When I studied in Paris for my first two years of college, my mother had found for me a foyer near the school I was going to at the time. It was in the 6th arrondissement. For a lot of you, this might not mean anything, but the 6th arrondissement is kind of the Parisian equivalent to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The foyer was right in front of Le Bon Marché (my favorite place to shop in Paris). Needless to say, it was difficult to find a better place to live.
Knowing that, I tried to find a room-sharing apartment in the same arrondissement as my new school, and I was lucky enough to find a place, allowing me to walk to school every day (a real luxury, trust me!). But Paris is so big, and I had never really been to this part of town, so my new neighborhood was a foreign place waiting to be discovered.
Wanting to transform myself into a real bobo, (abbreviation of “bourgeois bohème,” the kind of people I normally despise when I am in Brittany) I first looked at the farmers’ market: the bobo will go once a week to the farmers’ market to buy real products from real people: cheese from a fromager, (actually, it’s nice, because you can ask to taste the cheese before buying it) and meat from the boucher in order to show off to guests at a dinner party (“Oh, these olives? I bought them at the market this morning from this little producer — Un vrai délice!“). Where can you find a farmers’ market? Well, you can randomly walk through your neighborhood and stumble across a market, with all the poesy and fantasy that it implies. Or you can be more practical like me and go to the website of the city of Paris (link below) where the farmers’ markets are listed by arrondissements and by days.
The second question I ask when moving to a new neighborhood is: Where are the public swimming pools? In Paris, if you are under 26, you can get 10 entries in the pool for 14€. Well, in Paris, if you are under 26 you can do a lot of things (but I will get back to that later). So, it’s the same thing as for the farmers’ markets: I go to the city of Paris website (seriously, it is super practical) to find public swimming pools, each being listed according to their arrondissement. They are generally 25-meters-long, quite clean, and all of them (I think) are open all day on Saturdays and Sundays (other days too, but let’s face it, you will be busy with school or work. Right?). Some of the pools are underground, which is quite depressing, but others have windows facing the surrounding streets. Funny thing: I recently learned they had a maximum “flipper length” authorized, (I am not kidding, they took the matter pretty seriously when I arrived with my I-don’t-care-where-I-am-I-use-the-same-flippers attitude) but whatever; this is my personal problem with this ridiculous law (sense my grudge?).
Now, a very important point: where will you buy your bread? It is sincerely one of the biggest decisions you will make. Which boulangerie will satisfy you? There are tons of boulangerie everywhere in Paris (and in other cities, of course). Many criteria are of importance when choosing your boulangerie: the proximity, the opening days and hours, (until 8 p.m.? Open on Sundays?) but also the price of the bread. In fact, the price of the bread is one of the major indicators of the cost of living in France. The normal baguette is delicious and costs around 90 cents, but I prefer to buy the baguette tradition, whose mie (inside of the bread) is thicker and lasts longer (yes, I am picky — but not yet a bobo who will prefer the cereal baguette or the pain de campagne). The baguette tradition costs around 1.05 to 1.15€. The boulangerie I go to is two buildings further than the nearest one, but it is open until 8:30 p.m. and also on Sundays. They make an evening fournée (batch) around 6 p.m., right when I come back from work. Most days, I am not even out of the boulangerie when I have begun to eat a piece of my baguette (don’t judge me unless you have been able to resist a crusty baguette, warm and melting inside). Some boulangerie are also pâtisserie, but one of my friends is a pâtissière, so I go to where she works to buy delicious French pastries. Altogether, I tend to prefer German bread, but nothing can beat a fresh French baguette.
What else is important when you move to a new neighborhood? I like to look for movie theaters. Three major companies dominate Paris: Gaumont-Pathé, UGC and MK2. Lots of movie theaters in Paris show movies in their original language (version originale: V.O.) so if you ever miss the U.S. and are dying to see “American Pie 4” in English, it is possible (but who would want to?). I would advise you to go see French movies; we have a very good production of them, not all similar to “Le dîner de cons.” For example, I saw “Radiostars” last week and it was awesome! Allociné (address below) is a very useful website to see what is coming to theaters, when and where. Every showing of every movie in every city can be found there. A partnership between Gaumont and Orange (a cell phone company) offers “buy one movie ticket, get one free” on Tuesdays (how cool is that?). The metro card Imagin’R also gives you a discount at Gaumont. Since I am a working girl now, and therefore privileged (mostly in my head), I can get even cheaper tickets through my job.
Obviously, you will need to move about in Paris; you won’t stay only in your neighborhood, so you need a metro card. If you arrive before January, are under 26, and are in Paris to study, you can take the metro card Imagin’R (it lasts a whole year) and you can find all the information on Parisian transportation on the RATP website (which is super helpful except when there is a strike). Do not hesitate to hop on a bus whenever you can; it takes longer, but it is so much nicer! And you will come to know the city much better and get oriented more easily. Also, it is cleaner and healthier than the metro. For a full Parisian experience (with all the risks it contains, including crazy drivers) you can get a subscription to the Vélib’ (a “free” bike you can find all over Paris). These bicycles can now be found in almost every big French city (well, “big” according to our French standards).
Finally, a few tips on free Parisian experiences: there are big events like La Nuit Blanche (at the beginning of October), la Fête de la Musique (the first day of summer). The first Monday of each month, if you are under 28, you can go to la Comédie Française for free. All city and national museums are free for people under 26 (except for temporary exhibitions) and these museums are free for everybody the first Sunday of each month. On this hopeful note in times of crisis, I will leave you with a few useful websites (addresses below).
A few websites and materials to get you started
http://www.etsionsepromenait.com/ A cute site by an apartment hunter in which you can find the most darling places in Paris (she also has a few nice addresses for restaurants, tea rooms, etc.)
http://www.leblogdelamechante.fr/carnet-adresses-paris/ One of my favorite French bloggers. She has tons of “girly” addresses
Cartoville Paris: it has maps by arrondissements and essential addresses
Lonely Planet Paris: Lonely Planet always has the best addresses (from my subjective point of view.)
Paris: Made by Hand, by Pia Bijkerk Cute traditional shops
La Mairie de Paris:
Farmers markets, les marchés: http://www.paris.fr/paris/paris/tous-les-marches-parisiens/rub_5675_stand_10926_port_12148
Swimming pools, les piscines: http://piscine.equipement.paris.fr/
City Websites: If you live in France but not in Paris, do not hesitate to go to your city’s website, which always has very useful information, for example: http://www.montpellier.fr/1087-piscines-de-quartiers.htm
http://www.allocine.fr/ (salles, séances, bandes-annonces)
Public transportation in Paris:
http://www.ratp.fr/ For finding your way between 2 places
http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/ Metro and bus maps
http://www.ratp.fr/fr/ratp/c_20586/tous-les-titres-et-tarifs/ All of the tariffs possible
Bénédicte Mahé has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages (French, English, German and Italian), and is finishing her studies in Paris in cultural management. She wishes to work in philanthropy for cultural institutions. Among her interests are tap dancing, cooking (with or without success), reading, watching TV shows, and — of course — shopping. She opened her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® blog, How to find a (suitable) place in Paris, and other miscellaneous information, by Bénédicte Mahé. Frenchwoman from Brittany who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris, shares with students how to find a place in Paris.
Wherever you go, you always meet a Breton, by Bénédicte Mahé, who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris. Bénédicte, who was born in Rennes, asks us to take out our notebooks and pens and get ready for a lesson on Brittany. Recipe included for Far Breton (with prunes), a crêpe for your sweet tooth!
The challenge of business casual, by Frenchwoman Bénédicte Mahé who shares suggestions for business casual with those beginning their work careers in Paris. Included are fashion brands and stores that are favorites of Bénédicte and her friends.
French Impressions: Bénédicte Mahé living as a French woman in France. Bénédicte Mahé, student and intern who was born in Rennes now living in Paris, writing about France and women, and the importance of living abroad.
Text copyright ©2012 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond All rights reserved.