Monthly Archives: July 2010

Surviving Your House Guests

You’re in Paris so it’s a pretty good bet that sooner or later, family and friends are going to come knocking on your door, delighted to know that they now have a free place to stay in one of the world’s most visited (and expensive) cities.   And while most of us don’t mind spending time with those near and dear, running a bed and breakfast is something else entirely.  Here are just a few thoughts to preserve your sanity.

Rule Number One.   Just because someone calls or sends an e-mail that they are coming to town doesn’t mean you have to put them up.   Parisian apartments are typically on the small side and having extra people in your space can be a real drag.   Remember you are not obligated to house anyone for any length of time.   So when they say, “We’re coming to Paris!”, keep these stock phrases in mind.

“We’d really love to see you but we just don’t have room for guests.   Can we meet you for  [fill in the blank: coffee, dinner, a drink, and afternoon, an evening]?”

“I’m so sorry but we’re going to be totally swamped when you are here.  Maybe next time.”

Or “Budget Travel and Rick Steves have some hotel recommendations that look pretty reasonable.”

Rule Number Two.  Set the ground rules in advance.   Make it clear what’s going on in your life while they visit including both your work and social commitments.   If you have to leave for work at eight o’clock and want a shower before you go, say so.   If you’re not doing dinner, suggest places in the neighborhood where they can get a bite.

Rule Number Three.   You don’t have to play tour guide unless you want to.  Tell your guests to get their sightseeing priorities in order before they arrive.  There’s way too much to do in Paris whether they’re staying for three days or heaven forbid, two weeks.   You may want to suggest particular restaurants or favorite shops or museums, but don’t get caught in the trap of planning their visit for them.   Most public libraries back home offer a nice selection of tourist guides so they don’t even have to buy a book.   Or send them links to your favorite Web sites.

Rule Number Four:   A few orienting basics can go a long way to forging independence.  Have an extra subway and city map on hand.  Collect some brochures for tours (such as Paris Walks , Fat Tire Bikes, or Open Tour) or tourist attractions.  (You can swing by one of the tourist information offices around town and take care of this in one fell swoop.)  Show them where to find the nearest ATM and how to buy their first carnet of metro tickets.  You might  also point out your neighborhood market and boulangerie.

Rule Number Five:   You do not have to pick up your guests at the airport.  Period.   Send the information on how to take public transportation, the Air France bus, or a cab to your place, including an idea of what it will cost.   And for your convenience, here are the options for getting into town from Orly and Charles de Gaulle.


Paris Convention and Visitors’ Bureau  (in English)

How to be  Good House Guest  (a link you can forward if you are either truly courageous or truly fed up)


Talk Like a Parisian

Today’s post is reposted with permission from Paris-Wise, the blog of Christopher Back, long-time Paris resident and California native.   Although it’s written for tourists, there are definitely a few nuggets here for anyone new to France who doesn’t speak the language well.   

 by Christopher Back

I’ve come to the conclusion that since the tours created by my company afford visitors a glimpse of Paris that isn’t in the guidebooks, the people I meet are especially curious about French life and culture.  As a result, we are often asked what French to learn before coming to Paris. 

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can actually “learn to speak French” in the course of planning a holiday vacation to France.  However, you can use a few commonly known words to your advantage.  You just have to use precisely the right word at just the right moment. 

The best place to start is to forget everything you think you know.  There is a charming term used in French language schools called the “Faux ami” – pronounced Fauze-amie.  This translates litteraly to false friend and refers to words that seem like they should mean the same thing in English and French but don’t. 

An example is “excusez-moi” which is generally thought by English speakers to work like “excuse me” when it’s closer to “sorry.”  “I’m sorry” is actually “Je m’excuse”  So this is the first thing to remember.  In my opinion you should forget about “excusez-moi”.

If you are in a crowed place or in the Métro and want to get by the thing to say is not “excusez-moi”, but “Pardon” pronounced par-DON.  With the emphasis on the second syllable and with a nasal “own” sound if you can manage it.  When the doors open in a crowded Métro car and you are stuck far from the quickly closing door, saying Pardon firmly and emphatically will part the crowd in seconds. 

If you are curious about other ways to attract attention, you can read this post for advice on service in restaurants.

The next thing to learn is when to use the words Bonjour, Bonsoir, Au Revoir and Adieu.  “Bonjour” which means “Good Day” is used from morning until dusk.  “Bonsoir” is “Good Evening.”  Both greetings are used in common speech so there’s no faux-ami lurking here.  While there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule about when to switch, it seems that this often happens around dusk  I notice it also can happen when you meet someone working in a shop in the late afternoon who has become bored and tired.  I think they say Bonsoir out of wishful thinking that their workday is almost over.  I would say, it’s a safe bet to start using Bonsoir about 6pm.  Of course, you will quickly relize that you are using the wrong greeting when you say “bonjour” and the person responds “bonsoir.”  Note: This only works with native speakers, the rest of us are sometimes as confused as you are.

What about Au revoir and Adieu you ask?  Well, just thinking about what each of these words mean will give you a clue when to use them.  “Au revoir” translates to “See you again” and “Adieu” is “To God”.  Clearly the finality of “To God” makes it something that is not necessarily used when saying “goodbye” to people.  The lesson here, unless you are at a funeral, forget Adieu.

I’ve saved the easiest for last.  “Merci” and “Merci beaucoup”.  “Thank you” and “Thank you very much” – nothing tricky here.  At last — Something that you can thank Madame Charles, your Junior High School French teacher, for telling you. 

Now that we’ve reviewed the words, we can now discuss the more challenging part of this effort.  When to use the words to get the effect we want —  Like when we need to get people to step aside quickly to let us out of the Métro before the doors shut.

There is a myth that the French are rude, but I think this is no more true in Paris than any other big city in the world.  In most cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, there are some basic cultural guidelines for being polite to strangers that don’t necessicarily apply in English speaking countries. 

When you enter a small boutique or a café  you are expected to say “Bonjour” (or Bonsoir) to the person working there.  Once you have looked around (and regardless of whether you’ve bought anything) one says “Merci – Au Revoir” when leaving.  This is also regardless of whether the person in the shop has even bothered to come over and offer to assist you.  But I can assure you, no matter how disinterested the person working in the shop may have seemed, when you leave and say “Merci – Au Revoir” they will respond with “Au Revoir.”  

The same is true when you leave a neighborhood café.  I have already written about how to order coffee in Paris, but after a having a coffee at the counter or a table, when you pass by the bar on your way out the door, you should say “Merci – Au Revoir”.  Again, no matter how disinterested the barman may seem they will generally respond with an automatic “Au Revoir.”

The final and perhaps most important moment to use “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir” is when you are asking a question in any store, shop, grocery store or department store.  Imagine you have been looking around inside for a little while and now have a question for someone working there.  In English, it’s acceptable to glance over and say “Excuse me, do you have this in red?” all in one quick and efficient phrase. 

Not so fast there partner, we’re in France;  things are different here.  I learned this the hard way in the first few weeks of living in Paris back in 2001.  Armed with just a couple of weeks of French studies, I went to the Monoprix grocery store in my neighborhood of Passy.  I was looking for something that I was sure they stocked but I simply couldn’t find. 

I looked around and found a man who was stocking the shelves.  I went over to him and said – “Excusez-moi ou est mayonnaise?” — “Excuse me, where’s the mayonnaise?” Okay, it was a bit roughly said, but I thought I was getting my point across.  After all, I’d only been studying French for two weeks.   The man responded with a blank stare and replied “Bonjour”.  I repeated my question differently assuming I’d made a mistake.  “Je cherche mayonnaise” – “I’m looking for mayonnaise”.  Again he replied “Bonjour”.  The third time I thought I should keep it simplesaying only “Mayonnaise” which I probably pronounced slowly “May-onnnn-NAIZZZZZE” to ensure that I was as clear as possible.  By now I became convinced that “Mayonnaise” was not actually a word in French because he responded again with “Bonjour”. 

Exasperated, I didn’t know what to do.  It was clear that I was not going to be buying any mayonnaise that day.  So, I started to walk away.  “Monsieur” the man called after me “En France on dit Bonjour d’abord” — “In France we say Bonjour first”. 

Ah, I finally understood, and started over.  This time I said “Bonjour”.  He replied “Bonjour”, then I said “je cherche mayonnaise” and he replied “Aisle five”.  Success!  It was my first cultural lesson, and it happened right there in the middle of the Monoprix where I recently had another cultural awakening.

One last moment when I think it’s very important to say Bonjour is on the bus.  When boarding the bus, most people greet the driver who says “bonjour” in return.  A nice custom I think.  In general, when you come up to someone and you want to ask them a question, start with “bonjour” or “bonsoir” and you’ll never go wrong.

So, it’s not necessary to learn a lot of French to blend in a bit and give the people you meet in shops and cafés the impression you are making an effort.  In reality more and more people speak English in France and so it’s generally not so difficult to communicate in most shopping, eating or sightseeing situations.  In most shops even if the person you first greet doesn’t speak English, they will find a colleague who does.

So instead of studying French, I recommend you spend your time reading guidebooks and scouring the Internet for places to go, things to see and hidden restaurants to discover.  Or, you can let our concierge do the planning for you and simply enjoy the result.  Bon voyage!

At the Sign of the Green Cross

Pharmacies in France are much more specialized than drugstores in North America.  You won’t find chips and sodas, nor coloring books and wrapping paper.  What you will find are qualified health care professionals, capable of filling a prescription or even a preliminary assessment of your medical problem.  If your problem is serious and beyond their expertise,  they can often refer you to an appropriate physician.  Be forewarned, however, that if you go in with a head cold or a mild flu, you’re probably going to come out with at least four products.   It’s not a sales pitch; it’s just how they roll.

When the neon sign is illuminated, that means the pharmacie is open.  If it’s blue as well as green, that means that it serves animals as well as humans.  If the neon is not on, check the sign on the door which will direct you to the nearest open pharmacy.

Many medications that Americans are used to being able to purchase over the counter medications in relatively large quantities (ibuprofen, for example) are only available by asking directly and then usually only in a quantity for your complaint.  On the other hand, most medications (prescription and non) are typically much cheaper than you would find in the U.S.   And if you have kids and they need shots, you will get a prescription from your family doctor or pediatrician for the vaccine.  Go to the pharmacie, pick it up, and return to your doctor for it to be administered.

If you’re in desperate need of a location where English is spoken or for a location open 24 hours a day (24/24 in French parlance), check out the listings on Heather Stimmler-Hall’s post on this topic on her blog, Secrets of Paris.

Filling Out Forms

Another 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.

Ah French bureaucracy.  Can’t avoid it.   There are forms to be filled out everywhere — at the bank, la poste, the prefecture, school, even the grocery store.    Here are a couple of key vocabulary words to remember.  Click here to go directly to the ielanguages site for the sound files for some of these words.  Scroll down to “Filling Out Forms.”

contact information: les coordonnées

last name: nom

first name: prénom

maiden name:  nom de jeune fille

address: adresse

birthdate: date de naissance

place of birth: lieu de naissance

ville: city

pays: country

nationality: nationalité

marital status: situation de famille

single: célibataire

married: marié(e)

divorced: divorcé(e)

widowed: veuf (veuve)

Signed [city] … date: Fait à … le 

birth certificate l’acte de naissance

passport: le passeport

visa: le visa

residency card: la carte de séjour

receipt: le récépissé

application: le formulaire / la candidature

enrollment form: la demande d’inscription

Remember the date format in France is day/month/year instead of month/day/year and that you generally capitalize your last name, but not your first name: Jean-Paul BOUCHER.

