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Working in Paris: Strikes, 35-hour Weeks and Real Lunch Breaks

35 hour work week – time for gazing at the Seine – Christophe Hue

Many associate French working life with 35-hour weeks, strikes, long long lunch breaks and even longer holidays. This is certainly the image that I’d carefully conjured in my idealistic head before setting foot in France.

The big question: does reality live up to this delightful worker-friendly dream?

Well, I can confirm that the 35-hour week does exist (at least for a privileged minority), strikes do take place on a not-infrequent basis, lunch breaks remain sacred, and holidays are considered to be an untouchable national right (right up there alongside liberté, egalité, fraternité).

However, beneath the shiny and appealing veneer, day-to-day work has its fair share of up and downs.

Carin Olsson

Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 4 Comments »

The Art of the Parisian Soiree

To do une soirée or not to do une soirée?

What exactly is this rather elegant and mysterious sounding soirée? And, how should it be approached by mere Anglophone mortals?

Definition

Noun: soirée: party or gathering, with a sophisticated name to impress  the uninitiated, taking place in apartments across the glimmering city of lights (usually accompanied by beaucoup de alcohol,  yummy food and much merriment).

Still all rather vague? I’ve tried to break down the process into nice easy steps and here’s what I came up with…

Step 1: Getting there

There are several key points to bear in mind. Under no circumstances should you arrive on time – keep it carefree by arriving fashionably late.

Watch out for complex digicode systems designed to keep guests out and lift-less 6th floor apartments in distant Parisian destinations.

Step 2: La Bise

Remember the essentials:

  • Smile (not too much in order to remain mysterious)
  • Perch two dainty kisses one on each cheek
  • Compliment the host (it always goes down a treat)

I recommend arriving bearing wine. Don’t worry about breaking the bank – surprisingly, even inexpensive supermarket plonk is still very drinkable.

Step 3:  Chit Chat

Eek! Now that the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to mingle! Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 4 Comments »

Christmas in the City of Lights: Seeking Out Paris’ Holiday Cheer

Mic Mac

When I popped home to the UK in November, London was already in full festive swing with Christmas trees, festive songs and neon lights galore. Sent back with a Cadbury’s chocolate advent calendar adorned with an oversized Santa, I was ready to start the Christmas season with a bang.

Making Magique

Yet once back home across the pond, I realized Paris hadn’t joined in on the fun yet. I was ready to start in on my advent calendar and temperatures were plunging, but where were all those tell tale signs that our favorite mid-winter festival was fast approaching?

This set me thinking. What exactly is a Parisian Christmas? What happens in the cold windy days leading up to the big event? I set out on a mission to discover the seasonal delights that France’s most romantic city had to offer.

Little Brown Pen

Shopping

Although the Christmas shopping frenzy begins relatively late in Paris (thankfully, shops only step into gear at the end of November), once it gets going, it really gets going. Stores go all out with light shows and designer-crafted window displays – always tasteful, bien sur. First stop? Paris’s iconic department stores. Whilst London has toy-filled Hamleys and elegant Harrods, Paris showcases its trademark sophistication with Les Galleries Lafayette and the neighbouring Printemps, where Karl Lagerfeld’s touch marks this year’s displays: think Chanel-clad rock ‘n’ roll dolls strumming their electric guitars and 20m Christmas trees. Continue Reading »

Posted in Events, Shopping, Travel | 5 Comments »

Zut Alors! How To Speak French Like A Parisian

Lost In Cheeseland

On arriving in Paris, No.1 on the lengthy to-do list (in between museum visiting and restaurant testing, bien sûr) is deciphering the elision-liaison-silent-letter-filled waves of French flying from left, right and center.
Before setting foot (or even a single toe) on Parisian soil, I had already been vigorously drilled with irregular verbs and I’d skimmed the pages of iconic authors like Sartre. Bref, I was quietly confident that my carefully acquired knowledge would serve me well in my quest to be truly Parisienne. This confidence has since been shaken AND stirred more times than I can remember.

Erica Berman

Just hours into my Parisian experience, my linguistic talents would hurtle against their first obstacle of the viticultural kind. As I tried in vain to order red wine, I never imagined that my inability to distinguish the ‘u’ and the ‘ou’ in rouge would have such drastic consequences…

Following two years of linguistic battering, here’s my advice:
1.)    Take risks. You’ll make mistakes (but so do the French). Living in Paris, you’ll learn to laugh at yourself. Arriving directly from a year in Spain, I’d happily use my own invented French-ised version of the Spanish verb ‘pisar’ (to trample) when I accidently stood on people. That is before I cottoned on the fact that ‘pisser’ had a very different (and far more obvious) meaning in French.

Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 8 Comments »

Paris Tips: Making Small Talk A La Parisienne

Little Brown Pen

Warm? Friendly? Spontaneous? These aren’t perhaps the first words that spring to mind when describing the typical Parisien. However, I can assure you that once you learn to greet and meet like a local, the slightly frosty exterior slowly begins to melt.

The bonjour

In Paris it’s essential to say bonjour many times each day. A Parisian lives and breathes bonjours. To foreigners this may seem excessive, but barge into a shop, skip the bonjour and see what happens. French customer service, already suffering in the image stakes, reaches new levels of indifference.

Little Brown Pen

If, like me, you work in a large French company this situation can spiral dangerously and risks occupying a disproportionate part of your already coffee-break-filled day. I’ve come to dread lifts: not only is the bonjour compulsory on entering, the bonne journée (have a nice day) is also necessary on exiting. Et oui, this applies each and every time someone hops in or out. Even though my office is on the 5th floor, I’ve started taking the stairs!

Please note that the bonjour shouldn’t be too cheery or effusive for fear of rippling the careful air of nonchalance. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 16 Comments »

Paris Picnic Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Dining Al Fresco

Parc des Buttes Chaumont (Celine NYC)

If you’re in Paris in summer, you’ll pretty quickly realize that as soon as the sun starts to glimmer, Parisians grind into picnic gear. However, despite informal appearances, there is a complex and unspoken code of conduct to be adhered to in order to avoid unforgivable picnic faux pas.

Do dress appropriately.

It is important to give the air of not trying very hard. For girls: a categorical ‘no’ to heels and look-at-me makeup.  For guys: forget smart suits or bling sportswear, it’s all about skinny jeans and scarves. Subtle colour and pattern coordination are à la mode. Hats highly recommended.

Gail Tang

Do arrive late.

It is useless to turn up anywhere near the appointed picnic hour. It is best to saunter up several hours in, give a slightly (don’t overdo it) apologetic smile, whilst simultaneously giving the impression that your diary is over-spilling with très fun engagements and that the organiser should therefore be delighted that you’ve managed to squeeze them in.

Karigee

Do invite lots of friends.

The concept of ‘the more the merrier’ is de rigueur. Whereas the biting winter winds keep Parisians at home or drives them (penguin-style) into crowded, sweaty bars, the warm summer weather democratizes social gatherings, which are known to take on gigantesque proportions!

Do not buy ready-made sandwiches.

It is unacceptable to pop to the supermarket and pick up a long-life cellophane-encased creation that deigns to call itself a ‘sandwich’. A fresh baguette, some cheese and charcuterie are the bare minimum. Continue Reading »

Posted in Green, Parisian Living | 17 Comments »

Fighting the Pounds: The Perils of Jogging in Paris

Jogging along a Paris bridge (Kevin Bongart)

As a very keen runner, I realized that Paris – with its pavement café culture and lax attitude towards dogs’ toilet habits – might not be the ideal place to train. However, little did I know the numerous obstacles I would have to overcome each time I pulled on my trainers and switched on my iPod.

The tourists: map-reading, awestruck or, worse still, love-struck, they tend to look at the sky, the ground, into each other’s eyes or up at elegant Haussmannian buildings. However, they are rather less aware of what’s going right next to them (i.e. me charging past) and happily straddle the pavement two or three abreast.

The cars: do not expect them to stop willingly. Ever. The art of a good Parisian runner is judging if, with a little acceleration, you can whiz by before the lights change and the engines rev back into action.  For a Brit accustomed to polite codes of roadway courtesy and to giving cheery waves as cars patiently wait, I admit that this was initially quite a shock.

Dodging city life, jogging along the Seine (D’Alk)

The bikes: Equally unwilling (or unable) to stop, but doubly dangerous as often manned by:

A) Unsteady, inexperienced Parisians whose idea of physical exercise is a gentle Sunday stroll to the boulangerie for fresh croissants.

B) Tourists.  Having read the above, imagine the chaos when they haul themselves on to a heavy, unwieldy and highly unsexy Vélib (hire-and-drop bikes dotted at strategic points around the city). Don’t be misled by quaint wicker baskets and slim steel frames that adorn postcards and appear in films like Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain!

Philippe Charles

The beggars: Do they really think I carry around loose change in my skin-tight running trousers? Apparently so.

The dogs: They rule supreme in Paris. I’ve even heard that there are more dogs than children in the city. I digress. I have learned to steer clear of all canine specimen after various incidents involving barking, biting (well, some very close calls) and being tripped up by leashes as unconcerned owners look on nonchalantly as if to say, “Bon, if you will insist on donning that ridiculous running outfit and puffing around in a rather ungainly manner, you can’t expect to not get caught in a couple sticky situations…” Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 14 Comments »