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Paris-our first month (09/21-10/24)

October 15th, 2006 · No Comments

Our first month in Paris…what an adventure! If you haven’t already read Stephen Clarke’s “A Year in the Merde,” you really should. It’s great for a laugh, and should be required reading for anyone moving to the “City of Light.” Yes, there really is that much bureaucracy in France…and yes, you do learn to be that patient…but, yes, life is good, the city is romantic, and the cheese is phenomenal.

For photos, click here.

Paris-Our First Month


We arrived in Paris on September 22nd, 2006. Miraculously, we all made it…including our 7 pieces of overweight luggage! Zookie didn’t seem to upset by his experience in the cargo hold, except that I think he really needed to go to the bathroom….we think he actually held it the whole time! As Murphy’s Law would have it – with all the documenting, certifying, microchiping, etc for Zookie to go to Europe. The security officer at the Paris airport simply gave Kim the crate, and we walked out the door with no more than a glance at Zookie’s certificate.

We had already made arrangements to stay in an apartment in the 7th arrondissement, right near the “Bon Marche” department store for the first three weeks. The girl who lived there was going on vacation to Spain, and this provided us a place to stay while we found something more permanent. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy because 1) We were looking for a short-term lease 2) We had a dog and 3) We’re American. As it turned out, the first two didn’t cause a problem at all…Paris seems to be set up for short-term furnished apartment rentals…and everyone LOVES dogs! The issue was our being American, not so much being American, but not being French. In addition to having no credit history in France, foreigners face this dilemma…you need to have a French bank account to rent an apartment, but you need to have an address to open a French bank account… such is the system of French bureaucracy!

After hunting and hunting, we found a wonderful place through an agent that specializes in renting to expats (thus, no annoying French hoops to jump through). It is 40 square meters, which is rather large for a 1BR apartment by Parisian standards. (Yes, that is 400 square feet.) The location is unbeatable though, on the left bank, right near St. Michel, Notre Dame, and St. Germain de Pres…we are really in the heart of Paris, a short walk from almost everything!

We didn’t start our teaching jobs until October, so that gave us some time to get settled and situated. We both teach just south of Paris: Kimberly in Montrouge, and Daniel in Bagneux. Kimberly is teaching at a Lycee (or high school) and Daniel splits his week between two different Colleges (or middle schools). Our first two weeks of teaching were actually just “observation”–so we had a chance to see how the classroom dynamic differs from the U.S. The classroom dynamic is much more formal: when a teacher walks into the room, all the students stand until they are told to sit (imagine a judge walking into a courtroom!). The kids all go home at lunchtime…in fact, it seems that they are not allowed to be at the school when they are not in class. So when the bell rings, they have five minutes to get out of the building. Oh, and at middle school, they have a very regimented system for how to take notes: three pens (red, blue, and black) and a ruler…Dan still hasn’t figured out what is for what…

During my first few weeks, things went really well. My kids are great (almost all of them). I had only one class where the kids had no questions except 1) How old are you? 2) Are you married? and 3) Are you for or against the war in Iraq? Other than that class, the kids are all very engaged and really interested in talking with me about life in America. They do all ask about Iraq/President Bush within the first 5 minutes (there is only one correct answer to these questions if you live in France)…oh, and they want to know if I own a gun. Funny how a biased media can completely shape a nation’s perception of another country….living over here has really made me wonder about how the media affects Americans’ views of the world…

The other teachers are so nice and welcoming…I was shocked that my boss organized a welcome party for me and cooked all these crepes (all the other teachers brought cidre…which is my favorite!). I did not appreciate at all what the hardest part of the job might be for me…integrating with the other teachers. I have a whole newfound appreciation for how hard it must have been for all the international students at the GSB. Every time we had a coffee break, I dreaded going to the lunch room because I didn’t know how to socialize with the other teachers…I mean my French is OK, but not great…and I wasn’t exactly going to butt into any conversations where I only understood 30% of what was being said… It felt really overwhelming! And, like I said, the teachers were all SO nice and friendly, but still it was very intimidating. I’m sure that as I get to know a few of them more closely, friendships will develop and it will become easier.

Oh, and during the lunch hour on my first day (after my party), the teachers had a meeting to organize themselves for a possible strike because the government is proposing a new measure which would mandate the exact curriculum in all the classes, and the teachers would be observed to make sure they don’t stray from the curriculum. It was fascinating to watch the “greve” process in action…on my first day of work!

My boss is really encouraging and very supportive. He spent a long time trying to sort out the classes I’m teaching so I have an easier work schedule…and he managed to arrange things so I have to work only on Thursdays and Fridays! Isn’t that crazy?! I have 5 day weekends every week!!

Obviously, this leaves a lot of time for traveling and exploring Paris. We have been to most of the major museums and eaten in many wonderful (but awfully expensive) restaurants. We even took a weekend trip to Bilbao Spain, for the wedding of a Stanford classmate of mine! Oh, and after only three weeks of teaching, we were off on a two-week vacation for “Toussaint” holiday. (literally All Saints Day). We’ll try to post photos soon from that trip through central France and in Italy.

In the meanwhile, here are some our favorites, The Best of Paris:

Best Cheese: St. Marcellin (a creamy cheese that melts as it reaches room temperature, so they serve it in a ramekin and you eat it with a spoon).

Best Restaurants:

La Litote
24, rue Bosquet – 75007 Paris – Tel: 01 45 51 78 82
(An amazing little restaurant with surprisingly contemporary decor, warm service, and amazing Provence inspired food…and it is incredibly reasonably priced for Paris.)

Le P’tit Troquet
28, rue de l’Exposition – 75007 Paris Tel: 01 47 05 80 39
(Traditional French Bistro food at its best. The 30 Euro prix fixe for three courses is a steal!)

L’As du Falafel
34, Rue des Rosiers – 75004 Paris – Tel: 01 48 87 63 60
(Yes, this is THE famous falafel place in the Marais (the old Jewish Quarter)…and yes, it i
s Lenny Kravitz’s favorite falafel place…and yes, I do think it’s the best falafel in the world!)

A Priori The
35, Galerie Vivienne – 75002 Paris – Tel : 01 42 97 48 75
(Wonderful Salon du The (meaning open only in the afternoons for lunch and tea) that also serves a fabulous Sunday brunch. It is run by an American woman who makes what might be the best brownies and cheesecake I have ever had.)

Oh, and if you are hungry at any odd hour of the day or night, you cannot go wrong with any one of the following French staples, found all over the city.
-Crepe (Nutella)
-Panini (Mozarella et Tomates)
-Pain au Chocolat
-Tarte framboise
….and the list goes on!

Tags: France

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