Expat Essentials

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey reveals her essential lessons-learned living in Paris for five years

Those little things no one tells you about

As a visitor wearing those rosy glasses, you might spot the person carrying a baguette, but do you notice that the end is always nibbled-off before they get home?

There are plenty of things that you only truly notice once you start living here:

• While the market is open on Sunday mornings, from Sunday lunch time through to Tuesday morning, many shops are closed. So, trying to run errands on a Monday is not a good idea.

• The Parisians do queue patiently but only for their daily baguette, the roast Sunday chicken and cheese.

• And, talking about cheese, always listen to your cheese monger. They will recommend what you should have. You do not get a choice. She’ll sulk if you ask for something foreign. Quelle horreur! And, do take your time, regardless of the length of the queue behind you. For once, everybody understands.

• If you are taken ill at the weekend, call SOS Médécins. I spent a lot of time waiting and a fortune in fees at the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly when I first moved here and needed to see a doctor. Little did I realize
that the SOS service brings a doctor to your doorstep at a fraction of the cost. Even on the weekend.

• If you have walking problems or are dependent on a wheelchair, the metro is pretty much out of bounds. Only very few stations are handicapped accessible.

• Wednesday is half-day for schools. If you have kids, you need to make childcare arrangements; if you don’t, avoid the bus on Wednesday at lunch time.

The best and worst

After five-and-a-half years here now, I have coped with terrorist attacks, riots, strikes and Covid-19. I have sworn at loud neighbours – a very un-Parisian thing to do – when they insisted on depositing their weekend’s worth of bottles into the recycling bin at 6 a.m. I have stepped in dog poop. I have walked across the city when no transport was to be had, and I held my nose when no dustbin collections were to be had.

I have seen people pee in the oddest of places, and I have waited two years and visited the Police Prefecture more often than most people in a lifetime to get a French driver’s license, simply because nobody could be bothered to tell me that they had misplaced one document.

I have seen rats next to people playing with children in a park. I have gotten wet from someone watering their balcony plants, and I avoid the Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower unless I have guests, because the tourists drive me nuts.

But I have also picnicked in the parks and on the quays of the Seine. I have found hidden treasures I don’t even share through my travel articles, and I have listened to “La Marseillaise” sung in the Stade de France.

I have eaten superb cuisine in the tiniest of restaurants and really bad food in some world-famous ones.

I adore walking the dog – and pick up after her! – in the afternoon light when the architecture shimmers golden and still look up at apartments, dreaming of living there. I have visited countless exhibitions and explored even the smallest enclaves of this city.

I have six flower shops and two markets within two blocks of my apartment, and the Best Baguette, as voted for in 2020, at the end of my street. I have learned to eat the rind of my cheese and that the end of the baguette is called the croûton, although in the south they often call it a quignon.

I have yet to kick a parked motorbike off the pavement, but I have come close.

But I can honestly say, that except those two times when the heavens were chucking the water down at me, I have never, ever stepped outside my building without looking up and around and sighing contently, appreciating that I truly do live in Paris, rose-tinted glasses firmly in place.

If you ever get the chance to live in Paris for a while, do not even think about hesitating. Go for it.

About the author:

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance travel writer, guidebook author and serial expat. Having lived in seven countries on three continents and two hemispheres, she is currently based in Paris, France. 

See more of Ulrike’s work on her website here.

Follow her on Instagram here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

See more from Ulrike here.

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