Category Archives: TV Phone Internet

Staying in Touch with Skype

Today’s post comes from guest contributor Lindsey Passaic, an American living in Paris with her husband. When she’s not going from boulangerie to boulangerie searching for the city’s best pain au chocolat,  Lindsey can be found chronicling her adventures living and working abroad on her blog American Girls Are.

by Lindsey Passaic

Brrrrring, brrrrring…

No, that’s not the sound of your landline or mobile ringing. That’s the sound of Skype connecting you to your friends and family near and far. Skype is a computer application that allows you to make calls to all those you want to stay in touch with while traveling or living abroad.  More useful than any travel trinket from Brookstone or SkyMall, Skype is a must have item for any traveler. You can say sayonara to complicated calling cards and expensive long-distance conversations. Skype not only connects you to the voices you wish to hear, but the faces you’d love to see–all for free!

Skype makes communicating easier than ever and with the application’s hassle free set-up and user-friendly design, there’s no excuse for not signing up. Follow these simple steps and before long you’ll be chatting away!

Before getting started, confirm that you have  the following requirements:

  • PC running Windows® XP, Vista or 7, both 32- and 64-bit operating systems OR Mac computer with G4, G5, or Intel processor, 800 MHz or faster (with Macs OS X v.10.3.9 (Panther) or newer);
  • High speed Internet connection;
  • Speakers and microphone—built-in or separate (Note: If you are not sure whether your computer has a microphone, visit Computer Hope.  The general rule is that most desktops do not have a microphone and most newer model laptops do. If you need to purchase a microphone, WebAudioAdvisor offers advice about choosing the right model for your needs.)
  • Web camera—built-in or separate — if you want to use Skype for video calls.

Setting Up Skype

1. Visit the Skype Web site at http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home

2. Scroll over the button labeled “Get Skype” and click on “Windows” or “Mac” depending on which type of operating system your computer uses.

3. Click the button labeled “Download Now” and follow the instructions. 

4. Once Skype is downloaded on your computer, open the application and create a user account. You must create a Skype name, password, and submit an e-mail to complete the process. Remember to check that you agree with the terms of usage.

5. After your account is created, Skype will automatically sign you in for the first time.

Making Free Skype Calls

Skype calls are free only to other Skype users. To make calls to landlines and mobile phones, you must purchase Skype credit.  See below for details.

1. To video chat with another Skype user, you must search for their Skype name at the top of your Skype box. Type in the name you are looking for and click “Search for Skype Name.” A new window will pop up with your search results. If you find the contact you are looking for you, highlight his or her name and click “Add contact.” If you do not find who you are looking for, you can continue searching using the person’s full name or e-mail.

2. When you click “Add contact” a new window will appear displaying a message that will be sent to your new contact. Click “OK.” By clicking “OK” the message will be sent and your contact can then choose whether to allow you to see them when they’re online.

3. After clicking “OK” another pop-up window will come up saying that your contact has been added. Click “OK.” Once the contact accepts your request on their end, their Skype name will appear in your Skype box.

4. Your Skype box will list all of the contacts you add. A user is available to chat if there is a green check mark next to their name. If a green check is not next to their name, that user may be away, not available, busy, or offline. You can change your status by clicking the “Account” tab in the Skype toolbar and selecting “Change status.”  Scheduling time to talk is the best way to ensure that you are signed into Skype at the same time as friends and family.

5. To begin a session with one of your contacts, click the green phone button underneath their Skype name. By clicking the green phone button you initiate a call and a new call box will appear. The contact will hear ringing on their end and “pick up the phone.” A call is in progress when the top of the call box reads, “call with (contact name)” and displays the time you’ve been talking. You can continue your audio conversation this way for free as long as you like!

6. If you are equipped with a built in camera or Web cam, you can allow the contact to see your face by clicking the “Video” button. Within a few seconds your face will appear in the call box and that is what the contact sees on their end. To stop the video click the red “Video” button a second time. You can mute the call by clicking the microphone button, hold the call by clicking the pause button, and end the call my clicking the red hang up button. By clicking the starred “More” button you can view the user’s profile, begin a chat, send a file, or send contacts.

Example of Skype box as it appears on a Mac

Making Skype Calls to Landline or Mobile Numbers

1. If you want to call a landline or mobile number, you must purchase Skype credit (starting at 2.2 centimes a minute). To add Skype credit, click the “Help” button on the Skype toolbar and then click “Buy Skype credit.” The amount of Skype credit you use depends on where you are calling and how long your calls are. The Skype Web site offers additional pricing options, including a monthly subscription plan and a premium plan. Skype allows you to design a monthly subscription package that is just right for you. You can pick the country or countries you wish to call and the amount of minutes you need. For example, unlimited minutes to the United States from France costs 5.74 euros per month. The premium plan, at 6.89 euros per month, gives you group video calling—an excellent option for getting all of your friends and family on the same call.

You can purchase Skype credit or a Skype plan using PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, Moneybookers, JCB, or PayByCash.

2. After you have purchased Skype credit or purchased a subscription plan, click the dial pad button at the bottom of your Skype box and enter the number you wish to call.

