Monthly Archives: April 2010

Getting Clothes Cleaned Without Cleaning Out Your Wallet

Updated September 2013

It happens almost without fail for every arriving expat:  you go to the cleaners to drop off dress shirts, the only thing on your mind, making sure you know how to ask for them to be finished on hangers or folded, and then it happens:  sticker shock.  For Americans used to paying less than $1.50 to get a dress shirt laundered and ironed, the thought of paying three to four times that amount does not sit well.  The plain truth of the matter is that dry cleaning and laundry services in Paris are expensive.

Take a look for example at these prices at an independent dry cleaner in an upscale neighborhood.  If you do the math quickly, using an exchange rate of 1.5 dollars to the euro, a good rule of thumb if not always completely accurate, you’ll discover that it will cost you about $60 to get a suit cleaned.

So what do you do if you need to get your clothes cleaned and you don’t want to get your wallet cleaned out too?  Here are a couple of tips for those on a budget.

  • Seek out budget chains or hole in the wall proprietors.   5 à Sec (a play on words for the French expression 5 à 7, shorthand for a quickie after work and before going home, if you get my drift), Baechler, and Alaska Pressing (with locations in the 2nd and 16th arrondissement and perhaps elsewhere) offer more reasonable prices than the establishment whose price list appears above. You will still pay between 2.80 and 3.50 euros for laundering a dress shirt.  At 5 à Sec (with multiple Paris outlets), you must buy a card, paying for laundry of 10 shirts in advance, to get the discounted price.   But be cautious; the quality of the dry cleaning and pressing services is variable.  You may find that you have to touch up your clothes afterwards with your own iron.   Think twice about entrusting one of these  places with a special item, like a cocktail dress or silk blouse that you absolutely love.
  • Beware of extra charges.  Some cleaners charge extra for an appret, a special finish that is supposed to maintain the original feel and look of your garment.  I’m not sure I can tell the difference.
  • If you have a femme de menage, she will very likely be prepared to do ironing.  Weigh the hourly rate you pay versus taking your laundry out.
  • Change your dry cleaning habits.  Most wool sweaters can go in a washing machine set on a gentle cycle and dried flat.  Save dry cleaning for silks, cashmeres, suits, and anything that absolutely cannot be laundered at home.
  • Invest in no-wrinkle dress shirts.  No-wrinkle technology has improved dramatically in the past few years; you can find no-wrinkle shirts that look and feel like ordinary Oxford cloth or brushed cotton, for example, from LL Bean if you are still in the U.S.

If you are seeking an eco-friendly dry cleaner, try Sequoia which has locations in the 15th, 16th, and 17th arrondissements.

Asking for Help (in French)

Another in a series of posts drawn from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France. Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials. Make sure you follow the links in each post back to her site for the sound files.

Key Phrases

Click here to go directly to the ielanguages site for the sound files. Scroll down to “Asking for Clarification/Help.”

Excusez-moi de vous déranger, monsieur/madame, mais j’ai un problème.   Sorry for bothering you, mister/miss, but I have a problem.

Est-ce que je peux vous poser une question ? Can I ask you a question?

Qu’est-ce que vous avez dit ? What did you say?

Pourriez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît ? Can you repeat that, please?

Je n’ai pas entendu ce que vous avez dit. I didn’t hear what you said.

Comment est-ce qu’on écrit ça ? / Ça s’écrit comment ? How is that written?

Comment est-ce qu’on prononce ça ? / Ça se prononce comment ? How is that pronounced?

Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? / Ça veut dire quoi ? What does that mean?

The Essential Bookshelf for Fellow Francophiles

by Amy Thomas

I spent my first year here really boning up on French culture… albeit in a frivolous, beach-reading kind of way. I read tons of great Franco-centric books and recently realized I’ve been missing them. So I picked up Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon (for the third time) and, dammit, try as I might, I’m just not loving it (three times, not the charm in this case). I’ll skim it to the end, picking out the bits on fashion and food, but would love to sink my teeth into something like one of these goodies from last year (plus a few from avant):


 • True Pleasures by Lucinda Holdforth:  Part ode to Parisian women, part history lesson on the city, part memoir, you can’t help but fall in love with Holdforth, a vivacious speechwriter from Australia, along with all the women and pleasures she writes about.


 • Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco:   A memoir by a relatively unknown Canadian writer, this story of being in your twenties, in Paris in the 20s, is colorful, evocative and exhilarating.  A must for anyone obsessed with the Lost Generation (and burnt out on Hemingway).


A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke:   With keen British wit, Clarke has made quite a little franchise for himself. After coming out with A Year in the Merde in 2006, he went on to publish four similar books (Dial M for Merde, Merde Happens, and others) about starting from scratch as an expat and dealing with French people, French customs, French bureaucracy and other laughable absurdities. Some people can’t stand his books, but they’re fun, fast reads.


The Authentic Bistros of Paris by Francois Thomazeau and Sylvain Ageorges:   A pocket-sized, arrondisement-organized compilation of the city’s historic, soulful bistros. Color photos and thorough descriptions make it as practical as it is transporting.


 • The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo:  You think you know what Coco Chanel was all about? You might want to pense encore after reading Karbo’s adoring but no holds barred take on the French icon, organized in chapters on “Success,” “Fearlessness,” and “Cultivating Arch Rivals.”

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy:  Dundy’s tale gets compared a lot with Sex and the City, but that’s pretty misleading. Sally Jo, the book’s protagonist, may be independent, lovable and always thirsty for a cocktail, but she’s also more neurotic and naïve— and in Paris in the ’50s.

Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner:  As a correspondent for The New Yorker in the ’20s, Janet Flanner was here for one of the most remarkable eras in the city and became a fixture at such landmarks as Café Flore and Shakespeare & Company, covering everyone from Sarah Bernhardt to Madame Curie and everything from art to war. This book compiles her posts—more insightful essays than easy reading.

Betty & Rita Go To Paris by Judith Hughes :  Betty and Rita? Who are they? Two adorable labs that take in all of Paris’ top sights and are captured in darling black and white photos. One of the cutest books ever. 


A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan:   A California cookbook writer recounts the adventures of moving to Provence, starting a fromagerie, learning how to make a proper bouillabaisse, going truffle hunting and other delicious culinary and cultural wonders. Though not set in Paris, it’s a must for anyone who worships at the altar of French cuisine.


 • Return to Paris by Colette Rossant:  Set in the ’50s, this is a rare book that paints Paris as a cold, gray place rather than a city filled with light and wonder. That’s primarily because Rossant lived in Egypt with her vivacious grandmother, before getting sent off as a teenager to the stiff, class-conscious 17th arrondisement, to live with her disinterested mother. 


Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul by Charles Timoney:  A fun and quick guidebook to contemporary vocab and idioms and, by default, customs and trends. The chapters on “Food and Drink” and “Young People (and Their Slang)” are particular gems.


Paris Out of Hand by Nick Bantock and Karen Elizabeth:  This “wayward guide” is anything but a guide but, rather, a collection of hotels, sights and shops you might find if Paris was at the bottom of Alice’s rabbit hole. Un peu bizarre, but full of charm and great quotes, too.

The Louis Vuitton City Guide, Taschen’s Paris and StyleCity Paris:   These sophisticated, informative guidebooks (the furthest thing from Let’s Go-style) will ensure you have a cheat sheet to all the best bakeries, most haute hotels, and cool neighborhood finds.



What’s on your Paris bookshelf?

Amy Thomas  was powerless to say no when the opportunity arose to come to Paris and work on Louis Vuitton’s digital advertising. Her days are now a delicious balance of sampling viennoiseries, admiring high fashion, easing into the expat lifestyle and blogging about it all at God, I Love Paris.

Making Sense of the Supermarket, Part IV: Milk, Cream, and Yogurt

Another in a series of posts to help you figure out what’s what in a French supermarket.  Today, we attempt to tackle the dairy section. 

