wear suits (with ties in the winter, without ties in the summer); women in nice suits or dresses. Shorts and sweat clothes are rare unless you're working out. You will almost never see someone over 30 in a T-shirt.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nothing out of the ordinary for a big city.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The French medical system is of high quality.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cloudy with showers (but little if any snow) in the winter; pleasant springs and falls; summer can be very variable, with cool rainy periods interspersed with hot spells (which seem hotter because there is little air conditioning here).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Most people I've met tend to like it here. Many have sought out Paris as a posting and don't want to leave.
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?
Anything you could possibly want. French dinner parties tend to be long and elaborate, with multicourse meals and much wine.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for everyone.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, there is a thriving gay community including many gay/lesbian expats.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, there is both religious and racially-based prejudice against Muslims and Africans.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Culture of all kinds. Or just walk around -- it's a great city for that.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Food and wine.
9. Can you save money?
Depends on the exchange rate, but you will probably want to enjoy the experience here rather than saving.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations of customer service, sloppy clothes, bad manners.
3. But don't forget your:
Willingness to adapt to the French way of doing things.