100 Random Tips For Living In Paris and France in General

I love listacles and I hate listacles. List articles aka listacles are a blast to read and write. But sometimes, some media companies rejoice in writing very vague shadows of listacles that are filled with glittering generalities. It’s like they just googled a thing and used the first ten google results as the content of the article.

That’s not what this is going to be. This is going to be filled with some niche-ass Paris and France tips that I worked hard to learn. There is literally blood, maybe a little sweat, definitely tears in the earning of this knowledge. And because I’m trapped in a house in the countryside during the coronavirus forced isolation, I’m emparting this expat wisdom upon you without context or explanation. Just accept it or learn the hard way, as I did.

  1. Learn to enjoy straight whiskey (if you haven’t already). This is because it’s hard to find a Manhattan here, and if you do find one, it’s probably in fact a not-very-good old fashioned. Sometimes if you ask for a Manhattan the waiter looks at you like you just asked for a MkhtbGk30&%AJD+
  2. Also true of dirty martinis.
  3. If you get on the metro and it’s quiet inside, the riders have all made a social pact to ride in quiet. Don’t be the dude that starts talking all loud.
  4. Always wear clean, matching, hole-less socks. Paris is dirty, so if you go to someone’s house for dinner, you’re probably going to have to remove your shoes.
  5. Carry a reusable bag at all times. Find one that folds up real tiny and stuff it into your bag whenever you leave the house. You’ll find out why.
  6. Speaking of carrying, you’re only going to wear cross-body bags of a certain size here. There’s too much walking and thieving for anything larger or smaller.
  7. Speaking of speaking of carrying, handguns are illegal here. So relax, that pop you just heard wasn’t a driveby.
  8. Take calculus in 11th grade. That way you can figure out which Navigo or set of Metro tickets to buy. If you don’t go to work or school every day, the monthly or weekly passes aren’t worth it. You get over $4 off of a pack of ten when you purchase at once. Do the math, take the ride.
  9. There’s things called “Ticket Resto” and they are amazing. Basically, via your job, you get coupons for $8 to use on lunch (you pay into the program), but they’re also good for grocerie$$$$$$$$ (except on Sunday, because there’s no working on Sunday so you can’t use your work lunch ticket that day).
  10. The grocery stores have either no produce or crap produce. Shop at the marché once a week for the best and cheapest produce.
Tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, vegatables at a French market
Our neighborhood marche on Rue Ordener
  1. At the marché, skip the vendors with the prettiest displays, they’re trying to create an illusion of value to justify higher prices. Price hunt hard, then stick to those vendors so they become your friends.
  2. Speaking of the marché, get your cheese there too. The cheese store is great but they also overcharge. Eggs, yogurt, creams, all at the marché.
  3. Get to restaurants at 7:45. You’re hungry by then anyway because you’re not actually French. This helps you beat the crowds and secure a table sans reservation.
  4. Make brunch reservations or else you won’t be eating brunch.
  5. If the brunch spot doesn’t take reservations, make sure there are other brunch options nearby because there will be a line at Season in the 3rd and you’re too old to wait in line for brunch. Brunch lines are for the 2011 version of you living in West Hollywood.
  6. Just assume that every step you take could be into a pile of dog crap. It’s a minefield out there, be poo-vigilant.
  7. You can’t get wine at Monoprix on a Sunday. They physically block the alcohol aisles. But you can at Franprix, Intermarche and Super U.
  8. People cut in line, especially cute little old ladies. It’s not like the US where line ettiquite is sacred. Therefore you must guard your line spot like a bulldog. Make yourself big.
  9. Always carry change. You’ll need it to buy a baguette, pay to get into a public restroom, or reward the single accordion playing dude on line 12 who has any talent.
  10. Don’t get cravings out of season. Like Trader Joe’s, groceries and farmers markets here only carry what is in-season, which is a good thing except for when you want bruschetta in winter.
  11. French people don’t use Yelp, therefore any Yelp reviews for a resto are from an American tourist who thinks the restaurants near Sacre Couer are legit. Either use the Tres, Tres Bon! app, or word of mouth.
  12. Using your phone in the company of real people is like 4x more rude here. Also no one uses social media which is a bummer, but good to know so you don’t play on Instagram at dinner and piss everyone off.
  13. Don’t ever take line 13 between 4pm and 8pm on a weekday. Or just don’t take it at all.
  14. Velib bikes with seats turned backwards are signalling to you that something is amiss with the bike. You can also turn the seat akimbo to signal this to others if you notice it’s funky.
  15. Use an agency to get an apartment. No matter how hard you hustle, how many you visit, the system is literally against you if you’re an expat or just arriving.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
  1. When you are renting an apartment, higher floors get more sun and less noise, but consider how many flights you feel like climbing (unless the building has an elevator). In my experience, 4th floor is the limit before it gets ridiculous.
  2. Get everything delivered to a Relay point. Delivery guys don’t even try to follow your delivery instructions to get into your building let alone find your door. EXCEPT for Ikea and Zara for some reason. They’re great.
  3. Oh yeah, Ikea hack for Paris only: because the Ikea is outside the city and few people have cars, they deliver to your door for very affordable prices starting at around $5 and the service is exceptional.
  4. House plants are slightly overpriced here. Find affordable plant stores away from super posh or touristy streets, I saw some good ones a few blocks from the Chateau d’Eau stop on line 4.
  5. Speaking of line 4, it’s always busy and crowded as it stops at Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, Chatelet, Les Halles, and touristy areas like Cité. If you must take it, sit or stand in the accordion-like area between cars where few people dare to go.
  6. Need to get some groceries but you’re tired of interacting with people and being reminded you suck at French? Monoprix usually has self-checkout stations for human contact-less trips to the store.
  7. Wondering why your baguette is dry and airy? It’s because it’s a baguette ordinaire, not traditional. Learn more from my biased paris bread guide.
French baguette and brioche