Milk 

Blue cap = 2 percent; Red cap = whole milkThe French are big into shelf stable milk so you’ll find milk in the supermarket in two places:  in a refrigerated case with the butter, cheese, and yogurt and all manner of other dairy products, and on the shelf, often near the water.   Shelf stable milk may be packaged in cardboard or plastic cartons.  The cardboard variety are easier to stack and store; the plastic are more reliable for pouring.    While my kids don’t particularly like the taste of shelf stable milk, I find it’s a very handy thing to have around, especially if you don’t drink a lot of milk or if you’re coming back to town on a Sunday evening and want to have milk for breakfast Monday morning.  

The various types of milk are: 

Lait frais: Fresh pasteurized milk.  It comes in two varieties: 

  • Demi-écrémé (typically sold with a blue cap): While you may think this means “half cream,” it actually means half the cream of regular whole milk.  So it’s 2 percent butterfat.
  • Entier (typically sold with a red cap): whole milk.

Skim milk  is sold under the brand name Bridelight.  Or you may find it labelled simply lait écrémé (Again, it’s not cream, it’s de-creamed!) 

Buttermilk is variously labeled as lait fermenté, lait ribot, or lait caillé. 

Soy milk (lait de soya) and soy yogurt is widely available in both health food stores and in the bio (organic) section of many supermarkets. 

Creams 

Hold on to your hat.   Distinguishing among the various types of cream can be challenging. 

Crème fraîche:   A staple of many French recipes, crème fraîche  is a bit thicker than American sour cream and a bit less sour.  But for all intents and purposes, it’s a good substitute.   You will find it in varieties from super rich (about 40 percent fat) to light (3 percent).   To determine the fat content, look at the label for the words, matière grasse or the abbreviation m.g.  or mat. gras. followed by a percentage.  Hint:  any cream marked epaisse will have roughly the consistency of sour cream. 

Light cream; note that it's only 12 % m.g. so it's not for whipping

 

Other creams:  You will find other creams marked variously as crème fraîche fluide,  crème entiere liquide, crème fouettée, or crème chantilly.   Take note: a cream must have at least 30 percent fat content to whip;  creams with less fat content are delicious, and good for sauces, baking, or dessert but they will not whip up.   Creams are sold bottled in the refrigerated case and in shelf stable varieties. 

  

  

  

  

  

Yogurts 

If you are a yogurt lover, you are in luck because the selection is phenomenal.  A couple of things to keep in mind when reading labels: 

Remember that m.g. indicates the fat content.  If it’s not noted prominently on the packaging, it’s a good bet that it’s a full fat yogurt.  If you are looking for a reduced fat version, consider the Taillefine brand by Danone.  This brand also has no added sugars. 

Yogurt made from goat’s milk (lait du chevre) and sheep’s milk (lait du brebis) are widely available. 

Nature means plain, not natural. 

Yaourt brassé is yogurt with a very smooth texture. 

Not everything that’s packaged like yogurt is actually yogurt.  For example, Perle de Lait is a dessert made with fromage frais, and has a 9% fat content.  Le Petit Suisse by Gervais is also a sweetened fromage frais, popular with kids.  

Two varieties of fromage blanc: 20 percent fat on the left, nonfat on the right

 

 Fromage blanc and fromage frais have no equivalents in North American cuisine.  They are smooth but thicker than yogurt and typically served as a dessert, often with fruit, honey, or a little sugar.   You can buy these in different fat contents (as shown here) and in tubs ranging from individual portions to family sized. 

  

 Faisselle is a thicker, richer type of fromage frais.  Some liken it to cottage cheese but it does not have chunks.  

You will also find fromage frais, yogurt, creams, and butters in your neighborhood fromagerie and from the fromager at your neighborhood open-air market.   You can buy in small portions (for example, one small glass jar of yogurt), perfect for experimenting and looking for the flavors and textures you like best. 

Cheese 

Since there are literally hundreds of types of French cheeses and you won’t find the best ones in the supermarket, I won’t try to tackle the topic here.   If you are a parent of a picky eater, you may be happy to know, however, that you can find something very much like Kraft singles, similarly packaged only it’s called burger cheese.  Supermarket varieties of emmental and comte, two mild cheeses akin to what Americans call swiss cheese, may also go over with kids.  Cheddar is hard to find and expensive.  Some people use mimolette as a substitute because of its orange color although it doesn’t taste like cheddar.

