KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.
You will be a happier traveller if you know a few things about Paris and the Marais district before stepping onto its soil.
We recommend that you read this document before you go out on tours, conferences or workshops in Paris. Why? Because we want the Marais, Paris, and France in general to meet your expectations instead of disappointing you.
If you have travelled to France before, then you already know that it is very different from the rest of the world. The language is different, the culture is different, people are different. It is these differences that make a trip to France, or traveling anywhere for that matter, very exciting. Every moment can be a new adventure when you travel to a foreign place, as long as you are willing to explore the differences.
LET’S START WITH THE NATIVE LANGUAGE HERE - FRENCH.
Many French people now speak English, but do not expect them to necessarily want to speak it as it is not their mother tongue. Remember, they may not get a lot of practice and feel uncomfortable speaking it. Fortunately, you do not need a lot of French to get by. Here are some key phrases that will help break the ice with almost anyone you meet. Start practicing:
- Always say BONJOUR (hello or “good day”) or BONSOIR (good afternoon, good evening):
upon entering into contact with someone in the street or entering any establishment- be it a restaurant, café, or shop. Say “bonjour” or “bonsoir” before asking any questions such as what time it is or the price of something. Say “bonjour” or “bonsoir” to the taxi driver and the bus driver. You simply cannot say it often enough.
- Always say S’IL VOUS PLAIT (please):
before asking for anything. When ordering, even a cup of coffee in a café for example, always say “bonjour” or “bonsoir”, may I have a cup of coffee? Say the words before and after. You cannot say it enough.
- Always say “MERCI” (thank you) or “MERCI BEAUCOUP”:
whenever it is appropriate. When the waiter brings what you’ve ordered and leaves it on your table, when you’ve paid for items and the cashier gives you your change or credit card receipt, when you check out of your hotel. You cannot say it enough.
- Learn to say “PARDON” (pardon me) or “EXUSEZ-MOI” (excuse me):
Paris is rather densely populated and walking down the street often means cramped spaces. Parisians do not mind these tight spaces, however if two people touch even slightly, you're sure to hear "Pardon" or "Excusez-moi". You will hear it several times a day, so be prepared to say it several times a day. You cannot say it enough.
- Always say “AU REVOIR” (goodbye):
when leaving an establishment- be it a restaurant, café, shop, pub or taxi, or even when you take leave of friends or acquaintances. Just get in the habit of saying "Merci, au revoir" each time. It does not matter who exactly you direct it towards, but they will hear you and know that you have decent manners. You cannot say it enough.
- These streets were made for walking:
While the public transportation in Paris is among the best in the world, nothing is more delightful than walking in Paris when your health as well as the weather permits it. Discovering the French capital on foot is the best way to get to know the city and enjoy its beautiful sights. Be prepared to do a lot of it, and this means having very comfortable shoes.
- The facilities just are not the same:
Hotel rooms are often smaller here. Most hotels were not originally built for this purpose. Converted buildings commonly have very small spaces, so the average Paris hotel room is often quite a bit smaller than the average hotel room in newer countries such as the United States, Canada, or Australia. If you absolutely must have extra space, then be prepared to pay for it, or rent an apartment instead. Be aware however that an apartment here may be smaller than in a newer city and that, especially in the center, it might not have an elevator in the building due to their structure as by French law it is not permitted to alter their classic architecture.
Air conditioning is not as common here as in newer countries such as the United States, Canada, or Australia. Summer heat, if it happens, only lasts for about one or two months a year, therefore to have air conditioning installed in a building or a room not originally built to accommodate it is expensive and frankly not worth it. This means that some hotels may not have air conditioning, especially the less expensive ones. The same rule of thumb applies for restaurants, stores, buses and the metro. If you come here in the summer, be prepared to possibly have to bear the heat, especially in August, or plan your visit for another time of year, although with climate changes Paris may also be rainy and somewhat chilly during part of the summer.
- Pickpocketing, theft, and safety:
Pickpockets in Paris tend to be well-trained and quite clever. Most pickpocketing is done on public transportation (approximately 40%) and in the areas of the city with the highest concentration of tourists. You will not lose your life, but you may lose your wallet or passport. Pickpockets mostly target tourists, so try to look and act as little like a tourist as possible. This is not always easy since your foreign style of dress and overall appearance are generally dead giveaways, but there are precautions you can take to avoid pickpockets.
We could write enough on this issue alone to fill a book so we will not go into too much detail, but dress like a native as much as possible. For a start, do not display your camera, wallet, travel guides and maps any more than necessary. Also, carry your valuables in different places, such as your credit cards separate from your cash. If at all possible, leave your passport separate from your other forms of identification such as your driving license or, even better, keep a copy of your passport with you and leave the rest wherever you are staying unless you are sure to need them for some reason. Do not carry too much money in cash- instead make use of the multitude of ATMs around the city or use your credit cards. Absolutely do not wear obvious “tourist alert” items such as fanny packs which you may think are safest of all, but are actually dead ringers and get pick-pocketed most of all!
