The Mole Diaries: Paris

The Mole Diaries: Paris Paris in the early morning by Stewart James

This article was written by Sam Gernstein, published on 17th July 2010 and has been read 35618 times.

Sam Gernstein, a French student at Exeter, gives us his view of Paris on a year abroad, with a few tips and tricks up his sleeve to avoid obvious tourist pitfalls... I had such an amazing time in Paris. It’s such a fun (but expensive!) city, constantly offering you something to do, a corner to explore, a croissant to munch on....but be warned! There are a LOT of tourists, especially around La Cité and Montmartre. The latter’s really cool for bars and restaurants, though you can end up paying through the nose for a semi-decent meal...
First impressions
When I first got to Paris, I had a mixed reaction to it - the French are right in saying the inhabitants of their capital city are a little less friendly than you’d expect from having watched romantic films! I found it quite hard making some French mates at first, as I was doing a stage (internship), and the people I worked with weren’t students. However, there were quite a few others from my uni in a similar situation, so we ended up going out and meeting each other’s mates - but you don’t be surprised if your Frenchy friends don’t really introduce you to their crew, at first. Whereas in England, it’s a case of getting a group of mates together, in Paris, I felt it was a little more of a tete-a-tete affair at first. Prices are quite high also, and finding a flat is a bit difficult, as French administration will ask you for all sorts of paperwork - go prepared and take photocopies of passports (yours and your parents, or guarantor), copy of your working contract or acceptance letter from your Parisian university etc... I got a flat privately, in the 17eme (bit quiet and very residential), and we had to get it insured independently too, with AXA Assurances.

The city
Getting around Paris is really easy, the metro is really cheap, and the bus service is pretty good, but by far and away the best way to get around is by foot. You’ll spot loads of cool places and ruelles, I found most of the best bars and restaurants by exploring. A good guide to get if you’re looking to get some good, adequately priced food is ‘Le Petit Routard Restaurants Paris’, it’s packed with loads of good places to eat. Le Zebre à Montmartre is an awesome restaurant, with some classic French dishes, and that’s really all you’ll be craving when you’re in Paris. The food is sublime, and there’s loads of cool, off beat bars around the butte - one of my favourite places was La Fourmi, though Le Rendez-Vous des Amis was also pretty cool. Walking around the city, you’ll spot loads of tourists, which can be a little annoying as well if people hear you speaking in English - Parisians either pretend they can’t understand you when you speak in French or they’ll answer back in English. Persevere and you’ll soon get speaking like a local. The cemeteries are pretty special, too - might sound quite morbid, but Sartre, De Beauvoir and Morrison’s tombstones are definitely peculiar, in a good way. Another cool thing to do is get the Pariscope guide, as that gives you all the culture stuff, with gallery times and exhibitions that are on. Le Marais (old Jewish bit of town) is really laid back and there’s some great art round there. I didn’t realise things shut on Sundays until I got to Paris, apart from this neighbourhood (which is, however, closed on Saturdays). Each arrondissement has its own character, although some areas are dodgier than others by night (Odéon, Pigalle (...), around the 20eme).

We got offered ticket restaurant, which are like vouchers or coupons to eat, as part of our pay. You can also cash them in the supermarket, although in the actual centre they seem more like convenience stores, you’ll have to go out towards the outskirts for big supermarkets. French people also say ‘bonjour’, ‘bon appétit’, ‘bonne soirée’ every day - I didn’t realise not wishing everyone a nice evening was a bit rude, and can rub people up the wrong way if forgotten. Doing a stage is really cool, though you’ll need to know a bit of vocab for manning the phones - people are patient though! Getting a convention can be a little tricky - make sure you research this with your company in advance, so you can double check it with your home uni. Working weeks are usually 35 heures, with an hour or an hour and a half for lunch.

Going out and student deals
I found that whereas I was working, my mates who were at uni knew of all the student deals and student nights out - which can be fun, though very very cheesy (Rex has a good one, on Thursdays). The cinemas in Paris are pretty fun, with some arthouse cinemas like La Pagode and MK2 which are worth a visit. The notion of student deals isn’t really that common here, so ask around if you can get some sort of discount, as I found it was possible, although it wasn’t advertised. Joining clubs can also be quite fun - I joined in a rugby team and made quite a few good mates through that, but if you’re into music, danse etc, there usually tends to be a school or club in your neighbourhood. Oberkampf is a really underrated area, with loads of cool bars and restaurants on offer, though I would say my least favourite place to go out was around the ‘posher’ bits of town as there wasn’t much on (like around the 8eme, 7eme, 17eme). Parisians don’t look too fondly on people getting really drunk, so unless you want to seem like a bit of an obvious expat, don’t do it to yourself. You can get all sorts of food out here - try the falafel or shawarmas at L’As du Falafel in the Marais, the plateau de fromage and charcuterie in most bars as a snack, Arabic food around the 20eme and pretty much any kind of food in the Latin Quarter, though it’s really touristy and places vary... And don’t be surprised if you can’t find any chips at the end of a night out - here, people go for pancakes, with loads of Nutella - they usually smell better than they taste though!

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