Take the Bus!

Buses sometimes seem to me to be the poor stepchild of the public transport system in Paris.  It’s not that they’re inefficient, dirty, or slow.  It’s just that they’re a lot harder to figure out than the subway, particularly for folks still trying to get their bearings.   But the bus has a lot to recommend:  better views, fewer smells, and often a quicker route from your front door to where you’re going.   All it takes is a little patience to figure out the lines which work with your daily and weekly routines.

Bus Basics

You use the same ticket for the bus as you do for the metro.  In fact, you can actually buy one from the driver for 1.80 euros but beware: you cannot use a ticket bought on board to transfer to another bus.   Tickets bought elsewhere (metro stations and tabacs) can be used to transfer from bus to bus within a one and half hour window.  Regrettably, you cannot use the same ticket to transfer from bus to subway or subway to bus.

Board the bus through the front door.  Greet the driver with a simple “Bonjour monsieur” or “Bonjour madame.”  If you have a Navigo pass, swipe it on the purple pad as you board.   If you have a ticket, insert it into the grey box mounted just behind the driver’s seat.  The machine will validate your ticket, give a cheery “ding”, show a green light, and spit the ticket back out.  Hang onto your ticket for the duration of your trip.  If  your ticket has somehow gotten demagnetized or you mistakenly try to validate a used ticket, the machine will make a loud buzz and show a red light.   If you don’t know what the problem is, you can try to appeal to the driver.  In most cases, they will just wave you to move on back.

All buses follow a prescribed route with well marked stops.  The route is usually posted at the bus stop as well as on board the bus in panels that run in the space above the windows.    The bus only makes these stops, however, if someone is waiting to board or if you signal, by pushing any of the red buttons mounted on poles throughout the bus, that you would like to get off at the next stop.  Exit through the rear door.

If you are pushing a stroller, you can enter through the rear door, although you may have to ask the driver to open it if no one is getting off.  Park your stroller in the space directly opposite the rear door and go to the front of the bus to validate your ticket or swipe your Navigo.  The rules say that only two strollers can be on a bus but this rule is not always enforced.

Tips for Bus Riders

Due to the large number of one-way streets in Paris, the bus route to your destination may be slightly different than your return.  The loops that the bus must take to respect one-way traffic are noted on the route map as well as which stops are served in each direction. 

Waiting times for the next two buses

Many bus stops (particularly those with shelters but also many just marked by a pole) have real-time information noting the length of the wait for the next bus.  If you are at a stop served by many buses, check the electronic display carefully.  It usually displays waiting times in a rolling fashion with one bus listed after another.  If the service is out of order, the sign will read “info pas disponible, ”  or “hors service.”

Priority seats for the elderly and disabled are clearly marked.  A large number of older, somewhat infirm, ladies and gentlemen take the bus; be a good sport and give them your seat if none is available.

Regular bus service is between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.  Buses run after these hours but on a limited number of routes or with long waits between buses.  Consult the RATP site for an itinerary if you are traveling outside these times.

Bus maps for specific lines can be found on the RATP site.  From the home page, click on the green circle marked “plan des lignes” and then on the following page, scroll down and click on “bus.”   You can also purchase bus guides at bookstores and news kiosks.   They are usually with the street map books.

Making Personal Connections

by Lindsey Tramuta

From newly arrived Franco-Anglo couples, adventure-seeking Francophiles, work-related transplants or optimistic students searching for excitement and romance, the Parisian expat community is rapidly growing. For students it’s easy to meet locals and other expats through the university system and events organized by Erasmus which bring together young people from diverse backgrounds. For parents, it’s not very difficult to meet other child-bearing adults – with the Anglophone mothers organization, MESSAGE;  the American Women’s Group  (of which I am the youngest member, and is open to non-Anglophones):  the American Church  and the American Cathedral; and la crèche (day care); the whole  “how-do-I-make-friends-in-a-new-city” quandary becomes a great deal less complicated. But what about the rest of us? How do people who don’t fall into one of these categories meet people?

