MAKING YOUR STAY A SUCCES
A complete guide from finding a place to live, settling in, finding a job, making friends, learning French and moving out.
A complete guide from finding a place to live, settling in, finding a job, making friends, learning French and moving out.
How much help you need will be the deciding factor in the route you take in terms of finding a home and settling in. Essentially, the more French you know, the easier it is to search on your own. If you prefer to secure a home sticking strictly to English, then you'll want to go through either a relocation company or a real estate agency.
Relocation Company or Real Estate Agency? Going through a relocation company will simplify your move to France, especially if you plan on moving with your family, or if you're hard pressed for time. People sometimes confuse real estate agencies with relocation companies even though there's a big difference.
A real estate agency finds you a home, and may have extra services that hook up the gas and electricity for you. A relocation company will not only find and settle you into a home but will remain with you during your stay. They'll find a school for your children, help you get a driver's license and will even take care of your potentially dense paper work. This can range from processing your residency and work permits to preparing your tax declarations. Basically, they're the networked friendly experts knowing the ins and outs of the French real estate market and French law (in terms of relocating), and they work fast. When asked about the average time it takes to find a client a home, Joy Chezaud of Cosmopolitan Services Unlimited responds: "Monday afternoon we begin and Friday their lease is signed and they go home. So within that week they've found a school, found a home, opened a bank account, they're secured." CSU also has a one-day program that services their clients who have no time at all. A relocation company will also help you with the administrative formalities of leaving France such as closing your accounts and getting your deposit back from your landlord (not always easy). Of course there is a price to pay for these wonderful services, which is why most clients are being relocated by companies prepared to pick up the tab.
If you would like to find out more about relocation companies, here are a few companies with headquarters in Paris you can contact:
Cosmopolitan Services Unlimited
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 55 65 11 65
Tel.: 33 (0) 1 39 12 00 60
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 47 55 60 29
If you don't have children to consider and don't want to pay for a relocation company, then finding a home through a real estate agency (agence immobilière) might be more practical. In Paris and around Ile-de-France there are several agencies that deal specifically with anglophones, notably:
Brunet Accueil International
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 40 84 92 51
Cattalan Johnson Agency
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 45 74 87 88
Euro Services Immobilier
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 47 42 35 35
Tel. : 33 (0) 1 42 89 36 44
Outside the Ile de France, however, there are few agencies that cater specifically to English Speakers. If you speak French and would like to find a list of French agencies on the web you can go to www.immosearch.tm.fr or you can search for them under "agences immobilières" in the French Yellow Pages at www.pagesjaunes.fr. If you're looking for a place on the Côte d'Azur you can contact the agency Coast & Country (33(0)4 92 92 47 50). The Côte D'Azur also has its own English language magazine for ex-pats called the Riviera Reporter (www.webstore.fr/ riviera-reporter) where you can find a few rental listings.
Searching On Your Own
"I'm learning that it's all about connections," says one ex-pat writer for living in Paris, "I have a great apartment which I got literally through six people - a friend's friend's friend who was this Italian kid painting it." If you can't rely on word of mouth, there are plenty of places where homes are actually listed in print. A good way to begin your search is by stopping at a news agents and picking up a copy of De Particulier à Particulier - France's number one real estate magazine listing homes and apartments, offered directly by the owner. More and more people are also finding their home or apartment off the internet. Some real estate web sites to go to (even if only to get a glimpse at the going rates) are
The classified ads on this site
De Particulier à Particulier http://www.pap.fr/
France Home Locations http://www.locations.francehome.com/, http://www.lodgis.com/
The major newspapers in France have listings in their classifieds under "Immobilier" - Le Figaro is good on Monday and Tuesday - and if you're looking in Paris, FUSAC always has several listings in English. The American Church in Paris also puts up announcements for homes and apartments daily.
Classified Ads French classified ads differ from American and British ones in that they should say how many rooms (pièces) an apartment has altogether rather than just how many bedrooms. Americans, remember that the second floor is actually the first floor (première étage or 1è) and the first or ground floor is called the rez-de-chaussée. Here is some useful vocabulary along with common abbreviations that will help you to decode the listings when searching through the classifieds.
Locations offres/ demandes - offered/ wanted to rent
Immeuble - building
Bail - lease
Loyer - rent
Banlieue - suburbs
Meublé - furnished
Vide - unfurnished
Salle de séjour - living room
Asc.(ascenseur) - elevator/ lift
Bal. (balcon) - balcony
Chffge., chauf, ch. (chauffage) - heating
Chgs (charges) - additional costs other than rent
Gge (garage) - parking
Part. A part (particulier à particulier) - no agent
Ss. (sans) - without
Tcc (toutes charges compris) - monthly charges included
Signing a lease The normal duration for a lease contract (bail de location) is three years for a furnished home and one year for unfurnished. Especially in Paris and Nice, demand is outstripping supply and tenants may be asked to provide a bank guarantee before signing a lease as well as a passport, carte de séjour, proof of employment, tax return and/or bank statement.
The initial cost of renting an apartment normally includes one month's advance rent, security deposit (one month's rent), property insurance (mandatory), estate agent's fee (usually one month's rent).
Tips for House Hunting Residential buildings are often built around a courtyard (cour) and apartments facing the courtyard (sur cour) tend to be much quieter then those giving onto the street. Don't let the unattractive facade of a building scare you away as French law often permits the interior renovation of a building as long as the outside doesn't change. You might be surprised when getting past a dilapidated doorway to find a cobble-stoned paved courtyard, or a picturesque garden. Try to avoid searching for a home in August when most agencies and schools are closed and landlords are away on vacation. It may seem unnaturally quiet but come September you could discover that you live in a very noisy neighbourhood!
Moving Company Don't wait until the last minute - contact a moving company as soon as you know you're going to move. The busy seasons for moving companies correspond with school holidays so if you can avoid moving around summer and Christmas, so much the better. Many international movers in France offer additional relocation services. Shari Segall, director of public relations at Desbordes (www.desbordesinternational.com) is used to answering questions ranging from "Where can I get my husband's Rolex fixed?" to "I have to enrol my daughter in nursery school and I don't speak French, will you run interference for me?" "It would take a lot for me to say 'no we can't do that'" says Shari. "Our motto is, 'if we can't do something then we'll find someone who can.'"
Other moving companies partnered with relocation companies are
Allied Arthur: http://www.Pierre alliedarthurpierre.com
Neer Service: http://www.neerservice.fr
Moving out If you don't stay until the end of your lease and you want to get your deposit back you'll need to send a registered letter (lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception) to your landlord giving three months' notice. If you are moving for professional reasons (cause de mutation), the law allows you to reduce this period to a month. Conversely, if your landlord wants to end your lease early he must notify you six months in advance by a registered letter explaining why. Once your lease has expired your landlord has up to two months to return your deposit. Many tenants stop paying rent as soon as they give notice as insurance against the landlord trying to hang on the deposit to cover 'damage' that you may consider normal wear and tear! It is in your interests to leave the place in the best condition you can, and don't forget to close down your account with EDF-GDF (gas and electricity suppliers).
Some web sites to go to if you want more information about moving to France, laws regarding housing and tenant rights, or even ex-pat life in general are:
Conversation exchange happens when two or more people from different cultures get together in an organized fashion in order to learn languages, socialize, or both. This can take the form of an intimate tete-a-tete, or a more convivial, larger group - it all depends on what you are looking for.
One-on-one conversation Many French people will be looking to exchange French for English and in the process perhaps make a friend from another culture. A French person meets you for coffee, for example, and half the time you speak in English and half in French. This person can be found through ads placed on bulletin boards at universities or in the classifieds of Anglophone publications. You could be really bold and place an ad yourself - free of charge in the classified ads on this site - if you don't mind taking the risk of meeting a complete stranger. For serious conversation, beware the ad in the style of "French man seeks "américaines" to practice conversation", particularly if he then goes on to specify the desired size, age and hair colour of his ideal partner!
Group conversation exchange Established conversation exchange groups are possibly an easier way to practice French, particularly if you don't relish the intensity of a one-to-one encounter and want to meet a wide range of sociable people. "I make a lot of friends through these groups" says Sophie, a French conference organizer who began participating in conversation exchange when she moved to Paris three years ago, "It was a very good way for me to meet people."
Several organizations in Paris propose different interpretations of "conversation exchange". Some are seriously focused on the learning of language, while others are more a way for international types to make friends. The name will usually give you a clear idea of what to expect: Literary buffs may be drawn to Le Cercle Henry James which meets at Le Métro café at Maubert Mutualité at 8pm on Thursday nights, while The Paris Shockingly Frank Conversation Networking Club (06 65 50 65 21) would not appear to be a suitable choice for shrinking violets. Conversation groups can be discovered in classified ads or listings in Anglophone publications, such as the Yellow Pages in Living in France or FUSAC. Get-togethers usually charge a fee which may cover food and drink expenses.
Konversando is a good example of serious-learning conversation exchange (01 47 70 21 64). Konversando makes it clear that it is not a social club, but a place where people can practice language and this is strictly enforced. with partners assigned at random and changed every time. Participants say this is good because it keeps conversations from becoming stagnant and boring. "You can hear a different life story every time," says Roberto, an Italian technology consultant.
English-French conversation sessions are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8pm to 10pm. No-one leads the discussion: people make small talk in the group or pair to which they were assigned. The first hour is in French and the second hour is in English. Konversando is not school-like. It is very homey and relaxed - coffee is served and chocolate treats are distributed at half-time.
Carlyn, an English teacher from California, is happy to have discovered these sessions because she doesn't speak French at work and French people often speak English to her when they hear her accent. "This is the first time I've ever had a chance to speak French," she says, "and the attention here is on you. Language is about speaking," which is why she prefers this type of setting to a classroom where there is not always much opportunity to talk.
Michael and Véronique's Teatime = talktime! group offers a different type of conversation exchange setting (01 43 25 86 55). From 5pm to 8pm on Saturdays, people drink tea, feed on the abundant snacks, practice languages, and mingle. The group does not have a strict structure and the ambiance is lively and friendly. People circulate freely between a kitchen and living room and talk to whomsoever they choose. Making friends seems to be the principal motivation here. "I have to learn French properly," explains Daz, an English teacher from Wales. "I've only been in Paris two months and I don't know any people outside the work place."
So how to choose the right group for you? Certain code words in an ad can be a clue to the personality and purpose of the group. If you would like to exchange conversation with Monsieur or Madame Right, any group that contains the words "célibataire" or "single" is a good place to look. Calling ahead and asking for more information can also help you decide and not waste time on the wrong group. Bon courage!
Settling In For the last few months you haven't really had time to sit down and think - you've settled into your new home, the kids into school, your partner into their job (the reason you're in France). You've explored your neighbourhood, tried the local restaurants, found a favourite boulangerie, and welcomed the first visitors! Now what? You've realized just how far away your family is (you've had the first phone bill…), you have no friends here, no-one's home during the day - you're bored… But you're living in France - all your friends are jealous of your new lifestyle - the cuisine, the cafes, the sense of history surrounding you - so you can't complain, especially as no-one would understand what you are complaining about. And it's not so much that you are bored as feeling lonely, like a sad expatriate fish out of water. You want to get the most out of your time in France but how on earth do you go about doing that?
Step number one: Learn to speak French.
You can get by with only basic vocabulary, and phrases such as "Je voudrais une baguette" and "un verre de vin rouge" just trip off your tongue. However, improving your French to at least intermediate level allows you to participate once more in conversations, and not to look so blank when somebody asks you a question. Otherwise, to paraphrase Paul Auster, "you will be shut up in your thoughts" and that could get pretty lonely. Language schools such as Alliance Française (for names in bold, see the information box for contact details) offer intensive (four hours per day) and extensive (two hours per day) courses for 16-day full sessions or eight-day half sessions at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. The classes (20 pupils on average) offer a mix of grammar and everyday vocabulary, written work, role-play and conversation. There are eight Alliance Française schools in France including one in Paris. Eurocentres also offer intensive courses in French at three locations - Paris, Amboise and La Rochelle - plus cultural excursions and leisure activities. Of course it is not easy to improve your pronunciation, widen your vocabulary or even to start thinking in French (essential for real fluency) if your only opportunity to practice arises when you buy your groceries or go out to eat, so that leads us to:
Step number two: Join a French conversation class, such as Parler Parlor.
This class meets to speak for forty-five minutes in French and forty-five minutes in English on a variety of topics in small groups of six to eight. Three sessions a week are run out of a language school in Paris, providing an opportunity to meet and make friends with French people. WICE (the rather terrifyingly entitled Women's Institute of Continuing Education) runs a similar conversation class, also in Paris. Accueil de France should also be able to give details of French conversation classes held in the city's different arrondissements.
So now you can at least have a bit of a chat when you go out and about, but what you really want to do is make some friends, meet some people who are in the same situation - who know and understand just how you're feeling. You've probably already met some like-minded people through your French class or conversation group. Time to move on to:
Step number three: explore the ex-pat community, which is easily done in Paris.
Most new arrivals to Paris make the obligatory pilgrimage to the American Church, which has plenty to offer even the least God-fearing, while the Women of the American Church (WOAC) offer friendship to residents of all nationalities living in Paris and are particularly supportive to newcomers. You may have already attended their three day orientation to living in France, coyly named "Bloom where you are planted", held the first three Tuesdays in October, and it is worth getting hold of a copy of the Bloom book, which is packed with practical advice on life in France. The information centre located in the basement of the American Church has lots of resource materials for the English speaking community (such as a comprehensive listing of all the French language schools in Paris by arrondissement). And if you still haven't had enough of the American Church, you may like to attend the neighbourhood coffee groups that meet monthly, or to follow one of the cultural programs, for example touring a designer showroom.
The British and Commonwealth Women's Association, located near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, also offers visits to exhibitions and places of interest to members, as well as lectures and discussion groups. There are three to four visits a month, and one of these is usually to somewhere generally closed to the public, which will make you feel nice and important. Another benefit of joining the BCWA is the large English language library at the club's rooms where members can meet every day to idle away an hour or two over a cup of coffee. There are bridge and mah-jong clubs - those traditional main-stays of expatriates, with pleasant overtones of the Raj - as well as various sports and crafts groups. The Association is also active in the suburbs of Paris. You can find more details in its monthly newsletter.
Another chance to meet new friends whilst finding out more about French culture comes once again through the admirable WICE, which offers the possibility of exploring a variety of topics through classes, workshops and visits, leading us on to:
Step number four: acquire new skills.
WICE offers a diversity of courses from Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) to art history. If this sounds too much like hard work, give in to your gluttonous instincts - after all, you'll never have a better opportunity to learn about French food and wine. WICE organises a wine-tasting group, led by a French expert, which meets once a month over dinner in a restaurant. The school of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris offers monthly cookery demonstrations on a Wednesday evening, showing you how to prepare two dishes which are then offered up for tasting, accompanied by a glass of wine. Other programs include ten week cookery courses, intensive courses focusing at different levels e.g. basic cuisine or intermediate pastry, Saturday gourmet workshops focusing on specific techniques e.g. bread-baking, and wine seminars. The courses and demonstrations are translated into English. La Cuisine de Marie Blanche in Paris could turn you into a dream wife with its weekly classes in cooking and l'art de vivre, including instruction in floral arranging and presenting tables for entertaining. Private classes are available on demand. All classes are conducted simultaneously in French, English and Spanish.
There are some new skills that may be forced upon you during your stay, notably driving in France, and more particularly, driving in Paris, which is not for the faint-hearted. Apart from EU citizens, who can simply exchange their current driving license for a French one, residents for more than one year in France are required to obtain a French permis de conduire. While many countries and some states within the US have reciprocal agreements with France to waive the driving test, the written test is still obligatory. The Fehrenbach Driving School, just outside Paris, offers instruction in English and will also handle all the administrative details of applying for a French license at the prefecture. You may decide you would like a course of lessons anyway to familiarise yourself with driving in France. This is usually a very good idea - one highway rule which many foreigners remain ignorant of until it is too late is that if there are no signs, no lines and no working traffic lights, then vehicles coming from the right have priority.
If you are thinking of going back into the job market, you could acquire useful new skills at Parsons School of Design in Paris, which runs courses in graphic design on the Mac and in web design, as well as more recreational courses in fine arts such as figure drawing, ceramics, painting and photography. The American University of Paris could also put you back on the career ladder, offering certificate courses in web design and site management, computer graphics, international marketing, technical writing and TEFL, as well as special courses in HTML, Dreamweaver, and screen-writing. Classes in over 100 undergraduate courses may be attended on a part-time basis. Part-time study is also available from The Open University. This is the UK's largest university, open to everyone regardless of education or location. Thus it is possible to study a variety of courses by long-distance learning, with support from the course tutor and other students in your area.
Voluntary work is another way to fill your time usefully. The organisation FACTS, which offers free AIDS telephone counselling and referrals in English, is always looking for volunteer staff. All potential volunteers are interviewed, and if successful are then sent on a volunteer weekend to lean more about the organisation and the work it does. Message, the support group for English-speaking new and expectant mothers also often needs volunteers. But finally don't forget to make time for:
Step number five: just enjoy yourself.
There are many publications out there to help you explore France. The choice of leisure activities is endless - you may want to join a gym, a walking club, become a member of an English speaking library, or get a cinema pass. There are also many magazines and web sites devoted to what is going on in the whole of France or specifically Paris, with exhibitions reviewed, the best restaurants listed, what the upcoming cultural events are… what do you mean, stop - o.k., you've got enough ideas for now!
Useful web addresses, moving to France, Exploring France:
Booking tickets to events: