Monthly Archives: June 2010

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.


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)

Toujours en Grève (Always on Strike)

Strikes are a way of life in France.   Complain about them if you will but they will persist.  Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when strikes are in the news.

For the most part, strikes are scheduled well in advance.  If you watch the headlines in the newspapers, watch or listen to news over the airwaves, or even just pick up those freebie newspapers they give away on the metro, you will see coverage.   

Most of the time, strikes are called for one day only.  There are circumstances, however, when the unions involved will invoke their right to renew the strike each day as they see fit.  What typically happens is that the effect of the strike is worst the first day and then things get progressively better as the days wear on.  But they can wear on.  A transport strike in 2007 lasted three weeks; a SNCF strike in the south of France in spring 2010 lasted several weeks as well.

Transport strikes typically begin at 8 p.m.  the evening before the called strike and continue through 8 p.m. the following day.  In general, the subway tends to be more affected than buses, and the RER A and B more than other lines of the subway and suburban trains.  Expect longer waits between trains, crowds on platforms, and crowded cars.   The RATP posts information on the number of trains and buses expected to run on its Web site.  For the RER C, D, and E,  and suburban trains operated by the SNCF, consult the Web site  (Note:  This site is only operational when disruptions in service occur, whether due to strikes, technical problems. or weather.)  For information on intercity travel, you have to check the main SNCF Web site.  For airlines, check with your carrier.

When a national strike is called, you can expect disruptions in the mail, street cleaning, trash pick-up, and government offices.  Schools and hospitals may also be affected as well as state run television and radio stations.

Laws passed in 2008 affirm the right of workers to strike but also require that sufficient workers be available to provide a minimum level of service, particularly for public transport and schools.  For transport, this means that a certain number of trains and buses must continue to operate.  For schools, it means that personnel must be on hand to supervise children although not necessarily to teach.  The definition of minimum service is not well specified in law, however.  The bottom line is that workers retain the right to strike and while life can get quite inconvenient (for commuters, for parents, for businesses, and for people trying to do business with public agencies), nothing ever comes to a complete and utter standstill.

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 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   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.


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

Navigating the Restaurant Menu

by Nancy McKeown-Conn

Without a doubt, sitting in a café or restaurant, lingering over a cup of coffee after a delicious French meal is one of the pleasures of living in France.  But, if you’ve ordered daube thinking you were getting fish and were served a rich beef stew instead, you might be somewhat disappointed in your dining experience.

People seem to learn restaurant French pretty quickly, but some ingredients and preparations remain elusive.  For instance, while you might want to avoid eating horsemeat (cheval), you might actually enjoy a hamburger à cheval (served with a fried egg on top).   Caouanne is turtle, but so is tortue.   On the other hand, tourteau is a large crab but tourteau fromage is a kind of cheesecake.   You probably already know to order your steak à point (medium/medium rare), but fruit and cheese may also be à point, that is, perfectly ripe.  Riz is rice, veau is veal and ris de veau are sweetbreads – be careful.  Of course you know that escargots are snails, but so are bulots, cagouilles and petit-gris. Pâte is pastry dough or batter, which is not to be confused with pâtes (pasta), which is certainly not pâté, which is, well, pâté.

You’ll see many dishes prepared à la something, which means in the manner or style of someplace or someone.  Here are some definitions.

If it says à la (in the manner of): The translation is: It means:
Lyonnaise Lyons Served with onions
Meunière “in the manner of the Miller’s wife” Usually refers to fish dusted in flour, sautéed in butter and served with browned butter, lemon juice and parsley.
Grand-mère Grandmother style Prepared with onions, mushrooms, potatoes and bacon
Florentine Florence Served with spinach and mornay sauce
Diable Devil’s style Dishes served or prepared with a sauce of mustard, vinegar and/or other pepper flavorings
Dijonnaise Dijon Served with a mustard sauce
Bourguignonne Burgundy Prepared with red wine, mushrooms, bacon and small onions
Bretonne Brittany Can be a sauce of white wine, carrots, leeks and celery or a dish served with white beans
Bordelaise Bordeaux Prepared or served with a brown sauce of red or white wine, shallots and bone marrow
Arlésienne Arles Prepared with tomatoes, onions, eggplant, potatoes, rice and sometimes olives
Anglaise English style Prepared with little embellishment – can also refer to food dipped in bread crumbs and fried
Ancienne Old style Most often used to describe braised beef and fricassees
Milanaise Milan Describes food that is dipped in egg, then a mixture of bread crumbs and cheese and then fried
Provençale Provence Prepared or served with tomatoes, garlic and sometimes olives, eggplant and anchovies
Parisienne Paris Usually, fish or chicken garnished with mushrooms, asparagus, truffles and a white wine sauce
Alsacienne Alsace Usually garnished with sausage and sauerkraut
Américaine America White wine sauce usually with brandy, shallots, tomatoes and garlic

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?


Cookware Shops in Paris

David Lebovitz, pastry chef and Paris blogger extraordinaire, has gone and done it again.  Honestly, if you are in Paris and you like to cook, you should just sign up for his e-mail notifications or put his blog in your Google reader because you won’t want to miss his hysterical observations on life in Paris, his great recipes, or his sage advice on where to go for the best ingredients and tools for your culinary masterpieces.

This time, he’s gone and written what must be the definitive guide to Cookware Shops in Paris.  He’s got all the big names like Dehilleron, Mora, and La Bovida but he also has great suggestions for those of us on a budget.   Knives, cookbooks, pots and pans, cutlery, glassware:  it’s all there complete with addresses, phone numbers, and links.  Now get your map and get going.   Dinner’s only a few hours away.

Que Sera Sera

Moving to another country takes you out of your comfort zone, a change that can be tough when you are used to being at the top of your game.   It can be particularly rough for trailing spouses who don’t have a structure to their days or a defined network of people with whom they interact each day.    Adjusting takes time, sometimes a lot longer than you expect.   In today’s  post, guest author Ashley Benz reflects on her own process of adjustment.  So take a deep breath, relax, and realize that you are not alone.

 by Ashley M.  Benz

My elementary school music teacher Mr. Cross (whose name was oh-so-perfect due to his militant demeanor) forced us to sing Que Sera Sera in fourth grade. Standing there, pigtails disheveled, having no idea what I was singing, I remember finding it both very exciting, as I was speaking another language, but also quite frustrating, as I had no idea what I was exactly saying.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and that very same feeling has hit me once more. This time, however, I can’t put down the sheet music and run out onto the playground, completely forgetting those feelings of confusion, frustration, and yet, every once in a while, a little jolt of excitement. It also is quite fitting that the translation of que sera sera means “whatever will be will be,” a phrase and ideology I grapple with daily as an American in Paris. Of greater irony, however, is that song itself was introduced in Hitchcock’s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. Currently, my applicable title would be The Woman Who Knew Too Little.

It is not as if I didn’t know that moving abroad, and away from my native tongue, wouldn’t be taxing. And, I can say that after five months and change as a resident of Paris, I am slowly getting my bearings. I have learned the five or so words to get my intoxicating pain aux raisins from the patisserie; I can tell you where the main rues and boulevards are, and how to buy a Metro ticket. I have even made French Facebook friends! What I am still grappling with, however, is assimilating with the true French culture — a que sera sera attitude that is making this Type A American want to pull her dried up, over-calcified hair out.  (Another small change that they fail to mention predeparture is that calcium is no longer gunk you find solely in your pearly whites and involuntarily hiding out in your dairy products.) 

I grew up in a bubble, went to college in a bubble (endearingly termed “The Bucknell Bubble”), and until now, I was not aware of or prepared for the cultural changes that I would meet moving to Paris. I am a vocal woman (or was a vocal woman — now I can’t even tell someone my name in French without stumbling), and to have my vocal cords cut is frustrating. Perhaps it is making my assimilation slightly easier though, because yelling apparently gets you nowhere here. Customer service is not a booming industry like it is in the U.S.: you wait your turn, and you will like it. This goes for everything from insurance cards to internet installation. For those of you who think that Verizon should be dissolved because it takes a week to get FiOS, try moving over here.  (Actually, don’t do that; getting your visa is your first introduction to the escargot-pace of the French government, and should have been our indication of what was to come!)

We are used to a “go, go, go” culture in America. My weeks were stressful blurs, and my down-time was spent getting ready for the mayhem of the upcoming week. There is a good reason the French pooh-pooh our way of life — it is drastically different from theirs. As I come upon the six-month mark of my time in Paris, my insight is far from perfected. What I can say, though, is that moving to France has made me re-examine my modus operandi. I am no longer running sprints, but instead running a marathon (in overpriced Adidas). Living here is not simply about a change in clothing style, or learning a new language. It truly is a paradigm shift, and one that is quite difficult for any American that does not know how to slow down and how to let go (moi in a nut shell).

Had I truly understood the journey I was about to embark on, I might have reconsidered.  But that would have meant stopping to do so,  something I was incapable of doing back home. So, moving forward, I will do by best to reassemble my pigtails, recover my sheet music, and hold my head high while singing loudly (although not correctly or with complete understanding) “Que sera sera.” Because as I now know, what will be will be, and there is nothing I can do to change that.


Ashley M. Benz is a recent transplant to Paris from the U.S., having spent her previous life in public education working with both middle and high school angels in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. When she is not serving on the board of the American Women’s Group, cooking with Enfants du Monde, teaching English, bootcamping in the Tuileries or volunteering with Gifted in France, she likes to spend her downtime with her adoring beta, Reuilly-Diderot (and occasionally her husband).