bicycode marking

Add a Bicycode to Your Bike

Once you’ve spent a lot on a brand new electric bike (even if you got much of it subsidized) you want to protect it from theft.  Unfortunately, not only is Paris a place where more than one of us have at least one “I got pickpocketed” story, it’s also a place where bikes get stolen: in France 400,000 are stolen annually.  So apart from using one or two strong locks on your bike, what else can you do to protect yourself?  Enter Bicycode.

French Federation of Bicycle Users

When the authorities do manage to find stolen bicycles, it’s challenging to  return the bikes to their rightful owners because of changes/damage to the bike.  The French Federation of Bicycle Users (FUB) set up Bicycode back in 2004 with the idea that a “tattoo” on the bike frame would offer a point of identification that could connect a stolen bike to its rightful owner.  It has since marked almost 250,000 bikes in France and Switzerland.

Now, this isn’t to say that your would-be thief is going to see a Bicycode sticker on your bike frame and be scared off from stealing your bike.  It’s just an additional measure you can take to make sure that if your bike is stolen, you’re at least giving yourself some chance of getting it back.  Of the 400,000 annually stolen bikes in France, 150,000 are recovered, and Bicycode at least gives you some kind of shot at recovering your wheels.

Getting Your Bicycode

Once I was sold on this short and easy measure I went to the interactive map showing who the retail providers are and made an appointment.  A number of shops in Paris are not doing them on a regular basis so I ended up going to Melun, which has a shop doing them all the time.

I had to do some basic paperwork (this is France, after all) to establish that I was the owner of this bike and was registering it at an address I had proof of living at. If you ever sell your bike in the future, you can give the buyer your registration material and Bicycode provides a way for the new owner to then register the bike in his/her own name.

Once all the paperwork was done (probably ten minutes of work in total), I handed over 10€ and he got to work.

The technology used is apparently resistant to weather, water, UV damage, and high pressure washing.  The tech took 15 seconds to engrave it once he had the bike in the right position.  The code he put on the bike is unique and linked to my bike’s serial number, my name, and my email address.  If your bike is stolen you log onto your Bicycode account and declare the bike as stolen and give the address of the police station where you made the report (which assumes, of course, you’ve done that as well).

Add to Your Insurance As Well

I also contacted my renter’s insurance to ask them if a bicycle theft was covered and they said it was.  They just needed some paperwork (of course).  I sent them proof of purchase and the serial number of the bicycle and signed a rider to the policy adding the bike.  No change in my premium and the bike was now included.

You can’t prevent your bike from being stolen in all circumstances.  Basics include:

  • using at least one bike lock to secure your bike
  • securing the lock through the frame of your bike rather than the wheels
  • using one of the ever-increasing bike stalls throughout the capital, which have strong metal bars for you to use

But once you’ve added a Bicycode and added the bike to your insurance, there’s nothing more you can do to protect yourself.  Enjoy your ride!

Photo is of the technician marking my bike with its unique Bicycode.

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How to Get a Long-Stay Visa for France Through French Lessons

While it would be nice if Americans were able to live in Europe visa-free, it’s not the case (one can dream that it will be someday, right?). If you’re from the US and want to live in a country like France for more than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a long-stay visa (known as the VLS-TS) first.

If you don’t have family or a French spouse, there are (to really simplify things) two ways you can live in France legally as a non-European: through work or school. 

I’ve already touched on how to obtain a student visa for France, but this “hack” is for those of you who are more interested in improving your French skills rather than going to a university.

What Kind of French Classes Get You a Long-Stay Visa for France?

If you’re like me, you cringe at the thought of going back to school. Maybe you finished your undergraduate degree and thought to yourself “Never again!” Or, maybe you’ve gotten as far as your master’s or doctorate and there isn’t much university-level schooling out there for you. Or, hey, maybe after high school you decided to go straight to work.

As someone who never thought she would ever go back to school after my undergrad, I eventually did get my master’s degree here in France. But, that’s another story for another day. In between being an au pair and enrolling in my master’s program, I did one year of intensive French classes. And, those classes enabled me to get a long-stay visa for France.

For a bit of background, once I did ultimately decide to go for my master’s degree, I knew I needed to improve my French for a few different reasons. First of all, I wanted to be able to intelligently engage in a conversation with a French person. I also knew that in whatever master’s program I enrolled in, I would be required to understand, speak, and write at least basic French (a level I had not yet reach after living here as a nanny). Plus, if you want to go to a public French university as a foreigner, you need to prove that you have at least “B2” level French. 

B2 refers to a level in the “Common European Framework of Reference” (CEFR) scale for languages. It is used to assess people’s language levels and ranges from A1-C2. Here is a breakdown of the different levels for French:

  • A1: Beginner
  • A2: Elementary 
  • B1: Intermediate
  • B2: Fluent
  • C1: Advanced
  • C2: Bilingual

To be honest, whether or not you want to continue on to a master’s or doctorate program if you plan on living in France for an extended period of time, you should try to obtain at least a B2 level. 

The good news is, an intensive French language program will get you that student visa you’re after whatever level you’re at! Here is what is required:

Once you’ve found your dream program, you’ll have to go through the steps of applying for a student visa for French. I’ve mapped out everything you need to know here.

If you’re in Paris, I did the FETE program at Université Nanterre (yup, that Nanterre. Any other 20th-century history buffs out there?). It’s located just outside of the city to the west. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving their French. The classes are a mix of speaking and writing as well as cultural classes. Fieldtrips include visits to Parisian museums and landmarks, how cool is that? There is also a similar option at La Sorbonne

If you’re not in Paris, simply take a look at the list of FLE accredited schools I linked above!

Some Things to Remember if You Want to Renew

If you plan on spending just one year in France and know that you won’t need to renew your visa, you can skip the next section.

If you already know that you’ll want to extend your time in France after one year, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You need to pass the school year in order to renew. That means you’ll have to take school seriously. Attend all of your classes and study for your tests. Stay on good terms with your professors, as well.
  • Make sure you have a plan for what you want to do next. Do you want to continue with intensive French courses until you’ve achieved C2? Do you want to enroll in university? Remember, for the latter, you’ll need at least a B2 level.
  • Start gathering the paperwork you need to renew 4-5 months before the end of the school year. You’ll need to schedule your renewal appointment at least 3 months before your visa expires.
  • As a general note concerning all French visas: keep everything. That means bank statements, cell phone bills, copies of your lease, or a letter from the person who is housing you saying that they are housing you. You’ll need all of this plus proof that you passed the school year. 