My situation is a bit complicated since I initially came to Paris as a student, then worked, then was a grad student, an intern, married a Frenchman, and now am working full time. For me, I’ve made friends along the way – either through school, internships or through my current job. But school friendships are tainted by the fact that most of the friendships I made would change once they left Paris. I knew I would be staying, but some of my friends were only set to stay a year or two. It’s a sad reality of being an expat. So instead of limiting myself to professional or academic contacts, I got onto twitter, which presented a whole new group of expats just waiting to reach out. Through social media, I’ve made a handful of new friends – some from England, some from the States – all of whom were more than willing to meet for a drink and take down the virtual barrier. It’s funny, you’d never meet a stranger off of Facebook but twitter is somehow acceptable.

As I said, I am also the youngest member of the American Women’s Group where the 20 and 30 something membership is building. The women are unbelievably gracious and enjoy meeting others of all ages. In combination with twitter, my friends from my master’s program, internships and from the organization, I have found a solid group that I feel close to.  I have constructed a life in Paris that is, I must say, is as gratifying if not more so than my life from the States.

I suggest that all expats join twitter and start reaching out to the many Francophile and expat tweeters who are open to new connections. It was the best time-suck I could’ve introduced into my life.

Lindsey Tramuta is the creator of Lost In Cheeseland.  She is a Paris transplant from Philadelphia, married to a Frenchman and on a permanent quest to understand the idiosyncrasies of the French. In real life, she is in charge of marketing & communications for an online multi-brand boutique.  Follow Lindsey on twitter.

What’s Up with the Water?

Despite the amount of bottled water consumed in Paris, there’s nothing wrong with the municipal water.  It’s perfectly safe to drink.  But there is one thing you’ll soon find out: it’s hard and full of minerals, especially calcium.   These minerals leave deposits on everything from your hair to the kitchen sink.   Hard water can also cause soap scum to collect on dishes and tiles.  Without proper treatment, calcium deposits can build up, clogging the pipes of your washing machine and dishwasher.  

There are a couple of products available to fight the scum and keep your machines humming.   Filter systems that attach to the tap or to a pitcher (such as the Brita and Swiss Water Filter) will remove some but not all the minerals; you will likely need some of these products even if you use a filter.   Plain white vinegar (vinaigre cristal) will also remove calcium deposits although some people object to the scent.

To remove the water spots on stainless steel and the brown scuzz on porcelain, forget Ajax.  No amount of scrubbing will work.  Instead, buy a special anti-calcaire spray or liquid. Add an anti-calcaire tablet to each load of laundry.  And if you have a dishwasher, make sure that you keep the salt compartment full with a special salt designed for the machine.  You will find all these products with other cleaning supplies in your neighborhood supermarket.

 If you live in a house, you may have a whole-house water softening system that can be maintained and serviced by contract with the manufacturer, just as you might have a contract for your heating/cooling system.  (Water softening chemically treats water, exchanging calcium and magnesium ions for sodium ions.) For example, Culligan services water softening systems in the Paris region.

When it comes to your hair and skin, the solutions are naturally quite personal.   You may find that your hair feels brittle and dull; on the other hand, some women say that their hair never looks better than when they’re in Paris.   So if you notice a change, you may want to experiment changing your shampoo or shower wash.

French Markets: What’s in Season?

by Ann Mah

Today’s post is republished with permission from the blog of Ann Mah, an author and journalist based in Paris. She has written for Conde Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune and many other publications. Publishers Weekly called her recently published first novel, Kitchen Chinese, ” a great start for a writer of much promise.”

At a recent dinner party, somewhere between the cheese course and dessert, that age old question arose again. 

Are there no seasons for fruits and vegetables anymore?

“When I was young, we didn’t have any green salad during the winter,” said the woman across from me, poking her fork disapprovingly at a leaf of mâche. “Only endive. For the whole winter.”

Granted, she was d’un certain âge, but even so, her youth was probably only 40 years ago. (Side note: if I’ve misjudged her age, I really hope she isn’t reading this right now.)

The rest of the table erupted into a diatribe against raspberries in January and artichokes in November. I kept quiet for fear of revealing my dirty secret: I really have no idea when different fruits and vegetables should appear.