Baguette Tradition and a weird brioche puff that I don’t really like but my husband buys them.
  1. Almost no apartments have dryers, so get used to hanging things on one of those drying rack things. Pro Tip: think ahead and wash sheets when you’ll be gone so they dry by the time you get back, and wash things you don’t plan to wear the very next day.
  2. The Local France tends to have very up-to-date news, if not without typos and some odd writing styles. I got over the erros during the metro strike when I was just happy to get the news in english.
  3. I feel like concerts start a little earlier here and don’t last very long. Rumor has it that the French want to get out and get back to the cafe or bar, or even a late dinner. Sometimes the time printed on your ticket isn’t doors, it’s when the opener starts.
  4. Place de Clichy is an absolute disaster zone during rush hour.
  5. If you have to go to the doctor for something not terribly life-threatening, your bill will likely be under $100. Mine have been around $30.
  6. However, if you need to see a specialist, you’ll need a recommendation from your doctor and then will have to wait a long time for an appointment.
  7. Amazon is a little slower in France than it is in the US, and the selection is also a touch limited.
  8. If you’re packing to move, keep in mind that towels are freaking expensive. In fact a lot of common homegoods seem to cost a lot more. I’ve been shocked at the price of toasters, towels, underwear, cutting boards, cups, table cloths, and hangers.
  9. Wondering how movers will get all of your shit into your tiny apartment? If your stairs are narrow, they put it on a weird lift thingy and toss it through the window. If your stairs are wide, one old dude might carry it all up by hand, one box at a time, as they did at our apartment.
  10. Don’t leave things on the landing outside your door or in public spaces, it’s frowned upon.
  11. There’s a store called Picard that is like if they made the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s an entire store. Food is tasty, prices are fair.
  12. You can still see movies in English! Most films are shown either in their original language with French subtitles, or in French. Look for “VO” in the description (version original).
  13. Many cafes, especially more traditional ones, are anti-laptop. Some more modern spots advertise free wi-fi. Check out expat groups on social media to find one near you. A few that I know of are Cafe Pimpin and Le Recyclerie in the 18th, Comets Cafe in the 11th, and all Wild and the Moon locations.
  14. If you want a sure bet spot to work, try coworking places like Hubsy that come with coffee. They charge hourly though, so a day of work can cost over $25. Drink your weight in lattes to make it worth it.
  15. Any medical-related groceries will not be at your grocery store, you’ll have to go to the pharmacie. I’m talking ointments, vitamins, tylenol, cold meds, anti-bac anything. I have seen bandaids at a grocery but that’s it.
  16. Thus far, we’ve only been able to purchase the 2mg version of melatonin. Grab the 5mg or 10mg good stuff when you’re in the US.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
  1. No one here uses conditioner, and there aren’t many options at the grocery store. You may have to try bigger beauty-focused pharmacies like Citypharma if you really need conditioner to live. Also in France it’s called “apres shampooing” lol.
  2. Speaking of Citypharma, it is a gem. Great prices, amazing selection. It’s overwhelming, that’s why they have white coat-clad employees on the floor. They’re friendly and full of information. They’re probably also making sure you don’t steal.
  3. Coat check is a big deal here. It’s freezing outside and hot inside. You don’t want to hold your jacket through that entire Angel Olsen show like I did, do you? That’s why there’s a long line at the coat check.
  4. That reminds me, some venues only take printed, paper tickets. They won’t scan the PDF from your phone. Maybe I need an article with tips for concert-going.
  5. Vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, and brussells sprouts for some reason are preceded by the word “chou.” So they are chou broccoli, chou romanesco, chou fleur, and choux de Bruxelles. Just telling you so you aren’t humiliated at the cafe at your French school like I was.
romanesco
Not Romanesco. CHOU Romanesco
  1. Release tortillas from your heart if you move to France because tortillas here are… odd to say the least. For some reason they aren’t stretchy, they kind of just tear. And taste wrong. Even at Chipotle.
  2. If you bring a US lamp to France, be sure to only use French bulbs, otherwise it will smoke and probably explode.
  3. Pace yourself at the French wedding. It will last until 5am, so you have to as well. Also read this guide to what French weddings are really like.
  4. The climbing gym on Blvd. de Clichy in Pigalle is tiny and people are oblivious to personal space. It’s a bit of a journey, but the Arkose location in Pantine is huge, and the extra space helps people act like humans.
  5. Parisian faucets and water fixtures are always cloudy and covered in some kind of deposit that resists all scrubbing and cleansers. Apparently it’s calcium, and requires an anti-calcaire product you can get at the grocery store.
  6. It’s really hard to find ziploc bags here. Randomly, Ikea sells reall good ones, two sizes in one box.
  7. If you like a claw clip for your hair and you have thick or curly hair, stock up in the US. Claw clips here are all very slim, and I have yet to find larger or wider options.
  8. Finding a good fitness class is hard, not gonna lie. Supply is low and expensive, and classes get booked a week or more in advance if they’re actually good. Many are not good. Parisian fitness classes are scorned as being low on rigor. I recommend Fit Ballet and Casa Yoga.
  9. You can ask for more bread at a restaurant if you run out, and they’ll just give it to you! It’s not like LA where they give you some bread with the tapenade and you run out and they tell you they can’t give you more for free. The bread keeps coming.
  10. Many French TV networks are free, and you can stream them online. They’re paid for with our taxes or something like that.
  11. No one really tips unless the service was great, maybe the server accomodates you after you were a pain by adding two more diners or something. In tourist areas, servers sometimes pressure you to tip because they know you’re American. Only do it if you want to.
  12. In customer service, “no” is just the gateway to further negotiations. If you’re at La Poste and they say your package isn’t there, but online tracking says it is, just keep politely prodding. Maybe they can check again? Can they kindly find out where it is perhaps? After a few rounds, your package will magically show up.