Sending Free Messages via Skype

To send an instant message to another user or start a chat conversation, click the blue text button underneath their Skype name. A pop-up box will appear and you can type your message at the bottom of the box. If you wish to send a text message (SMS) to a mobile number, you must pay using Skype credit or through a purchased subscription.

Additional Resources

http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/support/user-guides/

http://www.edtechteacher.org/skypetutorial.html

http://www.northcanton.sparcc.org/~technology/Tutorials/skype.html

French Phone Numbers: A Method to the Madness

For Americans used to toll-free helplines, living in France, land of service calls that require you to pay for help from them, can be a bit of a shocker.  But there are toll-free numbers here too.   And among the phone numbers that are paying, there is a gradation to how much these calls cost.  Here are some tips on how to make sense of it all.  Caller beware:  the specifics of your own phone contract — landline, ADSL,or mobile — may affect the amount you pay for making these calls.  Check the fine print.

In general, numbers that start 0800, 00800, 0804, 0805, 0809 are considered numéros verts and calls to these numbers are free from a fixed phone line.   

Numbers beginning with 0810, 0811, 0819,  and 0860 are called numéros azur.  You may call these for the price of a local call.

Other numbers beginning with 08 may be called for a fee.   Charges mount progressively beginning with minumum charges of 0.12 € per minute and going up to a flat fee of 1.34 €  per call plus 0.34 € per minute.  Fortunately, you do not pay for any time spent on hold.

Certain hotlines are supposed to be free, such as those for customers to follow up after a sale or with a technical problem, or those of your own phone service.   The rules are confusing, however, and even if you technically have the right to appeal charges, it’s probably not worth your while.  Instead, if you have a concern about phone charges, check the fine print before you dial and use a fixed line rather than your mobile phone.

There are also numéros courts which have just four digits.  Those beginning with 30 or 31 are free; all others are paying.

If you are serious about saving money, there are a number of Web sites you can consult that publish the free numbers for reaching enterprises that may only be advertising the numbers for which charges apply.   We can’t vouch for these sites but take a look if you so choose: 

http://www.nonsurtaxe.com/

http://telephonie.sanjb.net/numero-telephone-non-surtaxe.php

Moving In

Ksam, who blogs at Totally Frenched Out, previously took us through the steps of finding your perfect Parisian apartment.   Today’s post takes the next step.  Fair warning: this post is not for folks moving from abroad into their first Parisian apartment.  But stick around.  You might learn something.

by Ksam

Step One:  Moving Your Stuff

There are a multitude of moving companies in Paris and across France.  Some of the more well-known ones are Demeco, Les Déménageurs Bretons, and LeDéménageur.com.   Most offer several service packages, going from only moving the boxes from place to place to them doing all of the work (packing, moving and unpacking).   Prices vary widely, so you should shop around and get several different estimates (devis) before making your decision.

There are also several companies, such as demenagerseul.com and  Je-déménage-seul, that cater to those planning on doing everything themselves (or with the help of a few willing friends!).  These firms sell boxes and packing materials and also usually rent moving trucks.  

If you’re only in need of a truck (véhicule utilitaire) for the moving portion, here are a few suggestions:

ADA
Avis
Europcar
Hertz
National/Citer
Rent and Drop

Step Two:  Getting Connected to Your Lifelines

Now let’s talk about are the hook-ups.  You know – electricity, water, Internet, etc.   Those of you already living in France have two options – you can either transfer your account directly if you are moving out of the old place and into the new place on the same day, or you can open an entirely new account and then close the previous one later.

For electricity, contact EDF.  There is an English speaking helpline: 05 62 16 49 08 or you can reach them by e-mail at simpleenergywithedf@edf.fr

For gas, contact GDF

Water hookups and charges are typically included in your rent.

If you’re like most expats, you are probably concerned with getting Internet set up ASAP in your apartment.  If you don’t have an Internet provider, check out the previous Posted in Paris article on Connecting to the Internet.  But if you already have Internet access and would like to keep the same provider, I strongly recommend seeing if they will keep your current account open all the while opening the new one.  SFR, Bouygues, Free and Numericable all offer this service. 

You can help this process along by giving them as much information as possible about your new apartment, including the previous renter’s phone number.  This can be found by plugging any landline phone into the outlet and then dialing any French phone number.  An electronic operator will then give you the previous phone number.  (Tip: review your French numbers before you do this!)  If it turns out there isn’t a phone line set up at your new place, doing it this way will also save you 50 percent of the cost of opening up a new France Telecom line.

Step Three:  Filing Your Change of Address

As far as the French administration is concerned, those of you with a carte de séjour have eight days to inform the préfecture of your new address.  Given that you often need an EDF or France Telecom bill to provide proof of address, it’s not always possible to do so, but make a note to go in as soon as you can.  If you have a French-registered car, you have one month do complete the change of address on your carte grise.

