Are you planning to move to the City of Lights? Are you studying there for a semester or maybe just passing through? I absolutely loved my time in the capital city but there are many things no one tells you about living in Paris and things I wish I knew before arriving. Here are some tips to prepare you for your time:
Living in Paris – The True Story
The first time I moved to Paris was for a semester long exchange during college. It was an incredibly eye opening experience that really changed my perceptions of Paris and the rest of Europe. Several years later, after completing a master’s and working in Paris, I’ve found many things that I wish I would have known at the start.
1. French administration
Let’s start with the worst part about living in France: the French administration. Everything is a process. To get an apartment, you will need several different documents including proof of a French bank account. To get a French bank account, you will need proof of residence in France. Do you see the problem? Most of the time universities and companies can help with this problem, but don’t expect things to always be efficient! It took me two years to get most of my documents sorted out.
If you’re going to France to study, be sure to check out my post on how to get a French student visa.
2. Metro tickets
Be sure to keep all your metro tickets even after you’ve scanned/inserted them into the machines. Sometimes there will be police standing and checking everyone’s tickets before you get on the train or after. If you don’t have yours, it’s a hefty 60 euro fine. You can throw them away AFTER you leave the station.
You’ll see many people jumping the turnstile as if it’s nothing. That’s all fine and dandy, until you run into the ticket officers.
3. Where to buy things
In the US, you can go to Walmart and buy almost everything in one place. Not so much in France. Here’s a short list to help you get on your feet and collect all your essentials:
- Supermarket: Carrefour, Franprix, Super U, G20, Lidl, Monoprix (clothes + groceries)
- Electronics: Fnac, Darty
- Home Goods: H&M, Maisons de Monde, IKEA, Darty
- Department Stores: Monoprix, Galeries Lafayette, Le BHV
4. French language
The French are very proud of their language and culture and love when foreigners at least try to speak their language. Some French people are also self-conscious about their English skills.
Many times it is easier to start a conversation in French, until they feel sorry for you and begin to speak English. If you ask if they speak English at the beginning of the conversation, they may say “no”, even if they do a little bit, because to them, they may think their English is really bad. It’s not rude but more of a common courtesy to at least begin in French. If they were to come to the US, you would expect them to speak English right?
5. Common scams
When a man stops you and tries to give you a bracelet because “I just love Americans,” run as fast as you can. They will put the bracelet on you as a “gift” and then either demand for money or tell the police that you stole it. Don’t sign any petitions and try not to talk to people who ask if you speak English. Someone will rob your pockets while you’re distracted. Be aware that free bracelets, free roses, random menus being thrown at you, or just overly nice people can all be a lead-in to pickpocketing. Be street smart!
6. Buy tickets in local language
This doesn’t only apply to Paris, but I’ve found that sometimes a ticket machine will run out of tickets for English speakers or the native language has a cheaper price. One time in Spain I tried to buy two tickets in English but it said the bus was full. I tried again in Spanish and I was able to buy them. Sneaky, huh?
7. The Eiffel Tower is actually really far
Chances are, you will not be living remotely close to the Eiffel Tower, nor would you really want to be! Paris is a small, big city. The majority of the population of Paris actually live in the suburbs.
When searching for an apartment in Paris, keep this in mind. If you can arrive at work or school within 45 minutes, you’re in good shape. 30 minutes? Even better. Paris may look small and compact on a map, but depending on the metro system, it can take awhile. The first time I lived in Paris, I was an hour away from the Eiffel Tower, an hour away from Montmartre, and 45 minutes from the Latin Quarter, but I was still in the city centre! Now imagine there’s a strike and the metro isn’t running. Be prepared!
Although it may be different than what you’re used to, Paris is still one of my favorite cities and I consider it to be a second home. I had a great experience and you will too. Hopefully you can follow these and avoid some of the mistakes I made early on. Bon voyage!
What are some other things no one tells you about living in Paris?