Bonjour from Paris! I got a wonderful opportunity from my favorite employer to spend the next 3 months in Paris. I know what you’re saying, what a lucky bastard! And I couldn’t really disagree with you. But it’s not all fun and games. I’ll be working on an exciting assignment that just happens to be based from our Paris office (it’s not a CIA station or anything like that).
Over the next three months, I’ll be sharing with you my attempts to become a Parisian. So if you want to know what Paris is really like in the spring, whether Parisians do live up to their reputation as being ‘super-friendly’, and above all, if you want to discover the sights and sounds of The City of Lights – keep reading!
There’s so much to see, so much to do, so many people who have expressed interest in visiting (you’re all welcomed) – and so little time!
In this first post, I’ll be sharing with you my experience over the first few days in Paris so let’s begin, shall we? (P.S – there are loads of pictures further down the post, don’t worry!)
Monsieur, you must pay again!
Being as well prepared as I usually am, I had arranged for a special taxi to pick me up right from the arrivals hall of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Actually, my lovely girlfriend, Isabelle took care of that. You see, she’s French so there’s less risk of getting screwed over. Taxis are horrendously expensive in Paris (as you’ll soon see) and stepping out of the airport with 2 large suitcases is like having a ‘fresh meat’ sign on your forehead. You’ll likely get the grand tour of Paris while the meter’s running, so it made perfect sense to pre-book everything with a fixed and fair price of 50€.
But nothing can be this nice and easy, can it? The driver was supposed to hold a sign with my name just outside the arrivals hall – you know, that place where families reunite, arriving holidaymakers put their vacation smile on and locals returning home start to stress – that one. How convenient: fixed price, direct taxi to the city, and a driver waiting for, right? Wrong.
I get out of the terminal fairly quickly and see signs for Mr. Wong, Mr. Abdul but none for me. I check my bearings and yes, I’m in the right place. Lucky for us, we live in the mobile age. I call the taxi service and lucky for me, the agent speaks English. I get put on hold while he gets in touch with the driver and 15 minutes later he informs me that my driver was on time, waited for 15 minutes as their company policy states, and left without me, thinking I decided to skip my flight! I knew patience was a premium commodity in Paris but this was on a whole new level.
“OK, so it’s obviously a silly misunderstanding. Can you send him again please?”
“Mais non monsieur, you will have to book again, he waited for you.”
“But even Usain Bolt can’t get out of the plane, collect his bags, clear customs and make it out in 15 mins”
“I’m sorry monsieur…”
Well, this is a complete waste of time. Time to call Isabelle again. Woman can work magic, I’ll admit that. After a few minutes of arguing and threatening, another driver was sent over. But not before they made a whole new booking and refunded the old one – French bureaucracy!
After a long ride in the Paris morning rush (thank God for a fixed price), I made it to Exe Paris, a lovely little hotel in the center of town. Rooms are basic but clean and the location is well worth the (reasonable) price.
I told you already that it’s not all fun and games so I headed to the office nearby to meet my host manager and get to work. She’s super nice and knows Paris like the back of her hand. She shared with me this awesome map with all the attractions and secrets spots.
Le Loup de Wall Street (The Wolf of Wall Street)
After a few hours at work, it was back to the hotel room. I’ll only move into my apartment tomorrow. How about some TV before getting some shut-eye? Mmmmm…. that will be tricky. You see, shows are dubbed in French (voice-over) … just to make it even harder for Anglophones to get by. It’s not fun watching Leonardo DiCaprio as The Wolf of Wall Street, but with a French accent. I don’t get this. Why voice-over instead of adding subtitles (if you argue that it’s for people who can’t see, well, then how do they watch TV in the first place). I am pretty sure there’s a strong correlation between European countries who voice over their TV shows and the English proficiency level (Holland anyone?). For the love of God! It must be a union thing by now (think about all the unemployed voice-over actors, including the one who does DiCaprio. It would be an outrage).
So no TV but instead with some much-needed sleep, I woke up to my first morning in Paris and with a morning task to collect my apartment keys.
Monsieur, there are no keys here for you!
I was told by the letting agency to go to a specific tabac (literally a tobacco shop but in Paris it’s more like a mini 7-11) and the shopkeeper would hand me the keys. It’s just a few metro stops away so no big deal, right?
Well, the metro system in Paris is really impressive. There’s no argument about that. Heck, even the station signs above ground are charming! But there’s also a darker side to riding the Paris metro and that is – riding the Paris metro during the morning rush hour. Hundreds of thousands of Parisians all head underground at just about the same time and it’s every man & woman for themselves. Good luck getting on one of the trains. But if you do, there’s apparently a Parisian way of holding on to the rails to stay on the ‘germ-free’ side – as Isabelle beautifully demonstrates (you don’t hold the rails, just wrap your arms around it – Paris is the city of love, don’t forget!).
To make a long story short, I get to the tobacco shop and sure enough, no keys! What do you do in this case? Head over to the nearest boulangerie (bakery) to think about a ‘plan B’ over a pastry and strong coffee. Lucky for me, I’m from the Middle East, so we were raised not to take no for an answer. I managed to hunt down the letting agency, go to their office and personally get the keys! Now back to work.