  13. Keep a physical and digital file of all of your utility bills, identification documents, anything else that seems useful. You’ll need it to open a bank account or something else important at some point.
  14. Say “bonjour” to everyone. Passing someone on the stairs? Bonjour. Cashier makes eye contact with you at the register? Bonjour. Asking a rando on the street for directions? Start with bonjour.
  15. Eat slower. Everyone here waits until everything is “pret” to start eating. Then they don’t eat and speak at the same time. If you are American, you’re going to need to eat slower than usual.
  16. Don’t use up all of your stomach space on the plat. Dinner, and sometimes also lunch, is like a 4-course situation, and not all the courses will be out at once, so you won’t even know how deep in you are. There’s the main, then cheese and bread, then maybe yogurt or fruit, AND THEN also dessert. AND THEN coffee or tea.
  17. You know how entree is the main course in America? I don’t know why, because it means entry or to enter. Therefore in France it’s the appetizier–this actually makes perect sense. Plat is the main, or plate.
  18. That reminds me, cheese is eaten AFTER the meal in France, not as an appetizer like in the US. Sometimes if you’re doing a planche or a more chill grazing situation, the cheese will be out. But for a seated dinner, cheese is after.
  19. There’s a great dining area on the 8th floor of Printemps with beautiful views of Paris. It has several gorgeous restaurants at varying price points, and a terasse where you can dine. It’s not terribly touristy, even given the area.
View of eiffel
View of Paris on a pre-spring day on the terasse of Printemps. We ate moules frites.
  1. Don’t ever order a smoothie, it will be warm and watery. If I find a good smoothie option, I’ll let you know.
  2. No one carries their coffee around in to-go cups, it’s always enjoyed in place. It’s weird at first, but then who would really want to consume anything on a metro, blegh.
  3. There are no stop signs in all of Paris. As a pedestrian, you might have the right of way, but that car isn’t slowing down the same way it would in the US where it may have to stop regardless. Every intersection is a game of chicken.
  4. If you’re crossing a one-way street, still look both ways for bikers who might be riding the opposite direction. They’re silent and deadly.
  5. Restaurants typically only anticipate one seating per evening. If you see a full restaurant, it doesn’t mean a table might open up in twenty minutes. That table is going to be full all night. People literally leave all their stuff at the table and leave for a smoke twice in one sitting.
  6. You have to wave and say excuse me and ask for what you need at stores and restaurants. It’s actually rude here for the server to keep stopping by and asking if you need anything, therefore it’s not rude to wave them down and ask for the check.
  7. I’m not sure, but I think that the dynanmic in #78 is because nothing is more important in French culture than the current conversation. Meals will wait for someone to finish their story. Lines at the store will stand still until the conversation between cashier and customer is over. Sidewalks will crowd in service of two people talking.
  8. No one wears sunglasses but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The sun is harsh, protect your damn eyes.
Shelby wearing sunglasses and holding baguettes
Me, refusing to be daunted by the number of people who give me funny looks when I wear my sunglasses on a cloudy day.
  1. If you’re on the metro and it’s crowded and you have a suitcase and you need to get off, you’re going to have to be a real bull about it. No one is going to budge for you unless you very loudly yell “PARDON EXCUSEZ MOI” and push through with all of your might. I’m not exagerating.
  2. There are signs on busses and metros reserving seats for the elderly, injured, or pregnant women. People actually heed these signs very observantly so you should too.
  3. The Left Bank of Paris or La Rive Gauche seems far away and maybe lame. It’s across the river after all. It’s actually a very nice place with beautiful parks, museums, trendy restaurants, and historic streets, don’t be biased because it seems far from the action.
  4. Stop and buy a baguette on your way home. You’re going to run out soon anyway, and you’re not going to want to go back down and up the stairs in two hours. Just buy the baguette.
  5. Paris is not an avocado desert! You can actually buy avocados, though some are kind of flavorless and watery. At stores, the origin of the avocado is usually stated, and those from Mexico are frequently tasty.
  6. That said, avocado toast here is somehow middling. No matter how well intentioned it is on your brunch plate, it usually needs salt and some additional fat or spices.
  7. Verbal contracts here are binding. If you get a job offer, you don’t have to wait for the contract and all of that to be sure that you actually have it. Also true in house buying, etc.
  8. Don’t go to Fountainbleu or nearby Barbizon on a weekday, it’s empty and sad. Save it for a weekend.
  9. That said, do go to Fountainbleu or Barbizon on a weekday if you’re trying to rock climb or hike, it will be empty.
  10. The green trashcan is for bio trash, yellow is for all packaging, white is for glass. Don’t take an apartment within earshot of the white trashcan otherwise you’ll hear glass breaking nonstop.
  11. People try to pickpocket you right as you pass through the metro gates so that you can’t turn around and chase them. Hold on to your shit as you swipe into the metro.
  12. If you use the wrong gender when you say “one,” you will throw a French person off. Sure sounds the same to us, but they will not meet you half way on this. If it’s a feminine noun, use une. Masculine, un.
  13. Haribo World Mix is the best Haribo assortment, followed by Happy Life, then Schtroumpfs. Polka is the worst assortment.
Haribos at grocery store
The best aisle of the grocery store: The bonbons.
  1. Every non-French person I know who moves to Paris has developed severe eczema, including myself. Correlation is not causation, and it might not happen to you, and it’s not the end of the world, but something to think about.
  2. Pack, buy, or bring more socks than you think you need. This is a closed-toe shoes city because it’s wet and dirty.
  3. Paris shops are small and specialize almost exclusively in one type of thing. EXCEPT FOR Fnac and the behemoth BHV which sell everything.
  4. You’re not going to wear heels in Paris.
  5. No one is going to speak more slowly or clearly for you, don’t be offended, I’m just letting you know.
  6. You’re also not going to wear shorts unless you’re in an exercise setting.
  7. Everyone who recommends a Mexican food place to you is wrong.

Stairs and Stares: The Little Differences Between Paris and Los Angeles

The main reason I moved to Paris from LA was for change. We wanted France’s specific brand of difference, but after working and living the same way for over a decade, I was down just to feel anything different, no matter what it was. This is a pretty clutch perspective to have going into a new city, country, culture, as it helps you to be okay with the millions of differences that throw you off as you try to complete even the most mundane of daily tasks.

Some differences are good, like affordable-to-free healthcare, amazing bread, and seven weeks paid vacation. Some suck, like dog shit everywhere, not a lot of elevators, and no Mexican food. But overall, I think we’re net positive as far as the transition goes, and we’re enjoying the way all those little differences are still discernable, adding texture to our daily lives.

That said, there are some odd differences that never ocurred to me to be ready for when we moved, which I’ve assembled into a tidy list for those of us “list people.” I’m big on caveats because I was a fact-checker at one time, so I should caveat by saying that I am comparing only to Los Angeles, not the US as a whole. LA and California are their own unique little beasts or snowflakes compared to the rest of the US, and honestly, I think I don’t know a thing about my country, but I do know LA. With that said…

Speaking of Change… Change

In LA, I had a cheeseburger piggy bank that someone gave me for my 28th birthday, and I put all loose change into it for years. Quarters went into my car for metered parking or the pinball machines at Walt’s Bar on Eagle Rock Blvd. Those are the only viable uses for change in Los Angeles. Maybe also leveling a table at a cafe.

But in Paris? You use every last cent in Paris. Five 20 cent pieces will buy you a baguette. A few more, and you have a coffee. People ask you if you have exact change to make life easier for them. Meanwhile in LA (and I’ve also heard, NY), there are stores that only take cards. I had to switch from a full-sized wallet to a tiny coinpurse just because of the change entering my life. Also because when I was pickpocketed I realized I needed a less-grabable wallet.

Dirty Hands

Because we no longer drive, we are always outside, interacting with the world without the protective barrier of a car window. I never realized how many things I would touch in the course of a day, and how many of those things are kind of gross. You touch doors and Metro handles and poles and scuzzy bathroom doors. I’ve never been a germophobe or one to carry hand sanitizer, but I had to break down eventually and buy some. This realization became even more real after the corona virus outbreak, but we’ll get to that later.

The lovely metro. So simple. So useful. So full of germs.

Slow Grocery Lines

America is big on not waiting for anything, no matter what. If there are more than two people in line to checkout at the grocery store, it signals abysmal operations at that store, an inept management, a lazy checker. For this reason, once the lines get more than 2-deep, another checker is called to open up a lane. In France, literally no one cares if lines are long. There are only three cash registers at grocery stores anyway, and I’ve never seen more than one open, even on the busines days. At first I was shocked and like an American, reflected on the poor management of the store. Then I just got used to it. Then I began to love that I’m no longer in a rush.

Stairs

Want a better butt? Move to Paris. Even if I abandoned my car in LA, I could go weeks without climbing a single stair, let alone the five flights to my own front door.

Jokes aside, the lack of elevators here, even in stores and Metros, is actually almost criminal–how is a person with limited mobility supposed to get around? I tried to research what the government does to help these people, but can only find info for how tourists with limited mobility can get around.

Stairs in Montmartre.

Stares

People here stare at you and don’t even feel bad about it. Maybe it’s healthier than the LA I-am-staring-at-you-but-I-don’t-want-you-to-know-unless-maybe-you’re-interested type of staring. At least it’s not hidden, but it was very awkward for me for the first few months.

At first I thought it was just me–I have black hair and olive skin but can look like I hail anywhere from Southeast Asia to South America to Italy (I’m a weird mix of Mexican, Spanish, Irish, Northern European, various other anglo origins, more Irish than I realized until my parents did 23 And Me). People get confused in LA, so obviously they’d be even more confused in Paris where most people look… French. My husband let me know it’s just a thing people do here and it didn’t necessarily reflect on me at all. I read up on it and found others had also noticed it, and had heard that it doesn’t even have to signal romantic interest, they just might be curious about you. I’ve grown to like it because now if someone has a coat I like or an interesting face, I can just stare at them and not feel badly about it.

Carry Everything

In LA, your car is your office, backpack, locker, mobile carrier of life stuff. It has shoes, hand cream, gym attire, emergency food, an emergency novel, water, a blanket, a flashlight if you’re smart, chargers–anything you might need throughout your day. In Paris, everyone walks around with at least two or three bags. Most women have their purse, plus a canvas tote that serves as their locker. They may also need it in case they buy something during the day and they need a “sac” for it. If I was going to be away for several hours either working or at French classes, I had to bring a backpack for all of that life stuff and carry it on my back. I guess it’s better for my health than hauling it around in my car, but it took some time to even realize how much stuff one needs in a day, now that it’s not all at ones disposal in the parking lot.

Sleeping In

I never realized LA was such an early city. We’d wake up at 9am on a weekend and lament that it was already too late to get a table at Sqirl and that Civil Coffee would already be full of tourists by the time we got there. I’d wake up at 6:30am on weekdays and be out the door by 7:30am to get to work, home by 7pm, bed by 10pm to do it all again the next day. Now I sleep until 9am and maybe don’t even finish dinner until 10pm–I don’t even recognize myself.

Lack of Productions

In LA it’s very normal to experience traffic down a main thoroughfare due to a show or movie filming nearby, blocking part of the street. Certain neighborhoods get used consistently for certain eras or stand-ins for other parts of the country consistently. UCLA is any IVY league school. WeHo is always for metatheatrical shows about the industry. Highland Park is a small town, or it’s just Highland Park if they’re filming Maron. South Pas is the East Coast or anything from the ’50s or ’60s. You hardly bat an eye if you see a local store covered in blackout tarps with white trucks surrounding it, you just know.

I didn’t expect it to feel odd that there’s never any filming in Paris. If anything, that should be more normal. But I realized that anytime there is a lot of equipment somewhere blocking the way, a lot of lights, or a loud explosion, I just assume it’s part of a production. My brain literally guesses the interference is part of a false reality before it even contemplates that it’s a real thing–that’s weird.