Happily, it appears others share my cluelessness. Why else would Le Parisien print an article dedicated to fresh produce and its seasons? Thanks to their informative article, here’s a breakdown of what to look for:

April
New in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, chard, spinach, radishes, lettuces
Still in season: oranges, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, endive, potatoes

May 
New in season: strawberries, eggplants, cucumbers, turnips, cauliflower  
Still in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, spinach, radishes, potatoes, lettuce

June 
New in season: apricots, cherries, currants, raspberries, melons, apples, tomatoes, courgettes, fennel, beans leeks, peas, peppers
Still in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, turnips, onions, potatoes, radishes

And the rest of the year…
Summer
Continue to enjoy strawberries, the last cherries and apricots. It’s also still the high season for nectarines, peaches, plums, and pears. Grapes arrive. Courgettes, tomatoes, melons, beans, peppers, broccoli, and all lettuces.

Fall 
Enjoy grapes until October. Also, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Most of the summer vegetables can be found until October.

Winter
Apples and pears are everywhere. Oranges and clementines arrive in November. We can cook cabbages, carrots, potatoes and leeks. Don’t forget endive.

In Case of Emergency

Forget 911.  One of the first things you should do when arriving in Paris is to make a list of phone numbers to use in case of emergency and post it by your phone.  If you only have a mobile phone,  post the list where you won’t lose it and everyone in your household can access it, for example, on your refrigerator.  Finally sit down with all members of your household and make sure they know the basics of what to do in an emergency.    As the old saw goes, better safe than sorry.

The key numbers are:

Pompiers (fire department):   18

SAMU (emergency medical services):  15

Police:  17

Poison Control:  01 40 05 48 48

Note:  112 is the Europe-wide number for emergencies.  While French authorities prefer that you use 18 and 15 while in France, you may want to put “112″ in your mobile phone just in case you find yourself in need of urgent assistance while travelling somewhere else in Europe.

When telephoning for an emergency service, have the following information ready:

  • Your name and address, including your floor (étage) and door/gate entrance code
  • The patient’s name and age
  • The nature of illness or injury (what happened and when)
  • The patient’s present condition (for example, whether the patient is unconscious, vomiting, bleeding, confused)
  • Any other pertinent information (for example if patient is diabetic,  has a heart condition, takes blood thinner medication)

No matter what their level of French, every member of your family must learn how to say his or her name and address in French.  If you have to, write it out phonetically on your “in case of emergency” list.

Je m’appelle (My name is): 

J’habite à (I live at): Give street number, street name, arrondissement or town

Mon numero de telephone est (My phone number is):

Emergency Services Explained

Your first call in case of an emergency should always be to the pompiers (fire department).  Firefighters in Paris and other large towns in France are trained paramedics, fully prepared to address life-threatening situations.  Their emergency response times are generally under five minutes.   After triaging and analyzing an emergency, the pompiers may send their own ambulance or will alert SAMU or other medical professionals. 

SAMU (short for Service d’Aide Medicale d’Urgence) is a specialized public emergency service that works in close alliance with other emergency services as well as with the emergency and intensive care units of the public hospitals.  Its ambulances are manned by teams of trained medical personnel and equipped with miniature emergency rooms equipped with all the materials necessary to treat emergency situations at the scene, including cardiac and respiratory arrest.  In essence, they bring the emergency room to you.

SAMU is organized geographically into departments with a central telephone number for each area in France. Calls are answered under the direction of a physician on duty who decides, based on careful questioning of the caller, how to handle the call.  Each department has a pediatric team trained to treat severely ill or injured children.

 SAMU will almost always have someone available who can speak or at least understand English, usually the physician. If it is a life-threatening situation, the dispatcher will connect you to an emergency physician who will determine the appropriate level of care needed and can talk you through any emergency procedures that need to be accomplished while waiting for the emergency team to arrive on the scene.

If patients need to be hospitalized, they are usually taken to a public hospital.  Each SAMU center has a list (which is updated three times a day) of bed availability and locations of specialty teams in all public hospitals.   If a bed is available, patients can be transported directly to room or intensive care unit, bypassing the emergency department.

You can be taken to a private hospital upon request but you will need to know, in advance, where you want to go and if that institution is prepared to handle your situation.

