Seth is moving to Paris (although to be fair, I got this e-mail months ago, he may have moved there already) and he has a few questions and concerns. Here they are:

I am an American (I’m a single male, and in my mid 20’s if that helps you conceptualize me), and I have been given a great professional opportunity within the company I work for. As you might have guessed, this opportunity involves me moving to Paris. I know that there are about a million Americans out there thinking how lucky I am, but I have some serious concerns over the move. My hope was that you could give me your thoughts on some of my main trepidations.


Ok, I’ll do that.


Paris by Night

However, first of all, my first advice would be to stop putting two spaces after each period. This is a pain in my ass while I’m editing your text.


I don’t speak a word of French (well, maybe a word, but I certainly can’t put together any sort of coherent thought). I think I will try to take evening French classes after work, and maybe try some computer software but I really have to go under the assumption that I will never be fluent (or at least not for many years). Do you think this is going to be a big issue? I know professionally it won’t, but socially, what would you think? I happen to be trilingual (English, Spanish, and Hebrew), do you think that will help me at all in France? Obviously my main concern is living in Paris for several years without being able to have any meaningful relationships due to language barriers. I know no one in France, and will be there all by myself.


Is it going to be a big issue?
If you’re in France just for work, and you don’t care about learning about French culture, it won’t be a big issue. If you want to call France your home, or at least you want to have a fruitful experience in France, well, yes, it is one. Duh…
That being said, I’ve heard of people living in Paris for decades without speaking French, so it’s possible.

Do these people have an experience of living in France that I would call rich? No, I would call it stupid.

If you only care about having drinking buddies in Paris, worry not, you will find plenty, even without speaking French.

Speaking Spanish and Hebrew is irrelevant in France.

Finally (for this paragraph) if you still don’t speak French after several years (see a few lines above), I’d say that maybe you shouldn’t go to France after all.
Anybody living in any country is able to somewhat speak the local language after a few months/years if they try. The keyword here, being “try”.


I mentioned above that I spoke Hebrew, and as you may have guessed I’m a member of the chosen people. I read and hear all sorts of things about how anti-Semitic the French are. How would you describe the average French person’s thoughts on Jews? Should this be a concern of mine?


Well, let me put it this way. While France has its share of anti-Semites, although, no more no less than most other countries, France has also a low tolerance for people who think they’re special because of their religion.
For example, people who would introduce themselves as being “a member of the chosen people”

Most French people don’t care about Jews, they won’t judge a person neither positively nor negatively because of that. But a lot of French people care about people throwing their religion into other people’s face. They don’t like it.

Another thing a lot of French people have issues with, is that tendency for a bunch of Jewish people (French Jews and foreign Jews alike) to call an “anti-Semite” anybody that dares speaking of Jews or Israel in any other way than an eulogistic one. In their eyes, any criticism of a Jew or of Israel is “anti-Semitism”. And by “criticism of a Jew” I don’t mean, criticism of that person as a Jewish person, just criticism of that person for any reason, especially those totally unrelated to their religion.

So, sure if you believe some of their bullshit Zionist propaganda, most French people are anti-Semitic as they don’t really respect the fact that some people may go around calling themselves “chosen” and as they dare having an objective view on Israel (one view where this country is not beyond criticism, actually it deserves a lot for many reasons).
I’m sure I’m listed somewhere on their list of “Anti-Semites”. Me and several other millions of my compatriots.


I am familiar with Mediterranean culture (I spent 6 months in Tel-Aviv once), however European culture is new to me. What are the main things I should be bracing myself for? If you could think of one or two things I can do ahead of time to prepare myself for Parisian living what would those be?


Well, first, I’m not sure we can talk of such a thing as “Mediterranean culture” Every single country around the Mediterranean Sea coast has its own unique culture, and I rarely see common points between them, except that they share a sea and some history. Sure neighbors share things in common, but because they’re neighbors, not because they’re Mediterranean.

Apart from that, what can prepare you for Parisian life?
Well, simply put: do some research. Read this blog, read other blogs, read books (I’ve heard books are important to learn things).
However, in the end, you won’t be prepared enough. Real life always has a funny way to get in the way of your expectations and preparation.


Seeing as I know no one in France, I was hoping you could give me some pointers about what neighborhood in Paris would be a good place to look at while looking for an apartment. My company will help me find one, but they are finding these ridiculously expensive ones through a service, and aren’t paying my rent. So, I am trying to find one myself and avoid paying rip off expat prices. I want to live somewhere nice, with a lot of young professionals, full of bars/restaurants, and close to the business district (where I’ll work). However, I don’t need to be paying crazy amounts. Where should I be looking at? What should I be paying for a one bedroom in those areas? If I chose to find a roommate, how much should I pay for my room in a 2bedroom, and where would you suggest looking for a roommate?


Well, I can’t really help you with this one.
You’ll find what you’ll find.

Your company finds apartments with ridiculously high rents?
Well, maybe that’s because rents are ridiculously high in Paris.

You want to avoid paying rip off expat prices?
Don’t go look for your apartment on rip off expat websites.

You want somewhere nice, full of young professionals, bars and restaurants?
It’s called Paris. Most poor people have basically been expelled from the city to the crappy suburbs in recent years (see the line where I mention ridiculously high rents)

You work in the “business district?
I have no idea what you mean, there isn’t such a thing as “the business district”. Unless you mean La Défense, but it’s not in Paris and nobody lives there (or maybe they do, I don’t know, I avoided this place like the plague when I lived in Paris).

How much should you be paying?
The least insane price as possible.
Also, know that in Paris (well, in all of France really), rents don’t really vary according to number of rooms, but overall area of the apartment.


Do I need a car in Paris? If I don’t need one, would it be beneficial to have one? I know in New York it is more of a burden than it’s worth, but in Chicago (where I have lived my whole life until this opportunity), you can do without, but it’s nice to have a car.


You don’t need a car in Paris.
And while I don’t mind answering questions, I also don’t mind that people do some research before asking questions. This one (as well as the previous paragraph) are information you could find on your own if you looked.


I dress like a typical American man, sloppy and apathetically. Am I going to need to re-do the wardrobe while there? I’m fine if I’m just the poor dressing American, but not if it’s going to make it that much harder to foster any sort of a social life….thoughts?


Get a new wardrobe. In Paris, people judge books by their cover.


Obviously, I could shoot off like 100 more questions, and I need to do some of this discovery for myself. However, if you could give me your insight into the questions above as well as any other additional advice it would be greatly appreciated.


My other advice would be “while I don’t mind helping you (and other people, hence this blog) do some research before asking questions.

(asked by Seth from the US)


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  44 Responses to “Seth is moving to Paris”

  1. I thought he was joking when he said he was the member of the chosen people. If he was not, then I appreciate your sarcasm.:)

    • I don’t know if he’s joking or not.
      I hope he is.
      However, I’m afraid that he’s not, maybe because I lived two years in the Marais.

  2. But, typing two spaces after a period shows that he took a proper typing couse.

    I just about died when I got to the part about how he dresses. Yes, many Americans dress ‘hobo-chic’ but why does it seem impossible for people to WANT to dress in nice clothes?

    Do young French people dress more casually than they used to? Is that just an American phenomenon? I sincerely hope the ‘wearing your pajamas and slippers’ in public never spreads to the rest of the world. It makes people look like cave-dwellers (at best).

    • “But, typing two spaces after a period shows that he took a proper typing couse.” with a terrible teacher who doesn’t know the rules of typography or confuses them with bad habits coming from using typewriters… Since they’re gone, this widespread mistake should be gone too (especially because most people doing it have never used a typewriter)

      I could refer you to Chicago-style or MLA-style, but read this instead:

      Apart from that, French people dress more or less casually depending on many factors (location: more casually in the South, not so casually in Paris), the weather (more casually when it’s hot) the social settings, etc.
      But they know how to dress in a given situation for the most part.
      It’s not either shorts and promotional T-shirts or tuxedo (I have the feeling that these are the two only outfits American men know).

      • I should have ended the statement about typing with /sarcasm (I have a degree in Office Technology Mangement [which I still thinks sounds like techno-voodoo but it gets one a job in an office so what ever]).

        I would be thrilled if the general public in my area would bother with jeans and t-shirts. It would be a step in the right direction. Hence my question.

  3. David, you’re sounding very irritated by this Seth guy. ”Chosen” or not, he’s a young man, overly sensitive and as a mother, I think you could possibly have been a tad more encouraging for his attempt to go out into the ‘a big new world’ on his own; rather than do what most 20+ American kids do, hang out with their buddies post college still doing shots and seeing how much they all can drink because they’re 21. I agree with you on the ”Chosen ones” and wearing one’s religion on one’s sleeve. Though he will see many Muslim wearing their burqas.
    For what it’s worth, you were a bit hard on him. Even if your points were quite valid, there are other ways to not scare him off from trying new things. Ma pensée seulement.

    • Catherine,
      Irritated maybe a strong word, but hey, I have issues with laziness of the mind. You know the act of asking someone something when one can find the information if one makes the effort to look for it.

      And as far as “encouraging over-sensitive young people” goes, sorry, you knocked at the wrong door. Actually, I even think that the problem with kids today (esp. American kids) is that they’re being spoon fed sugarcoated bullshit their whole life. No, they’re not special, no everything they do is not wonderful.

  4. Yeah, I’d say even if he were staying in the US he’d want to look into upgrading his look from sloppy and apathetic. While it may be more socially acceptable to dress that way here than in France (or really any European, Latin American, etc) country, I think any guy would find that people will regard them differently when he makes the effort to present himself well. You don’t have to go all metrosexual but just get away from ill-fitting jeans, ill-fitting t-shirts, baseball hats (they really don’t look all that good in the vast majority of cases), beat up sneakers, etc. Related to that I LOVE the way men dress in London - I’d hang out on the Tube during commute time just to see them in their smart-looking suits.

  5. When I saw the title of the post, I thought ‘Here’s something relevant to me’ (I’m also moving to Paris in September), but to my disappointment, Seth only asked questions whose answers could have easily be found online(on other sites, not this one, because this one is special). I’m gonna take this opportunity to ask some stuff that cannot be found on every other site, for a change. You mentioned the fact that the suburbs are crappy. All of them are like that? Because I’m moving just outside Créteil, and I hope to god it’s at least decent… Do you know anything in particular about the area?
    Oh, and I really don’t think it should take several years to become at least somewhat fluent in French, it’s not like it’s Chinese or something. Of course it depends on the person’s affinity to foreign languages, but still…after a few months spent there, one should at least be able to speak some basic phrases.
    Now, my French is just a bit over basic, but the moment I found out I was moving there, I started taking classes and I’m still currently doing that. So, Seth(of course, if you haven’t already moved, as Mr. Frenchman assumes), I think it would be a good idea to learn some basic French before you go.

    • Hi Cherrie,
      Thanks for sharing my disappointment. :-)
      No, not every suburb is crappy in France, every some Parisian suburbs can be decent.
      Unfortunately, I don’t know Créteil well enough (understand: I barely know anything about Créteil except that there’s a big university and line 8 of Paris metro goes there) to tell you about its suburbs.

      Concerning languages, I said “several years” to be safe (and to include any language in the mix). But yeah, learning French in France when you’re an English speaker should just take months, not years.

    • Hey, Cherrie

      I slightly disagree with you. Yes, Seth asked some basic questions and he could have done an internet search before asking. However, he should be able to gain some insight to how the Frenchman responded to his basic questions with sarcasm and irritation. I think how Frenchman responds to the questions and comments could be indicative to what many tourists may experience in France. I’m sure others have noticed how Frenchman and other French people have responded on this blog. They don’t mince words, and I think that Seth should learn from this to better prepare himself for when he travels to France (if he hasn’t already).

      • Jordann,
        I accept the fact that you disagree, but Mr. Frenchman is only one person, and there is subjectivity involved in his answers, even if he wants it or not. So regarding any subject, his imput may very well differ from another French person’s.
        Oh, and about the irritation and sarcasm…he was pretty much entitled to it, in this situation.
        I think he only posted this question as a ‘negative model’ sort of thing. So that people would understand that this is a site for pertinent questions, that actually have something to do with the French culture, and that are relevant to it. If you ask stupid things, you will irritate the Frenchman, and he will be sarcastic in his answer. :-)

    • I disagree. If you are writing about fluency, it will take you - in a majority of cases - at least two years to achieve intermediate level. Depending on the intensity of course.
      Nevertheless, do not even get me started on Americans who are capable of saying they are fluent while they know some vocab, few rules, basic pronunciation rules. Please, it is so annoying.
      Knowledge of languages can be simply divided into beginner-false beginner-intermediate-advanced. There are better ways to divide it but you see my point, I hope.
      No, dear Americans, you do not learn French while sitting with Rosetta stone for few weeks nor do you learn it on 3-week course in France. You learn usually enough to fall into the false beginner category.

      • I’m afraid this will bring us to a long debate I don’t want to have here and now, but I don’t agree with you CL.
        Yes, it will take you a couple of years to achieve intermediate level in a class environment abroad. Not in France.
        I have brought beginners to intermediate level in four months in France. The key is that the classroom is just a “teaser” the important part has to happen in the real world.
        As I always say, (good) language teachers to teach languages, they teach how to learn the language. Because in the end of the day, the language learner can only learn by himself, by experience, and by using the language. A language is not like other types of knowledge that you need to memorize and/or understand.
        I always liken foreign languages to sports. Learning the rules and techniques, while necessary, will only bring you so far. The only thing that will make you good is practice, practice and more practice.

        Concerning your division of language levels, yes, I use those too at work, but those levels are not really used by the general public, hence my avoidance of those terms here. I know what a beginner, false beginner, intermediate, etc are. Most people don’t.

        Also, don’t confuse fluent with bilingual. Yes it takes years to become bilingual in any language. It just takes months to become fluent in most languages in the right conditions (i.e. living in the country where the language is spoken, using it as much as possible, reducing the use of your own native language to a minimum).

  6. if he’s gonna be working at La Defense, most of the expats I work with live in Boulounge-Billancourt (sp?) or Nueilly which are OK and cheaper than Paris. I live in Rueil-Malmaison which is quite nice, but it’s on the opposite side of Créteil.

    Average housing allowance for a single expat is 1400 euros a month, but most of my friends end up paying a bit more, so take that as a starting point.

    Also, try for looking up maisons/appartements

    • Neuilly cheaper than Paris? Are you serious?

      • for appartements? Rueil-Malmaison defo is, or at least you get more space for your money

      • Anywhere in France (except Monaco maybe, but they pretend not being French) is cheaper than Paris. It applies to Neuilly as well.

        @CBR: Neuilly and Rueil are not “ok”, they’re posh (sorry for the non-Brit english speakers here, I love this word, sounds so Belgravia-esque). Neuilly has the highest density of traditional French bourgeoisie you will ever see.

        As far as places to live in go, a few pointers for the Chosen Seth and any other soon-to-be expat:
        - even if it costs you an arm and you have to live in a cupboard (à la Harry Potter, another chosen one ;-) ), do try to be in Paris and not in the suburbs to have the full Parisian experience (and whatever the host of this blog might say, Paris is a fantastic city).
        - avoid the 10th, 18th, 19th and north of 20th districts (“arrondissements”). As a reminder, you can know you live in Paris is your 5-digit zip code starts with 75 and the other three figures (for Paris) are 0 and the district. For example, avoid 75018 (ok, except maybe the Montmartre area but it’s way too touristy). The best districts are the one-digit ones (more specifically, districts 1 to 6 are really the center of historical Paris, if you can afford to, you must live there).
        - if you can’t find anything decent within the boundaries of Paris: (i) as a rule of thumb, avoid the 93 department (see zip code) and (ii) locate places near convenient metro / RER stations.

        Also, there are lots of expat forums which can give you advice on relocating. BTW, if you don’t speak the least bit of French, don’t set your hopes too high on avoiding rip-offs; but you can consider moving again, by yourself, in a few months when you start mastering the language. Or you can have a French-speaking person (most likely an expat) helping you.


        • Yes, Neuilly is actually the richest town in France (poor people simply can’t afford to live there).

          I don’t really agree with you concerning areas of Paris that are to be avoided or not. The 20th today is completely gentrified (or should I say “boboized”?) as well as the 10th. I actually lived in the 10th for three years during my time in Paris, not a quiet place by any means, but not a bad one either.
          On the other hand the single digit arrondissements mean that you’ll live in the center of the city, but it also means that you will pay crazy rents for tiny apartments.

