Help me settle in France quickly
September 15, 2010 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Help me settle in Paris. What administrative things should I be doing? What local cultural things should I know about? What shops are equivalent to those at home? What should I know about? In short: tell me everything you wish you'd known about life in France when you arrived.

I have just arrived in Paris. I am an EU national (from the UK), with some French. I am currently looking for a job and apartment, and also trying to settle in.

- Administrative (e.g. paperwork, applications, registration)
- Cultural (e.g. manners, bar etiquette, general things)
- Comparative (e.g. Sainsbury's = X, Asda = Y; Topman = X, H&M = Y)
- Random (e.g. Navigo, Velib, whatever)

things should I know about?

What tips and tricks do you have? (specific job/flat ones particularly, but all welcome).

I also have valid student card, so any student-related tips would also be handy. Museum/transport discounts?

Please tell me all I need to know to help me settle in!
posted by djgh to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I highly recommend the 'Complete Resident's Guide' series for newly arrived expats - here's the one for Paris. They are absolutely packed with info, from sorting out leases to figuring out when your bins are collected. Lots of social life info too, like concert series, good bars etc. Thoroughly recommended.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:58 AM on September 15, 2010

Just a few little things:
- Popular large grocery shops: Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefour, Intermarche. Going down in price (ASDA-ish) you then have Netto (discount from Intermarche) and E.D. (discount from Carrefour). And a bit lower Leader Price, Lidl and Aldi. I'm not sure about Paris specific shops.
- HMV would translate to Virgin Megastore.
- If you rent a flat, make sure everything is recorded on your "Etat des lieux" form, which you should do with the renting agency. That includes a scratch on a mirror or a small broken tile. Fastidious, but if you don't it will usually be a nightmare later on when you move out.
- Table manners, especially when you are invited at friends': contrary to England, the polite way of waiting for food is with your hands on the table.

Enjoy your time there!
posted by tweemy at 6:01 AM on September 15, 2010

Do you have your European Health Insurance Card?

"The card ensures that you will get the same access to public sector health care (e.g. a doctor, a pharmacy, a hospital or a health care centre) as nationals of the country you are visiting. If you have to receive medical attention in a country that charges for health care, you will be reimbursed either immediately, or after you go home to your own country."

Until you are officially registered in France as a resident and become covered directly by the French system, this little plastic card is very, very useful to have - should you have the misfortune to need it. The EHIC is also very useful to have in hand when traveling. It costs nothing to get one.

The NHS has a country by country guide.
posted by three blind mice at 6:08 AM on September 15, 2010

H&M = H&M
posted by Helga-woo at 6:15 AM on September 15, 2010

No time to write more this morning, but for all manner of movies/music/electronics/books/etc on multiple floors, FNAC is your friend.
posted by nicoleincanada at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: --Without fail, always, always say: "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" before making any request or purchase anywhere. It's the law. Then pile on the "Bon après midi," "merci's," et al when exiting any establishment.

--Read Cultural Misunderstandings and French or Foe right now for priceless cultural and etiquette information. Once you learn the code, it all gets easier. Get a walking tour book and do them all.

-Go to web site and sign up today--tons of great groups in Paris. Instant friends, experiences, and advice! This is the best site for meeting working people and students from all over the world. They have walking, talking, hiking, writing, concert-going groups, day trips, wine tasting trip, and other varied gatherings meeting weekly.

--Find the best boulangerie in your neighborhood and go there regularly. Try to have the exact change most of the time. That little habit + the bonjour, will make you feel like the regulars. The Eric Kayser chain has amazing bread, though they don't have the neighborhood feel. Ditto with finding a neighboring café/wine bar that has a good vibe for you. Service is always included, but always leave a little bit of change.

--Bring way more passport-sized photos than you think you need, a dozen minimum, for the various ID cards/passes for things you're going to be getting.

--Hone your language skills. Join Parler Parlor, a conversation group, to meet French people learning English, English people learning French. (The Meetup groups have a bunch of these, too, but they're usually for English people wanting to practice French, not the reverse.) If you join Parler Parlor in September, there used to be a six-month rate that was a bargain. You'll meet lots of natives and expats who will ply you with survival tips. Also, a free conversation group for English speakers, called L'Arc, meets every weekday afternoon near St. Germain des Près, I think. These are not the youngest people in Paris, but they're warm and welcoming. Oh, you can ask people at the Meetups or Parler Parlor for names of doctors and dentists. Find one of each right away, just in case.