Disclaimer: I’m not giving you permission to slack off or stop going to school if you don’t plan to renew your visa. My advice? Take advantage of the fact that you’re in France learning French. It’s the best way to learn a new language, and you’ll have the opportunity to speak French with actual French people. Don’t throw away an opportunity like that.

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Faisal Waheed on Unsplash

An Expat Discussion of Study Abroad Experiences

Editor’s Note: In these articles, Molli Sébrier (MS) & Gracie Bialecki (GB) discuss their study abroad experiences, particularly in the light of later on becoming Paris residents.

MS: I was never someone who imagined herself in a foreign country. But, when I found myself in the study abroad office of my university in the fall of 2011 and the advisor suggested Paris in January 2012, I said yes. When I think back to that gloomy afternoon on my New England campus, I know now that it was a defining moment in my life. If I had never said “yes” to Paris almost ten years ago, I most likely would have never gotten my master’s degree, learned a foreign language, or said “yes” to my French husband. 

I’m getting ahead of myself. I needed a passport (I never had the need for one before), to apply for financial aid, tell my parents, quit my job…all of these seemingly onerous tasks stood in the way of me and my great escape. But, none of that mattered because I was going to Paris. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I did want to live abroad. I had just never let myself have those feelings because it seemed impossible. A lesson in never saying never, for sure. 

Gracie, did you always know that you wanted to study abroad, or was it a spur-of-the-moment decision like it was for me? What prompted you to spend a semester in Paris?

GB: I’m pretty much on the exact opposite end of the study abroad spectrum. At age twelve, I decisively chose to study French over Spanish, and I fell even more in love with the country when I visited with my family the following year. On that trip, I also met our French family friends who continue to play an integral part of my life and my expat experience.

Clearly, I had the France bug from a young age, and I continued to study it in college with the goal of spending a semester abroad. There were programs in other French cities and countries, but I was all eyes on Paris. To me, it was incredible to have an opportunity to live in the city for an entire semester, and it was something I’d wanted to do for as long as I could remember.

I’m interested in what you imagined Paris would be like before you left – did you have a clear idea of what you were getting into? Any specific hopes and dreams for your first extended stay outside of the US?

MS: I honestly went into the entire experience blindly, with next to zero expectations. The week before I was set to leave, it suddenly hit me that I was actually going to be living in a foreign country for the next 6 months, and I got really emotional about leaving friends and family behind. I was so caught up in spending time with everyone, that I didn’t really have time to imagine what I was getting myself into!

I definitely did have certain expectations once I did arrive in Europe – I remember getting to my host family’s apartment with my roommate and we were both really disappointed. We looked out of our window, looked at each other, and said, “We can’t even see the Eiffel Tower from here!” when in reality, we were in the beautiful and quintessentially Parisian neighborhood Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

But, looking back, I’m happy that I didn’t spend much time imagining what Paris was going to be like (other than assuming that you could see the Eiffel Tower from every window in the city). Going into it so blindly meant that I was shocked and awed by nearly everything I saw. One thing that I loved about Paris at the time (and still do!) is the fact that everything is just so old. I’m from New England, the oldest part of the United States, but nothing can compare to the thousand-year-old buildings that are around every corner here.

I imagine that you must have had certain expectations about France since you had been dreaming about coming here for years. Did Paris live up to your expectations? Did anything surprise you about living abroad? 

GB: My study abroad experience was quite stereotypical in that it had a mixture of joyful-loving-Paris highs as well as frustrated-at-foreign-living-lows. Unlike you, my host family lived in Boulogne which is in the west of Paris at the end of the Line 9. While the subway goes there, it’s not in an arrondissement and wouldn’t be considered part of Paris proper. 

So while you could walk many places from Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I was at least a forty minute subway ride from everything I wanted to do. On top of that, the métro closes around midnight on the weekdays at one a.m. on the weekends. This meant I was constantly watching the clock and making sure I could get home. Keep in mind that I studied abroad before Uber, electric scooters, and all the transportation options we have today. And at that time, there was no way I could’ve afforded a taxi from the center of Paris out to Boulogne (laughs).

Transportation struggles aside, I did the most I could to immerse myself in French language and culture. I spoke exclusively French with my host family and prioritized spending time with my French friends. My main goal was to be as “French” as possible. Many of the other students in my program spent all their time together, which meant they were speaking English and exploring the city in a way that felt overly touristy. As I mentioned in my other article on studying abroad, I only took one class at a French university, so I struggled a bit with being in a program which was teaching us about the city while also not necessarily integrating us into it.

On a personal note, I was also in a relationship with my boyfriend who lived in Los Angeles which is nine time zones away from France. It was hard to be that far apart and I spent a lot of time and energy missing him even though I was only gone for three months. It’s interesting that your program was twice as long as mine. How did you feel after six months in Paris? At the end of your stay, did you consider yourself comfortably “Parisian”?

MS: At the end of my program a group of friends and I actually ended up moving to the South of France because we weren’t ready to go back to America and reality. I wasn’t ready to leave my newfound French life behind just yet! 

But, funnily enough, I was a lot like the other students in your study abroad program – I stuck with the group and didn’t have any French friends until I moved to the south. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was so comfortable in our little “English bubble,” and breaking away from that felt scary! I barely spoke French and had a hard enough time trying to communicate with my “host mom” that just the thought of trying to make friends in French made me break out into a cold sweat.

So, in that way, I don’t think that I felt Parisian after my 6-month study abroad program, no. I feel much more French and Parisian now after my 7+ years here, mostly because I had a completely different mindset the second time I moved to France. But, that’s another story for another article. 

You mentioned that your host family was located outside the city. Were you disappointed when you learned that or excited that you were going to be with a “real” French family in a “real” Parisian suburb? I already told you that I was pretty terrified of my host mom, what was your relationship with your host family like?

GB: I had mixed feelings about living in Boulogne rather than Paris “proper.” Part of me was quite disappointed to be that far outside of the city, especially since other students on the program were located centrally, like you in Saint-Germain-des-Près. To anyone familiar with Paris, it seems cruel and unfair. At the same time, my other French “family,” who I met through my father when I was thirteen, also live in Boulogne. So in a crazy coincidence, I ended up having both my official and my unofficial French parents in the same neighborhood. That said, being so far outside of Paris did significantly change my experience, and I think it’d be hard for anyone to get the most out of the city while navigating métro closings and public transportation schedules, especially in the time before smartphones. 

