Monthly Archives: April 2010

ImagineR: A Real Deal for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults

Kids under 10 can ride buses and trains in Paris on a half price ticket.  After that, there are several special deals, one of which, the ticket jeunes weekend,  I already discussed here.  Today’s post focuses on the ImagineR pass available to students between the ages of 10 and 26.   The pass is good for 12 months of unlimited travel with the choice to the subscriber of beginning the first of September, October, November, December or January. 

For zones 1-2 (which roughly corresponds to the metro system), the annual fee is 298.70 euros.  You can pay by check for the entire year or allow the RATP to deduct nine payments of 31.95 euros from your bank account.  (For the full list of fees, go to, click on “titres et tarifs” and then scroll down to and click on “Forfait imagine R.”  Or use the calculator tool on the ImagineR site.)

No matter which zones you purchase, the Imagine R pass will give your child unlimited travel throughout all of Ile de France on weekends, national holidays,  and school vacations including Toussaint, Christmas, the February ski break, spring break, and the entire summer vacation (from the beginning of July until the end of August.)

If your kids will be taking public transportation fairly regularly, getting the ImagineR is a no-brainer.  You’ll never have to worry about whether your child has enough tickets to get around town and back home again, and if it’s lost, it can be replaced fairly easily.  And if your child takes the metro or bus 5 times a week within zones 1 and 2, you will come out at least even financially, if not ahead.

Every information and ticket office within the RATP system has application materials for the ImagineR pass.   You must get  the application signed by your child’s school before submitting it by mail.  You should receive your pass within two weeks of sending it in.

For more information, go to the Imagine R Web site at: (in French only).

French for Shopping

This is the first in a series of posts drawn from, 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.

From the French VII tutorial:  follow this link and scroll down the page midway to “Going Shopping” 


department store la grande surface  
outlet store le magasin d’usine 
second-hand shop la boutique d’articles d’occasion 
discount store le magasin hard discount  
flea market le marché aux puces 
department le rayon
to go window-shopping faire du lèche-vitrine
to go grocery shopping faire les courses
mini market la supérette
supermarket (food) le supermarché
super store (everything) l’hypermarché (m)
shopping center le centre commercial
fitting room la cabine d’essayage
club/loyalty card la carte de fidelité
heels des talons
flip-flops des tongs
tank/halter top le débardeur
underwire bra le balconnet
thong le string
spotted à pois
flowery à fleurs
frilly à frous-frous
glittery à paillettes
striped à rayures


Est-ce que je peux vous aider ? / Je peux vous renseigner ? / Vous désirez ? Can I help you?
Non, je regarde seulement.
No, I’m just looking.
Je vais réfléchir.
I’ll think about it.
Quelle est votre taille ? Vous faites du combien ?
What is your size? What size do you wear?
Quelle est votre pointure ? Vous chaussez du combien ?
What is your shoe size? What size shoe do you wear?
Ça va, la taille ? C’est la bonne taille ? Is the size right?
C’est trop grand. / C’est trop serré. It’s too big / too small.
Ça coûte combien ?
How much does this cost?
C’est en solde ?
Is it on sale?
Quelle escroquerie ! / Quelle arnaque !
What a rip-off!
Avez-vous une carte de fidélité ?
Do you have a club card?
Vous réglez comment ? / Vous payez comment ? How are you paying?
En espèces/par carte bleue. Cash/with a bank card.

A good way to increase your vocabulary is to look at ads for stores that are available online, such as Carrefour, Géant, Monoprix, etc.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Paris has many charms but being easy to navigate is not one of them. That being said, you will do just fine as long as you always carry a map with you. And there’s no need to be ashamed; even the locals carry them at all times.  The secret?  Put away that free map from the hotel or the tourist office and invest in a blue book under the title of Paris Pratique or Plan de Paris Par Arrondissement. Available in book shops and news stands, these little books contain a map of every arrondissement, including some of the tiny passages and streets in the nontouristy sections of town that may be missing from the free tourist map. Before you buy, make sure the edition contains a plan of the subway system and bus routes. And if your home is in one of the banlieue (suburban) communities, look for a slightly larger version that includes the communities near you.

Another option is to get a copy of Streetwise Paris, a laminated map available at W.H. Smith or from Amazon.  This map is extremely durable, takes up less space in your bag, and it’s easier to use since you don’t have to flip through the pages to find your current location and destination.   But it does not include the entire city, cutting off, for example, major parts of the 14th and 15th arrondissements.   The risk?  You may find yourself off the grid just when you need it most.