  7. Hee hee hee, you sound so irritated here. Yeh, but I agree that a lot of these questions would have been answered with a few Google searches.

    I also agree with the point about when someone criticises Israeli politics, you are automatically labelled as anti-Semite =____=

    Same goes for Americans too, many times when you criticise the US’s foreign policies, you are labelled as anti-America, or that you are a “sad, jealous loser” :/

    As a side note, I think he might be joking about the “chosen people” thing…or not, in which case I understand your irritation.

    • The difference because being called anti-American and being called anti-Semite is that “anti-Semite” doesn’t have a connotation than anti-American doesn’t.
      Also, last time I checked, not all Jews were Israeli.

      As far as Americans calling other people “sad, jealous losers” I usually call those Americans “stupid uneducated rednecks” and just after that I use long words and they look at me clueless about what I just said.

      Was he joking or not? I still don’t know, so in doubt, I always bash first, and say sorry later when it applies. :-)

  8. About the language. If he is already trilingual, I assume either he has some experience in learning a foreign language, or he is, at least, used to the process of switching from a language to another. That said, I really do not understand the assumption « I will never be fluent [in French] ». Moreover, he could come with a worse choice of languages, as English (heavily influenced) and Spanish (same family) are two of the least alien languages from French.
    With this background, if he does not become able to hold a normal conversation pretty well after a few months, I would say he didn’t want to.

    On the anti-Semitic point, it really depends on your definition of anti-Semitism. To illustrate, if someone introduces himself to me as a « member of the chosen people », I may joke about what they were chosen for in modern history.
    As the Frenchman said, most French people really don’t care about your religion as long as you don’t throw it in their face. Religion is a private thing. Showing it around like that may feel as offensive to a French as « walking around in one’s tighty-whiteys » feels to American. ;)

  9. I’ve been visiting Paris, two weeks a year for the last 8 years (from NY). Even for a two weeks visit, I work on my French all year. It just makes for a better experience, I think. People are just more apt to listen to you and help you out if you at least try to speak their language. I think that’s true in most countries. I don’t speak French well but I can make myself understood and I know in Paris, my efforts are appreciated — I’ve been told. I don’t think I’d want to go to a foreign country without any language to draw on and just hope for the best.Nothing beats being able to read and order from a menu, get quick directions when you’re lost or be able to have a conversation with a stranger in a café. That’s what I really love — the spontaneous conversations, even with my so-so French — the other person will usually help the conversation along, using simple words or a smattering of English. I love that!

    One of my best experiences was walking down the stairs from my flat rental. A handsome man was walking up… He stopped me as I passed him and told me he liked my perfume. And then he tried to guess which perfume it was. This went on for about two minutes, all in French. I felt like I was in a Chanel commercial! (Imagine it — descending the typical French spiral staircase!) He was charming and after I finally told him which perfume, he told me my American accent was as sweet as my perfume. And then he quickly continued on up the stairs. That was it. THAT never happened here in NY and never will! And if I didn’t understand French, I’d have missed the whole thing!

    No, I never saw him again. But I never forgot, either.

    One late night, I did get lost and I stopped into a small hotel to get directions from the elderly couple sitting in the lobby. They owned the place. I approached the man and told him, “Je suis perdu.” He started to laugh and corrected my sentence and pronunciation of perdu. Twice. Loudly. His wife snapped at him for making fun of me. And as he laughed more, so did I. And then I apologized for my bad French. The woman stood up and along with her dog walked me outside and to the corner where she explained where I was and where I needed to go. As I left her she yelled to me, “Madame! Madame! Gardez le sac! Le sac!” I grabbed my bag close to me, smiled and waved back to her and she smiled, too. I love that memory.

    I have a million more memories of all the little gems that language gives. When in Paris, if I am corrected at least once a day, I consider that a good day! Somebody cared enough to listen and it seems to me that there is such a respect for language that correcting it is a good thing. I’m good with that.

    I also dress better there than I do here. It’s a beautiful city (for 2 weeks a year) and to me, it’s THE place to look beautiful, too.

    • Yup! Knowing the language makes a huge difference! You shouldn’t let language hold you back from seeing the world but don’t have delusions that you’ll really be able to integrate and make real connections as not knowing the language keeps you inside the anglophone tourist/expat box. Getting away from being a simple tourist/expat isn’t so much a matter of finding the right hangouts - it’s about being able to communicate with the locals you meet and it’s so much more awesome that way (especially if you get outside of Paris where people are not only shocked to be running into an American but one that speaks French as well). It’s just so odd how within the US, many Americans are hostile to foreign languages and demand that immigrants learn English if they’re going to live here but there are quite a lot of Americans who go abroad who don’t put the pressure on themselves to do the same.

    • That was nice to read! :)

    • Lovely memories!

      I have to admit that since getting my wonderful French boyfriend, my French has improved dramatically, I take lessons every week and talk in French whenever I get the chance - it makes a huge difference if you can practice. My boyfriend speaks to me in French all the time and if I don’t understand something he rephrases it for me - he is very patient - and his/our friends do the same. As soon as you make the effort to integrate with people by learning the language (it really doesn’t take long) you really feel a part of the country and you are treated with alot of respect and I have always found people to be patient with me whilst I butcher the language! I love this country and moving permanently here was the best decision I have ever made! x

  10. I am absolutely certain that an educated USA citizen, holding a college degree and benefiting world’s most advanced university education, must be smart enough to be able to learn a foreign language if he lives and works in a foreign country … I couldn’t possible imagine he was able to pass all those difficult exams, read and write all those essays, meet his teacher’s high expectations and not be able to learn and use a rough 3000 words, all these in a few years … After all, people with virtually no education at all immigrate and learn enough to survive in a few months, so I suppose that, chosen or not, Seth could do at least that much …

    • Oh Rosabell,
      Maybe you have a too high opinion of American college education these days.
      I have met plenty of students to who “smart enough” didn’t apply and who graduated nonetheless.

      • :) well, maybe my sarcasm was too well disguised …

        • Whoops. I guess it was. To my defense, I thought I had broken the blog as I published your comment, I mean, it’s not related, one just happened after the other, so I may have read your comment too quickly. :-)

  11. Don’t break the blog !

    • I’m trying not to.
      But I don’t know what’s wrong with my host (I know it’s because of my host), every single wordpress or plugin update makes me fear for the worst.

  12., ive spent most of my life with american jews. Im certain the “im a member the chosen people” comment was said tongue in cheek!

    I am wondering if it may have also been a subtle bait. Remember, he was asking about anti-semitism. Suppose he said, “im a humble jewish boy who recognizes my minority status respectably. will french people put up with me? Cuz im hoping to be tolerated please.”? Would you have cursed zionism?(this felt quite out of context) Or gone on about …jesus I dunno even know what? But whatever, no critism, you gave him a very clear answer.
    (this last sentence I wrote is another example of “tongue in cheek”)

    • Well, maybe it was tongue-in-cheek, but apparently you can’t know if don’t spend most of your life with American Jews. :-)

      • I find it unfortunate that you did not give him the benefit of the doubt. I encourage you to compare your response to seth’s question about antisemitism next to your two responses to the young man who inquired about homophobia. You may find your tone and language usage to be different. Example, the choice of tolerate vs. accept.


        • Oh believe me, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. If I hadn’t, I would have responded in much different terms.
          And yes, I use different languages to different situations, just like anybody else, what’s so surprising about that?

  13. ….it’s all going to go terribly wrong isn’t it?

  14. It’s been interesting reading the comments although I know I’m late. Grew up in Montreal, Quebec where we Anglophones ‘stuck’ together, but we took French language courses from at least Grade 5. (Unfortunately or fortunately, it was supposedly Parisian French, not Quebecois, so we Anglophones had a difficult time understanding the locals. Lived in Brussels for 8 months when I was 22 & spent a week at a friend’s in Paris. Love that city. Have taken many French courses (private tutor, 3 week immersion, etc.) Moved to an English speaking province and MANY years later I married a man from France who spoke no English and moved here. We speak English at home, but go to France every 2 years to visit family and his old friends. As my memory is not what it used to be, French words that I knew I now forget at times because I don’t use them often enough. My father-in-law told me last month that if I were to stay in France for 2 full months I’d be bilingual. Nice compliment, but often it’s the French slang that throws me off.


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