 And it doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while the French government actually comes up with an idea to simplify its citizens’ lives.  And this time around, it’s in the form of a Web site: http://www.changement-adresse.gouv.fr/ 

Once you sign up for this site, you will be able to inform all of the following government organizations of your move with just a few simple clicks:

  • EDF
  • GDF
  • Pôle Emploi (unemployment services)
  • Tax authority
  • CAF (benefits service)
  • L’assurance santé (health benefits)

At the end, you will also have the option of signing up for mail-forwarding with La Poste.  If you choose not to do it here, you can also do it in person at your nearest post office, or online at http://reexpedition.laposte.fr/.  Expect to pay 23€ for six months, or 41€ for one year of forwarding.

La Poste also offers something called “Le Pack Ma Nouvelle Adresse”.  This special package offers several pre-stamped envelopes so that you can inform businesses of your move, as well as pre-written letters you can use to inform various agencies (EDF, insurance, etc) of your new address.  (These could be particularly useful for those with a low level of French).  In addition, you’ll get 10 “I moved – take note!” post-cards, as well as a  moving guide with moving tips and timelines.  Lastly, they also include coupons with special offers from their partner companies offering discounts on moving boxes or moving quotes, etc.  The cost for this service is 34€ for six months or 52€ for one year.

Here is a brief list of other companies you may also want inform:

  • bank branch
  • mobile phone company
  • mutuelle (health insurance)
  • insurance company
  • your employer
  • magazines/newspapers subscriptions
  • any stores where you have loyalty cards
  • any businesses in your home country using your French address

And the very last thing to do:  send out the invitations for your pendaison de crémaillère  (housewarming party)!

Technical Difficulties

Time for another language lesson 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.  Today:  some useful vocabulary for setting up a cell phone account and dealing with computer problems.

 Cell Phones

pay as you go plan sans engagement text message SMS
credit/minutes le crédit photo message MMS
to recharge your account recharger votre compte call waiting le double appel
contract plan le forfait caller ID la présentation du numero
extra charges hors forfait unlimited calls les appels illimités
payment plan le plan tarifaire PIN code le code PIN / secret
land line la ligne fixe SIM card la carte SIM
voicemail la messagerie vocale locked bloqué
account summary le suivi conso to download télécharger
empty / no credit épuisé ringtone la sonnerie

 

You can find the sound files here.

Computers 

computer l’ordinateur scanner le scanner
disk la disquette laptop le portable
document le document internet l’internet
CD-ROM le cédérom internet user l’internaute
monitor l’écran online en-ligne
keyboard le clavier link le lien
mouse la souris bookmark le signet
printer l’imprimante e-mail le courriel / le mail
memo la note de service password le mot de passe
fax machine le télécopieur search engine le moteur de recherche
photocopier la photocopieuse chat room la salle de tchatche
typewriter la machine à écrire bulletin board le forum
software le logiciel homepage la page d’accueil
file le dossier website le site
cabinet le placard web browswer le navigateur
memory card la carte mémoire cable le câble
flashdrive la clé USB DSL l’ADSL
external HD le disque dur externe to sign on / off se connecter / déconnecter
attachment la pièce jointe to scroll up / down dérouler le texte
to attach joindre to download télécharger

 

Sound files can be found here at #95.

Free Wi Fi in Paris

Congratulations!  You finally waded through all the offers and the fine print and selected an Internet provider for your new home in Paris.  Not to be a wet blanket but it may take up to six weeks before everything is up and running.   “But the last tenant had Internet service.  Don’t they just have to flip a switch?”    Maybe.  Who knows really?  In the meantime, you might want to know where to find free Wi Fi close to you.

Paris Wi Fi:  The city of Paris has made a major effort to make Wi Fi available in parks and public buildings.   This service (theoretically at 54 mb although perhaps more realistically operating at 8 mb) is offered in 260 locations:  parks, libraries, town halls, and museums of the city of Paris.  Connect with your laptop to the Orange network and you will be directed to an access page.  Click on “SELECTIONNEZ VOTRE PASS,” fill in the form, accept the conditions of use, and you will be connected for a two hour session.   After that time, you can continue using the Internet; you just have to fill in the form once again.  Service is available only during regular operating hours, somewhere between 7 am and 11 pm, shorter for municipal buildings, longer for parks although gardens owned by the city of Paris also have closing hours.

Other options (plus sometimes the ability to plug in your computer to a power source)  include  McDonald’s and Columbus Cafe (where the coffee is presumably better, but certainly more expensive).   At this writing, you must pay to access Wi Fi at most Paris Starbucks locations.

And if you need a computer too, check out Heather Stimmler-Hall’s list of her favorite Internet cafes on her blog, Secrets of Paris.

Note: If you’re trying to pirate service from a neighbor and you come across a network called Free, it’s not.  Free is the name of a paying Internet service provider.

Resources

Map of all free Wi Fi locations made available by the city of Paris

USA Today’s listing of over 3,000 Wi Fi hotspots in Paris (many in hotels and not all are free)

Listing of cafes and restaurants offering free Wi Fi via the Wistro network

How to Find and Use Free WiFi in Paris  (from David Lebovitz)

For TV Watchers Only

You’re in Paris and you want to watch television?  Fine by me.  But there are few things you may want to know to make the most of your viewing experience.

Over the Air Broadcast

France has its own technology for TV broadcasting so your American TV will not pick up programs over the air. It will work just fine with your video player, assuming you plug it into a transformer (to convert the electricity) and an adaptor (so you can plug it into the wall).  (Go take a look at our post on French electricity  if this leaves you baffled.) Many expats buy a French TV from those who are departing, often at very reasonable prices. 

Assuming your TV has an antenna, you will be able to access a handful of channels for free:  TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5, and M6.  If you purchase a triple play cable package (which bundles TV with your home phone and Internet service), you get access to dozens more channels as part of the basic package and even more if you subscribe additionally to premium channels like Canal+, Disney, and Eurosport.

Watching French television (particularly the news) is not a bad way to work on your language skills.   But if you just can’t bear watching CSI (which is called Les Experts here in France) dubbed into French, you can sometimes change the audio to version originale (VO) with your remote.  The details vary among cable providers.  My only advice is to look at the manual and keep clicking.   By some magic, my kids turned on the closed captioning for the hearing impaired on our TV so I can now watch French programming with subtitles in French.  Really, every little bit helps.

DVDs

DVDs are coded according to the region where they are made:  zone 1 for the U.S. and Canada, and zone 2 for Europe.   If you want to be able to play both, purchase a multi-zone DVD player.

Keeping Up with American Shows

You won’t be able to keep up with your favorite American shows by simply going to the network Web sites.  The sites can detect that your computer is in France, and, for licensing reasons, they block access to their content.  (The exception is some newcasts available by podcast either from the network or iTunes.)  Ditto for Hulu.com.   Apparently there is a way to mask your French IP address but the networks are catching onto this and blocking masked addresses too.   If you can’t live without your shows or your ability to follow your home town teams, here are a couple of options:

Slingbox:  Connect a Slingbox to a television in one country and watch it anywhere in the world via the Internet.   To make this work, you either need to have a vacation place back home with TV, cable, and a high speed Internet connection or a friend or relative willing to let you hook up to theirs.   Given differences in time zones, you really need a DVR to make Slingbox work well.  Otherwise, you’ll have to watch your U.S. prime time shows in the middle of the night Paris time.   The capital investment is relatively minor (less than $200 for unlimited viewing) and there are no monthly fees.  The catch here is that you need a willing partner, preferably someone who doesn’t mind you having control of their TV set.    If you can’t miss a Cubs game, this is the option for you.

SkyTV:  Sky is a British company that offers many channels of movies and TV shows via satellite dish.   If you’re homesick for British fare, this is the option for you although there’s quite a bit of American content too (such as American Idol, ESPN America, and the Food Network).   You have to have a British address to qualify for premium service but apparently there are people willing to rent their addresses to folks like you.   It’s not clear to me whether this is completely legit.   You pay for the box and dish plus a monthly subscription fee.  A friend had her Sky dish installed by DD Electronics.   She noted that they speak English and were very helpful.  Another Sky vendor is Insat.  You’ll have to check these Web sites for additional information and complete list of programing.

Apple TV:  Apple TV provides a small wireless device that will connect your computer to your television, allowing you to download anything you might buy or rent from the U.S. iTunes store  (both movies and television shows) at high speed and watch at your leisure.  To use the U.S. store, you need to have an American credit card with an American mailing address.  (There is also a French version of Apple TV; check the content offerings before you commit, however, to see if this works with your taste in shows.)   The Apple router costs around $230 (or about 270 euros from the French Apple Store) and the content is pay as you go. 

Streaming sites:  There are a large number of Web sites that stream movies and TV shows direct to your computer, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee.   To be completely honest, I am too chicken to do this.  You never know what kind of viruses you might be attracting or what else these sites might be downloading to your computer.   The calculus of risk, of course, is quite personal so think carefully about how much you really want to watch the latest episode of Mad Men versus having a functioning home computer.

You Tube:  An odd assortment of movies and TV shows are available for free on YouTube.   You may have to be creative with your search terms and you may end up seeing a favorite film with subtitles in Chinese.  In addition,  since YouTube clips can only be 10 minutes long, you end up watching in segments:  12 or so for  movie, 4 to 8 for a TV show.   It’s total hit and miss but you might get lucky.   For example, I recently watched that wonderful Valentine to Paris, Amelie, on YouTube.

Resources

Weekly television listings from Premiere
Television in France
(offering the British perspective)
BBC Guide to Watching French Television (aimed at language learners)

Putting Your iPhone to Work for You in Paris

Here are a few iPhone apps that are getting shout outs from expats in Paris:

All Bikes Now:  This free app for the Paris Velib bike for hire system was developed by JCDecaux which runs the Velib program under contract to the city of Paris.  (It also works for the company’s other self service bike programs in Belgium and elsewhere in France.)

Collins French-English Dictionary:  Not cheap (somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $35 depending upon the size of the dictionary you buy) but this is one of the best French-English dictionaries available. 

Convertbot:  Converts currency, time, length, temperature in a flash.  500 units of measure in 20 different categories.

David Lebovitz:  Where are pastry chef David Lebovitz’s reviews of Paris chocolate shops, restaurants, and boulangeries when you need them out and about in Paris?  In your phone, of course.   Recipes too in case you’re at the market and have a sudden urge to make his Chocolate Soufflé Cake or Lemon Tart.

iTranslate:  A free app that includes French and 42 other languages and the additional feature of translating text to sound.  If you are familiar with Google Translate, this has all the same advantages and disadvantages.

Metro Paris is pretty much like having Paris par Arrondissement in your pocket.  It includes street and subway maps, allows you to calculate itineraries and check traffic conditions, and it even locates the nearest taxi stand, Starbucks, or McDonalds.   At this writing, the U.S. iTunes store is offering this app for just 99 cents.

Musée du Louvre:  The Louvre is just figuring out this iPhone stuff so the app, while getting good reviews for content, is pretty thin at the moment.  But hey it’s free so why not take the chance?

My Little Paris:  The iPhone version of a cute guide to all things Parisienne:  fashion, beauty, food, culture, interior design, and the like.  All in French.  Send an e-card from this app to your girlfriends and they’ll be green with envy.

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport Guide:  Your bags are packed, you found a taxi, and ooops….you forgot to check from which terminal your flight is leaving.   Don’t miss your flight; get this app.

RATP (Paris’ public transportation authority).  The RATP offers two apps:  RATP Lite (which is free) and RATP Premium (for the princely sum of 79 centimes).  Calculate itineraries, consult maps, and find out the hours of transport near you in real time.

Shazam:  Hear a catchy tune that you like and you don’t have a clue what it is?  Shazam it and it’s yours.  Not strictly French but great for all the music you’re bound to hear in Paris that you haven’t heard before.

Velib:  A free app which allows you to find out, in real-time, where bikes are available close to you.  It also allows you to check the status of your account.

What’s your favorite Paris iPhone app?

Resources

Connecting to the Internet

by Rodney Wines

It is difficult for me to compare and contrast services in the U.S. and Europe. I was already in Europe when the Internet boom started, so I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with service in the U.S.  However, based on conversations with my friends and my experience while visiting the old folks at home, I believe that (at least in the French metropolitan areas) Internet connectivity is at least as good here as in the U.S.. Most Americans may not be aware that the U.S. is toward the bottom of the list of developed countries when it comes to broadband price and performance. Japan is number one; you would get about 60 Mb per second download speed in Japan for the price you’d pay for 5 or 6 Mb in the States. In France, 18 Mb download speed is generally the standard offering, and TV and free VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone service (sometimes even free service to the U.S. and Canada) are usually included these days.  There is quite a bit of competition, which is driving prices down, but in my opinion it is also driving service down. This problem is not unique to France.

The major service providers are:

Darty

Free

Neuf/SFR

Numericable

Orange (France Telecom) 

Their advertisements are everywhere. Their offerings (and quality of service) seem to change almost daily. You will horror stories for each of these providers but there are also many satisfied customers.

Choosing an Internet service provider is being made more complicated because of what is referred to as convergence. The cable companies are offering phone service, the phone companies are offering TV, and everybody is offering Internet access (often with Wi-Fi bundled in). Choosing a particular offering is like making a pact with the devil; you must be very careful to make sure that the features you need are included and you are not paying for features you’ll never use. The lowest cost offering may not be the best value for you . If ever there was a country where “the devil is in the details,” it is France. Some of the offers may sound very good until you discover that you still have to pay a telephone line rental to France Telecom. Other offers sound great until you discover that the offer is only good for three months and the price jumps after that. Some other companies make it very difficult for you to cancel; they may require two or three months’ written notice.

I personally chose Orange, a service owned by France Telecom, because France Telecom has a toll-free number for English speakers (and when I signed up they had a very helpful operator with a beautiful voice), Orange’s service is generally very reliable, and I could find English-language documentation for their LiveBox modem on their UK Web site.  As always, your mileage may vary. There are cheaper services available, depending upon what features you are looking for.

Editor’s note:  Orange’s English language help line can be reached at 09 69 36 39 00.  Please note that this is not a toll free number.  More details are available on the Orange Web site

Telephone Options

Most of the Internet providers offer what’s called a triple play package including Internet, cable tv, and phone service over the Internet.  Some folks also install a landline in their homes.

If you have broadband service here, then you can perhaps also subscribe to a service in the U.S. such as Vonage. This will give you a local U.S. number which you can give to your friends and family.  This would also allow you to call any number in the U.S. and Canada at little or no additional charge even if your Internet service provider doesn’t give you this feature. Most of the Internet service providers are now providing fixed-rate calling in France via VoIP. They also give you cheaper (and sometimes free) international calls.

If you don’t make enough calls to justify VoIP service, another alternative is a “soft phone” which is a software package that runs on your computer. The software allows you to make free “phone” calls to anyone in the world who is running the same software on their computer, and many of these packages now allow you to make calls from your computer to the regular telephone network very cheaply. You will need a microphone and speakers, or preferably a headset, connected to your computer in order to use such a package.