Tips for Navigating the Streets of Paris

Notre Dame is ground zero in Paris.   The smallest numbers are closest to Seine and then go up.  Take, for example, a very long street like the rue de Rivoli.  Number 44 (Ben and Jerry’s) will be closer to Notre Dame than Number 226 (Angelina’s).

While streets have even numbers on one side and odd on the other, don’t expect number 30 to be across the street from number 31.   If you look closely in the map book, you will see the street numbers listed in a fine red font at each intersection.

All subway stations have a map of the surrounding neighborhood (plan du quartier) posted on the wall in several locations, often on the platform and near any exits.   In stations with multiple exits, the exits are numbered and you can consult the map to see where you will emerge at street level if you take exit 1 versus exit 2.

Remember that Paris is divided into 20 arrondissement (districts).   Île de la Cité (where you’ll find Notre Dame) is in the 1st.  From there the arrondissements are numbered in a spiral that begins just north of  Île de la Cité, heads east, crosses the Seine, and then heads west.  It’s confusing at first so just focus on finding street addresses.  In time, knowing the number of the arrrondissement will help.

Everyone’s heard the terms “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” but what do they mean?  Think of it this way.  Stand in front of Notre Dame but with your back to the cathedral.  Everything across the Seine River on your right hand side is referred to as the “Right Bank,” everything on your left is called the “Left Bank.”  Why?  Because that’s the direction the Seine flows to the sea.

Useful Links

How to Use a Paris Street Map  (

Google Maps:  Find an address anywhere in the world and get walking or driving directions from one location to another.  All subway stations appear on the Paris map.

Mappy: An online tool like Google Maps (although for Europe only) with a few more bells and whistles; in French only

A Taste of Home

You may be rhapsodic over the bread in Paris and swooning over the cheese, but trust me, sooner or later, you’re going to be looking for molasses to make your favorite ginger snaps or corn meal for muffins when you’re making chili.  And maybe, just maybe, your kids will be crying for Pop Tarts or a Dr. Pepper.  There is a time to be a purist and enjoy what’s available locally but there are also times when a little taste of home is just what’s needed.

There are several sources for your favorite American food stuffs in Paris and without exception, you will pay a premium for these products.  Look closely and you may find peanut butter, maple syrup, Tabasco, and Oreos in your local supermarket.  For the rest, you may need to travel further afield.   More on American-style eateries in a future post.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris, Le Bon Marché
38, rue de Sevres
75007 Paris
Métro: Sèvres-Babylone

The Real McCoy
194, rue de Grenelle 
75007 Paris
Phone:  01 45 56 98 82
Métro: Ecole Militaire

20, rue Saint-Paul
75004 Paris, France
Phone: 01 42 77 68 29
Métro: St. Paul

My American Market is an on-line source for American groceries.  Based in Toulouse in southwestern France, they will ship throughout France with rates beginning at 6.89 euros for shipping. 

Homesick Brits may find their favorites at any of several small shops around town. In addition, the W.H. Smith book store on rue de Rivoli stocks some British comfort foods.

The English Shop
10, rue Mesnil
75016 Paris
Phone: 01 45 53 11 40
Métro: Victor Hugo

This shop also has a larger location on 96, rue du Connetable in Chantilly (Phone:  03  44 57  22 20).

Epicerie Anglaise
5, cité du Wauxhall
75010  Paris
Phone: 09 53 75 41 07
Métro: République

Velib: The Ins and Outs of the Parisian Bike for Hire System

Velib (a contraction of the French words vélo (bicycle) and liberté (freedom)) is a system of bike rentals in Paris and several surrounding communities.  Designed for the commuter and errand-runner, the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes of use, making them an economical way to get around the city.    There are about 20,000 bikes at stations roughly every 300 meters throughout the city of Paris and several of the surrounding communities.  You pick up a bike at one station, drive it to another where you drop it off, and go on about your day.    The system is self service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


How It Works

First timers can purchase one-day ticket from the kiosk at the bike station using a credit card.  (Note: most U.S. credit cards — which do not have a computerized chip — are not compatible with the Velib system.)   Follow the instructions on the screen (there is an English language option) and keep your paper ticket.  You will need it again if you use the system more than once during the day.  Your credit card will be charged 1.70 euro for the day, entitling you to an unlimited number of uses under 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, the rates are 1 euro for the second half hour, 2 euros for the third half hour, and 4 euros for each half hour after that.  It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that you should return the bike before your 30 minutes are up and take out another bike if you want to keep riding.   The fine print for short-term users also includes an agreement that the system can charge your credit card a 150 euro fee in case the bike is not returned.

You can also buy a week-long  (7 day) pass for 8 euros.   It may not save you much money, but it can save you a little hassle when picking up a bike. This is because once you have your pass, you don’t have to use the front of the kiosk to get a bike. During the summer months, especially on nice days, there can be lines to purchase a pass, so if you have already purchased your pass, you can just enter your code and password on the back side of the kiosk and take your bike.

If you plan on using the system frequently, you can buy a yearly subscription for 29 euros.   In addition to being a cheaper alternative for frequent users, the Carte Velib allows you to take out a bike directly from the stand without having to use the station kiosk.    The application for the Velib Carte is online at  Although you can fill out certain portions on-line, you have to print it out and mail it in some supporting documentation and the annual fee.   You will receive your Velib card by mail within two weeks.    If you already have a Navigo card for public transit, you can also link your Velib account to your Navigo so you don’t have to carry multiple cards.  

Tips from Experienced Users

  • Carefully inspect the bike before releasing it from the station and before setting out.   A bike seat turned backwards usually means that there’s something wrong with the bike.   A quick check of the pedals, the chain, the tires and the breaks is highly recommended.  It’s worth taking a little ride down the block to see if the bike is ride-worthy or not.
  • When returning a bike, it is vitally important that it is securely locked  into the stand.  A green light will appear when the bike is properly secured. You will be charged for returned bikes if they are not locked back into the stand.
  • Know the locations of several Velib stations at  both ends of your trajectory.   On sunny weekends, bikes can be hard to find.   At other times, the station where you planned to return your bike may be full.   Rumor has it that if you bring your bike to a station to drop it off and it is full, you can type in your code and password into the kiosk and it will give you 15 more minutes to find another station.   There is also map of the nearest stations on each kiosk, so if you do come to a station and it is full, you just need to look on the kiosk to find the next closest station.
  • Maps with all Velib stations are available on the Web site at
  • For iPhone users, there is a  nifty application that allows users to find the nearest stand and the number of bikes available at each stand, all in real-time.  
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Ride only on the roadway and respect traffic regulations.  It is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk.  If you feel nervous about traffic conditions, either get rid of the bike or walk it on the sidewalk.
  • You must be at least 14 years old to ride a Velib.

Making Sense of the Supermarket, Part III: Eggs

If you’ve found the eggs in the supermarket, congratulations! The next step is figuring out the difference in all the varieties.    The packaging always shows a consumption date of 28 days after the eggs were laid; they cannot be sold after 21 days have elapsed.  Only eggs less than 9 days from being laid may be labeled as oeufs frais (fresh eggs).

Every egg sold in France is marked with a code, for example: 0 FR ABT01.  The first digit (between 0 and 3) indicates how the chicken who laid the egg was raised. The two letters following indicate the country of production (here FR for France). The final digits signify the specific producer. In this post, we’ll focus on the meaning of the first digit.

0: Ninety percent of the food eaten by the chicken who laid this egg was organic (no chemicals or pesticides were used).  The chicken was raised en plein air,  that is, allowed to graze in an exterior area with 4 square meters per chicken.   There is an indoor shelter where the chicken sleeps and lays eggs, but there is a limit to the number of chickens living in the interior area. The carton will be marked “AB” indicating that this is a fully organic product.

1: This egg was laid by a free-range chicken allowed to graze in an area at least 4 square meters per chicken. 

 2: This egg was laid by an uncaged chicken but one allowed only to graze indoors.   There is a limit of 9 chickens per square meter for eggs from this location to be marked “2.”

3: This egg was raised by a caged chicken living indoors.  There may be up to 18 chickens per square meter in this location.

Eggs marked “0” are considered to be of the highest quality and are priced accordingly.

Eggs are also labeled on the packaging by their size from petit (less than 53 grams) to XL (more than 73 grams).   For comparison purposes, an American egg classified as large weighs around 57 grams.

Writing a French Check

There’s not a lot to writing a French check, just enough, if you are an American, to get you thoroughly confused. The formula is simple. And the real trick? Don’t switch back and forth between writing French and American checks.

Checks are used quite frequently in France so you may find yourself writing a lot more checks than you did back home.

Take a look at this typical French check.

Follow the numbers and here’s how you write out your check:

1.  The amount of the check in text, for example, “deux mille trois cent vingt trois euros et 45/100 centimes”.  See below if you need help with your numbers.   The line below is a continuation of this line.  Draw a line through it if you are able to write the full amount on the first line.

2.  This is where you write the name of the payee, the person or organization to whom you are writing the check.

3.   Write out the amount in figures, for example 2.323,45 € Note that the French use a comma (virgule) instead of a period to denote the decimal spaces.   Similarly, they use a period (point) where we would use a comma.  For extra insurance, write the centimes figure higher up with a line underneath.  Make sure to put a hash mark through the stem of the number 7 so it is not read as a 1.

4. Write the name of the town where you wrote the check.

5.  Write the date.  Remember that the French put the date ahead of the month, as in 18 juin 2008.

6.  There’s no line but you should sign your name in this area.

All done! 

Tip:  Print out this post and stick it in your checkbook so you’ll have it handy when you need it.


1:  un
2: deux
3: trois
4: quatre
5: cinq
6: six
7: sept
8: huit
9: neuf
10: dix
11: onze
12: douze
13: treize
14: quartoze
15: quinze
16: seize
17: dix-sept
18: dix-huit
19: dix-neuf
20: vingt
21: vingt et un
22: vingt-deux 
23: vingt-trois
24: vingt-quatre
25: vingt-cinq
26: vingt-six
27: vingt-sept
28: vingt-huit
29: vingt-neuf
30: trente
40: quarante
50: cinquante
60: soixante
70: soixante-dix
71: soixante-onze
72: soixante-douze
80: quatre-vingts
81: quatre-vingts-un
90: quatre-vingts-dix
91: quatre-vingts-onze
100: cent
200: deux cent
1000: mille
2000: deux-mille

Months (always in lower case)

School Vacations: A Snapshot of the French School Year

Elementary and secondary schools are run by the French national government with the calendar set centrally each year.  To minimize traffic jams (both on the roads and on the ski slopes), the country is split into three zones to somewhat stagger school vacations.  Paris lies in zone C,  along with two other administrative sections of Ile de France (Créteil and Versailles) and  Bordeaux.   Most of the international schools in Paris roughly follow the French calendar although often shortening the vacations at Toussaint and in February.

The schedule typically goes as follows:

Start of school (known as la rentrée):  first week in September although not necessarily a Monday

Toussaint:  a break of 10 days at the end of October always encompassing November 1st which is All Saints Day

November 11:  Remembrance Day

Christmas: Two weeks at the end of December encompassing both Christmas and New Year’s Day

February:  Kids in Paris typically have no school the last week in February and the first week in March.  It’s a good time to go skiing although only if you make reservations well in advance.  The ski stations in the Alps (such as Chamonix,  Megève, Les Arcs and Portes de Soleil) fill up quickly; those in the Pyrenees less so.

Spring:   Spring vacation is almost always the last two weeks of April regardless of when Easter occurs.    Easter Monday is a public holiday.

May:  The month of May is riddled with public holidays including  May Day (the 1st), Victory Day (May 8),  Ascension (40 days after Easter), and the Monday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter).   

Take note!  National holidays are always celebrated on their proper date, regardless of which day of the week they fall on.  For example, if May 1st happens to land on a Sunday, there is no school holiday.  On the other hand, if one of these holidays falls on a Thursday,  people often faire le pont, taking off both Thursday and Friday.   Or if the holiday falls on a Thursday, the French schools may hold school exceptionally on Wednesdays (usually a day off  in a normal week) and then take off both Thursday and Friday.

End of the school year:  Sometime around the first of July although the exact date varies from year to year.

The French take their summer vacations in July (with the largest numbers after Bastille Day on July 14) and August.    The last weekend in July/first weekend in August is considered the worst day of the year to travel since it’s the one time when all of the country is en route, either going to or coming home from vacation.    August is quiet in Paris.  While chain stores stay open all summer, smaller businesses often close their doors for the entire month.  Pharmacies and bakeries coordinate their vacations to ensure that neighborhoods remain served throughout the summer months.

For the latest info on the school calendar, go to

Today is Market Day

by Erin Chupp

Reposted with permission from Lyon Eats, a terrific blog designed to help Americans in Lyon, France find the foods they love.   While the selection of products is apparently wider in Paris, you still may get some ideas from this blog about where to find those special treats in your Parisian neighborhood.

What better way to fully experience the joys of French life, engulfing all of your senses, than with a trip to the neighborhood market? Feel the uneven cobblestones beneath your feet, knocking you off a balanced path from time to time. See the brilliant array of colors in the fruits and vegetables lined across the tables. Listen to the women gossip and barter over the sounds of a muffled accordion player nearby. Pick up a carrot or turnip and touch the dusty layer of dirt on the outer skin of the freshly dug vegetable.  [Editor’s Note:  Touch the merchandise only if you have the vendor’s permission!] Taste the sweetness of a perfectly ripened tomato the vendor sliced for sampling.

Most neighborhoods have at least one or more weekly open-air markets, often located in a town square or open parking lot and taking place in the morning. Many covered markets are open all day long. Your neighbors can point you in the right direction, or just follow the ladies making their pilgrimage with woven baskets and rolling carts.

Arrive at the market with an open and adventurous spirit. Market shopping can inspire you to cook new dishes and try new tastes. Be spontaneous. Don’t arrive with list in hand. Let that day’s promotions or soldes write your menu. Shopping mid-week often means fewer people and lower prices. You could also try going later in the day for the possibility of easier bargaining on the food needing to be eaten that day.

(c) K. Masson

No matter when you go to these marchés découverts, it is appreciated if you try to speak the language. Keep in mind basic shopping etiquette: “Bonjour,” “s’il vous plait,” “merci,” and “au revoir” said with a smile go a long way. As far as asking for different foods, manage what you can. There are little helpful hints peeking out of each section, as the name and price of all the items are often etched in white on small chalkboards.

Tip: one kilo = 2.2 pounds

Depending on the season, you will find tables covered in melons and berries or apples and pumpkins, and always an array of flowers, bursting with magnificent colors. Most often, quantities are sold by weight in kilos or grams. Good deals can be found by buying by the plateau, or dish that is pre-loaded with ripe produce.

There is no doubt the food you come home with will be the freshest available. Each producer is an expert on his goods. You will receive one-on-one assistance picking the perfect pêche or pomme. There will not be a need to spend time reading the labels at a supermarket or hypermarket. Which is better, ‘free range organic,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘grass-fed’ meat? The perk of the market experience is the ability to simply ask the farmer how their animals live.

If you become a repeat shopper, even if you only return once a week, forming a friendship with the producteur can get you the freshest pick and ideas on how to prepare an item with which you are unfamiliar. Instead of fingering through all the fruits, poking and prodding each one, tell the producer on what day you would like to eat your choice melon, and most will gladly pick out one perfect for the occasion. And when there are more than 350 different French cheeses, you are going to want an expert behind the table; someone who learned the trade from his father, who learned it from his father.

Tip: for farm-fresh eggs, save a cardboard container from your last supermarket trip. If not, there is a good chance you will be given your dozen in a brown paper bag, playing a juggling game to see how many whole eggs you have once you reach the kitchen.

There is much more to a market than fruits and veggies, though. Selections vary at each location, but you can often find fresh fish, meats, cheeses, honey and fruit juices. Let us not forget about the non-edibles too! Beautiful scarves, dainty handbags, shoes, jewelry, clothes and handmade crafts are also for sale; although on sale is more like it—a necklace at a department store might cost you 25 euros, whereas you might find the same one at the market for just five.

By shopping at a market, you might also lose a few things as well. In the popular book French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano reveals her ideas on the mysteries behind French eating habits, weight gain and “the secret of eating for pleasure.” One of Madame Guiliano’s recommendations for keeping a French figure is fresh ingredients found at your local market. She also says the way a French woman walks everywhere provides great exercise. While you are walking back and forth from the market, adding a rolling cart for a little resistance, you have combined a small workout with grocery shopping.

Whether it is picking up a mélange of dried fruit as an afternoon snack, instead of McDo, picking up supplies for a scrumptious picnic, or checking out the ripest produce for a delicious dinner, the open-air market is a true French advantage. Get out in the fresh air; take a stroll and find some fresh food.

Weekly Schedule for Parisian Food Markets

Guest author Erin Chupp is an American freelance writer and photographer. Copyright 2009. No reproductions of any part without prior written permission.