The charcoal latte from Wild and the Moon. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s one of the only coffees that can make me feel like I’m in LA.

I’m gonna say it: there’s no good coffee

There I said it. Okay, okay, saying there is absolutely no good coffee is a bit extreme. There are places that are roasting or coffee-focused and make decent coffee. But LA, and many other major US cities boast exquisite coffee opportunities on every corner. They offer nuanced beans prepared a variety of ways. You can get a lavender latte that tastes so good it justifies its silly existence. You can buy cold brew that would breathe life back into a corpse. The Starbucks in Paris doesn’t even do cold brew and the iced coffee is barely worth the small price tag. I got a charcoal latte at Wild and the Moon once just to feel like I was in Los Angeles for a few minutes. It was close, but no cigar.

What You Really Need to Know Before You Visit Disneyland Paris

It’s very beautiful, spacious, and worth the visit. That’s the short answer to your question, the question everyone asks about Disneyland Paris: what’s it like, is it better or worse than Disneyland?

Before I visited, all the coverage I could find about this park were a few poorly researched articles about the “Top 10 Rides at Disneyland Paris” or “What You Can’t Miss At Disneyland Paris.” After I went I was almost offended about how inaccurate and dry those articles were, so I thought I’d share a little more nuance and texture with anyone who is planning a trip and wants to know more than just how to get there and park hours. Is it magical? Will I want to buy everything? Which rides are similar? Which are different in a good way? All things you need to know so you can manage your own expectations as you prep for a Disney day.

That said, it’s only fair that I share with you a major bias: I worked for Disney for eight years, and had a Disneyland pass for about five years when I was a kid. Therefore, I’ve seen a lot of Disney parks and resorts from all angles, I’ve seen the good and I’ve seen how the magical sausage is made. I also have a very special place in my heart for Disneyland and really don’t care much for Walt Disney World because it only reminds me of work and sweaty Americans (I went there for work a lot in the summer). I’ve also been to Tokyo Disney Sea, which is very clean and unusual, but I was only there for about three hours for work, so I can’t really judge it. With that said, let’s do this: a very biased account of everything you need to know when you visit Disneyland Paris.

Hyperspace Mountain: worth the price of the entire ticket.

Hyperspace Mountain at Disneyland Paris is Amazing

And not just because the line is only 10 minutes long well after opening. If you know California Screamin’ at Disney California Adventure (now a Pixar ride I haven’t ridden because I left LA before it was open), it’s like that but dark. Imagine the lovechild of Space Mountain and California Screamin’, with a Star Wars theme, and the background soundtrack all in French. And most importantly, a short line I only saw get up to 35 minutes midday. It has an awesome slingshot at the beginning that you’ll love, then more typical Space Mountain action that you’re accustomed to. The design is also more HG Wells than it is 1975 US Space Program, which is interesting to behold as you wait in that short, short line.

Indiana Jones Ride, Disneyland Paris
Indiana Jones Ride: Don’t even bother, it will seriously just upset you.

The Indiana Jones Ride Is Shameful

This ride is so budget, I spent half of the wait time googling how it even came to be. I could find no journalism that explained why it is so bad, a short and literally painful rollercoaster without even the tiniest sense of adventure.

If you’ve been on Indiana Jones at Disneyland, you know that even waiting in line is a joyous experience full of surprises, intense sounds and theming. Then you get on the ride and you feel fear, shock, awe, more fear, heat from practical effects, you see Indiana Jones himself, you feel the wonder of a small child. Not so at DLR Paris. The line is a typical outdoor queue with a few abandoned jeeps and faux excavation sites, materials for which all look like they were sourced from a hardware store. There is no music from the film playing. There is no plot set-up for the ride, no context for why you’re on this coaster that winds jerkily around a faux temple. No smiles on the faces of the Cast Members because they know they’re on a bum ride. Don’t even bother getting in the 10-minute line, it’s not worth it.

Sleeping Beauty Castle and Disneyland Paris
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris: maybe the best castle?

The Castle

Like Disneyland, the Disneyland Paris castle is also property of Sleeping Beauty, but I’ll risk some sacrilege and say it’s better. It’s bigger, it has more alcoves to explore both outside and in, which affords a great deal more photo ops with fewer people in the background. The styling is also more interesting and in-line with the Medieval inspiration for the art style of the film. Be sure to visit the Sleeping Beauty experience inside the castle, complete with enchanted tapestries and stained glass windows that tell her story. My sis and I even witnessed an adorable engagement from the balcony of the castle. Whatever magic the Indiana Jones ride lacked, Sleeping Beauty Castle has it.

Alice's Curious Labyrinth at Disneyland Paris
Crowds at Disneyland Paris: manageable, in the Winter, anyway.

The Crowds

The two times I’ve been to Disneyland Paris were in winter on rainy days, once even during the Paris transportation strikes. Therefore, crowds were extraordinarily low. Like in the US, the key to avoiding Parks crowds is go on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday in an-off season. We did this, and lines were all about 10-20 minutes. We got Fast Passes for Thunder Mountain and to ride Space Mountain for a second time, even though lines for both were only about 35 minutes. You may still need a Fast Pass for Peter Pan’s Flight but honestly, it’s the exact same ride as at DLR, so maybe skip it.

Even if it were more crowded, Disneyland Paris was created with wider thoroughfares, and more paths and routes between each area to create additional routes for traffic to flow. Even as you enter the park, you pass through a beautiful park/garden/fountain area that forces you to choose one of perhaps 12 winding routes, organically breaking up crowds. I wish Disneyland had been created this way.

The Cast Members

It’s not their fault. They never stood a chance. Americans smile a lot, sometimes for no reason, sometimes even when they’re unhappy. So how do you expect park teamed with employees from the country that (likely) created existentialism? You just can’t expect it of them. They do say “bonjour!” to you whenever you pass, but it was typically without glee and definitely without a smile. I am not a chipper person so it didn’t bother me, but I’ve read elsewhere that folks found it off-putting. Also their costumes look like they were purchased with a coupon at the same place the Indiana Jones ride was thought up–also not their fault.

Ratatouille Ride

It’s actually called Ratatouille : L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, but no one wants to say a name that long, so I’m calling it Ratatouille Ride. This ride is genius. Like Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure, it is taking the dark ride to new places us plebes could never have even imagined. It’s a surprise when you board and discover how you will move about the ride, and I won’t ruin it for you by actually explaining. Just be sure you prioritize treking over to Hollywood Studios for an hour to either snag a Fast Pass or wait in the line–no longer how long the queue is, stand in it, you won’t be sorry. If you’re one of those people who have long lunches in the park, also hit up the restaurant next door, it’s adorable. I didn’t eat there because it’s a Paris-themed restaurant based on an American-made film about Paris, that is in Paris, and I live in Paris so I skipped it.

Lion King croque monseur
It doesn’t matter that the Simba croque doesn’t have enough cheese. It’s a Lion King themed croque.

The Food

That brings me to the food, which I must say is probably about the same, maybe about 10% better than at Disneyland though with fewer options. Both Land and World have upped their gastronomy games in the last decade, which makes this evaluation a bit hard. My sis and I prefer the quick service restaurants so that we can focus on more rides, and we split some kind of curry brat situation at a Pinocchio themed restaurant, because it was adjacent to Pirates of the Caribbean.

We also had something I affectionately call the “Simba Croque,” a croque monseur with not enough cheese that has Raffiki’s Simba drawing toasted onto it. It’s unremarkable in flavor, but how do you not eat a Simba croque? My husband and I also ate at the Lucky Nugget saloon because I wanted something BBQ and a warm place to dry off. I also wanted to drink a beer inside the walls of Disneyland, just for kciks. It was okay but expensive, but the little show there is a hoot.

I did miss the churros, the smell of the popcorn, and of course the proprietary Mickey ice cream bars–at Disneyland Paris, they only serve Magnum ice cream, which is delicious but not Disney-themed.

Pirates of the Caribbean

I literally cracked up the first time I rode this, because it is out of order in a big way. It also has a much more elaborate queue design than at Disneyland, like the line was supposed to be for Indiana Jones but that ride sucks so they moved the line to a better ride. You begin in a dark jungly place that feels kind of like the bayou of Disneyland’s version, but that locale obviously wouldn’t play for a French audience. Then, instead of dropping, dropping down to a world of cursed skeletons, boom, you’re right in the middle of the ship battle, making your way through the little town which is somehow already on fire. Then, you’re somewhere else I totally forget, before you end up in the weird cursed skeleton area. Jack Sparrow pops from time to time, as in the DLR updates, but it doesn’t really create a story at all, it all just kind of happens. It doesn’t make it wrong, it’s just odd.

Phantom Manor

One of the best parts of this ride is that it doesn’t have the Burton, “Haunted Mansion Holiday” wrapper, so the crowds don’t really make their way over here. We waited about 10 minutes total. Nothing can live up to the exterior of the original Haunted Mansion, but I will say truthfully, I actually found Phantom Manor to be scarier–that says a lot because for 33 years, Haunted Mansion has been my favorite Disney ride.

The interior is almost exactly the same, the route the ride takes is almost exactly the same, however this one has this throughline about this bride who keeps killing her husbands. That’s not what’s scary necessarily. What’s scary is this weird demon who keeps showing up everywhere, as if to suggest perhaps that he’s possessing her and making her kill all of these husbands? In the end, he is very in your face, and the ride seems to suggest that he’s in close proximity because you’re now dead? You kind of tumble into a very eerie underworld, spoopier than the graveyard at the end of the ride at Disneyland. Just when it gets a little too grotesque, the underworld becomes Western themed, as in sheriff stars and saloons, and the overall effect is just hilarious and chases the scary away.

Fantasyland

Fantasyland as a concept is great, it’s so merry, adorable, magical, hence the name. But at Disneyland, it’s just crowded with little girls in princess dresses and all the wait times for the amazing, 30-second dark rides are over an hour. Cut to Disneyland Paris where the land is bigger, more spacious, and the crowds smaller. The rides are almost exactly the same, so no need to go on them if you don’t have small children in your posse. But, it’s a lovely place to wander through, take some pics, grab a snack, and enjoy the views, because you actually can. The Alice-themed maze there is pretty cool for the first ten minutes, then you’ll just want out. I do miss the Alice in Wonderland ride where you twirl around inside a caterpillar, that’s a huge miss in this park. The whole land is at least worth a pass through, and it’s right next to Pirates and other Adventureland stops.

Like regular Thunder Mountain, but better.

Thunder Mountain

Do not sleep on this ride just because it looks exactly like the Disneyland version. Thunder Mountain has always been a favorite of mine, and wait times that have been creeping closer to sixty minutes prove it’s growing popularity. Now imagine if the ride was bigger, longer, faster, and surrounded by a giant lake. That’s Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris. On an empty day, it had the longest wait time of 35 minutes, so we grabbed a Fast Pass, then wasted some time on Indiana Jones (still mad about it). One let down was that there was no goat with dynamite in its mouth, that was a bummer. A physical let down that was actually great was this giant drop at the end of the ride, in complete darkness. ‘Twas scary.

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A Guide To Holding A Baguette While You Walk Around Paris

I’m just going to deal in absolutes here: if you live in Paris, you’re going to walk down the street with a baguette tucked under your arm or into your bag. You are. It sounds idealic or like a French stereotype, but it’s just a fact of nature. The earth is round, gravity is a thing, and in Paris everyone is constantly eating, on their way to eat, carrying, or buying bread.

There are boulangeries or boulangerie/patisserie combo packs on every corner, every block, of Paris, rarely more than 20 yards apart. They all look very much the same: they rarely have unique names, and their signs always simply say “boulangerie.” They boast a glass case with some sweets and croissant,s a back wall with assorted tasty breads, and a cash register. Some spots are also cafes and there will be an old local having an espresso in the corner.

This particular baguette had some seeds and such on it. I’m not sure how I happened to order this one since my French is bad/nonexistent, but it was delicious anyway.

At first, as an American, it’s a little intimidating to get in there and obtain that grain. You assume there’s some kind of code or process that you don’t know about because we don’t have little walk-in bakeries on every corner back at home. What are the rules? What do you order? How do you pay? Does the person at the register hate me? All good questions.

Here’s what I know so far: Always begin by saying hello, aka “bonjour.” If you didn’t say bonjour, then yes, the shop keeper does hate you. Always order the baguette traditionelle/tradition (I’ll explain this later). It’s going to cost 1 euro, maybe 1,20, so put your coins down in the little tray. Some boulangeries have a litte coin machine you put your money into and correct change pops out, it’s cool. Say thank you. Walk away and enjoy a few bites before you get home, that’s allowed. Repeat every 1.5 days until you die.

Nex question: which boulangerie do you even go to? How do you know if one is good? Because of the sheer volume of boulangeries and lack of any differentiating qualities, I was immediately overwhelmed by my options. I needed to know as soon as possible which was the best and why–tough to figure out when there are so many of them everywhere you go and they all charge about the same price. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of baguettes we’ve been eating, there has been plenty of opportunity to try as many spots as possible. I’d like to be able to report that there’s a huge range of flavor, texture, value across the different locations, but there isn’t. It’s convenient to teach yourself to like the bread from whatever boulangerie is nearest your apartment.

The most important thing to know is the bit about ordering a baguette “traditionelle” or “tradition.” This is because (*sToRyTiMe*), back in 1993, the PRIME MINISTER created this special bread category to protect bakers from the bread industrial complex. The decree stated for bread to be lawfully “traditionelle,” it has to have never been frozen, be baked on the premises, can’t contain ascorbic acid or additives (duh), and must pretty much just be salt, flour, and water. The result is a crackly exterior that is firm but not hard, a spongey, soft interior unlike the airy and uninspiring inards of the cheaper baguette ordinaire.

The crispy exterior of the baguette tradition.

One thing you’ll quickly realize about bread is that you’re always running out of bread. Because of the no additives thing, it only lasts about a day, which is about as long as it takes for two people to eat it. For this reason, you pretty much need to grab another round every time you are on your way home. If you don’t, you’ll end up without bread at 7pm when the boulangerie is sold out of traditionelle and you’ll have to end up gnawing on a baguette ordinaire. Do this a few times, and you learn to take the extra thirty seconds to buy a damn baguette on the way home.

The boulangeries don’t just bake in the morning either, they fire up some fresh ones all day long, so if you don’t make it in time for the morning batch, don’t worry. We’ve begun to notice that they bake a fresh batch in the evening so that they have plenty of stock for folks buying them on their walk home.

As promised, I’m more about feels than facts, so if you want some much more helpful bread literature, I found this article on Frenchly super helpful: A Guide To French Bakeries.

How to Find an Apartment in Paris (And Also Discover That You Love Capitalism)

Everyone warned us about how hard it is to get an apartment in Paris. Friends told us about their experiences, all my Paris Expat Facebook groups held horror stories of people searching for three months and no one would accept their “dossier.” Maybe I’m more arrogantly American than I thought–maybe it’s not even an American thing and I’m just arrogant–but I assumed all of these people were just being whimps. How could renting an apartment, in a city full of apartments, be harder than buying a house in LA’s competitive market? I assumed that if we just worked harder than everyone else, showed up earlier, put all of our assets out there, everything would be fine. Because, America.

What at first feels like a broken system is actually a system that constrains itself in order to help a segment of people who need the most help. This is a generous way of saying it’s well-intentioned yet fucked. Cliff’s Notes version of the system: Paris law makes it very difficult to evict someone for non-payment, therefore when owners are renting their properties out, they have to be EXTREMELY cautious about who they rent to, and want to guarantee not just that you have money, but that you’ll continue to be getting money consistently without issue.

Long line of young professionals trying to view an apartment on their lunch breaks, somewhere in the 19th.

For some reason, the agencies who exist to find renters have chosen some really weird criteria to judge this consistency, criteria that is hard to meet as an expat. You have to have a French salary, not a salary from any company not based in France. You have to have had this salary for a while–many won’t even consider you if you’ve just started a job or haven’t been in the job for four months. Some won’t even look at you if you haven’t had your job for at least a year! I am an American freelance consultant whose clients are also American, so in the eyes of French rental agencies, I am a vagrant. My husband was just beginning his job, so he appeared unstable to them. I own a house, we both have sizable savings, zero debt, and impecable credit: none of this even registers as valuable in this situation.

A cute but poorly maintained apartment we saw. The stairs and hallway looked like they needed to be exorcised. Good storage though.

The result is, you’re not looking for an apartment, you’re looking for an agency or property owner kind enough or logical enough to take a risk on a risk-free couple. Before we knew this, we were hoofing it all across town to view apartments to see if we liked them. No one cares if we liked them, the real question was if the agents liked us. Many of these viewing appointments would be crowded with five, ten, twenty, thirty other candidates, many of whom we learned maybe made less money than us but had stronger “dossiers” because they had French salaries. I had not felt this powerless since I was 22 making tupence a month from wheover would grace me with employment,

At least thirty interested parties lined up through hallways, down the stairs, out the door, and down the street for one apartment. We waited an hour and barely peaked in.

This feeling of powerlessness was especially strong because Sim and I were used to the American way. If you need something, if you want to do something, if you forget something, if you’re uncomfortable, if you want an easy solution, you can always just throw money at it. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but it’s nice to know it’s an available option once hard work and grit have been exhausted. Here, there was nothing to throw money at; we offered to pay months and months of rent up front, the agents were unmoved.

In a fit of crushing disappointment outside the Centre Pompidou, we got hopeless and greedy and called an agency that helps expats secure apartments in Paris. We didn’t need help finding a spot, we needed their connections with the renting agents to help us actually be considered. We needed them to be our bulldog and make shit happen. Our agent was that, but not in the manner I was accustomed to with American agents. She was speedy, efficient, communicative, all good things. But she would also frequently and elaborately communicate how hard it was to find an apartment for us, how weak our dossier was, how limited the market was right now. The whole situation was hard, and she made it look hard–none of the pleasant reassurances that everything would be fine that I want from a professional. She also wanted us to compromise on our wishlist more than I expected. Apparently the reach of our wishlist exceeded the grasp of our dossier. Not our actual finances, just our dossier.

Our very nice apartment in the 18th. It’s honestly great and I’m just being a baby about the whole thing.

Crappy system and offputting customer service styles aside, everything worked out once we got our agent. We had to compromise a lot, which I suppose builds character or something. We’re in a truly great neighborhood, it’s just not the one we wanted. We also wanted a two-bedroom so we could host guests, but had to settle on a roomy one-bedroom. Not a big deal. The place has all the charm of a 19th century building, but has been updated by the owner which I’m super grateful for. Giant kitchen with more storage than my house in LA–probably the biggest kitchen in all of Paris, to be honest. We had to get a furnished place (there’s less competition for these), which is fine because we don’t have much furniture coming from LA. But the couch it came with is huge and ugly, and I need to figure out a way to get rid of it before our beautiful and tastefully-sized couch arrives.

For those in a similar situation: this is an expensive route to take, and we did a cost-benefit analysis over several months to decide if it was a sane route. It turned out it would be just as expensive for us to keep trying to get a place on our own if the search lasted an additional two weeks, so essentially we were paying to guarantee an end to the search before our Airbnb bill got any bigger. And honestly, our agent was lovely, there’s just less value placed on kissing the client’s ass here, which is probably for the best.

There’s a VIP Option When You Apply For Your French Visa

You have to know a thing or two about the French to make it through the visa process without losing your shit. That could be an alternative title to this entry. I’m now somewhat initiated to the ways of the French bureaucracy after the paperwork scavenger hunt that was required to get married in Bazus last year. Hoping these callouses will last long enough so I can hold it together once we move.

I will say, the online experience was actually extremely quick, clean, friendly, and clear–none of these adjectives typically describe a French experience be it a security line or a dinner. After some googling of things like “how do I even get a French visa,” the French visa website will direct you to a third party handler who facilitates the visa appointments for the Embassy, VFS Global. This was a cinch, perhaps because VFS has cornered this niche market and is doing this for several countries. Make an appointment, VFS tells you what to bring, boom. Privatization isn’t always bad.

I knew better than to believe that the simplicity of these initial steps would be a predictor of the ease of the rest of the process. I knew better but I believed it anyway. But of course once I physically got to the VFS Global office things started to get… FRENCH AF.

I arrive at a weird, boring, midcentury building on Wilshire near the Flynt building that I’ve probably driven by at least 200 times. It’s not the French Consulat which my husband visits for his visa, it’s the home of this third party handler. FYI, they only have valet so park around the corner if you don’t want to get shived for $12. The tiny VFS Global offices are on the fifth floor, where I was searched by security, then sat in a room that’s set up like a tiny but much less depressing DMV office: windows at the front, rows of seats, myriad signs with directions, French tourism posters.

For some reason there is a VIP waiting area that is behind a glass partition, almost half the size of the whole waiting area, without anyone sitting in it. The room is decorated like a tacky Americna living room with a couch, coffee table, and television. As I stared at it, grasping to comprehend its existence, I was thankful that I didn’t have to sit in there and signal to the rest of the room that I self-identified as a VIP.

Anyway, my turn came and I gave the dude that spoke English all of my documents, which I knew would be sufficient because I followed the instructions from the French Consulat and VFS Global. However, I was informed that the copy of our French marriage certificate that I’d brought was too old–it was less than a year old, but it needed to be less than three months old. Of course, none of the instructions specified how fresh these docs had to be, one would assume they just had to be real. Nope, I have learned that the French have a thing for super fresh docs: when we got married last year I had to procure a NEW birth certificate for myself as the one I had from 2006 somehow might not reflect new information about the date and location of my birth. Whatever, I told him I’d send a fresh certificate.

Nearby I overheard a woman asking how she was supposed to complete the online visa application with the address of where she’d be staying in Paris if she needed a visa to secure a place to stay in Paris. This is classic French bureaucracy, and the only way around it is to fudge a little, put your Airbnb address even if you’re only staying there for a few days, and cross your fingers. This is essentially what the Visa dude told her. The bureaucracy famously moves at a snails pace, and is greased by these small fudges, otherwise nothing would get done. To this day I feel like someone is going to realize we didn’t provide the right paperwork to get married, but most likely no one even cared.

For anyone reading because they actually want to learn about the visa process, the next step is you go into a tiny white room, give them your finger prints and take a photo. I made the mistake of wearing a bun that day, so now on my visa I look like a 12 year old boy. When I left the little white room, someone was sitting in the VIP area.

As expected, I got an email from the French Embassy stating additional documents were required. I needed to send a copy of my Livret de Famille (family book), and a copy of our marriage license that was less than TWO months old–VFS Global had told me THREE months. See, this is why people talk mess on French bureaucracy. Also I had provided the copy of my Livret de Famille at the appointment, but because of the certificate situation of 2018, I just kept my mouth shut and sent another copy. Grease the system with fudge. My husband’s family had to mail a fresh copy of our marriage license to prove we hadn’t gotten a divorce within eleven months of marriage. My passport was returned to me with visa about two weeks later.

See, I told you it wasn’t that bad, especially not if the system has beat you up in the past. But as an American, getting conflicting info from the powers that be is maddening–what is reality if the system isn’t in agreement. But now, I know you just kind of split the difference, smile at the visa dude, don’t argue about the conflicting info, and it all turns out okay.