And keep in mind that 99 percent of the forms you fill out will start with “nom” ( which is your last name) first.

Five a Day

by A.  Letkemann

Paris is a food lover’s paradise, even if you prefer eating a plant rather than an animal based diet. While not as ubiquitous as traditionally French brasseries and bistrots, just about every arrondissement has one or more vegan or vegetarian restaurant providing an array of creatively prepared fare that suits a wide range of budgets. While the list below is by no means exhaustive of the options available, it should serve as a starting point.

3rd Arrondissement

Le Potager du Marais
22, rue Rambuteau
Métro: Rambuteau
Phone: 01 42 74 24 66

This lacto vegetarian restaurant near the Centre Pompidou offers a mainly French menu. All dishes are prepared with organic ingredients. The staff speaks English and they serve alcohol.

Le Vegetarien
65, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière
Métro: Poissonnière
Phone: 06 60 97 16 12

This vegetarian/vegan café is open only for lunch but offers a tantalizing prix fixe menu.

4th Arrondissement

Le Marais
54 rue Ste-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie
Métro: Hôtel de Ville or St-Paul
Phone: 01 48 87 48 71

One of the best-known Parisian vegetarian restaurants, Le Marais offers organic fare (including wine). Vegans should consult the wait staff before ordering to ensure dishes adhere to dietary guidelines.

Grand Appétit
9, rue la Cerisaie
Métro: Bastille

This vegan/macrobiotic restaurant serves a mixture of French and Far Eastern dishes. It is closed on weekends. While you‘re there, check out the macrobiotic store next to the restaurant.

Le Relais De L’Isle
37, rue Saint Louis en l’Ile
Métro: Pont Marie
Phone: 01 39 09 16 02

In the center of Ile Saint Louis, this restaurant offers both vegetarian and nonvegetarian menus. Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sundays, with live jazz in the evening.

Piccolo Teatro
6, rue des Ecouffes
Métro: St-Paul
Phone: 01 42 72 17 79

Great vegetarian food and a romantic ambiance make this a great place for couples. They serve a mix of Italian and Indonesian dishes.  Everything, including the wine, is organic. Reservations are recommended.

5th Arrondissement

Le Grenier de Notre Dame
18, rue de la Bucherie
Métro: Saint Michel
Phone: 01 43 29 98 29

A very pricey choice that, while not completely vegetarian, offers lacto, vegan-friendly, organic, macrobiotic, French, and international dishes.  There is a terrace for summer outdoor dining.

8, rue Xavier Privas
Métro: Saint Michel
Phone: 01 43 26 36 00

If you‘re in a hurry or simply want to eat at home, this take-out vegetarian restaurant in the 5th is for you.  Part of the UK-based Maoz franchise, they serve salads and falafel filled pitas. Fast but healthy food.

La Petite Legume
36, rue des Boulangers
Métro: Cardinal Lemoine
Phone: 01 40 46 06 85

An affordable neighborhood vegetarian restaurant that serves tofu burgers and a whole lot more.

Le Cinq Saveurs D’Anada
72, rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Métro: Cardinal Lemoine
Phone: 01 43 29 58 54

This quaint Latin Quarter vegetarian restaurant also has vegan and macrobiotic options. English is spoken and an English menu is available.

6th Arrondissement

Paradis du Fruit
29, quai des Grands Augustins
Métro: Saint Michel
Phone: 08 26 10 04 08

Fruitarians can delight in this chain of juice bars with 17 locations in and around Paris. They offer soy smoothies as well as some vegetarian options. See Web site for other locations.

7th Arrondissement

Poujauran Boulangerie
20, rue Jean-Nicot
Métro: Tour Maubourg
Phone: 01 47 05 08 88

This is not a restaurant per se, but a wildly popular bakery like none other in Paris where people line up daily to get organic and whole grain baked delicacies. They also serve sandwiches made with organic vegetables and will tailor your order to fit vegan sensibilities. Whole grain organic baguettes are a specialty.

38, rue de Verneuil
Métro: Rue de Bac or Musée d’Orsay
Phone: 01 42 61 28 61

This small vegetarian/vegan restaurant is located on a small street near Musee D‘Orsay and open only on weekdays from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Good for anything from sandwiches to a full, three-course lunch with wine. Everything is organic and vegan options are available.

8th Arrondissement

Al Diwan
30, avenue George V
Métro: George V
Phone: 01 47 23 45 45

Certain ethnic cuisines offer vegetarian options by their very nature. This Lebanese restaurant on an exclusive Parisian street is especially vegetarian and vegan friendly. A bit pricey but the ambiance is cozy and the food fresh and plentiful.

9th Arrondissement

7, rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
Métro: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
Phone: 01 53 16 10 81

World-class raw organic vegetarian cuisine served in a small and friendly setting right in the heart of Paris. This restaurant also has a shop where you can stock up on all of your sprouting needs, from sprouters to seeds, as well as dehydrators and juicers, everything to accommodate a raw lifestyle.

10th Arrondissement

Krishna Bhavan
24, rue Cail, Paris 75010
Métro: La Chappelle
Phone: 01 42 05 78 43

This lacto, vegan-friendly vegetarian Indian restaurant is not only inexpensive, it also serves great food and is accommodating to any dietary restriction that you throw at them. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 11:00 a.m to 11:00 p.m.  Closed Mondays. Accepts credit cards.

11th Arrondissement

Loving Hut
92, boulevard Beaumarchais
Métro: Saint-Sebastien Froissart
Phone: 01 48 06 43 84

Healthy, vegetarian novelle cuisine that‘s also vegan friendly. Closed on Sundays.

Tien Hiang
92, rue du Chemin Vert
Métro: Pére Lachaise or Voltaire
Phone: 01 43 55 83 88

This place is heaven for vegetarians and vegans. Run by Buddhists, it serves an exclusively vegetarian Asian cuisine (offering a variety of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai menu options) so you don’t have to worry about picking something that has a meat base or little flecks of something suspicious floating around. An English menu is available upon request.

13th Arrondissement

Restaurant Green Garden
20, rue Nationale
Métro:  Porte d’Ivry
Phone: 01 45 82 99 54

This East-Asian vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Chinatown offers fresh organic dishes with flair. Vegan friendly. Closed Mondays.

14th Arrondissement

40, rue de Gergovie
Métro: Pernety
Phone: 01 45 41 36 88

A vegetarian restaurant that serves organic and vegan dishes. Provides an English menu upon request.

18th Arrondissement

Au Grain de Folie
24, rue La Vieuville
Métro: Abbesses
Phone: 01 42 58 15 57

Possibly the smallest and most intimate of Parisian veggie restaurants, Au Grain de Folie is a homey eatery in the Montmartre district, serving wholesome organic fare at reasonable prices. Reservations are recommended to secure one of the elusive tables. Open for lunch and dinner.

Editor’s Note:  You can also check the Paris by Mouth Web site for vegetarian options; these are generally restaurants with a full menu that offer good choices for vegetarians.

Equipping Your Kitchen

You  know that old saying, “everything but the kitchen sink.”   How about everything missing but the kitchen sink?  One of the quirks of the Paris real estate market is that unfurnished apartments may come with no kitchen at all.  Oh sure, there’s a room where the kitchen is supposed to be, completely with electrical and water hookups, but little else.  So take a deep breath and get ready to put in your own kitchen.  If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to sell it to the next tenant when you move out, or disassemble it and sell it off in parts to newly arriving expats.  Here are just a few of the places you need to know about.

Alinéa was described to me by a friend as “like Ikea but with a little more French flair.”   About a dozen kitchen styles are currently on offer as well as appliances, sinks, plus kitchen furniture, pots and pans, etcetera.   Plus you can design your own  Alinéa  kitchen on-line.   There are five locations in Ile de France, all in fairly far flung suburban communities.

BHV:  The three initials stand for Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville after the store’s flagship location opposite the Paris city hall but everyone calls it Bay-Aash-Vay.  The basement hardware section is legendary; you just have to go and see it for yourself.  The store also has suburban locations in Ivry sur Seine, Montlhéry, the giant Parly 2 mall in Le Chesnay, and another mall in Rosny sous Bois.   Appliances (large and small), hardware of every type, shelving, lighting but no kitchen cabinets or countertops.   And apparently, you can get a refund if something doesn’t work out.

Castorama may be  Home Depot’s French cousin.   It sells cabinets, appliances, and all manner of hardware plus everything else you need for other home improvement and gardening projects.   There are three locations within the city of Paris (Clichy, Nation, and Flandre: all accessible by metro) and a dozen or more elsewhere in Ile de France.

Conforama:  Not to be confused with Castorama (above), Conforama doesn’t have a hardware department but they do sell both large and small appliances, furniture, lighting, rugs, and curtains.   The emphasis is on bargains as opposed to design.  Not a great match if you consider yourself a style maven although you may save some money by shopping here.  There are two locations within the city limits (Pont Neuf and Nation) and more than a dozen other locations in Ile de France.

Darty stocks all manner of household appliances from refrigerators and stoves to food processors and hair dryers.   And then there’s the electronics section.  There are 10 locations within the city of Paris and dozens more throughout Ile de France.  I’m told that Darty makes it very difficult to get your money back (offering instead store credit) if you have a problem.   Fair warning.

Ikea.  Someone once told me that the word Ikea is Swedish for “allen wrench.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not true but those Swedes are laughing all the way to the bank.  With dozens of styles from sleek to country, Ikea’s eight Paris area locations do big business.   Access by public transportation is limited (for example, you’ll have to take the RER B and then a bus to get to the store closest to Aeroport Charles de Gaulle).   Amazingly, Ikea has risen to the challenge here by creating a mechanism for ride sharing for both drivers in search of passengers and passengers in need of a ride.

Leroy Merlin:  With one location within Paris (near the Pompidou Centre in the 3rd arrondissement) and others in the suburbs, Leroy Merlin stocks cabinetry, lighting, paint and wallpaper, f looring, appliances, and hardware.  More emphasis on function than style.

And don’t forget Craig’s List and FUSAC as sources for used appliances and furniture being sold by departing expats.

A Meeting Near You

Good news folks.  Don’t think that just because you have made the move to France that there isn’t a support system for you.  There are a number of 12 step programs with a presence in Paris; some even have English language options.  Here’s where to find a meeting near you:

English language meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous: Multiple meetings daily with the exception of August when the number of options thins.

Al Anon and Alateen:

Every Saturday 17.00-18.30 at the American Church

62, quai d’Orsay, 75007 Paris
Métro: Invalides or Alma-Marceau;  bus 63 (stops in front of the church). Buses 80, 83 and 92 stop nearby.

Every Wednesday 19.00-20.30 and Thursday 12.15-13.45

Scots Kirk (ground floor)
17 rue Bayard, 75008
Métro: Franklin Roosevelt or Champs Elysées Clemenceau, bus 80.

Also listed at  and

Gamblers Anonymous: One meeting weekly

Tuesday at 8:00 pm
Anteus Café
46 rue Galilée, 75016 Paris
(just ask at the counter, they will show you the meeting room)
Métro: Etoile or Kleber

English language meetings of Narcotics Anonymous:  One meeting weekly.

Monday at 8:00 pm
St. Georges Anglican Church
7, rue Auguste Vacquerie, 75016 Paris
Métro : Kleber or Etoile

Overeaters Anonymous:  At least one meeting daily.


Directory of  12 step groups in Paris (in French)


Updated May 2017