Expatriates in Paris: Meet Lauren Woidela, The Beautiful Harp Player from America

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in Paris, or if you live in Paris and wonder what life is like for your fellow expatriates, you’ll enjoy meeting a few of the people who have successfully settled in Paris. Everyone’s story is unique. Let’s hear Lauren’s story.

Where are you originally from and when did you come to Paris?

I was born in Melbourne, Fl and started school in Atlanta, Ga and graduated college in Kansas. There are a few more states in between. I moved to Paris in September 2012 from Overland Park, Ks. I now live Paris, France 75006 (6th district)

Did you move with a spouse/children and why did you move; what do you do?

toute seule! (all alone). I was accepted in a French graduate program and conservatory (MA Musicology – harp)

What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?

I love the daily food markets, the fresh, cheap baguettes, the inexpensive, but amazing wine, the flavorful cheeses….the list can go on! I love how much I walk during the day! They numerous museums and all the activities that go on here! From movie premiers to Fashion Week, there’s always a celebrity around the corner! Although I had to wait about 8 weeks for my internet, phone and cell phone, now that I have it, calling the US crystal clear for a very low rate per month. There are a lot of vacation time as well. The French work to live.

Any negatives? What do you miss most about home (or where you moved from)?

French administration and their paperwork. I miss people from back home, and Crest toothpaste.

Is the city safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?

Just be smart and young ladies-be extra cautious. There are many people out at night, but just be careful. France is the opposite in America, where the city is safer than the suburbs. Gangs are outside Paris.

How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?

They are great, providing that there the weather is nice, no strikes or a demonstration going on! There is a metro station every 500km, and many, many buses (even night buses as well). Paris also is introducing tramways along the edges of the city.
If you are a student younger than 26, you can apply for an ImagineR pass which gives you a 50% discount on your monthly metro pass (but it’ll take 3 weeks to process this).

There are many taxis all over Paris, which have fairly descent prices.

There is also an extensive bike rental system called “Velib” which are rental-able 24/7 and over 1,800 bike station locations around Paris.
If you must need a car, there are “Autolib’ ” electric car-sharing program, its the method as the “velib” but for cars. The cars are all GPS equipped.

But really, if you can walk, this city is best by foot.!

How would you rate the healthcare?

Amazing and basically free.

Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?

I wouldn’t suggest living outside Paris. It’s true, the cost of living goes down significantly but the daily commute will become a hassle and you’ll miss out on the joys of walking around Paris (the best part of Paris!). Plus your transportation will be more expensive. Also when you have your dreadful meeting at the OFII (immigration office), you’ll be taking trains, buses, and standing in long lines at 3AM. Where, in Paris they are more “organized”. Trust me, just get a place with a zip code of “75″; especially if this is your first time in France.

Best locations:
The 16th is the largest and where most upper-class Parisian families live.

The 5th and 6th are very nice and great location but pricey.
The 7th are where most Americans live, you’ll hear lots of English. Its also home to the Eiffel Tower.
The 4th is very charming as well.

How do you rate the standard of housing in the city? (what’s good and what’s bad)

Luxury is having a private toilet. Your studio will be small. Be prepared to climb many flights of stairs.

What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

Paris real state is extremely expensive. Finding an 11m2 apartment for 600 euros is a steal.

With that said, there is government aide for students under the age of 26. You generally will receive 150-200 euros per month. Go to CAF.fr for more information (in French)

What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

Yes, the French can be rude, but that’s mainly in touristy places. When in a quieter-less touristy part of Paris, the younger generation loves America and will want to practice their English.

I think there’s always a common interest with Parisian expats: our love for Paris. Most of us like one or all of the following: art, music, fashion, food.

What do you find hard to accept or understand in Paris? What was super positive in some way compared to the USA for example?

Anywhere you move will have your ups and downs. You must really want to live in Paris to be away from your comfort levels, friends and family. It’s a different culture that you’ll experience. Processing French paperwork takes forever, even the French complain about this!

Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

Yes, through my school and work mainly. I also have family in Paris which I do a lot with. Plus my neighborhood shop owners are always striking up a conversation!

14.Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit? What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

I have a student visa which allows me to legally work 21 hours per week. If you are a native English speaker, then you have plenty of jobs. Most of them are child care/English teacher positions.

How does the work culture differ from home?

Depending on your job it varies. The French work week for an average office/retail job is 35 hours. You most often times will have a very long lunch break as well.

What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

Schools in France a bit different from American schools. They start full-day school “Ecole maternelle” at age 3. For 3-14 years old, there is no school on Wednesday. The school will push for your child to go home and have lunch, but there is of course, a cafeteria where children may have their lunch.

Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?

If you are making this move all on your own (no job transferring), its going to take a while to feel comfortable. On average, it takes 3 months to get everything like internet, cell phone, bank account to be set up. But don’t get discouraged, Paris is truly amazing when you are not dealing with the French administration. You’ll have a lot of down time, just take this time and go for walks, set a cafes or go to a museum.

Lauren’s Blog Life in Paris with a limited wardrobe: