Monthly Archives: May 2010

At the Salon

It is with some trepidation that we launch into making recommendations for beauty salons.   After all, what one woman considers classic, another considers frumpy.   But if you’re terrified about the thought of letting someone new touch your hair, much less someone with whom you cannot communicate with 100 percent confidence, here are some ideas for getting started.  If you have other suggestions, leave a comment and we’ll incorporate them into the post.  Note:  if you are under 26, many salons will offer you a discount.  If it’s not posted, it doesn’t hurt to ask.



A Cut Above
2, boulevard Fernand Hostachy
Croissy sur Seine
Phone: 01 39 52 01 44
Notes: Sandra speaks English.

Audebert Coiffure
88, boulevard Saint Germain 75005
Metro: Cluny-Sorbonne
Phone: 01 43 26 90 25
Notes:  Jean-Philippe, owner of this salon, speaks English.

Jean-Claude Biguine
Many locations in Paris
Notes: appointments not always necessary, good products

Richard Chambers Hair Salon
22 rue Scheffer 75016
Metro: Trocadero
Notes: Native English speaker

Coiffure Sylvie Sandy
6, rue Castellane 75008
Metro: Madeleine
Phone: 01 4265 4234
Notes:  “Daniel won’t charge you a ridiculous amount, but he is not one of those cheap clip places, either.”

Many locations in Paris
Notes:  “I like the way they do highlights there. Just paint them on – no fuss with foil or any of that stuff. I went to it in Hong Kong and found one in Neuchatel, Switzerland of all places. It is international. The one I go to is 4/6, rue de Gericault, 75016 (tel 01 42 24 71 24). The woman who did my color was Sylvie whom I liked very much.”

En a Parté
2, rue Edmond About 75016
Metro: Avenue Henri Martin or Rue de la Pompe
Phone: 01 45 04 51 12
Notes:  “They are a great local salon. Pedro & Mickael are extremely friendly and speak English.  My only basis for comparison price-wise is Frank Provost — and these guys are definitely more expensive.  But you can usually get last minute appointments and we’ve been pleased with their cuts (they cut the entire family’s hair!)  I’ve heard mixed reviews for color — but I’ve never had first hand experience.”

Hair Bar
3, rue de la Croix Nivert, 75015
Metro: Cambronne
Phone: 01 44 49 98 84
Notes:  “The owner speaks English and actually does what you ask.”

Jessika Ester
81, rue Jouffroy d’Abbans 75017
Metro: Wagram
Phone: 01 47 63 74 63
Notes: “Jessika cuts my hair and a colorist, Claude, colors it with her input. She speaks English. Fee is around 100 euros depending on what you have done.”

Jamal Fakih
55, avenue Marceau 75016
Metro:  George V
Phone: 01 40 70 00 20
Notes:  “Fancy neighborhood, small homey salon. Anna has twice given me an excellent haircut, exactly what I asked for.  And if color should ever be wanted, Catherine is very good as well.  They don’t speak English.”

Salon Manhattan
35, avenue Theophile Gautier, 75016
Metro: Eglise d’Autueil
Phone:  01 42 24  86 10.
Notes:  “The owner is named Sandra and she speaks English.  She worked in New York City for two years and then came back to Paris to open her own salon.  She cuts and colors my hair and the cost is about 85 euros.  I am happy with her and certainly she is a good start for people when they move, particularly as she speaks English.”

2, rue Edouard Vasseur
Ivry sur Seine 94200
Metro: Pierre et Marie Curie
Phone: 01 46 70 25 69
Notes: The entire team at Stylepixie speaks English.

Toni & Guy
248 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001
Metro: Palais Royale – Musee du Louvre
Phone: 01 40 20 98 20
Notes:  A number of the hair stylists and the receptionist speak English.

Joel Villard
16, rue de Saint-Simon, 75007
Metro: Rue de Bac
Phone: 01 45 55 85 69
Notes: The only licensed Aveda salon in France; all stylists are trained by Aveda and Aveda products are for sale. Most stylists speak some English.

Home services

“Paulo Sousa will wash, cut and blowdry hair in your home.  He uses the bathroom sink or the sprayer in your tub and cleans up everything as if he were never there.  I love him.  Only speaks French, but if I can handle it, you can.”
Phone: 06 46 36 38 77

“Severine, a stylist who works at a television station doing hair and makeup in the early mornings, is available for appointments in your home.  She is French but speaks English very well.”
Phone: 06 81 61 78 14

“Romain is very reasonably priced compared with what a person would play in a salon. He does both my cut and highlights and I think he does a great job. He speaks some English but not proficient.  I recommend him highly. ”
Phone: 06 98 19 44 67

“Natalie, who does nails and waxing, is the owner of Aquarelle Institut at 9, rue Saint-Didier in the 16th arrondissement.  She is beautiful, funny and speaks English as well!  She uses excellent products.”
Phone: 01 45 53 09 09

Kristina offers skin care treatments such as facials in her home in the 16th arrondissement.  Contact her by e-mail at 


Click here to go directly to the site for the sound files.  Scroll to the middle of the page for “At the Hair Salon/Chez Le Coiffeur.”

bangs la frange braid la natte / les tresses
highlights les mèches / le balayage ponytail la queue-de-cheval
hair cut la coupe de cheveux barette la barrette
blowdry le brushing head band le serre-tête
curly bouclés hair clips les pinces à cheveux
wavy ondulés hairband l’élastique (m)
frizzy frisés / crépus hairpin l’épingle à cheveux (f)
straight raides buzz cut la coupe en brosse
dyed teints completely shaved head la boule à zéro
lightened décolorés bald chauve
layered dégradé (note: effiler means to thin, not to layer!) part la raie

There is a slight difference between se couper les cheveux (to cut one’s hair – by oneself) and se faire couper les cheveux (to get one’s hair cut – by someone else). The same is true of se teindre les cheveux (to dye one’s hair – by oneself) and se faire teindre les cheveux (to get one’s hair dyed – by someone else).


Don’t Forget to Pack the…..

When it comes to travel, there are two different kinds of packers: those who are prepared for every contingency and those who throw the basics in their duffel bags and figure that when push comes to shove, they can always wing it. While there’s merit in both approaches, if you are in the “be prepared” camp, here are a few things you might want to consider putting in your suitcase before moving to Paris.

  • Over the counter medications. For the most part, prescription drugs are more affordable in France but for some reason, it takes more effort to procure the things you might easily find on the shelves of an American drug store such as pain killers, cough and cold medicines, antacids, and special formulations for kids. Plus, it’s nice to have these on hand when illness strikes in the middle of the night. 
  • Small hostess gifts from your home country or town. A Canadian friend arrived in France with a case of cans of maple syrup, a lady from Virginia brought teas packaged at Colonial Williamsburg. Notecards by local artists and decorated dish towels also make nice inexpensive gifts.
  • An extra supply of your favorite lipstick or any other toiletries which you consider essential to your daily regime.
  • Some English language greeting cards. Your friends may appreciate a birthday card in French but if your great aunt Mildred ends up in the hospital, you might want to send “get well” wishes in English.
  • If you have kids, consider packing a few generic presents for birthday parties that may take place during your first weeks in Paris, that is, before you have time to figure out where the toy store might be. If your kids will be going to an international school, English language books or craft kits are fine. If they’ll be in French schools, think about the language issues when making your purchases.
  • Gift bags. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, gift wrap is extremely expensive in France and I have found myself more than once spending almost as much as the wrapping as on the gift itself. Do yourself a favor and lay in a stock of gift bags in different sizes. They will pack flat in the bottom of your suitcase and weigh almost nothing.
  • An extra set of American-sized passport pictures. There are photo booths everywhere in Paris but regrettably, the photos are the wrong size for U.S. passports and visas. If you need to renew your American passport or have it replaced during your time in France, you will pay a small fortune to get pictures taken with the right dimensions.
  • If you like to cook, but are renting a furnished place, don’t forget your American measuring cups and spoons.
  • If you are bringing your American sized beds, think about packing an extra set of sheets for each bed .  (European beds have slightly different dimensions.)

What would you add to the list?

The Route to a French Drivers’ License

You may be terrified at the thought of driving in Paris.   Some people manage quite well without ever getting behind the wheel.  But eventually you may find that your kids’ activities, your work assignments, or even vacation plans require some driving.  You don’t have to drive around the Etoile but you do need to know the requirements for driving legally.

If you’re a tourist, your home country license and an international driving permit are valid during your vacation.   And if you’ve moved to France, you can continue to drive legally for one year on your home country documents.   (The year begins from the date on your carte de séjour.)  Some authorities suggest that you get an official translation of your foreign driver’s license but frankly, I’ve never heard of anyone having this done.

After one year, you can only drive legally and continue coverage with your auto insurance company if you have a French driver’s license.    If you are a resident of one of the 14 states in the U.S. listed below, you are in luck because you can actually exchange your existing license for a French license.  (These states have an agreement with the French government to issue U.S. permits to French citizens living in those states.)  The states are:  Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.  If you don’t live in these states and you don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a French license otherwise, you might think about getting a license in one of these states before you become a resident of France. The residence requirements for getting a driver’s license in some states is very loose and in the long run, this can save you a lot of time and money.

Residents of the Canadian provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Newfoundland can also exchange their licenses.  If you have a valid driver’s license from another EU country, this is also recognized as legally valid.

The exchange process is handled by the préfecture of police and like many other administrative processes, can take awhile. The sooner you start, the better. According to the U.S. embassy Web site, you will need to have the following documents:

  • a form to request the driver’s license (available at the préfecture).
  • your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license with sworn translation in French. (For married women, if maiden name or married name does not appear on the driver’s license, a statement or official document showing both names is required.) Some préfectures may also require a “notarized translation” done in the form of a sworn affidavit.  American citizens may obtain this at the consular section of the U.S. Embassy by appointment only for a $30 fee, or the euro equivalent; each additional seal provided at the same time in connection with the same transaction will cost $20, or the euro equivalent. For information on notarial and authentication services at the U.S. Consulate in Paris please refer to:
  • proof of current address such as statement of domicile, electricity bill or rent receipt.
  • your carte de séjour with photocopy of both sides.
  • two French passport size photographs.

Students generally are permitted to use their home country driver’s license for the duration of their studies. 

If you are not a resident of one of these states or provinces nor a student or if you decide to act after the one year window, then you will need to pass both written and behind the wheel driving tests.

For the written test, you sit in front of a slide show which is basically a picture of a scene outside of a windshield of a car.  There are typically 40 multiple choice questions, often very tricky,  in French.   If you don’t speak French very well, you can ask for the help of a translator.  (Check on the details about translators before you sit for the test:  one source suggests that a friend or a relative can actually serve as your translator; others indicate that you have to use a translator from your prefecture’s list.) 

Once you pass the written exam, you can take a driving exam with a French examiner.  You drive around for about 30 minutes, perform two maneuvers (for example, parallel parking), and answer two basic questions about the inside and outside of the car (for example, showing where the hazard lights are).   The driving exam must be completed with a dual command car.   As a result,  you will have to go through a driving school (auto ecole).    Fair warning:  the price of driving school can be quite steep.

Once you’ve passed,you will have a probationary license valid for three years with six points, half the number of a regular license.  If all goes well, and no points are deducted during the three year period, you will receive a full-fledged license with 12 points and no expiration date.


The fine print for U.S. citizens driving in Paris  (from U.S. embassy Paris Web site)

A personal story with lots of details from Jennie en France:

Study materials for the exams (in English) courtesy of the Webs site, Americans in France

The one Paris area driving school everyone always mentions because they cater to English speakers

Making Sense of the Supermarket Part VI: Home Delivery

I didn’t discover home grocery delivery until well into my first year in Paris.   One day, I noticed a sign on the door of my corner market noting it would be closed for renovations for six weeks.    So no more running down to the market for more milk, a missing ingredient, or simply dinner.   Once I got over the shock, I pulled myself together, got out my French-English dictionary, headed to the bigger market some distance away, and signed up for home delivery.   In the end, it was easier than I thought it would be and now I only wish I had taken the leap sooner.

Most supermarkets in Paris deliver for free if you buy over a certain amount.   If you are single or a couple, you probably don’t buy enough stuff each week to reach that figure (see below) and given the limited storage space in many Paris apartments, you might be wondering where you would put it all if you did.    But think about it for a minute.    Between the staples (such as pasta, rice, flour, and toiletries), the bulky items (toilet paper, paper towels, bottled water), and the heavy stuff (laundry detergent, canned goods, and beer), you can usually ring up to the limit without much trouble.   And even if it’s only once a month or once in a while, how liberating to simply walk away from the register at the end of your shopping trip!  No shlepping a cart down the street or juggling bags or trudging up stairs or jamming into a miniscule elevator. 

The details for each store vary but the themes are the same.  Most stores advertise the amount for free delivery, usually between 70 and 100 euros.   In the larger stores, you typically go to the customer service desk (accueil)  to register, giving them your name, address (including floor and entrance codes) and your phone number.   On subsequent trips, you may only need to give your phone number and name before you do your shopping.  You will then get a piece of paper with a number or perhaps a computer generated form to give to the checker when you are finished shopping.  In smaller stores, you may just have to tell the checker you will be doing home delivery and the process is much less formal.

Go about your shopping and then head for the checkout lines marked for home delivery (livraison à domicile).   You will go through checkout as normal except that someone will load all your groceries into large plastic bins lined with plastic bags.  If there’s something you’ll need immediately, just go ahead and put it in your own bag.  And heads up:  frozen foods cannot be delivered.  But then you didn’t want that ice cream to melt, did you?

Most stores deliver within three hours.  The van that comes to your door will not necessarily be marked with the name of the store as most markets contract out this service.  But the fellows who handle the groceries will usually be uniformed or badged.   They will bring the boxes into your apartment and unload them onto your kitchen floor or counter.  A tip of one euro for each bin is always appreciated and to my way of thinking, well worth the price!

Thanks to Heidi Inder for sharing her delivery experience with me.

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 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 “”, and not “”. The site is not affiliated in any way with the FUSAC paper. In my humble opinion, the folks at 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 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,, 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.

A Haven for Readers

I grew up in a family of readers and now I’ve generated another generation of book lovers.  Given the price of English language books in Paris, the American Library, a subscription library tucked into a side street in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, has been a godsend.

A subscription library?  Yes, the American Library is private and to cover its expenses, one must pay a yearly fee —  155 euros for families, 100 euros for individuals,  and 75 euros for students and seniors.  (There are also short-term — four or six month — memberships if your time in Paris is limited.) But trust me, it’s been worth every centime.  The collection is extensive (120,000 books and subscriptions to over 400 periodicals) so good luck running out of things to read.  An unadvertised gem is the incredible travel section; our family has taken several dozen trips within Europe during our sojourn here and we have yet to buy a single guide book thanks to the library.  Whatever our destination, there’s always a guide from Eyewitness, Lonely Planet, Michelin, or other sources that I can check out.

The library, which currently serves 2,300 members from 60 countries, also offers movies  and other audiovisual materials, reference and research resources in paper and in electronic form including JSTOR & EBSCO databases.  In addition, there are regular literary and public-affairs programs and book groups for adults, as well as children’s and teen events and activities.

The library is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sundays, from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. September through June. Reduced summer hours apply during the months of July and August.

The American Library in Paris
10, rue du Général Camou
75007 Paris
Phone: 01 53 59 12 60

French Conversation: A Step Towards Fluency

by A. Letkemann

You take French classes, faithfully do your homework, and try to use your new language skills as much as possible, yet you feel that you’re not progressing to fluency as fast as you would like. Perhaps joining one of the many conversations groups around town could be just the ticket to accelerating your progress while enabling you to meet new people and became acquainted with new Parisian places to boot. Below is a partial list of available groups around Paris for your consideration.

Bienvenue en France

For over 30 years, Bienvenue en France, with the support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been welcoming spouses of foreign diplomats from every country to help make their stay in France as successful and pleasant as possible. The association helps them to get to know France and its people by encouraging meetings with French families and by presenting the rich diversity of France.  In 2009, the fee was 50€ per year for a two hour class, once a week.  Note: These groups are only available to individuals possessing a diplomatic card.

Cercle International de l’ARC

Established in 1957 to give foreigners access to French conversation partners, the Cercle International de l’ARC is a volunteer association that seeks to provide an open door to French culture and language. Their slogan is “une porte d’amitié ouverte aux ètrangers.” Additionally, the group organizes evening presentations, weekend walking tours, and short day-trips from Paris.  Once the 10€ annual fee is paid, students are welcome to join any of five or six conversation tables where French native speakers act as moderators. Mostly retired Parisians, the moderators will correct if requested, explain expressions, and encourage conversation. Students of all ages, nationalities, and language levels are welcome. The Cercle is open Monday through Friday from 2:00 to 7:00 p.m. Students are free to stay from 20 minutes to 3 hours. There are no fixed appointments.


Founded in 1996, this center offers French conversation in a lovely center in the 9th arrondissement. Guided and free-form conversation options are offered in two-hour sessions that can be attended one to three times a week. A one-month subscription is required and ranges in price from 80€ for a month of one weekly guided conversation sessions to 30€ for a month of once weekly free-form conversation sessions. There is a 30€ registration fee and the center offers one free trial conversation session.

LetThemTalk Café Conversation

This option is not for beginners. This group meets at different, central Paris restaurants each Sunday from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Conversations are held in French only. Participation costs 15€ if paid on-site, 12.50 in advance or you can buy a carnet of five tickets good for three months cost 50€.  Reservations are required.


This is one of the oldest, most established conversation groups in Paris, celebrating 12 years of bringing together bilingual speakers. Founders Adrian Leeds and Elisabeth Crochard offer three 45-minute conversation sessions per week in the 1st and 6th arrondissements with convenient evening and weekend hours. The first session is free and one can take sessions a la carte at 10€ each or sign up for 10 or 20 session subscriptions at a per session discount.

Teatime = Talktime

Michael and Véronique host a conversation group in their own home in the 5th arrondissement each Saturday evening from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. with snacks, tea, soft drinks and free-form conversation. The first half of the evening is conversation in any language (usually English), then Michael signals when everyone has to start speaking only French. 10€ donation requested. Call to reserve a spot and get directions.
Contact by phone at 01 43 25 86 55 or e-mail at

TEMPO Tea Time

This French/English conversation group meets every Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Practice your French and English with native speakers in a relaxed atmosphere. Spend half the night speaking English and half speaking French. Discussion topics and games help liven up a night of conversation! Hosted by TEMPOtime American Accent and l’Oisive Thé, this group meet at the Sputnik Sports Bar (14, rue de la Butte aux Cailles, Paris 75013) now, but the location changes periodically.

WICE French-English Conversation Groups

WICE conversation groups are free and open to members only, but with an annual membership fee of 50€, this may just be the best deal in town for improving your language skills. WICE has conducted conversation groups for more than 10 years. Two 90-minute sessions are held each week in small groups of five to six people who converse for 45 minutes in each language. Groups meet in the 15th arrondissement on Tuesdays and Fridays from 4:30 to 6:00 pm each day.

Carte de Sejour: Your Ticket to a Legal, Long-Term Stay

A number of folks have mentioned that this site badly needs a post on the ins and outs of getting and renewing a carte de séjour, that important piece of legal paper that you will need if you intend to stay in France for longer than the three months allowed for tourists or the 12 months allowed under certain longer-stay visas.  Since there seem to be as many stories about the carte de séjour process as there are Americans in Paris, because the rules are constantly changing and somewhat arbitrarily applied, and because I am not a lawyer, I’ve been loathe to take this on.

Enter Loulou, self-described queen of French cheese, expat living in Languedoc-Roussillon, and author of the blog, Chez Loulou.  Exasperated with answering dozens of individual e-mails but still wishing to be helpful to those with the urge to move to France, she has embarked upon a multipart tutorial that covers the territory from the question, “why do I want to live in France” to the full blow-by-blow account of how she secured French citizenship.  It’s all interesting but for those particularly interested in the carte de séjour process,  start here with Loulou’s post:  Moving to France Tutorial Part 4: The Carte de Séjour.

A thousand thanks to Loulou and bon courage to the rest of you.

Making Sense of the Supermarket Part V: Cuts of Meat

Something else they didn’t tell you about when you were learning all about France in French IV in high school:  they cut up beef, lamb, and pork here differently than they do in North America.  So today, a quick overview of some of the major differences or at least some guidance in getting dinner on the table.

For starters,  be prepared for the fact that French and North American beef taste different.  How’s that?  French cattle are primarily grass fed and thus the meat is less marbled.   Moreover, there is not as much emphasis on aging meat.  As a result, French beef tends to be less tender than American.    Food additives (such as antibiotics) are not used at all.  So be forewarned, your tried and true dishes will not taste the same, no matter what you do.  Moreover, you need to be particularly careful if you like your meat well-done.    Because they are less tender,  well-done meats are likely to be quite dry.

The laws for labeling are extremely strict and you can learn a lot about your meat, even before you put it in your supermarket cart.

Charolais, Salers, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Aubrac, Gasconne, and Limousine are all breeds of French cattle and are considered to be the meats of highest quality.  These meats will be labeled as well as race à viande, that is, cattle raised for beef.

Moving on  to the cuts.  Here’s your standard American head of beef:

American cuts of beef

Then, here’s the French counterpart:

French cuts of beef


As you can see, there are twice as many French cuts as there are American.  But do not despair.    Here are a couple of short cut definitions.  If you are looking for a New York strip, choose a faux filet or Coeur d’Aloyau   For rib-eye, try an entrecote.   For sirloin, a rumsteak will generally do the trick.  If you are making beef stew, look for paleron, macreuse, gite, or jumeau.

There are fewer cuts of pork.   If you are a fan of pork tenderloin, look for  filet de mignon de porc.  Beware of bacon; it is more like what Americans call Canadian bacon than the crispy strips you’re used to having with eggs at breakfast.  Poitrine is the best substitute although it’s probably not exactly what you want.  Lardons in both nature (plain) or fumé (smoked) are bits of bacon sold packaged; these are good in quiches and any other dish calling for crumbled bacon.   For a diagram of French pork cuts, check out this page on the French pork producers site.

If you’re ever in doubt, the best thing to do is to go to the butcher shop and ask the butcher’s opinion about the type of meat most suited to the dish you are making.   You will pay a premium by shopping at the boucherie but in general, the product will be superior.  If your budget doesn’t permit regular shopping at the butcher, don’t be embarrassed to go every now and again and in between, apply the knowledge you gain to your supermarket shopping.


Les morceaux de boeuf:   From a French cattle industry group (and thus all in French), this site offers an interactive feature if you scroll down the page until you see the diagram of the cow.  Click on a portion and you will get a photograph of the cut, its name, and suggestions for cooking.

When You Need a Friendly Ear

Thanks to the folks at SOS Help for suggesting and writing this post.

Moving to a new city is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life.  Moving to a new city of 10 million people who speak a different language doesn’t make it any easier.  From shopping for groceries to navigating the Metro, each daily task now requires a little more effort.  And then when you’re ready to relax and socialize, there’s the matter of meeting new people.  At times, all this newness can be a little overwhelming.

And even after living in a city for a while, unique challenges will still arise here and there.  How are we expected to make it through all of this?

Luckily for English-speakers in Paris, there is SOS Help, a nonprofit group whose purpose is to provide an empathetic ear to people experiencing these exact things.  From 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily, you can call the line anonymously and talk about what’s on your mind – no matter how big or small – to a professionally trained, nonjudgmental listener.

Maybe you’re a student who is having a difficult time adjusting to the French university system.  Maybe you relocated for your job and are having a hard time meeting anyone outside of work.  Maybe you’re in a bilingual relationship and are having communication problems due to the language barrier.  Maybe you just feel alone in a new country.  The SOS listeners help by doing just that – listening.  Sometimes just talking about what’s bugging you can help you gain perspective and help solve the problem.  Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is all you need.

Our volunteers are trained by professional psychologists to provide empathetic, supportive, and nonjudgmental listening to anyone going through difficult or painful times.  We listen to callers speaking about issues as wide-ranging as loneliness, depression, health concerns, bereavement, money problems, unemployment, difficulties with friends or family, or substance abuse.

So why does SOS provide this service?  We are expats ourselves and have been through many of the same things as our callers.  We know what it’s like to be new in a city and what it’s like to just want someone to talk to.  Since 1974, our trained volunteers have been listening to callers throughout France.  We know that hearing the voice of someone who understands what you’re going through can sometimes be the most helpful solution when you’re feeling worried, lonely, or even suicidal.

The biggest step is learning you’re not alone.

There are thousands of English-speaking expats in Paris.  It comes as no surprise that so many people would relocate to such a lively city, with gorgeous buildings and fresh croissants everywhere you look.  But among all the clinking of wine glasses and music from street performers are people who are feeling a little down.  If that’s you, give us a call.  We’d love to help.

SOS Help
01 46 21 46 46
3 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily