Thursday, December 3, 2015

Getting Internet

So if you decide to take that big step, leave the comforts of vacation rentals behind, and get a real Parisian apartment, you'll probably have to set up things like EDF and internet. I have yet to sign up for EDF so I can't give any advice on that but I can on internet and that's actually surprisingly easy.

I figured you'd need your carte and your lease but nope. Nothing. I went with Bougie (Bouygues). I was going to go with Free but there was an installation charge and I didn't want to pay it. So I checked the other wifis around me and noticed that Bougie was the only one in my proximity. I went online to check to see if my building was kitted out for it and sure enough Bougie was at my address. 

I decided to do it online but if you want to actually speak to a person Jonathan at the Bougie on rue de Belleville between Jourdain and Places des Fetes is really helpful. He spent 5 years living in California so he can understand your (American) concerns. If you do it online, it's simple enough. Choose your box, and plan, and then pay the price of the equipment. I think it was like 4 screens to get through total. Have your RIB for the automatic payments screen. For me it was 50€ and 19,99€ a month for phone, internet and tv. I mean it all came together so it didn't really matter I guess that I didn't have a tv or a phone for a landline. Anyhow easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Paris Neighborhoods

I've lived everywhere in Paris. I'm not being sardonic when I say that. I really have. I've lived in the 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11,15, 18, and the 19th. It's not that I enjoy living like a nomad, I am just really shit at finding a long term apartment. I figured after having lived in so many I have a bit of knowledge now about what each neighborhood has to offer.

I didn't live in the 2nd for long. I lived at Strasbourg Saint Denis for a short time in the summer. It sucked. My window overlooked Boulevard Saint Denis, and it being Paris in the summer, and therefore hot as hell, having your window look out on that ensures that you will never sleep. This area is probably best if you really like partying because Grands Bouelvard is chavy, and the perfect place for crap nightclubs and overpriced bars. Also if you need to pick up a hooker. It's central Paris so you're pretty much close to everything. There aren't really too many points of interest here but you can branch out to other areas quite easily.

The 4th used to be my favorite area in Paris. And why not? Everything is there. I lived on Ile Saint Louis and then at the corner of BHV. One good thing about this area is that a lot of stuff stays open really late. You can get a burger at 5am (near Chatelet) for instance, but the crowds might negate any positives. You will never escape them. And on the weekends it gets worse because a lot of the streets turn into pedestrian only streets so they all flock. Not to mention I don't think there is one hour of the day that Rivoli doesn't have traffic. But if you like that sort of thing and hipster shops specifically dedicated to just hand lotion, or perfume, this is your spot. Really I'm not even sure how most of them stay in business, because that many people cannot be going there, but it's "quaint".

Another drawback is if you are a straight female, in fact female in general. This is "the gay area" and French gay men are not like Anglo gay men. They are mean, and they are bitchy, and I have been in more than one place where I wasn't even acknowledged because I was a girl. Someone once basically summed it up best, "it's a gay ghetto". So basically if you are neither a hipster, a tourist, or have a penis, maybe it's not for you. 

Which brings us to south Paris. I'm going to start off by saying South Paris sucks. I hate, hate, hate south Paris. I mean there is nothing even remotely interesting to me south of the river. Everything feels different down there. The metro is horrible to use, and why is every bloody supermarket a Franprix? But anyway, when I lived here I lived at Monge. Technically where Lacepede hits Mouffetard, and if you are not into cheap student bars, you don't really want to be around Moufettard. The energy here is a lot younger and that's because it's mostly college kids. I didn't even like being around college kids when I was in college so..

The 6th is where I currently live. It's not the greatest but it's not the worst I guess. The buildings are beautiful, you can chill in Luxembourg when it's sunny, and around Odeon you can find affordably priced bars. They're a bit more posh, but I guess some people like that. I don't really have much to say about it, just that I now use the bus a lot more because the metro requires so many changes so I guess that's also an upside?

Next comes the 7th. Ah the 7th, rich American paradise. The most expensive district in all of Paris and home to many, many Americans (because those are the only people who can afford to live there). I work there, and at one point lived on the cusp of the 15th and the 7th (at Rosa Bonheur). I did not like this area either, not just because overground metros remind me of living in the projects, but because there's nothing in this area. If I wanted shops I had to walk to Commerce, or take the bus to Montparnasse, or if I wasn't feeling super lazy go down to Rue Cler (which is actually a really cute street). I mean the area I was in didn't even have a Starbucks and where today doesn't have a Starbucks? Welcome to suburban hell.

But that said, a lot of people will tell you it's a really nice area. I'll even say where I work, around Grenelle on the La Tour Maubourg side, it's got a cute little village feel to it. Everyone is always out on the streets, you can find a lot of high end epicerie and speciality stores, and if you're into celebrity stalking you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of Natalie Portman or Karl Lagerfeld.

Back up the river brings us to my time in the 8th. I lived off Haussmann and Miromesnil. Not the best area but it holds a special place for me. My favorite things about living here were giant Monoprix at Saint Augustin, best Chinese food in the city, Eric Keyser on the next block, and most importantly walking distance to everything. Seriously I never even realized how close everything was until I moved away. The drawbacks are that it's really fucking dead on the weekends, during the day when all of the workers go to lunch you won't find one place that doesn't have a line, and most of the residents here are bankers but it's bougie, if you're into that sort of thing. French bougie though. Which is slightly different from American bougie (7th). 

On to the 9th.. I never appreciated the 9th when I lived there. Probably because I didn't live in the good area of the 9th. I lived on the border of the 9th and 10th at Maubeuge and Faubourg Poissonnière. It was a really, really boring area. I remember going out with my ex one night and not finding a bar that stayed open past 11. I lived here when I moved back to Paris in October so I didn't really have a feel for anything and going out was still boring, obvious places, but the 9th is great. I'll get more into it when I talk about the 18th.

When I lived in the 11th I was staying with a friend who lived on Trousseau, so we'll say Ledru Rollin was the area. This is a really, really great area. It's hipster, but not overtly pretentious. Like this was the area where I finally got used to being in Paris, in the sense that I no longer had to go out in a full "look", I could just throw on some Under Armour leggings, and put my hair in a bun, and no one cared (very different from the 8th, where I had moved from). 

You have a lot of restaurants, and bars, and Faubourg Saint Antoine has a really great stretch of shops. Ledru Rollin is tree lined and looks kind of New Yorkish. You're really close to Bastille and Gare de Lyon, which I regularly walked to. You also have the infamous Rue Lappe which is like North Paris' answer to Moufettard. Further north you can find Oberkampf and Republic. Definitely go to the 11th if you want something laid back but hip. I like to say that the hipsters here retire to Montmartre when they get old.

The 15th was not a place I had every dreamed of living in. I lived at Dupliex for about two weeks (I couldn't do longer). I had been living with my friend and it was starting to get unbearable and a place opened up here. Now when I lived in the 5th, I lived in a modern new building (iPads and iPods in the wall controlled everything) but I was surrounded by Haussmanian old so it never felt like I wasn't in Paris. In the 15th though? Ugh. New buildings, don't adhere to the 6 floor rule and the vibe is just all wrong. This was also the first time I had ever seen a funeral parlor in Paris. And that's because all of the residents here are over 50. My say something nice? Commerce is a good street but otherwise this area was supremely boring and far away from everything. Why do all of the metros in the south only go through the south? If you must live in the South at least find something near the 4 or the 12 so you can go back up, otherwise it's like being trapped in an endless loop in hell. 

After leaving the 15th, I found a sublet at Abbesses. It was a converted magasin near the Amelie grocery store. Now we all know my feelings about Montmartre, so I was really, really unhappy to move here but after a while I began to really like it. Yes, it feels 'different', and yes there are shit ton of tourists, but I liked being near Pigalle, Blanche, and Clichy. It's seedy and grubby but it's got a feel to it. 

If you are going to move to Montmarte I would say stick south of the Sacre Coeur, west of Barbes and east of Clichy. Once you get to the other side of Barbes, you move into little Africa. The prices are cheaper and the flats bigger, but some people might feel uncomfortable there. And Chateau Rouge apparently has a huge garbage problem right now. 

I would say really consider your love of hills if you move around Abbesses. While I like rue Lepic, trudging down to boulevard Rouchart to buy groceries sucked. Not to mention the stairs getting out of Abbesses station (you have to use the elevator) and then to my flat made me hate life. I had a boyfriend who lived one street up near the funiculaire, and I don't know how he did it everyday. His flat was even farther away but to be fair I think he mostly Ubered home... If you're not on a Marketing Director budget like he was, and therefore can't afford Ubers home every night, it might not be the place for you.

The last place I also lived was the 19th. I was still looking for a flat, so I needed a sublet for a short time. A guy listed his place near Place des Fetes. Now a lot of people have told me that this is a horrible area to live in, but at the time I only knew that it was on line 11 and that was the biggest drawback for me, not the crime or whatever else it's said to have. I had no problems when I stayed here. It's not touristy at all so you really feel Paris and the streets are quite a bit smaller so it's another one of those village feels. I lived off boulevard Belleville and I found it to be charming. My building was a new tower block looking thing, which was an eyesore, but the flat was big for the price and everyone else in the building was young. I once even took the nightbus at 3am to Montparnasse (and it was like a 15 minute wait) and didn't have a problem. Not to mention the police station was right down the street. I lived here when the shootings occurred, and because it wasn't central and touristy, that probably made it safer. 

As for the rest of the areas, I have spent time in the 14th, 17th and 20th, my advice would be not to move too far out, only because it sucks trying to get home late at night. If you move too far out it also begins to feel like the suburbs. Parts of the 17th are okay (like on the border of the 8th) but you really have to be careful about anything that is near a "Porte" (code for you're on the periph). And don't let anyone tell you the 16th is "the" place to be" because it's "posh". It's new money, and you don't want to be that far out anyway. You basically only have the 9 to get you to and from, and it's like 40 minutes just to get anywhere interesting. No one worth their salt (or who has money) actually lives in the 16th. That's not "Paris", and if you live there you might as well be dead.

Reflecting on One Year in France

I don't really have much to say one year in (technically a year and three months if you count my time here February to May). My love for the French has not really grown. I like to say living in France is like converting to Judaism, they really make you work for it, like they want to see if you're really invested in them. Well jokes on them, I'm not invested in them, more I'm just really stubborn and France will not defeat me. Good ol American persistence. 

That being said I definitely wouldn't recommend this place for everyone. Especially for Americans. The ideology here is so vastly different that it really makes it hard to grin and bear it. I don't know how such a tiny body of water (the Channel) could make people so different but being here really makes me love and appreciate Anglo culture, beliefs, ideas, everything really. I won't get too much into it because I don't want to muddy anyone's idea of France, but if you are thinking about moving here because you saw some cutesy movie set in France that made it look like paradise, or you came here on vacation for a week, know that living here and visiting here are completely different things. Nothing about living here is a vacation. In fact it's pretty damn near miserable (that's why Parisians are so grumpy). There are a few things though that make it worthwhile. Maybe at year two my thoughts will have changed. Until then this year has been a nightmare. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Getting a Cell Phone

Getting a cell phone is super easy. This is one area where the French love of paperwork does not really come into play.

You can get a prepaid SIM card but those things are a joke. They're expensive and limiting if you have a smart phone because smartphones eat data like its crack. You're better off just getting a contract. 

To get a contract is easy enough. Decide if you want a new phone, or if you just want a sim. If you're an English speaker, buying the phone and setting it up over the Internet is much easier (that way you get to read the fine print). To do so make sure you have your carte de sejour number, your credit card, and your banks RIB. That's all you need. If you just want a SIM the best place to go is probably the one and only Free store in Paris, located at Madeleine. Apparently they have command machines that give you the sim then and there (you just need your credit card to sign up the monthly payments).

Unfortunately my bank being SoGen, and therefore French, so inclined to naturally give me a hard time, did not tell me I needed a pin to make purchases with my visa online (you get the pin on your cell, France is nothing but jokes and irony) so I had to derail my plan of easily buying it online and go into the store. I went to the SFR near Saint Paul. He set everything up without saying more than a few words to me. 

One thing I did ask him about was the 100€ reimbursement for the phone that I should receive later but I ended up never receiving it, despite him assuring me multiple times I would! So make sure you make him write out, in blood, that you will receive it later on. Other than that I had no problem. This is one area French bureaucracy doesn't make you want to poke out your eyes with hot pokers.

Opening a French Bank Account

Setting up a French bank account is fairly simple if you have the right documents and the patience of a saint. If you are a student your school will do it for you, but for everyone else you'll need to prepare yourself.

When I first started working I thought easey peasy I can just cash my checks without having an account. Wrong. Unlike in America, France does not have check chasing places and you cannot just go to the bank that issues the check. 

My friend Ellis and I showed up to work on payday all gleeful to be receiving money. We were told by our company that our checks can be cashed at CIC. We promptly went to CIC and were told "no". We didn't understand. So being Anglos (he English, me American) we thought any bank could cash it, for a fee of course. Nope. BNP, Société, they all told us no. Being in Bastille we had one bank left, Bank of France. 

We didn't know what this place was because we're not French and we did not realize that it wasn't an actual bank. After all most of us don't just walk into the Treasury right? But we rolled up in there and jenga! BOF says sure we can cash this for you but we need a denial letter from a bank, a copy of your contract with your landlord, and your passport. Now Ellis, living in an illegal sublet could not provide the lease. Me, I could not provide the denial letter because I had never even tried to open a French bank account. And when I went back to BNP to ask for one they said it would take 3 months. Wankers. After going to 4 different CICs, and each time being told no, I decided enough was enough. 

Just an FYI French banks don't have money. Meaning in America you can go in a bank, speak to a teller and receive money. Not here. Banks don't give out money. The backwards absurdity of the French system strikes again. If you by now stroke of misfortune and ever lose your atm card, which the French look at as some kind of shockable offense, you can get money but you have to go to your bank branch, and the bank has to have money. At this point lets just not even question the madness, let's just go along with it and make our lives easier. 

So my boyfriend being a banker tells me to go to his bank, LCL. Even though he doesn't technically work in a bank branch, he works in La Defense, I felt uncomfortable banking with his company, something about business and pleasure, and I decided to forgo his help. Because I'm stupid.

So I walk into Barclay's and am told I cannot open a bank account without a rendezvous (rdv), yet another French absurdity, their love of appointments. So I made one. I show up a whole week later, tired by the process, and living without money, only to be told by Barclay's "who told you you can open an account here? We only do investments in France". Motherfucker! I hate more than anything anyone telling me what I can do with my money, and here I had a check for money I could not touch. I was pissed.

So on my way home I decided fuck it, I'm going to go across the street to Société Générale and ask for a rendezvous and learn to love to eat pasta everyday for the next week because I have no money.

The French gods must have decided to have pity on me that day (after dicking me around for 3 weeks) because when I went into SoGen they said I didn't need a rdv. He said "come back at 2pm and an English speaker will be here to open your account". Praise Marianne, things were finally going right.

I showed up at two with my file. He began to go over everything; "good you have your passport, good you have your titre de sejour (you cannot open an account without one!), good you have your lease (proof of your address, a must), good you have proof that you have a job (checks with attached payslips) but you don't have your tax returns". I asked him "what? I don't pay taxes in America". He said well even in France if you don't work you have a paper saying you didn't pay taxes. I told him in America it doesn't work that way, you are not required to file your taxes if you don't work or if you make less than 700€ a year. He said sorry but you need tax returns or proof that you didn't file your taxes, we cannot open an account for you until you can provide that. Why France, why do you hate me?!?

I went home dejected. While bitching at my boyfriend about how stupid his country is, a little thought bubble popped into my head. My mother filed taxes for me two years previously and I was sure I had a copy in my email because she had filed them online. I could not find it but I did go to the IRS website and lo and behold everything was there (companies upload your W2s these days). I immediately pdf'd a copy and sent it to the bank. (Side note your returns must be recent. They will not accept them if they are more than a year old).

After all that, and after he got approval from the bank that they could open an account for me, 5 days later I finally had a French account. It was 4 weeks of anguish, and living without money, but it was finally done. I had many problems later on with receiving the 50 million codes you need, online access, bank statements, etc but the hardest part was over. The French really love to make you suffer.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life Hack: Parisian Stores and their American Equivalents

Here's a simple list of what I've found in Paris to be the American equivalent of stores I'm used to. I'm by no means an expert on France's offerings, but so far in my quest to find the convenience of home this is what I've discovered. 

Best Buy: Darty, FNAC
Academy/Sports Authority: Decathalon
Target: Monoprix or Hema
Ulta: Monop Beauty
Home Depot/Lowe's: Castorama
Bed, Bath and Beyond: Conforama (but with furniture)
Walmart: Tati
Whole Foods: Naturalia

Unfortunately I have yet to find the equivalent of a Ross or Homegoods (the bin stores on Boulevard de Rochechouart? but I've never stopped and browsed). If for some reason you really miss shopping at a mall (why?) you have Beaugrenelle (15th), Forum des Halles (1st), Italie 2 (13th) and Les Quatre Temps (La Defense). For department stores, Galleries Lafayette (8th and 14th), Printemps (8th), BHV (4th) and Le Bon Marche (7th).

Parisians Don't Buy Brooms

Shopping for clothes and shoes is easy enough because those stores are everywhere, but coming to Paris when you're used to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Homegoods or Target is a real pain. It's hard enough getting used to new clothes stores (because you're not going to find a lot of your favorite American brands), finding out where to buy sheets, towels and duvets is a little bit harder.

Of course you have IKEA, but they're all located outside of Paris, and if you don't feel like taking the metro, much less the RER, then you'll have to suck it up and find a few of these places.

I'm Rive Droit so I can't give a lot of advice on what's in south Paris but so far if you live near Ledru Rollin consider yourself lucky. Not only does Faubourg Saint Antoine (towards Bastille) have the best mile of shops, you also have stores like Casa (mostly outdoor), HEMA and giant Monoprix (French call those hypermarches). 

If you need dishes and kitchen stuff, unfortunately you won't find a Williams Sonoma, but there are a few little unassuming home stores. I never remember the names but if you walk Saint Antoine from Bastille towards Saint Paul, there's a nice little place that sells cute bowls and glasses and things. Across the street you have Confordeco. And for a cheap little linen store, from Chateaudun towards Saint Lazare (I want to say metro Trinite...), there's a place that sells duvets, towels, robes, etc. Unfortunately stuff like towels, while being super cheap in the US ($6 for Ralph Lauren from Ross anyone?), they're a bit more expensive here. You're going to spend anywhere from 10-20€ for one normal sized towel (but at Hema a bath sheet is only 13€, bargain!).

If you're into getting your pillows, carpets, sheets, and clic clac all in one place, try stores like Habitat, Conforama, and if you don't mind a department store, BHV. It's going to be more expensive, but I guess it beats going to many different places. If you live in the 13th or the 18th, try Tati (cheapest). 

If you're interested in an Anthropolgie aesthetic and want something a little more fashionable, try Madura or Zara Home. Yes, for some reason Zara has a home store. I didn't even know such a thing existed before I walked down Rivoli one day and saw it.

If for some reason you need a Home Depot/Lowe's, Castorama is located at Place de Clichy, near Montmartre cemetery. For a Best Buy type store look for Darty or FNAC. 

As for the hyper Monoprixs, so far the ones I know of are Ledru Rollin (11th), Saint Augustin (8th), there's one on Sebastopol near Chatelet (4th), the 7th near Rue de Bac or Solferino? and the 15th on Commerce. Carrefour in the 13th at Place d'Italie (inside the mall) is also a hypermarket. It's also the biggest grocery store I've ever been in (in Paris). 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Quick Tip: Filing a Complaint with the Police

I had to make a report with the police. My first police report and my luck it should happen in a country where I don't speak the language. And by no means do I suggest doing it on your own unless your French is really, really good. If you possess enough to get into the building and past the waiting area, then at least have a translated version of the events to make it easier. 

I was lucky enough to have one of my friends come with me to translate everything. We went down to the station on Bourdon, on a Saturday evening, and there was like one person ahead of me. It was pretty empty. We probably waited about 10 minutes, which according to my friend is rare. 

We were called back and at this point I don't even know what went down, I basically just listened to them go back and forth for about 30 minutes. My friend already knew my story so all she had to do was clarify certain questions for the officer. She had called and was told beforehand that you can make a complaint anywhere but it's best if you file it in the district the incident occurred. Just like everywhere else in the world, the police hate doing paperwork, they especially hate doing someone else's. And I guess it was a big deal (to the officer) to have to send it to the right precinct. 

When going in have as much contact information as possible for yourself, and the person the complaint is against. Really name, address and phone number will suffice, but I guess date of birth helps too (to narrow it down if their name is popular?). 

Unfortunately you cannot file online (even though the link from the American Embassy says you can). And unlike in America they don't come to your house to file a complaint. Apparently wait time normally sucks too because French people like to make complaints? But welcome to France. It's their way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Le Planning Familial

If you've moved to France and you haven't yet signed up for your social security you're going to have a hard go of being reimbursed for seeing the doctor. Before I left America I meant to top up my birth control but I procrastinate and I figured it would be a while before I had sex again so oh well. How wrong I was. I met Léo like my second week? Or third week? back and I had no idea where to get birth control because I hadn't signed up for social security and hadn't picked a doctor. Plus I know the last French doctor I visited said she didn't carry the type I use. I thought France might have its own version of Planned Parenthood and I would just purchase it from there because those types of places usually carry everything. 

It was a while before I got around to making an appointment and actually I didn't. The woman I tutor for knows the lady in charge of the one in Paris and she got me an appointment. She made me worry because she brought up that I might be pregnant one day so I guess she felt bad about it and got me an appointment. I figured what the hell. Even if I wasn't having sex I might as well get a prescription in case. And maybe I could finally stop having the craziness that comes along with PMS.

So I took the metro down to the 13th. The hospital is near Jardin des Plantes where I used to live so I figured I'd find my way quite easily. Nope. Not a chance. On the map the entrance I needed was closed off (possibly because of the shootings) and I had to ask a girl to help me. She didn't speak English but kindly showed me the way and once we went through the main entrance she walked me to the building, which was really lovely of her. Once in I passed the receptionist and followed some line of French writing on the floor towards the back. I knew that I had to look for "boxes" and a ticket machine. I found the ticket machine and the ticket told me to wait in zone 2. Right away I was called.

The lady didn't speak any English but she also was very nice. I had Valerie's information written down and I gave it to her. She said my name and I was surprised that she found me so easily. She printed out some paperwork, gave me a few folders, and a huge brown envelope, and a ticket, and told me to wait in zone 3 at the end.

When I got to zone 3 Valerie immediately came out and grabbed me. We went back to her office and talked about what I was in for. I was just there for some birth control but she ended up giving me a list of things to get done. I was to have meetings with a psychologist weekly, I had to have blood work done for a host of things; std testing and pregnancy, then the doctor had to perform a vaginal examination (pap smear) and then after we went over what I could take because they didn't have my birth control, I would get kitted out with the implant (a little plastic rod they stick in your arm and it releases hormones for 3 years). I didn't know how I would feel about having a foreign object in my arm but the pros outweighed the cons. 

I should point out that all of this is free. The French government is kind enough to provide it for whatever reason to low income people, immigrants, and people without papers (they don't ask you for id or anything, it's very strange). So it's like Planned Parenthood in the US but completely free and basically anonymous.

After my psych appointment, and the promise that I would come back weekly, I went back to the waiting area and waited in zone 3 so I could be examined by the doctor. Finally the doctor called me back and with her was a nurse doing training. Neither spoke English very well. In fact I'm not sure how I got on with the doctor because it didn't seem like she unrstood me. As if it wasn't embarrassing enough having a complete stranger feel you up, she also wasn't very nice. First came the breast test, then the pap smear, and finally some test where she had to stick her fingers in me a poke around my uterus. I've been to the gynecologist numerous times in the US but I don't recall my gynecologist ever doing that. The French doctor said it had to be done because they were worried I might be pregnant. 

After that I was sent back to the nurses area where like 5 vials of blood were drawn for various tests like pregnancy, HIV, syphilis, etc. Finally at 5:30pm (having arrived around 2pm) I was given an appointment to come back for my results next week and sent on my way. Unfortunately because of the pregnancy I wouldn't be allowed to receive the birth control on this visit. 

However if you find yourself in a similar situation or you just need a doctor for something I would suggest giving Family Planning a go. I don't know what the wait time is for an appointment with them, or what other services they offer. It's not fun being poked and prodded, but I commend the French government for being nice enough to offer this service free of charge, to anyone, regardless of their residency status in France.