I have been using Skype for several years. They offer a service called SkypeOut that allows me to call North America and most of Europe for less than two cents a minute.  They have also added a service called SkypeIn. With this service, you can get a “local” telephone number in another country, and the calls to this number are automatically routed to your computer (and you can have the computer calls routed to your local telephone). Skype also has a free iPhone app that works very well, and I think that they provide apps for other smart phones as well. For me, the big advantage of Skype is that calls routed to or from the regular telephone network are “pay-as-you-go”; there is no fixed monthly fee, and the prices are low.

Currently Skype is the most popular product of this type, especially in Europe. When Skype was bought by eBay some time ago, they started adding many additional services such as Skype phones that can be used to make free calls from any Internet hotspot.  There are other VoIP products available as well such as Gizmo. Google and Yahoo are also getting into the act.

Cable or ADSL?

That one gets another rousing “it depends.”

I had always assumed that a medium that was intended to carry high frequency video would carry Internet traffic far better than a medium intended only for poor quality voice signals. I thought, therefore, that cable would be a better choice than Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) which in the U.S. is usually referred to as “DSL”. Originally, that seems to have been true but things aren’t so simple anymore.

Cable = “community”

The cable company is the group of friendly folks who provide your TV channels (unless they are provided by the phone company, but I don’t want to confuse you any more than necessary right now). The major provider in Paris is Numericable (formerly Noos). In case you haven’t noticed, “Noos” is “soon” spelled backwards. Go figure…

The advantage of cable used to be that you could get your Internet and TV access bundled into one package. This is no longer such an advantage (see “convergence” above). The cable bandwidth also used to be higher than ADSL. The disadvantage of cable is that you share the cable with your friends and neighbors. If you have a cable modem today, you can see the lights blinking merrily due to other traffic on the segment. This can slow down your access during peak periods or when your neighbors’ teenagers (or your neighbors) are busily pirating music and movies.

ADSL = broadband over the telephone

An ADSL connection consists of a very sophisticated digital signal processor capable of complicated compression, error detection and correction (your ADSL modem); another very sophisticated digital signal processor capable of complicated compression, error detection and correction (your service provider’s ADSL modem); and some generally rather bad wiring in between. The advantage of ADSL is that you don’t have to share your connection with anyone. The disadvantage is that you must be within a certain distance of your phone company’s nearest branch exchange in order to get ADSL service at all, and the quality can degrade with distance. As the phone company replaces more and more of their old copper wiring with fiber-optic cable (and France Telecom is working very hard at this as we speak), this becomes less of an issue.

In metropolitan Paris, the ADSL coverage seems to be quite good; I currently get 20 Mb per second download speed and 1 Mb per second upload speed, and this is common.  The speeds the providers quote are all “theoretical maximum” speeds which you will rarely if ever see. There are many things which can affect your actual speed including the quality of the wiring in your home, the performance of your computer equipment, and the number of other people who are trying to simultaneously access the Internet site(s) you are trying to access.

I’ve been using ADSL for many years now, and I’m very happy with it. Another advantage of ADSL, which figured into my choice, is that there are usually a lot more telephone outlets in a home than cable outlets. There was a telephone outlet right next to the place where I wanted to install my computer, but the only cable outlet was in the living room. You must plug an ADSL filter (France Telecom provided me with two) into every phone outlet in your home that has a phone connected to it. This separates the ADSL signal from the telephone signal. Otherwise, neither service works properly.

What about Fiber?

As I mentioned earlier, service providers are busily installing it. France Telecom is offering 100mb download and 10mb upload speeds plus HDTV and telephone for about what I’m paying now. All I need is for the people who manage my apartment building to let them install the fiber in the building, and they’ll do that for free.

What about Satellite and Cell Phone Internet Access?

Yes, both are available here, but I don’t have much experience with them. Internet access via the cell phone network has become much cheaper recently. In the summer of 2009 France Telecom offered 2 hours of connect time per month for 5€, and they included a free USB Modem. My speed at home with this was 1.2mb/s. I also recently bought an iPhone, and it has been excellent. I pay far less for my service than my friends in the States.

What about Dial-Up?

Sheesh! You’ll be asking about smoke signals next….If you really want dial-up access, I suspect that most of the service providers also have a dial-in number, but I no longer know anyone who uses dial-up.

What about E-Mail?

Most of the ISPs in the U.S. (and elsewhere) have webmail access; you can access your e-mail by going to their Web site and logging in. You read your mail using your Web browser.  If you want to access your mail using Outlook, or your favorite e-mail client, you can do that as well. You’ll probably be able to read your e-mail just as you did in the States without changing anything on your computer.

Sending mail via your old e-mail account may require a bit of extra work. When you configure an e-mail account using Microsoft Outlook, under “Server Information” you’ll see entries for “Incoming mail server (POP3)” and “Outgoing mail server (SMTP)”. You’ll see something similar for all other popular e-mail clients, and some that aren’t so popular. If your U.S. ISP’s outgoing mail server requires authentication, then everything should work as it did in the States. If outgoing server authentication is not required, then you will have to replace the “Outgoing mail server (SMTP)” with the name of the mail server of your French ISP, or you will have to send via webmail. If your service provider supports IMAP (Gmail does, for example), then things will work as always. If “POP3” and “IMAP” are just alphabet soup to you, I am available for very reasonable rates.