Many Americans are used to using the emergency room for urgent care situations.  But the French system is different.   Emergency medicine is not a recognized specialty in France; instead ERs are manned by qualified doctors with various specialties who take turns staffing the service.  Moreover, not every hospital is equipped to handle all emergencies. It is best to check the services available at the hospital closest to your home.  If you do end up going to the emergency room, you will need to follow up with your personal physician afterwards.   Ask for a copy of your records before leaving the ER to bring to your doctor.

Rather than call the emergency room if say, your child wakes up in the middle of the night having difficulty breathing or with a raging high fever,  a better option is to call SOS Medicins at 01.47.07.77.77.  SOS Medicins will send a physician to your home day or night.  Be prepared to describe over the phone your address, phone number, victim’s age and condition.  Doctors making home visits do not normally dispense medications, but will often administer injections on the spot if needed.  Prescriptions for medications can be filled out at your local pharmacie;  within each neighborhood, pharmacies coordinate so that one, called the pharmacie de garde,  is available after hours.  (The rotation list for which pharmacy serves as pharmacie de garde at which time is typically posted on the front door.)

Special thanks to Amanda Nagele and Anna Giulione for helping provide accurate information for this post.

Having a Baby, Parisian Style

 by Mindy Jones

Summarizing “how to have a baby in Paris” is no easy task.  Let me start by assuring you the physical process of having a baby remains the same in Paris.  There’s no fancy designer birthing happening here — just the same ole labor and delivery.  The options as to “who” and “how” and “where,” however, are nearly endless.

Join MESSAGE!

Therefore, my first bit of advice for any English-speaking pregnant woman in Paris is to join MESSAGE (www.messageparis.org). MESSAGE is an organization for English speaking parents (and expectant parents) that helps navigate the details of family life in Paris.  There is a fee to join MESSAGE but it is well worth it for the wealth of information you can find on its message boards.  The message boards will help you sift through details I won’t be able to get into here, such as the differences between specific hospitals, lists of English-speaking obstetricians and midwives, and the names of breastfeeding support volunteers.

Public vs. Private

If a woman is covered by the French health care system and doesn’t want to pay much out of pocket, she needs to register with a public hospital as soon as she knows she is pregnant.  When I say, “as soon as,” I mean “AS SOON AS” — some of the more desirable public hospitals (consult the MESSAGE forums for names and opinions) will be impossible to get into as early as your fourth week of pregnancy!  The upside of public hospitals is the majority of the costs are covered by the French health care system.  The downside is lack of privacy (private rooms are possible but not so common), noise, and an impersonal feel.  (I hate to paint all public hospitals with such a broad brush because, of course, experiences will vary widely.  Here’s where I recommend you check out MESSAGE again.)

If you have a “mutuelle” (private insurance) in addition to the French secu, or you are willing to pay more out-of-pocket, your options open to semi-private clinics and private hospitals such as the American Hospital in the western suburb of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine.  The costs of prenatal care and childbirth at these clinics and hospitals vary.  Check with your health insurance provider(s) before registering at one of these clinics or hospitals so you know the extent of your coverage and how much will come out of your pocket. The advantage to semi-private, private clinics and private hospitals are more creature comforts, more personal care, greater likelihood of receiving a private room (though at additional cost) and much more flexibility regarding when you have to register. 

Prenatal Care

Prenatal appointments happen once a month.  Don’t be surprised by the lack of gowns at these appointments; modesty does not exist in a French doctor’s office. 

Routine blood tests are done at regular intervals and one ultrasound is done each trimester.  If you are seeing an OB/GYN at a hospital, the blood tests and ultrasounds can be done in the same building.  If you’re seeing a doctor at a clinic or private office, you will need to go elsewhere to have these tests performed.  Blood tests can be done at any Laboratoire d’Analyses Medicales in the city (www.annulab.com for locations) and ultrasounds can be done at any Centre d’Echographie.