After a lovely second day at work, I headed back to the Exe Paris hotel and asked the lovely ladies at the front desk to order a cab for me and my large suitcases. It’s moving day!
A lesson learned the hard way
No more fancy taxi service this time around, just a plain old taxi, what can go wrong? I get into the taxi and notice the meter’s already showing 10€. How can that be? I just got in. It turns out that in Paris when a taxi is dispatched, the clock starts to tick as soon as the phone hangs up. I’m sure this way of doing business has caused a few heart attacks over the years with surprised customers. You always learn the hard way when moving to a new place. There’s just no way around it (unless you read this blog). Five minutes later, we had arrived. So a 5-minute cab ride ended up being 10€ + 5€ for the actual ride + 3€ for my luggage! I’ll try and stick to walking as much as I can from now on!
OK, I finally made it. I just need to enter the code to the front door and I’m home free. Turns out the code I got from the agency was wrong. What are the odds? I did make it inside though eventually – don’t ask how.
Home sweet home
So, I live in Rue de Miromesnil, which is in the 8th district (arrondissement). The building is super old but super charming, with a lovely inner courtyard and most importantly – an elevator (this I learned is a real premium in Paris).
Here’s the place from inside, the living room, bedroom and the little desk where I’m writing to you from this very minute. The floor is squeaky, the neighbor plays the violin and the shower is inside the kitchen – welcome to Paris. I love it!
It turns out that real estate is extremely hard to come by in Paris and people will literally live anywhere they can afford just to stay out of the suburbs. Have a look at these bargains! This put some context into the saying ‘don’t Sh#t where you eat’!
I also found this handy book that was left over by the former tenant Culture Shock! Paris. It explains to you all aspects of Paris life, from where to go to how to behave at a dinner (apparently you shouldn’t bring flowers and must arrive at least 15 minutes late). Isabelle tells me this is all bullsh*it but it’s still a great read!
Now let’s explore the neighborhood, shall we? Let’s start with the neighborhood church. Not bad ah? In my case, it’s the Église Saint-Augustin de Paris, built a mere 150 years ago so it’s brand new in Paris terms.
Here’s the local boulangerie, where you can get fresh baguettes pretty much around the clock. There’s way more than just one neighborhood bakery and bakers will sync their vacation calendars so that the neighborhood doesn’t stay ‘dry’ – God forbid.
There’s of course the neighborhood supermarket but why shop here when you have an amazing street market just next to your house. Just a few blocks away on Rue Levy is one of the best street markets in Paris. It’s open 6 days a week, including weekends and you can find here anything you want. And it’s all so damn fresh!
The neighborhood park is not too bad either. Parc Monceau was built in 1779 by the Duke of Chartres and it has been a Paris favorite ever since. Today, it’s popular with families and joggers. I think this is where I’ll get some exercise. Check out the beautiful entrance, landscape, and architecture of this park. There’s also a great view of the Arc de Triomphe.
Getting a local sim card in Paris
After catching some sun on this beautiful spring day in Paris, it was time to get back to the real world and get a local sim card. This was harder than I thought since all major providers wanted an arm and leg just for a simple prepay. Isabelle had a great idea to inquire at an up-and-coming ‘innovative’ provider called Free and she was right again. For 20€ per month, I get unlimited local calls and 20gb of 4G data (yes!). After unlocking this achievement, we could enjoy the rest of the day. A coffee here, some foie gras there, but mostly just strolling the beautiful streets of Paris.
I was beginning to get comfortable in my new home for the next 3 months in Paris, but there was one final lesson to be learned.
Isabelle bought us tickets to a wonderful one-man show called How to Become a Parisian in One Hour. French comedian Olivier Giraud tackles all the Paris stigmas and within 60 minutes, teaches you how to behave like a Parisian: in the metro, at a restaurant, in a cab, in a shop but also the dos and don’ts of hitting on Parisian girls (and knowing when they’re faking it). Believe it or not, there are loads of locals who come to watch as well as the tourist crowd. It was super fun and I did take some notes down.
I will make a sincere effort to keep the next posts shorter than this but if you’ve made it so far, here are 7 things I’ve learned so far from Paris:
- It’s pretty hard to understand the difference between a bistro and a brasserie (and there are so many of them in Paris). If you know, please share.
- Paris is so diverse. You can walk just a few city blocks or step out of the metro, and it’s like you’re somewhere else.
- May has loads of bank holidays – lucky for me!
- Book whatever you can in advance. Tickets sell out quickly and the queues are horrendous (Louvre, Roland Garros, the opera, etc.)
- I’m coming to grips that there’s just so much to do in Paris and I won’t be able to see it all. The sooner I accept this, the better it is for my mental health.
- Parisians are not as rude as everyone thinks. They are super polite and greet each other with ‘good morning’, ‘have a nice day’ etc. They just try and keep to themselves (and their patience will vanish quickly).
- Walking the streets of Paris is like walking in an endless museum.