My relationship with my host family was fairly cordial — they were considerate and certainly took good care of me, though they didn’t seem particularly interested in learning about my life or my American perspective. They’d been hosting students for many years, and it felt more like a way to fill an empty room in their house than to have a cultural exchange. In retrospect, this is totally reasonable, though going into the program, I expected to be greeted with slightly more open arms. Then again, that’s also a cultural difference. My family had two sons who lived at home, and though they weren’t around much, they always chatted with me. Everyone spoke French which gave me lots of practice — I don’t remember ever once reverting to English. In that regard, being immersed with a family who doesn’t speak much English can be a blessing. Since the easy way to improve at a language is to slog through the daily communication in order to be understood. Overall, I’m grateful for my experience and the way my French improved in those three short months.

Do you have any final thoughts on your time studying abroad in France? Any takeaways that stick out to you as you look back?

MS: The major takeaway for me is how important it is for anyone to leave their home country and live abroad. I mentioned that it was never something that I thought I would do, I wasn’t encouraged to do it by my family, or by anyone around me, really. If it wasn’t for that one persistent study abroad advisor, I honestly don’t know where I would be today! 

That said, studying abroad was totally life-changing for me. That’s not to say that I think everyone who studies abroad should eventually leave their home country for good, but it is an eye-opening experience. Even going from one Western country to another, there are immense differences between France and the United States, and it was really important for me to see that with my own eyes. I think this is especially true for Americans. We tend to grow up in a bubble, quite separate from the rest of the world — both in terms of geography and in terms of mindset. It can be helpful to realize that there are other ways of life out there.

So, if you’re waiting for a sign — this is it! We encourage everyone reading this article to visit the study abroad offices at their university and to think seriously about their options. You never know where a semester or two in a foreign country could lead you.

Photo was taken from the bell towers of Notre Dame, when such views were available to anyone willing to stand in line.

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France 365

In December 2020 I took a business trip to Eindhoven to check in with the editors of Dispatches Europe, which syndicates some of our content here at TAIP.  In November 2021 I took a two-week business trip to Hungary.  That means this week I hit 365 days in France out of the last 380 or so days, a feat I haven’t come remotely close to touching in my near-decade living in France.  As this milestone loomed, an uninterrupted period of time in France with almost no international travel, I was struck by a surprising idea: I didn’t miss it.

Let me give a bit of context first.

I am not a newshound.  I cultivate deliberate ignorance about current events and I do not seek to be “informed” about the “news.”  I have plenty to keep track of with my businesses and my own passions and pursuits without being told about issues that have nothing to do with me and which I can do nothing about.  I’ve only doubled down on that since March 2020.  That has allowed me to use the last two years to focus on what truly mattered to me, and one of those happened to be reading.  Last year I got to read around 150 books.  This year I’ll hit 200.

With that many books comes a flood of inspiration for personal and professional projects, none of which have required me to travel.  So, there’s been nothing to miss on that front.  A lot of time I used to spend traveling went right into reading.

I also did a lot of traveling here in Europe, from the very first month I landed in Paris.  I took my first international trip (to London, my favorite European city outside Paris) within two weeks of moving to Paris and my travels only expanded from there.   The twelve months leading up to March 2020 was the busiest travel period of my entire life, which included trips to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States.  I have not been idle with the opportunity to travel in the past decade.  I’ve even used that experience to create a course teaching others how to travel cheaper, better, and longer.

Travel means many things to many people, but for me travel is first and foremost an opportunity to learn about cultures, other people, and myself.  I’ve taken the time I used to spend traveling and spent it working on personal projects, one of which has been a four year project to read and discuss every Shakespeare play with a group in Paris.  I have been “traveling” with this group since January 2020, and we’ve learned so much together.

So why don’t I miss international travel?  Because I’ve got a lot of great stuff going on in my life, and I’m happy with who I am and where I am going.

A quote I often share is that you should “build the kind of life you don’t need to take a vacation from.”  Unfortunately, for a lot of people, travel represents what they imagine as their “real lives.”  While traveling they get to be who they want to be, do what they want to do, live where they want to live.  After this burst of exhilaration, they return to a life they don’t want, and start planning their next escape.

But if you are living the life you want to live and living where you want to live, what’s the rush to leave it?

Do I miss the opportunity to learn more about other cultures, other peoples, and about myself?  Sure.  But international travel is only one means to obtain those ends, and for most of my time here in Europe has been a very easy way to do so.  But the last two years have reminded me that there are many others such ways to learn, almost none of which involve scanning governmental and news websites for ever-changing rules or lining up to, for perhaps the only time in your life, get medically tested for something you are almost 100% certain that you don’t have.

That isn’t to say I didn’t continue to discover France this year.  I finally made it down to Montpellier after hearing people rave about it for years.  I was not disappointed.  I also got to explore Brittany more, including Vannes, the Gulf of Morbihan, and the dramatic seascape at Le Yaudet, just to name a few places I got to see for the first time.

Remember that wherever you travel to in the world, you’ll be bringing yourself, and if you’re not at peace with the person you are and are becoming, that should be the first order of business, not the wonderful sights and sounds that this world has to offer.  They’ll all be there waiting for you when you’re ready.

My best wishes for the next 365 days, wherever you are.

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

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chocolatine

Boulangerie Basics

I can’t speak for every foreigner, but I can describe the feeling that most Americans have the first time we enter a French boulangerie of any size or reputation.

Wow.

Followed closely by that feeling of awe is the complete ignorance you feel about what to order.  Everyone in line with you seems to be on a mission.  The staff are patient, but not so patient for you to simply stare open-jawed indefinitely.  Where will I learn what to do and what to say?

Turns out, imitation works as a start.

It was maybe my second day in France as I stood in line and tentatively ordered, “une baguette, SVP.”  “Ça sera tout?” is the reply that is repeated, verbatim, by every person who works in any boulangerie in France.  I used to automatically answer “oui” but came to realize as years wore on that the French are giving you permission to change your mind.

Perhaps you only came in here to get a baguette or a pastry, but now confronted with the reality of the situation, you might add on another pastry, or another loaf, or perhaps another treat for later, for a friend of course.  Sometimes after this second or third choice there will be silence as they watch your eyes, which are in turn looking at choices.  Then an internal timer dings in their head and they repeat their default saying, “ça sera tout?”  If there are other staff they will already be helping the people behind you in line.