- Most of Paris is safe:
Although there are some areas of Paris to avoid late at night, Paris is quite safe, especially central areas such as the Marais, which is now one of the most expensive and fashionable places to live. Women can be alone on the streets here at all hours in relative security, although do be aware of who is near you at all times.
- Show respect towards the French and other people living here:
Treat the locals and their environment with the utmost respect, even more than when in your own country, just as you would do when not in your own home but in that of someone else. Remember that you help create the positive image that others have of your country at best, and the negative, stereotypical caricatures they have of your country at worst. If you realize this and show your respect, it can only enhance the experience of your visit as well as the reputation of your country.
THE INTRICACIES OF WORKING AND LIVING IN PARIS.
My trusty American Heritage Dictionary says that an "intricacy" is something having many complexly arranged elements, elaborate and even solvable or comprehensible but with painstaking effort. That describes working and living in Paris to a tee.
Thousands of Americans of all ages come here every year in hopes of a job, career, new friends, in short, a new life. Paris is very "séduisant" (seductive) so if they came here on vacation once, or even twice, or many times for that matter, it's easy to get hooked. Beauty, culture, cuisine, language, style, art, literature, history, romance, architecture . . . it's all here for the asking, as long as you're willing to pay the price.
My story is pretty typical, having woven my way through the intracacies Paris over the last five years. I've been through it, over it, around it, under it, on top of it, behind it and in the middle of it. Somehow, I have managed to live to tell the tale.
The story goes like this:
I came here the first time and got hooked. Once every few years quickly turned into coming year after year, always staying in the same hotel in the same neighborhood, dreaming about calling that neighborhood home. Then, with some planning, my family and I sold our house, our cars, packed up our furniture, shipped our belongings to Paris and moved into a furnished apartment less than half the size of our California home with no closet space and just enough money to last one year, or two with some luck.
The first year I took French lessons, went to museums, visited monuments, joined organizations, made new friends, hung out in brasseries drinking espresso and writing in my journal. My money was dwindling.
The second year I looked for work: made calls, read how-to books, sent out resumés, went on interviews, networked. In vain, I discovered that I was too old, too experienced and too damned "American."
Let me be more specific: 1) my cover letters were typewritten on a computer instead of handwritten in fountain pen in French with all the correctly placed margins, 2) my resume (CV - curriculum vitae) listed too many different jobs with too much broadly covered experience, 3) my level of French wasn't quite up to par (not fluent), 4) in interviews my attitude was too intimidating by being optimistic, out-spoken and self-confident, 5) and most importantly, I didn't have a work visa (une carte de séjour salarié).
Let's face it, a French company sure as hell wasn't going to spend 2000 euros and six months of dealing with the administration to get a work visa for a know-it-all American to work among his (I say "his" because there are many more male managers than female in France) French born-and-raised employees. Plus, France is still coping with 9+% unemployment, so we immigrants are way down the list when a Frenchman can fill the same job.
Getting a work visa is a "Catch 22." If you're not married to a French person or don't have any European Union relations, then you can't get a job without working papers and you can't get working papers without a job. It's virtually as simple as that. (I could write an entire volume on this one subject alone.) People do have them so they are not totally impossible to get, but how you get them or how to work without them is the challenge.
Most Americans employed here were sent by their U.S. companies who applied for and secured their visas before they came. That's the best and easiest way. Others came here as students on a student visa which allows working up to 20 hours a week. With luck, the others find jobs where the employer is willing to get the visa for them.
There is also a large number of Americans who manage to work here in Paris for employers located in the States or elsewhere. Writers are among the group - journalists, guidebook authors, novelists, etc. Also, photographers, film and video producers, researchers of all types, etc. - anyone whose work brings them here for a company not based here.
Still, you need a "carte de séjour visiteur" just to stay here legally more than 3 months, and you can't get that unless you apply for it long before you come, fill out all the forms in eight (by hand, no copies allowed) and get the seal of approval from the French government by proving you can support yourself here without working!
The third year in Paris I gave up and stopped looking and started doing. I took a volunteer post at an organization as the public relations director which exposed me to the community and helped me network. I created a list of good-value restaurants (originally just for friends) and then partnered with a Web site developer to electronically publish it. I coordinated a French/English conversation group to improve my French. I headed a committee to develop a Web site for an anglophone organization. There just wasn't anything I didn't have time to do and I didn't earn any money, either, but I learned a lot, met a lot of people and that eventually opened all the doors.
If you are thinking of working and living here and if you were to ask my advice (and even if you didn't, I'd give it anyway), I'd be inclined to break it down into what, who and why you need to know:
- What to know – the language, how to meet people, the culture, the culture, the culture
- Who to know – experts in their fields, people who have been through it, people who make things happen, supportive friends (French and of all nationalities)
- How to know – study, read, network, volunteer, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions
The bottom line is: I came, I saw, I conquered. I'm still alive and well and living in Paris after weaving my way through the intricacies of it all – through it, over it, around it, under it, on top of it, behind it and in the middle of it. You can, too !
SOME USEFUL WEB ADDRESSES TO CONQUER THE INTRACACIES OF WORKING AND LIVING IN PARIS
- American Chamber of Commerce in France
- French Ministry of Foreign Affairs