The city of love, a place of wonder, where Hemmingway lay his hat and the morning air is a constant breeze of fluffy bread, buttered pastries and delectable sweet delights. The rumours are true, Paris is a moveable feast.
The close of Summer 2019 saw me packing up my West London life, saying goodbye to my comforts, friends and family and taking on a new adventure with my work in this metropolitan madness.
Having just passed my one year anniversary here I realise I have learned a LOT about the challenges (and rewards) that come with being an expat in a country where you don’t speak the language. There have been many ups some (lock)downs and everything in between.
This may not be the definitive guide to moving to this shimmering city (google search warrants the clickbait)…but I hope it’s a few basic and key points that will help you as I fumbled my way through learning as I went along.
MOVING TO PARIS WHEN YOU DON’T SPEAK FRENCH
The first 3 months are difficult, really difficult. You will struggle to understand basic questions, people will get frustrated with you, you’ll want to give up…but don’t. It’s incredibly important to remain as patient as possible when learning a new language and the good news is, you will get there. Now after spending 8 months (I excluded lockdown in the UK) in Paris I can comfortably say I went from knowing nothing. To confidently and comfortably reserving a table, visiting the pharmacist, going to aesthetician appointments, being at the grocery store and asking for things and more. Even if I don’t understand the full sentence I can now hear key words to react to the question appropriately.
- If you can afford to – get lessons. They will help you with the basics to accelerate your integration. Also watch Netflix in French with English subtitles!
- Keep goggle translate on your home page – using this helps you learn a little a day when you’re forced to find the translation for something
- Don’t surround yourself with other expats! Integrate as much as you can in to French circles
- Listen to podcasts like Coffee Break French, buy books like Learn French with Paul Noble – snackable sources of information really helped me pick things up!
NAVIGATING TRAVEL IN PARIS
If you’re moving to Paris try to get familiar with the Metro system. Tickets are best for casual travel on the metro and are each valid for one way journeys. They’re under two euros a ticket and you can buy in bulk. If you’re using the trains frequently then get your Navigo card set up ASAP. It’s about 75 euros a month and I believe most companies reimburse half in your pay cheque. head to the station Saint Lazare to apply for one.
WARNING – there are a lot of pickpocketers on the metro. I’ve been targeted three times and each time caught them with their hand on my phone or in my pocket. DO NOT leave any valuables in your pockets when on the metro and ensure your bags are closed. They typically target people at key tourist stations – Saint Lazare, Gare Du Nord etc. The tactic is that they work in groups…will wait until the horn sounds that the doors are closing, wait very close behind you, shuffle forward to push you on the train as if they are in a rush and you’re holding them up. If this happens it’s likely their hands are in your pocket. Be very alert!
Velib is also a wonderful way to get around the city. Sign up for a subscription (it’s free) and that makes it a lot easier to make up one up in a rush.
I’m sure you will have the chance to experience the city by foot too since the transport union are known to strike and shut the city transport system down. If I remember correctly the entire month of December was shut down so we had to walk/run/bike to work every day. Prepare yourself for this circumstance and when considering an apartment!
Getting to and from some of France’s gems via train is fairly easy. Whilst living here make the effort to try out the rail system and visit the Provence region, Bordeaux, Leon…even Amsterdam, Italy and beyond!
HEALTHCARE AS AN EXPAT IN PARIS
I had to add this one in as it’s SUPER important to understand before you move to any country. After living in Canada and the UK I can safely say the healthcare system in France is by far the best I’ve experienced to date. I’m a sickly child – I feel I have the authority to speak on this topic…*insert crying-laugh emoji*. In a nutshell:
- Find out what it will take for you to get a Carte Vitale (national health card). This unlocks access to free healthcare at the hospital, subsidised prescriptions, refunds on your doctors appointments and more. Having this card took a huge weight off my shoulders when I had to be hospitalised and made getting emergency treatments so much less stressful. Check with your company if they can support signing you up for it as I’m not fully sure on the eligibility details as it seemed pretty straightforward for an EU citizen (for now).
- Download Doctolib – this app will help you book appointments with english speaking doctors with ease. This is a must-do before arrival!
- Pharmacists are experts…if you’ve got an ailment that isn’t serious try to deal with it early on with a pharmacist’s recommendations
- Doctors offices are typically within apartment buildings not formal office or healthcare buildings. It’s strange to figure out at first but so much more interesting to look at…
- If you’re deathly sick and can’t leave your bed…visit SOS Medicin and let them know you don’t speak french well. They will transfer you to someone who can and aim to send out an english speaking doctor within three hours. The cost is around 60 euros (same as a regular doctor visit) and heavily reimbursed through Carte Vitale or your private insurance. – Always ask for receipts for all doctor visits and prescription payments.
FINDING AN APARTMENT TO LEASE IN PARIS
A few months before you are due to move, download the app Seloger and start your hunt! It’s such a fun experience navigating the wonderful world of french architecture. Like any city it’s not cheap but hunt for long enough and you’ll be peeking out of your french windows to the gorgeous view of chimneys and balconies. My biggest advice I could give on your journey in this space is to be agile and ready to put in an offer quickly but also don’t take the first thing you find…
Things to look out for and consider:
- Noise levels. A lot of buildings aren’t double glazed and the noise of the french sirens and incessant car horn beeping can take its toll. Try to avoid a spot right on or near a main road as it can become quite tough to deal with (I wish I knew this before hand as the drivers here really like to beep their horns!)
- Lifts/elevators. Not all building have them and some are very small. Consider what level of exercise you’d be willing to put up with
WORKING CULTURE IN PARIS
Weekdays = ALL work no play
Weekends = All play, very little work
This one depends on the company you work for – I can’t speak to the experience of job hunting as I moved with my company but one thing was very clear from the start – the work/life balance is a different beast compared to the UK experience. French people tend to start later in the morning and leave much later in the day. A lot of people tend to stick around until seven or eight pm. They tend to take coffee catch ups very seriously as well as long lunch breaks as an opportunity to network with colleagues. This part is quite important and was a huge shocker to me coming from the UK where our schedule typically ran:
8am -8:30am: arrive at the office
8:30am quick coffee with a colleague
9am : headphones on work
1pm: lunch at my desk whilst checking emails
2pm : headphones on work
4pm: team banter debating favourite Disney movies
5pm: OUT THE DOOR!
My advice? Try your best to roll with the new punches but don’t give up your personal life for it.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES TO NOTE FRENCH PEOPLE
Bear in mind these are sweeping generalisations! My first observation…there are two phrases that I have heard the most whilst living here. If I had a euro for every time I heard them I would be comfortably enjoyed my log-cabin in the woods on my euro-millions.
“No, that’s not possible”
When you first move here and barely speak the language it’s a nightmare – the more comfortable you get the more you giggle at it. I can’t remember who I had this incredibly valuable conversation with but they mentioned to me that French people are hard on the outside, soft on the inside. They can say no to you 100 times at first but if you try and continue to make the effort to get what you need…they eventually lean in and will make every effort to help you. This can be said for trying to buy tickets for something, booking a restaurant, trying to sign up for a metro card…all of the above.
“ça depend” is usually an indication that your seemingly simple question has a longwinded answer…I have found that within a year I’ve now come to use this phrase a lot with friends and family…
Finally the other observation that has totally blown my mind…in British and American culture we are *obsessed* with diets. Paleo, Keto, Dairy-free, Gluten-free, meat free. People in Paris just don’t seem to diet! The kicker? they don’t seem to gain weight either. When I first met a now close friend of mine she questioned my choice of lunch, a plate piled with vegetables and fish, no carbs, no cake for dessert. I told her I’m not eating carbs and her response was “what are carbs?”. I think this says it all…the French have a much healthier relationship than we do! Hoping it rubs off on me before I head home 😉
Now obviously I haven’t included everything you need to know so if you have any questions, pop in the comments below and I’ll add them in to the post!
I’ll leave you with a short list of just my absolute favourite things about living in Paris (in no particular order):
- The food. This city really is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to culinary excellence. You’d be hard pressed to have a bad meal.
- The people. Parisian people are an enigma but some of the kindest, most helpful and hilarious people I have ever met. I certainly have made friends for life.
- The healthcare system. Absolute first class experience every-time. The doctors here are incredible at what they do
- The city…the charm and beauty never ceases to amaze me.
- The approach to summer…a month off to seriously unwind and hit the beaches
- Cheese. And. Wine.