What about French e-mail?

As far as I know, all of the Internet access providers in France will also provide you with e-mail accounts. Folks like Orange and Numericable will set up one account as part of their connection procedure. They also offer mailboxes for family members, and they’ll even offer you space for a web site. You can access your French mailbox from the States just as you access U.S. mail accounts from here.

Yahoo, MSN, Gmail?

Yup, they all work exactly the same. You don’t need to change anything.

If you still have problems  after what you’ve read here, send an e-mail to parisplaces@yahoo.com and I’ll send you Rodney’s e-mail address.  I can personally vouch for the quality of his services.

Getting Your Computer Up and Running

This is the first in a series of posts by Rodney Wines, an independent computer consultant living in Paris.   If you still have problems with your own set up after what you’ve read here, send an e-mail to parisplaces@yahoo.com and I’ll send you his e-mail address.  I can personally vouch for the quality of his services.

by Rodney Wines

I unpacked my computer, can I plug it in?

 Surprisingly enough, the answer is probably yes.

 In case you haven’t heard, we’ve got globalization these days. The same companies that sell products in Paris, France also sell them in Paris, Texas and they probably build them in Asia anyhow. These companies discovered that it is cheaper in the long run just to install a universal power supply than to build a separate model of their product for each country. Most brand-name computer equipment (and much of your other electronics, with the exception of your TV) that you bought within the last few years will work here without modification and without an AC power converter.  (If you bought a special built computer from Bubba’s Computer and Bait Shop, then your mileage may vary.)

Although the end of the power cord that goes into the wall can vary from country to country, the end that goes into the computer or monitor is usually the same the world over. There are only a few flavors of these cords. If your gadget doesn’t have a detachable cord, adapter plugs are cheap and can be found at hardware stores and most of the bigger stores that sell electronics. Please note that there is a big, and possibly catastrophic, difference between an adapter and a converter, but more on that later.

The French plugs work in much of Europe except for Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK), and some two-prong French plugs will also work in Switzerland. I bought local power cords for all of my equipment which has detachable cords. Okay, I scavenged most of the cords from equipment that was going to be scrapped, but don’t tell my former employer.

I have had very good luck getting equipment to work in both the US and France without voltage converters. Before you plug in anything, however, check the voltage information for the product. You should see a sticker (usually on or near the power cord or “power brick”) that says, “110-240 VAC, 50-60 Hz”. If it says that, then you should be able to plug it in (using only an appropriate adapter plug or a French version of the power cord) without a problem. If it does say that, you plug it in, and it smokes, please remember that I’m only a software person.

Some older products have a “110/220” switch somewhere. Even older products require you to open the case and change connections on the power supply transformer. I faced this problem when I first moved to Europe in 1992. If you have such a product today, beware of the dinosaurs. Electronically, you are in Jurassic Park. We are talking Stone Age equipment here. You’ll probably be better off just replacing the product.

One way to save money on adapter plugs is to bring a US power strip back with you the next time you visit the States. Then, you can plug all of your US equipment into this one power strip, and you need only an adapter plug for the strip itself. I do not recommend using US outlet strips with circuit breakers here unless you are particularly fond of flyaway hair with slightly singed ends. Okay, I suspect that all that’ll really happen is that the circuit breaker will immediately trip because of the excess (by US standards) voltage, but that is less fun to write about.

I couldn’t find that “240” wazzit.

OK, Fred and Wilma gave you this wonderful gadget that says “110-120 VAC 60 Hz”, and you’d love to use it here? It is possible, with the right kind of converter. (More about power converters, adaptors, and transformers here.)  I’ll just say that before you connect your prized gadget make sure that you are using the right kind of converter. Some travel converters are only intended for things like hair dryers and battery chargers and will not work at all with most electronics. A step-down transformer will change the voltage but not the line frequency; devices with motors in them, or devices that depend on the AC line frequency for timing, will run too slowly and could be damaged. Power supplies intended for 60Hz can run hot when you give them 50Hz even if the voltage is correct. I suspect that there are a lot of shops which would be very happy to sell you an expensive power converter when a simple adapter will do, so it is very much worth your while to look for that “240” wazzit.

But it doesn’t have a power cord.

Any device that draws its power directly from your computer, such as an internal hard drive or a device which draws power from its USB or FireWire connection (iPods and quite a few external hard drives, for example), will work just fine here. You can buy these devices in either country and safely connect them to (or install them inside) your computer. If you are used to installing hardware inside your computer, then you probably knew this already.

And yes, battery-powered devices work fine, silly.

It is broken.  Is my warranty valid?

As is so often the case, this rates a rousing “it depends”.  First of all, if you bought one of those Best Buy, or equivalent, extended warranties, and the vendor’s standard warranty has expired, then your only recourse is to ship the product back to the States for warranty service.  It is my belief that the major manufacturers will honor their standard warranties on products bought in the US, but I have never had occasion to test this hypothesis. Check the fine print on your warranty. However, dealing with a multinational company outside the US can be like dealing with an entirely different company than the one you dealt with in the States. The French version of the company may not know about your warranty registration in the States, so you may have to spend a bit of extra time getting help.

I’ll pay to get it repaired. What do I do?

I would start by checking with the vendor, or your owner’s manual, for the location of an authorized repair center in France. The major stores such as Darty, FNAC, and Surcouf will also repair many products.  If you are an Apple customer, Apple opened their first store in Paris in November 2009.  It is in the Carrousel du Louvre, and it is impressive. There is even a YouTube video of the store. It is my understanding that Apple is planning other stores for Paris and other cities in France.  Editor’s note:  Apple service is by appointment only.  You can make an appointment by phone or on-line.

If your computer is on the fritz, and you don’t want to take it to the big stores, there are technicians who advertise in FUSAC who will make house calls. I have no experience with any of them (friends and acquaintances have had very mixed, and sometimes disastrous, results), but you can have a reasonable expectation that anyone who advertises in FUSAC speaks English.  Please note that the FUSAC web site address is “fusac.fr”, and not “fusac.com”. The fusac.com site is not affiliated in any way with the FUSAC paper. In my humble opinion, the folks at fusac.com are being unethical, but they didn’t solicit my advice.

And, if your problem is a very simple one, I work for food. I do not charge for phone or e-mail help. If it is more complicated, my rates are reasonable.

It is time for an upgrade.  Where do I shop?

That is an easy one. If you stayed awake through the section on globalization, you’ll know that you can buy most things in the US and save some money (but don’t tell French Customs that I told you this).  If your income is in dollars, then you might want to shop for big-ticket electronics and computers in the US unless you got a very generous relocation package.

If you do decide to shop here, then most of the usual suspects are available in France; Dell, HP, Apple, and amazon.fr have Web sites where you can order direct, and I mentioned the Paris Apple store above. You might pay a bit more in France, but at least you’ll have a local merchant to deal with if there are problems.

There are quite a few large French online and bricks and mortar stores as well. I won’t try to list them all here; you will see them advertised everywhere. I have the most personal experience with the Apple store, FNAC, Darty, amazon.fr, and Surcouf.

For the geek, Surcouf is probably the biggest. They claim that their store on Avenue Daumesnil gets more visitors per day than Versailles. I can believe it. I take advantage of my  unstructured weekdays and go there during off hours. They seem to have a bit of everything, and I enjoy wandering around the store. When my French fails me, I have always found someone who speaks English. In the surrounding neighborhood, like pilot fish around a shark, there are dozens of small shops that take advantage of the foot traffic that Surcouf generates. I haven’t shopped at any of these, so I don’t know anything about their prices or quality.

Those French keyboards sure look strange.

Keyboards are generally named for the five keys on the row above the left hand “home” keys (“QWERTY” and “AZERTY”, for example) except for “Dvorak” which is named for its inventor. Don’t ask me why.

In the US we use QWERTY keyboards, and in mainland Europe they use AZERTY keyboards. Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that. There are also US QWERTY keyboards and UK QWERTY keyboards (and French, German, etc. AZERTY keyboards). If you buy a computer in France with an “English” keyboard, you’ll probably get a UK QWERTY keyboard. That’s okay for most situations, but there are a few differences; the “double quote” and the @ keys are reversed between the two keyboards. I have so far been unable to find a decent American keyboard with a € symbol on it.

If you are a touch typist, then you can lie to your computer and tell it that you are using the keyboard type of your choice regardless of the keyboard type that is connected to your computer. Otherwise, you’ll have to adapt to one of the keyboard types available here or get a keyboard (without a € symbol) from the States.

How to Use a French Phone Booth

by A. Letkemann

So there you are out and about on the town when you notice that your cell phone‘s battery has died or you simply forgot to take it along with you. You‘ve agreed to phone someone for a rendezvous or perhaps you need to reach someone while you‘re out.  There‘s no need to wait until you get home to make that call, you could make it from one of the many public phone booths around Paris.

Public telephones in France do not accept coins, so to make a call you‘ll need to get a pre-paid phone card (carte téléphonique), approximately €10 for 50 units or €17 for 120 units, available at major métro stations, post offices, tabacs, news stands, tourism offices and Orange (France Telecom) stores. Once you‘ve obtained the card, just stick it in the slot (a handy little screen walks you through this on many phones) and dial. Most phone booths display the number of the phone so you can receive calls as well. It‘s that simple!

It‘s important to note that you shouldn‘t use the regular carte téléphonique for international calls; you’ll watch your units dissipate rapidly. For overseas calls, purchase an international calling card (télécarte international) from the same locations listed above. Instead of actually sticking the card into the phone, you dial the free number listed on the card and type in the code (usually found under a scratch-off silver panel), then follow the instructions in English to make your call. These can also be used for local calls.