--Bite the bullet and get an annual Les Amis du Louvre pass (I think that's what it's called. Cross check, though, since you have a student card, which might be cheaper.) so you can own the Louvre and go anytime, gallery by gallery. Start with their antiquities--those are several visits right there, then move chronologically through the museum. Find some podcasts for each of the galleries. Find the back entrances to the museum so you can avoid the Pyramide lines.

--Get what you need from Craigslist Paris, though be careful about apartment scams. If you feel nervous about meeting someone in person to buy say, a fan, ask to meet at the nearest Metro stop.
You can buy and sell clothes, appliances, those handy French shopping carts for laundry, food shopping, etc. from Craigslist dirt cheap.

--Monoprix and Champion supermarket chains will seem familiar--like the markets back home. But for real joy, and language practice, buy most of your fresh foods from the street markets closest to your neighborhood or those you want to visit. Any guidebook will have a list of them. No matter how busy the street markets seem, remember the greeting, have reasonable change, etc.

--The post offices are much better than they used to be and vary quite a bit in service. Hopefully, you have a non-hatchet face branch in your 'hood. But the post offices do have stamp machines now so you can avoid the queues and brusqueness of too many of the clerks.

--Off the top of my head: Stirring organ concerts at St. Sulpice around 11:00 every Sunday. Find a park to hang in with a book when the weather is good. (Oh, it rains more than you think in Paris--more than London, actually.) Rent a velibe on Sundays when the roads by the Seine are closed. Take day trips out of the city--St. Denis (mind-blowing cathedral you can get to via Metro since it's still in Paris) Auvers, Chantilly, Giverny, Barbizon, Chartres. Find something of interest in every arronndissment and do a walking tour there. Piano Vache Monday nights, after nine, in the back for jazz menouche. Cluny Tavern has good jazz menouche groups on Mondays, too. Lots of young people there. Vanves flea market before 10:00 AM on Sundays. The smaller museums: Jacquemart Andre, Bourdelle, Marmottan, Rodin--get the list.

Oh, lucky you!
posted by Elsie at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: The student card might not help you as much as you'd like because discounts are often restricted to French students and/or people under the age of 26.

As soon as you get a mailing address, you can get a free Navigo pass. Then you can get an annual subscription to Vélib' online. This enables you to use the stations that don't have a kiosk (you can just wave your Navigo card directly at the bike stand itself). If you already have a Navigo card and a checking account, you can go this weekend to the Hotel de Ville where there will be a Vélib' sign up truck and get your subscription in twenty minutes. If you happen to have an iphone, get the "All Bikes Now" app that will tell you where the nearest stations are and how many bikes and free stands they have.

Get one of the pocket-sized "Paris by Arrondissement" books that has every street in Paris. These are cheap in any tabac and are VERY useful when getting to know the city. I have one that has a purple cover and lists all the Vélib' stations, as well as which streets have protected bike lanes.

You might know this already, but the last two digits of the zip codes in Paris tell you the arrondissement. E.g. I live in the 10th, and my zip is 75010. Try to get to know the location of the arrondissements as soon as possible. For example, yes, two is next to one and three, but it also borders nine and ten. The arrondissements are often referred to using Roman numerals.

I never use my Navigo on the Métro, as you have to use the card 50 times in a month in order to make it cheaper than just buying carnets of 10 tickets at a time. Since I don't have a standard daily commute, and as I tend to use Vélib' quite a bit, I never even approach fifty trips/month. Another irritating "feature" of the monthly pass system is that the validity of a month exactly corresponds to the calendar month. So unlike NYC, where you get a month from the first usage, the Navigo monthly is good from the first of the month until the thirty-first (or whatever).

Get a library card. There are two kinds: one to use at the "normal" libraries and one for the "specialty" ones (e.g. the Truffaut cinema library in the mall that is Les Halles; home of many fantastic DVDs). Normal book circulation is free; there's an annual charge to enable your card to check out media (music and movies).

If you like movies, consider getting a subscription to UGC. You pay 19,80 euros a month and you can go to as many movies as you like at both the UGC and MK2 chains. You also get invitations to premiers and a few other perks. There's a "you plus a guest" version for 35 a month.

And finally, suggest a Paris metafilter meetup once you get settled in!
posted by tractorfeed at 9:09 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone!
posted by djgh at 4:51 AM on September 16, 2010

This may not be what you are looking for, but I am also in Paris and in a similar situation (except I have a job and a place to stay). Perhaps you want to meet up for a cup of coffee and exchange tips?
posted by bering at 4:19 AM on September 17, 2010

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