The imitation game picks up tricks rapidly.  You hear someone ask for a “demi-baguette” and watch one of the staff deftly slice one of the baguettes in half to what is a perfect size for a single person’s dinner accompaniment.  “une demi-baguette, SVP,” I say as if I’ve said that countless times in my life, and hand over exactly half the cost of the regular-priced baguette.  Baguettes were even price-controlled until 1986.  Much like rice in Asia, baguettes in France are still seen as a basic “right” of sorts and if prices rise they will usually be on other types of bread before hitting the rates for the baguette.

More imitation: I hear a gentleman ask for a baguette “bien cuite” and ask myself “a well-done baguette?”  I watch the lady shuffle through the baguettes on the shelf and pick one, holding it for inspection.  The gentleman wants a different one.  She finds one in the back and there it is: a well-done baguette means a bit more cooked, hence a bit darker on the outside and crunchier to the mouth.  You can go the opposite way too, by asking for a “blanche” baguette, though I’d never heard this ordered before I ordered one for a friend who I knew preferred them that way.

More imitation: Someone asks for a “tradition” and the lady reaches for something that looks like a baguette but has a slightly different shape and size.  I then order one and inspect and taste for differences.  They have pointier ends and are hand-formed and baked on premises.  By a 1993 law, a “baguette tradition” can only contain flour, leavening, water, and salt.  The “levain” is something like a sourdough starter but that sourdough taste doesn’t come through as strongly as Americans would expect from anything that has “sourdough” attached to it.

How many different ways can the French deliver such a great product, I thought as my imitation game became knowledge game and I started to share with friends my fascination about how bakeries worked and how I was having to learn as an adult all the things French children know by the age of six.

There’s also the pain au chocolat/chocolatine “controversy,” if it can even be called that.  Anglophiles might be familiar with the differences between how Devon and Cornwall take their cream tea.  In Cornwall, you put jam on your scone first and follow with a spoonful of cream.  In Devon, on the other hand, cream goes on first, then a bit of jam on top.  It’s always amusing to watch English people argue about this difference as if there’s something genuinely at stake.  So too I’ve been amused to watch “chocolatine/pain au chocolat” square-offs.  The last time I witnessed one was near Montparnasse with a fiercely traditional Breton acquaintance, who rolled her eyes at the chocolatine “advocates” and even more so at the peacemaker who proposed “pain au chocolatine” as the compromise.  The divide can be seen down south at large chains like Paul which use “pain au chocolat” in areas where around them all the independent shops use “chocolatine.”  “It does sound a bit more ‘French,'” I noted to the opinionated Bretonne.  “What do you know?” she said in a (mostly-friendly) huff.

What is more wonderful is to see the centuries-old tradition of baking and running a bakery at work in the present day.  Nothing is wasted.  The pastries that weren’t sold yesterday are sold at half price in groups of usually half a dozen.  Look for the plastic bags with pastries inside or ask if they are any “viennoiseries a la ancienne.”  Any bread that is not sold and is on the way to going stale is then sliced up and put back into the oven to shrink into “biscotte” which are sold for (at the most) 75 centimes a bag and are a great accompaniment to soup or can be broken up to serve as croutons for soup or salad.  I’m certain there’s also a fair amount of trade in breadcrumbs to nearby restaurants who might need them.  There is waste that used to go to the poor or to the pigs in the old days, and some of that still goes to them, but with computers and spreadsheets showing historical demand, I think today’s boulangers have the opportunity to make less waste (and more profit) than their ancestors.  Whether they do or not can also depend on how seriously they take their craft.

When you’ve had hundreds of baguettes you finally start to know instinctively what the French know from their early childhood: the difference between real bakery bread and what is warmed up from frozen prep.  The shocking thing is in Paris quite a lot of baguettes are made from frozen, but that’s because the French people know it’s the lowest denominator of bread and in part are okay with that.  Unlike the “tradition” which is regulated by law as to ingredients and prep, baguettes are not and as such are just there at the very base of the bread pyramid, in a way.

This also means you can taste French supermarket bread for what it is: sad, tasteless, industrial lumps of sadness that would have blown your mind had it been served to you when you still lived in America and didn’t know what real bread could be like (that said, I know a lot of places in America are becoming real havens of true baking skills, but the reality in the heartland is still mostly inedible).

Does that mean you should always order a “tradition“?  It totally depends on you.  When you fall into the rhythms of your neighborhood and your own shopping routine, you will notice that people may skip the bakery next to their house and walk 200-300m to another bakery.  Why?  Perhaps they have a good relationship with the owner.  Perhaps that bakery makes the type of crust they really go for.  Or, in my case, they also make kouign-amanns on a regular basis (worth another article in itself!).

There’s even an importance to what time of the day you go to the bakery.  While Americans might balk at standing in line just to buy bread (even though they’ll happily sit in a drive-thru line for junk food), a line is indicative of usually the best time to get it before all you are left with is slim pickings.  The earlier you go, the better, though there’s a window around 16h00, known as “gouter,” when French kids might get a snack on the way home and fresh bread and pastries come out.  When you come late, you might have the “agony” of what happened to me the other night when the gentleman in front of me ordered the last “pavé,” (country white bread that is so called because it’s shaped like a paving stone) which is my personal favorite for my daily bread, and I had to pretend not to be disappointed as I ordered the sole remaining charpentier, but that’s the joke: a “disappointment” in a French bakery means instead of getting my preferred type of bread, I get another amazing type of loaf.  A charpentier has a beautiful color with a wonderful crust and is just as enjoyable as my usual pavé.

So, those are the basics.  First, start with the imitation game.  Listen to those ahead of you in line and order what they order.  When you get to the front of the queue everyone is going to be patient with you: don’t feel like you need to be in a rush.  Just make it clear that you are studying items rather than just staring off into space with no idea.  During this stage you’ve got nothing to lose since you know nothing and tasting is the best way to teach your palette.  Then as your imitation game becomes knowledge game, actively try different items and different bakeries to expose yourself to everything your neighborhood has on offer.  Finally, resist routine.  All French people fall into this, but should you wish to be a lifelong learner of the absolute gift to civilization that French bread is, you need to keep trying different things and different bakeries.  You are going to turn into a bread snob, but what did you expect when you moved to France?

