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.