Payments for prenatal appointments, lab work, and births are the same as paying for any other doctor appointment in Paris.  It’s a reimbursement system.  For most doctor visits, you pay out-of-pocket at the time of the visit.  If you have a Carte Vitale from secu (French health care system), the doctor will take your card number and essentially file for your reimbursement for you.  If you do not have a Carte Vitale, the doctor will issue you a feuille de soin, which you then fill out and send to secu (or your private insurance if you are not covered by the French system) for reimbursement.  Once the paperwork is filed, turn-around times for reimbursement are quite fast, usually within a couple of weeks. 

Natural Childbirth

Childbirth in France is generally very medicalized.  There is not the resurgence of natural childbirth in France that you find in countries such as the U.S., England and Australia.  Epidurals are the norm and are often given as soon as a woman arrives at the hospital in active labor. 

If you are interested in natural childbirth, it is crucial you find a doctor who supports you.  There are some clinics and hospitals well-known in Paris for their belief in natural childbirth.  The ones mentioned most often are Groupe Naissances, a group of doctors and midwives practicing in the Clinique Leonard de Vinci in the 11th arrondissement (www.groupenaissances.org) and the Hôpital Pierre Rouquès, Maternite Les Bluets in the 12th arrondissement (www.bluets.org). 

Home births are rare but not impossible. A good place to start searching for a midwife who does home birthing is at the above mentioned Groupe Naissances.  There are several midwives there who speak English and have done home births in the past. 

Breastfeeding

There are a surprising number of breastfeeding horror stories circulating through ex-pat social circles.  Paris has gained a reputation for being not-so breastfeeding-friendly.  If you are intent on breastfeeding, it is important to tell your doctor this before the birth and inform the nursing staff as soon as you’re snug in your room with your new baby.  It is often necessary to be very, very firm about your wishes.

Many clinics and hospitals still take the babies to nurseries at night so new parents can sleep.  If this is true at your clinic, you can request the baby be brought to you when feeding is needed.  However, if your baby cries and the nursing staff is too busy to bring the baby to you, they will oftentimes give the baby a bottle of formula.  If you want to avoid this possibility, insist the baby sleep in your room.

Nursing staffs in the hospitals and clinics of Paris have rarely been trained to assist with breastfeeding.  If it is your first baby or you’re in need of advice or emotional support, MESSAGE can give you a name and phone number of a breastfeeding support volunteer.  Request this information long before you go into labor so you can pack their information in your hospital bag.

Hospital/Clinic Stay and Registering the Birth
I write this as an American who had her first baby in the States and second baby in Paris.  In the States, it is common to be out of the hospital within 24 hours of an uncomplicated birth.  In Paris, three to five days is more common.  (You can leave earlier if the doctor allows but the nursing staff will look at you funny when you make the request.)

Also, as opposed to American hospitals, many clinics and hospitals will not provide you with any “stuff.”  You often need to bring your own bath towels, soap, diapers and wipes for baby, maternity panty liners (available at local pharmacies) and disposable underwear for the new mom.  Check with the clinic or hospital when you register to get the details of what is and isn’t provided. 

You have three working days to register the birth with the mairie (town hall) of the arrondissement in which the birth occurred.  The clinic or hospital staff will check with you frequently and pester you mercilessly if it hasn’t yet been done.  To register, you will need your livret de famille, if you have one.  If you don’t have one, you will need proof of mother’s and father’s identities and the declaration de naissance, given to you by the hospital or clinic. 

Sometimes the hospital will register the birth for you but you must still gather all proper documentation.  If you do not register within the timeframe, you can be faced with steep fines and your child may not be eligible for French secu benefits for the first year of his/her life. 

Childbirth in a foreign country is indeed foreign.  The biology is the same yet the birthing experiences completely different.  I’ve summarized generally here but realize I’ve probably barely scratched the surface for a pregnant woman with a ton of questions.   That’s why the best advice I can give is — surprise! — join MESSAGE.  Childbirth in a different culture can be anxiety-provoking; having that kind of support system and knowledge base is invaluable.  Good luck and best wishes for healthy Parisian babies!

Mindy Jones is an American living in Paris with her husband and two kids.  Her first child was born in the U.S. and second child born in Paris so she has experience navigating childbirth in a foreign country.  She spends most of her time chasing her kids and documenting her life in Paris on her blog, An American Mom in Paris.