I took the photo in Toulouse in late 2020 when I excitedly ordered a “chocolatine” for the first time in my life. 🙂

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carte vitale

How to Get a Numéro Provisoire or How to Sign up for Assurance Maladie

For the first year after I arrived in France, every time I went to the pharmacy or doctor, they’d ask for my carte vitale. This is the health insurance card every French person has which allows them to be reimbursed for medical expenses, and each time I politely explained I didn’t have one, the person checking me out would be shocked. To be paying out of pocket for my medical costs was unheard of, even though they were fractions of what I was used to in the U.S.

It took me longer than it could’ve to realize I also qualified for medical insurance or assurance maladie. After going through the process, the first document I received was a temporary social security number or numéro provisoire. If you’re in France on a carte de séjour visiteur, this is the only number you’ll be assigned. However, if you are here on a visa talent or visa vie privée, you’ll be eligible for a permanent social security number, as well as a carte vitale.

Who Qualifies?

Anyone living in France in a “stable and regular manner” qualifies to be covered by France’s healthcare system. This means you do not have to be born in France, married in France, or even working in France to register. However, it means you do have to have spent at least three months in the country and have a valid titre de séjour.

How do I Register?

To register you need to send copies of the following documents to the closest health insurance office. You can look up which one that is here.

Required Documents:

  • National Identity Card or passport or residence permit, as well as any documentation of your civil status.
  • Extract of birth certificate with filiation or full copy of birth certificate
  • Completed “Demande d’ouverture des droits d’assurance maladie.” (The second page of the form also lists the necessary documents to include.)

In my case, I sent copies of my passport and current titre de séjour, as well as the récépissé of my PACS — all documents which showed I was a ‘permanent’ resident in France. I also included a long form copy of my birth certificate which had an apostille and had been translated into French, as well as a letter d’hébergement saying I lived with Fred. Luckily, I was doing this process soon after being PACSed and had all these documents on hand. Proving you live in France usually all boils down to the same set.

Why is it Taking so Long?

  • The Short Answer: Assurance Maladie is a single government health agency which serves the entire country of France. Unsurprisingly, it can take them a long time to process documents, especially since you’re required to mail in your application.
  • The Long Answer: There are many reasons why an application can be deemed incomplete –– perhaps you sent an abbreviated version of your birth certificate, perhaps you forgot to sign a certain form, perhaps your dossier is inexplicably missing. This was the case for my first attempt, and after waiting three months and without a word from the health insurance office, I went back and discovered they had no record of my ever having filed for a numéro provisoire. Whenever possible, try to keep track of who you’re speaking to, their name and contact info, and any trace that could be helpful in tracking down your file. In my case, I simply resubmitted everything and waited a few more months. As you can see, it’s always worth it to follow up and be on top of these processes.

Bonus Question: What’s the difference between a temporary and permanent number?

Your temporary number allows you to be reimbursed for expenses, assuming to keep the form the doctor or pharmacy fills out, as well as any prescriptions, and mail them to assurance maladie. The reimbursement is done directly to your French bank account on file, though the entire process can take up to a month.

With a permanent number, you qualify for a carte vitale which acts as a debit card and means the French government is paying the up front costs, or at least the percentage of costs covered by the health care system.  You can create an online account on Ameli (the French government’s healthcare site) which means you no longer have to mail completed forms and proof of doctor visits to be reimbursed. That said, as I’ll talk about in a future article, being reimbursed doesn’t mean that one hundred percent of the costs are covered.

If, like me, and you’ve assumed that you don’t qualify for healthcare because you’re not French, I hope this article is helpful. As you can see, the process of applying is relatively straightforward and worth it from a financial sense and for the mental relief of being “covered.”

Photo is of my new card finally arriving!

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How to Become an Auto-Entrepreneur in France

Many people dream of living and working in France, and while I was right there with you when I first got here, I know that I had a tendency to put the logistical side of everything on the backburner. Thinking about taxes and the like just didn’t fit into my Midnight in Paris vision of what I wanted my life to be like here. 

I was soon brought back down to reality when I finally got settled into my new post-master’s-degree life. I had already been in France for some time at that point, but I worked as an au pair (the family I worked for paid taxes on me), and after I was a full-time student (I traded English lessons for my apartment and took other odd jobs to make a little cash on the side). I knew I wanted to pursue freelance writing as a career, but I was unsure how to do so legally (plus how to get the benefits that I knew came from paying taxes here). 

I was soon introduced to the concept of the auto-entrepreneur. There is no literal translation for the term, but it should be understood as a one-person business. If you’ve also seen the term micro-entrepreneur floating around, it’s because in 2016 the French government officially changed the term from “auto” to micro-entrepreneur. However, although it’s been officially changed for five years now, most people continue to call it the latter and even the website you’ll use to open your business and pay your social charges features the word auto-entrepreneur. That’s France for you!

Similar to the 1040 freelancer tax status in the United States, opening your own one-person business is a great way to freelance legally in France. If you have a valid residence permit that permits you to work in France (sorry Visitor visa holders!), you’re eligible. When I got started myself, I found the process confusing and so I created this guide to help anyone else who may be in the same position.

Registering as an Auto-entrepreneur

I want to clarify one more time that the terms auto-entreprise and micro-entreprise are one and the same, and both signify a one-person business in France. Once you open your business, you become an auto, or micro, entrepreneur. There are a few different ways to open your business:

  • In-person, at the Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE) closest to your residence (a quick Google search will help you determine which one).
  • By mail, but filling out the form on this website (click on accéder au formulaire) and sending it to the correct CFE.
  • Online, by visiting this website.

I recommend you do the online option unless you’re eager to practice your French or use your printer and pay for postage. Once you visit the website, follow these instructions:

  1. The first question is asking if you are already an “independent worker,” which is yet another term for auto-entrepreneur. You are allowed to have up to two small businesses, but if you’re reading this how-to article I’m assuming you don’t have one already! Check the box that says “non.” Then, click the button that says “déclarer mon auto-entreprise.” 
  2. You’ll be asked to create an account, which you’ll need to pay your social charges and to have access to any sort of information related to your new small business. Fill in your personal information and then click on “créer mon compte.” You’ll have to confirm your email address and then sign in to your new account before you can move onto the next step.
  3. Once you’ve signed in, you’ll see a message at the top of the page asking you to complete the process to create your small business (Pour effectuer votre formalité…). Click on it.
  4. You can now finally get down to business. Fill in the necessary information, including what you plan on doing, when you want to start, and some other questions. The nice thing about the process (which didn’t exist when I opened my small business) is the small question marks next to each step that you can click on if you’re confused. 
  5. Below is a screenshot for reference, of what I would put if I were to sign up for a small business for freelance writing:
  6. Click on “Suivant.” Here, you’ll be required to fill in your personal information like your address, date of birth, and the like. You’ll also need to put your nationality, and here you’ll be prompted to put in your residency permit number.
  7. Click on “Suivant.” This next section has to do with your marital status and your monthly social charges. If you already have a social security number you can put it in here, otherwise, click on the box that says “Ce numéro ne m’a jamais été attribué.” You’ll be able to choose the frequency of your social charge payments. I personally prefer monthly payments, but you can also opt to pay each trimester. There is also the option to pay your yearly taxes at the same time as your monthly social charges. Again, this is all preference! IF you’d like to separate yourself legally from your business (similar to an LLC in the US), check “oui” next to the option to become an EIRL. 
  8. Click on “Suivant.” You’ll want to check “non” for the first question as you’re creating the business for yourself. Check “oui” for the second question, you’ll need the SIRENE for your future business dealings!
  9. Click on “Suivant.” You’ll be brought to a summary of all of the information that you’ve filled in so far. Review it and edit if necessary. 
  10. Click on “Suivant.” Here you’ll be required to upload a copy of your ID and your valid residency permit. This next part is a bit tedious, but you’ll have to scan and print out your documents and sign with the words, “J’atteste sur l’honneur que cette pièce d’identité est conforme à l’original,” Plus, “Fait à … le …” with your location as well as the date. Then, re-scan this document and upload it onto the site. Make sure you click on “Joindre le fichier” after you’ve selected the document from your computer. You should then see it below like this:
  11. Click on “Suivant.” You’ll be taken to a confirmation page with the option of downloading your application and I recommend that you do so for your own records! If you followed the steps above, you should receive a confirmation letter from INSEE, the institute responsible for managing all small businesses in France. In the letter is your SIRET, which is the ID number assigned to your business. You’ll be required to put that number on any invoices you send to your future clients!

Paying Your Social Charges as an Auto-entrepreneur

Now that you’ve set up your new small business in France the next step is to start working! I wanted to include a note on paying your charges. Whether you opt for monthly payments or each trimester, you need to stay on of them to avoid paying late fees. You can use the same website that you used to create your business to tell the French government how much money you made and to pay the social charges based on how much you earned. 

  1. Sign in to your account. You’ll be brought to the homepage:
  2. Under “Déclarer et payer” click on “mes échéances en cours.” You’ll see a red “1” if you haven’t filled yours out yet (like me, as of writing this article!). Click on the month that you need to pay. Here you’ll fill out your earnings. There are different categories depending on what your small business does. If you offer a service, such as writing, put your income in the first box. If you make things, like pastries, for example, put how much you took in as a salary in the second box, and in the third box how much money you made from actually selling the pastries. 
  3. Click on “Suivant.” You’ll see here how much you owe the government. As a small business owner in France, you’re required to pay about 23% of your income to social charges. This the price of advantages like low-cost health care and other such benefits. Click on “Valider” to confirm that you agree with the amount.
  4. Here you can enter your bank information if you haven’t already. I usually click on “Payer via ce mandat” right away so that it’s taken care of. You won’t see it deducted from your account until the beginning of the next month.

Congratulations, you’re officially a small business owner in France!

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

bikes in Paris

How Paris Quietly Became a Bike City

When I moved to Paris in 2013 one of the first things I did was obtain a Navigo card and after a couple months of buying monthly passes manually via machines I switched to an annual pass and have not had to think about topping up again.  The metro was the way I moved about Paris.

But after getting to know the Metro fairly well you realize that it’s often just as easy to walk to a certain location and you start making choices about what form of transportation makes the most sense given the weather, your mood, what you’re carrying, and what else you still need to accomplish.  Velib was already around when I arrived in 2013 and the shared bike boom followed by the rise in trottinette usage meant that options for transport have only multiplied since then.  The one form of transport that has received an explosive infusion of support from local government is bicycles.

Infrastructure

Now that bike lanes are so well-established in Paris, I wonder how so many of us were brave enough to ride with vehicle traffic for many years prior.  Cars and their drivers, convinced that everyone but them were simply “intruding” on their entitled space, didn’t make life easy for those of us on bicycles, but we figured that was simply the way it would be.  I mean, this wasn’t Amsterdam after all.  But little did most of us know that the Dutch model was exactly what Mayor Anne Hidalgo had in mind to transform Paris from the ground-up.

Plan Velo

Back in 2015, a year after Hidalgo’s first term began, the city started a project called Plan Velo.  This was a big play to make it significantly easier for bicyclists to navigate the city by creating north-south and east-west reseaus express velos (REVes), or “bike express lanes.”  Similar to what you are going to see on almost every street in the Netherlands, this is a protected bike lane that not only provides bidirectional traffic but also allows bikes to continue moving when their right-of-way is not impeded by traffic.  If you haven’t ridden in one of these before, you can’t possibly know how transformative it is.  It changes the experience of bicycling in the city from one analogous to driving a car, i.e. having to always pay attention while being subject to a lot of traffic and stoplights, to one of breezy insouciance: these north-south and east-west corridors make point-to-point travel significantly faster, safer, and more pleasant.

Plan Velo has paid off in numerous ways, not least of which was featuring as the centerpiece of Hidalgo’s successful re-election bid as Mayor.  Paris jumped up into the top ten of bicycle-friendly cities in the world during her first term.  The infrastructure in place during the late 2019 transportation strike also allowed for an overnight 54% jump in bicycle use among Parisians, many of whom did not go back to the Metro even after the strike ceased.

Hidalgo also seized on Danton’s (in)famous notion of audace during the early days of Covid-19 and took back Rue de Rivoli, the longest street in Paris, and limited it to one lane for buses and taxis.  She also created a number of “coronapistes” which created new protected bike lanes via removable plastic cones.  The reasoning given was that fewer cars were on the road because of lockdown and some people weren’t comfortable traveling in the confined spaces of the Metro.  But, just as with the accompanying “extended terrasse” permissions given to the restaurants, rights ceded were not going to simply be given back, and now Plan Velo 2 has arrived.

Plan Velo, Acte 2

Part of the infrastructure changes needed to pérennisée both the so-called coronapistes and the extended restaurant outdoor terraces was removal of the largest enemy of vibrant life in any city: cars.  Cars need a “home” in the form of parking places and 70% of the existing on-street parking spots designated for cars are being removed.

Hidalgo is running for President on the slimmest of chances and Plan Velo Acte 2, released last month (two days before her announcement to run for President), has to be seen as part of her case for progressive measures to form economic and social life at a granular level.  The benefit is enormous for those of us who live in the city (Paris as 100% cyclable by 2026, it promises), but it’s doubtful that people outside of Paris really care, as life in the French countryside, like life almost everywhere in America, is unimaginable without cars.  Indeed, such denizens would snort at her proposed 2030 gas-powered car ban, which seems quite reasonable to those of us who live in the capital, but might seem very odd to those who don’t.

That said, this plan involves investing 250M euros to make the entire city bikeable by adding another 180km of dedicated two-way cycling paths in addition to making permanent the 52km Hidalgo and her team snuck in via the coronapistes last year (to put that in perspective, at the moment we already have more than 1,000 km of bike paths, quite a few snaking into the suburbs).  There’s also budget for more passenger and cargo bike parking spots and cleaning and trash removal for cycling paths.

In addition there will be programs to teach children to ride bikes in schools, repair workshops in each arrondissement, and a cycling tourism push.

Mindset Shift

But having the infrastructure in place is only one part of the problem.  The second is getting Parisians to realize they are now living in a bike city and to make the changes in their behavior necessary.

In my early years of living in Europe I often said that the Netherlands was the only place in the world in which I was terrified of bikes.  The “ding ding” I heard struck fear into my heart as I wondered if I was standing in the wrong place, completely oblivious to my pending death at the hands of some kind person mounted on one of the country’s 23M bikes who would mutter “wat jammer” before moving my body to the side of the road and making a call to the relevant authorities to take care of my remains.

Often I was standing “in the wrong place” and quickly moved to avoid being mowed down.  Sometimes I wasn’t and it was someone else who was needing to be “dinged.”  The reason I was “terrified of bikes” in the Netherlands was because I didn’t have the right mindset.  After my first visit to what the French call the “low country” I flicked on a mental orange switch every time I came to the country (more than half a dozen times since 2014) that I was in a place where bikes, not cars, ruled.  I even, like a new car driver, ventured into the bike lanes on a borrowed bicycle and realized just how different the bicycling experience was when it was treated as a legitimate source of transportation.

Now that 95% of my trips in the city are on a bicycle (which Anne Hidalgo and her team helped pay for) I’m very aware that there are many Parisians who continue to remain as I was on my first trip to the Netherlands and thus have failed to install that mental switch.  This leads to near-misses with pedestrians including one time that I braked hard enough to simply gently bump into an instantly apologetic female pedestrian.

The lack of mindset shift is the same for Parisian bicyclists.  Many of them, like me, are new and don’t even use the proper hand signals for turning, thinking that a left turn means just putting your left hand out the way you do with your right hand to indicate a right hand turn, or never thinking to signal for an unexpected stop.

This all leads to a sometimes dangerous mix of cars, pedestrians, and cyclists who are getting used to a new way of living with each other which leads to situations like the one well-captured in the tweet below at Bastille.

One of the reasons that bicycling is so safe in the Netherlands is that every single car driver is a bicyclist as well.  That leads to an awareness that is now normative in the entire country.

While I don’t expect the unbelievable growth in bicycles here in the capital to lead to changes everywhere in France, it’s clear to me that cities that protect bicycles necessarily change the mindsets of the pedestrians and the car drivers.  It only takes one near miss by a careless pedestrian in the bike lane to suddenly render visible to that pedestrian what was previously an “invisible” bike lane.

It’s also clear that whatever will happen to her presidential ambitions, Hidalgo’s mayoral legacy is assured, if only for the transformation she has achieved for bicycles in the City of Light, a transformation that she persevered in against the noisy protests of car owners and their lobbyists, who seem to have forgotten that Paris and the rest of the world managed to exist, and exist quite well, thank you very much, without personal cars, for centuries.  For her work on this issue, Hidalgo deserves every Parisian’s gratitude.

This change to our city will take time.  In the meantime I’m enjoying all the benefits that come with riding a bicycle in Paris: a different perspective, speed of transportation (I regularly beat friends who take the Metro and leave at the same time I do for a shared destination), and thanks to the aforementioned Plans Velos, more protected infrastructure.

Ding ding.

Photo by Svetlana Gumerova on Unsplash

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This article also appeared on Medium.

Reflections after 7 years

Reflections After More Than 7 Years in France

Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that I have lived abroad for so long. If you’ve read any of my other articles for The American in Paris, you know that my journey to France never involved years of dreaming or yearning to live in a different country. I’m from southern Rhode Island, which is filled with small beach towns and people who rarely leave. I was content with this idea until the first time I left the United States.

I found myself in France for the first time in early 2012 when I came here for my semester abroad. If you would have asked me in September 2011 if I thought I would ever travel internationally, never mind live abroad, I would have laughed and said no way. To put things into perspective, I had never left the country before (no, not even to go to Canada or Mexico), I didn’t have a passport, and I thought the life I was starting to build was too important to ever even consider leaving, even if for a few months. 

And yet.

Something was pulling me in the direction of France and I couldn’t really shake it. A study abroad advisor at my university very easily convinced me to come to Paris for six months. I loved my time abroad and when I got home I became that girl, starting all of my stories with “This one time in Paris,” but at the same time, I didn’t believe that I would come back to live here. I thought it may be nice, but that life that I had started to build in 2011 kept sneaking back up on me: it was way too important to ever leave long term. 

And yet.

I found myself yet again in France in 2014 and this time it stuck. I’ve been here ever since and now have a master’s degree from a French university under my belt as well as a French husband. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the past seven years more and more. 

What I don’t miss

I don’t miss the fast-paced American life.

I don’t miss 60-hour work weeks and I definitely don’t miss the standard two weeks a year off (and being expected to be happy with/grateful for that).

I don’t miss the materialism and capitalism and consumerism and all of those other -isms that seem to be such essential parts of American life.

I don’t miss the competitiveness that spills over and swells through every facet of that life.

I don’t own a car or a home and I don’t feel judged for it.

I don’t miss being bombarded with advertisements everywhere I look.

I don’t miss hearing “Ask your doctor if this pill/cream/potion is right for you” on television.

I don’t miss worrying about what I would have to pay if I end up in the hospital, and I feel fortunate that I was able to continue my education without thinking about the price tag.

I don’t miss being chased out of restaurants the moment I put my fork down on an empty plate.

I take long lunch breaks. I walk everywhere and I enjoy a glass of wine after a day at work. I like to spend hours at a time in cafés, people-watching, reading, and chatting with other café-goers around me.

What I miss the most

I do miss my family and my friends.

I do miss being able to call my mom whenever I want without having to calculate the time difference.

I do miss going to dinner at my dad’s house on Wednesdays and eating dinner with him on his deck.

I do miss having a backyard.

I do miss the beach, the ocean, the pier, New England, and I miss having access to so much natural beauty at all times.

Sometimes I do miss driving, although I don’t miss owning a car.

I do miss the wide-open spaces that the United States is so famous for.

I do miss paying less in taxes.

I do miss good, quality coffee and inexpensive beer.

I do miss breakfast and hot sauce and good Mexican food. 

I have missed seeing some of my closest friends get married, buy a house, and get pregnant.  I can’t get any of those moments back.

A different kind of homesickness

These days, newly married to a French guy who my parents have only met a handful of times, I’ve been considering what it would be like to go back home for a year or two. Between my selfish decision to spend 2019 in Europe to “Not spend all of my money and time on a trip home,” and the pandemic of 2020-2021, I haven’t stepped foot on US soil since summer 2018. 

Enter what I’ve been calling, a different kind of homesickness. I have, like any expat, of course, felt homesick before. It was the worst when I first arrived in France for the long haul in 2014, and I remember it getting bad again 9 or so months in. That kind of homesickness was pretty standard: I missed my family and friends and I ached to be in the place where I grew up and everyone knew my name (cue the Cheers theme song).

The homesickness I’ve been feeling recently goes a lot deeper and is even harder to describe. On one hand, I love my life in Paris and I feel like I’ve started to hit my stride here. I’m married, have a great group of friends, and I consider myself bilingual. When I walk through my neighborhood I see people who I know and say hello to. I know how to get around the city and I rarely find myself confused or disoriented. I have mastered the métro and even know how to rent a bike using my Navigo.

No, this homesickness goes beyond all of that. I am fully integrated into French culture and yet so far from it at the same time. I get frustrated when I don’t understand certain types of slang or cultural references. Much of this comes down to the simple fact that I am American. I grew up in the United States. In the same way that most of my French friends wouldn’t understand some of the vernacular that I use with my friends back home, or won’t know the obscure reference to some YouTube video that went viral in high school, sometimes I can feel lost. I feel misunderstood, simply because I am not French and I will never be.

It’s been hard but I’ve also started to realize, is it so bad that I will never be French? I have been striving, working, climbing, and scratching to be more French, but I can’t turn back time and change the fact that I wasn’t born here. And I’m becoming more and more okay with the fact that I am and may always be, an American in Paris.

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

Did you enjoy this article?  TAIP is 100% reader-supported through tipping.  If you want to leave us a tip of any amount it would be highly appreciated.  These tips help support our efforts to keep TAIP an ad-free environment.  Just like at a cafe, the tips are split evenly among the team.

Why Study Abroad in Paris?

My first visit to France was with my family when I was thirteen. We were the classic sweaty tourists in late-July Paris, dragging ourselves from monument to museum. But I loved old buildings, narrow streets, and outdoor cafés — everything we walked by was tinged with foreign magic. And when we met French friends of my father who had a daughter my age, I knew I would be back.

I kept studying French and visited over a few high school summers, but I was waiting for study abroad so I could live in the city. It would be my chance to speak French until my accent didn’t mar my words. My chance to drink wine in cafés, take the métro to non-touristy neighborhoods, and meet real Parisians.

While I had a few specific reasons why I wanted to study in Paris, it was less of a rational choice and more of an emotional one. I’d been in love with the city for so long, that the thought of spending time there was a dream come true. Here are some of the more (and less) concrete reasons why I chose Paris:

To Speak French

The easiest way to get better at a language is to speak it, hear it, and live it. I already knew this from the time I’d spent with our French friends, and I also knew I needed more practice before I could be anywhere close to fluent. Since I’d started studying French in middle school, speaking it was a comfortable challenge — something I’d already made progress in and knew I wanted to keep working on. Of course, there are other study abroad programs in other French cities, so my other reasons for choosing Paris are specific to it.

To Spend Time in a Beautiful City

If I ever make a list of stunning cities, Paris will be near the top. The historic buildings, tree-lined boulevards, myriad gardens, the Seine cutting through the city and forming two surprise islands — it’s hard to argue against these aesthetics. What’s more, because it was built before cars were invented, Paris is highly walkable (assuming you’re measuring within the bounds of the périphérique). Even better, as you make your way through the city, each neighborhood has a distinct character.

To Learn More About French Culture

American media has a tendency to idealized French culture — carelessly beautiful women, artists in cafés with their endless cigarettes, fine wine, renowned food. It all adds up to a half-glamorous, half-bohemian lifestyle that had me entirely enthralled.

While the rational part of me knew French life couldn’t be this dreamy, I’d fallen for it years ago. What was most fulfilling about my study abroad experience was deepening my relationship — I took a course on architecture in which we toured the city and visited specific buildings. And another on theater where we read French plays before seeing them performed in a variety of venues. Rather than being on the outside of the city looking in, I was immersed in its offerings.

You Never Know What Will Happen

No, this isn’t the part where I say I fell in love with a Frenchman who is now my husband. My study abroad program had us take a single course at a French university while the rest of our school time was with the American cohort. This meant that we glommed together and spent most of our time wandering Paris and speaking English in a sort of extended tourist outing.

I was lucky in that I already had a two French friends, and I was able to tag-along to their truly “French” life. While I did spend a good amount of time exploring the city, I only lived in Paris for one semester — from September to mid-December. In order to have truly felt like I was committing to this adventure, I would’ve needed to stay longer. This is one of the reasons why I decided to move back in 2018 and have another go.

When I think back on my study abroad experience, it’s a distant blur. But I’m grateful for the way my French improved and all I learned about the city. And instead of worrying that I didn’t make the most of my time, I see my experience as a stepping stone to my current Paris life.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Paris, it might be helpful to make a list of reasons why you’re attracted to the city. Is it to speak French? To have access to its museums and rich cultural history? Or simply to go on an adventure? What’s your why for studying abroad in Paris?

Photo is from a French classroom which will be dramatically different from a US university setting. 🙂

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