From Newbie to Presque Parisienne

by Chloe Martin

If someone had told me six years ago that I would end up building a life here in Paris, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Why? Because falling in love with Paris was not the plan.

When I moved here in 2010 I knew almost nothing about the city and, as a result I had no idea what to expect. The only image I had of Paris was the somewhat gloomy memory of a four-day trip I had taken with my parents when I was 18. I remember thinking how over-crowded and fast-paced it was and I remember most how utterly disappointed I was with the Paris I encountered. Was Paris really not as amazing as I had once been led to believe by Hemingway and Dickens? Had the Paris I’d read about disappeared? Thankfully, no, and Paris remains as incredible as all the famous writers described…you just really have to know your way around.

Looking back on when I first arrived I realise that I made a few mistakes

I followed in Tourist’s Footsteps

Following the tourists is the biggest mistake you can make when you’re a newbie because the tourists don’t see Paris; they see something entirely different altogether. I followed them into tourist trap restaurants and tourist trap areas, ate some terrible food and bought some ugly-looking Paris magnets for my fridge. Note this down: never, ever, follow the tourists.

I Stayed in my Comfort Zone

This was one of the worst things I did. I frequented English pubs and bars, made friends with fellow English or American girls and made little effort to speak any French. I dived into life in Paris, but now when I reflect on it, I realised that I dived into the wrong pool. I should have been trying to meet people from all different cultures, I should have tried to speak French and I DEFINITELY should have gone to French bars because they are MUCH cheaper than English ones! It would have significantly reduced the damage to my wallet. On a more serious note, there are so many wonderful bars here, that are just overflowing with French charm and culture, that it would be such a shame to miss out on them for a pint of Guinness and a packet of crisps.

I Didn’t Explore Enough

I spent the first 6 months of my stay exploring the same areas. The fifth, the sixth and Maisons-Laffitte (the suburb I lived in) was as far as I would go. I was too comfortable with the places I knew and too afraid to explore the unknown. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long until I was bored by my homemade (very limited) map of Paris and I soon realised that I needed to explore, to find my way into the secrets of this remarkable city.

However, me telling you not to follow in tourists’ footsteps,  to get out of your comfort zone and to explore the unknown is a bit of an “easier said than done” attitude. When I was a newbie in Paris, all I wanted was a piece of home so English pubs and familiar places made me feel less out of my depth. The problem is, even if it makes you feel better, it stops you from actually living the Paris experience. Looking back, this is one of the most important things I wish I knew, I wish I had known what I was missing out on. 

What else do I wish I’d known?

I wish I had known that everything takes ages in France, so you have to learn to be patient. 

Here in France bureaucracy and red tape are part of life. As an expat, this can be extremely frustrating and the slow speed of almost any process can be mind boggling. But, it’s the way it is and the sooner you embrace it and follow their rules, the less stressful you’ll life will become.

I wish I had known that speaking French was so important.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t make much effort to speak French at the beginning of my time here. My boyfriend at the time spoke perfect English and all my friends were expatriates who were either English native speakers or spoke fantastic English, so what reason did I have to learn French? What I realised when I finally did start to speak French well, was that it totally changed my relationship with the French. They were so much warmer, kinder and open when they realised I spoke French; and it opened doors into a life here that I could never have imagined. Speaking French is the only way to experience French culture first hand and really understand the charm and beauty of it.

I wish I had known about the Expatriate community.

As much as you need to mingle with the French, you also need somewhere you can feel safe and at home. The expatriate community online is an amazing resource of information and a place that I often go for support or advice. Inspirelle, for example, is a women’s online magazine that focuses on empowering women by bringing them together. Expatriates in Paris on Facebook is also a great community where any question you have about expat life can be answered!

Fast Forward Six Years…

Now, after spending six years here I can honestly say Paris still, regularly, surprises me with something new. Whether it’s a new cafe, bar, exhibition, public event, you name it – Paris will catch on to a popular trend and embrace it. The city even manages to incorporate extremely modern trends, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the charm and beauty of the city remain unchanged. Best of all, now I’m almost a veteran here in Paris, I know my way around the city like the back of my hand and I would love to share a few of my trade secrets with you!

So here are the top five things I couldn’t live without in Paris:

Canal St Martin 10th, Paris

Canal St Martin 10th District

1 – The 10th and the 11th Arrondissement

Just last year I discovered the 10th and the 11th district in Paris and was amazed at how diverse and trendy they both were. These areas have become the place to be for young people and are home to some of Paris’ best, new restaurants, cafes and bars. On a weekend the banks of the canal are overflowing with people drinking and picnicking and the bars and restaurants nearby are full to the brim. These up and coming areas remain cheap compared to other popular areas so you can eat, drink and shop for a very reasonable price!

2 – Paris’ Secret Bars

Paris cottoned on fairly quickly to the New York Speakeasy trend but this year a few in particular,  have been making headlines. My personal favourite is Lavomatic, a Speakeasy hidden inside a Laundromat. Strolling past people actually doing their washing and opening the hidden door (which itself resembles a washing machine) is just the beginning of it’s quirky style.

Lavomatic, Paris

Upstairs you’ll find a bar with a unique layout and even a pair of swings to sit on at one table! Cocktails are priced between 9 and 12 euros but wine is also available by the bottle or by the glass for around 5 euros, if you’re on a budget! As well as Lavomatic, you should also check out Moonshiner, another special Speakeasy hidden inside an Italian restaurant.

3 – My Favourite Restaurant

To say I have shopped around to find my favourite restaurant would be an understatement. I have tried so many wonderful restaurants in Paris but I always find myself coming back to Vins et Terroirs for a quality meal at a reasonable price and fantastic service. Located in the heart of Paris, just a short walk from Odeon metro station, Vins et Terroirs is an intimate, traditional French restaurant that won’t disappoint.

My top tip: Try the duck fillet with an orange sauce and sauteed potatoes and if you have room, order the violet ice cream for dessert. C’est délicieux!

4 – Musée Rodin

Rodin, Paris


The Rodin museum remains one of the most beautiful but most under-rated museums in all of Paris. It sadly gets forgotten about by the tourists who, due to lack of time in the city, visit only the well-known Louvre, Pompidou and Musée d’Orsay. The museum itself is located in what was previously Rodin’s home and most of his famous statues have been placed in the beautiful gardens behind the house. It’s a spectacular museum and the house, as well as the gardens, are simply breathtaking.

5 – Bois de Vincennes

Bois de Vincennes is a beautiful park located on the eastern edge of Paris. I always go there when I miss home and need to feel like I’m in the countryside and not in a busy city! It’s such a big park that you can easily walk around without crossing paths with anyone and it’s my number one place to lie down in the grass and read a book because it’s so peaceful.It’s the perfect way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This article was written by Chloe Martin, founder of My Life Living Abroad. Follow her Blog, Facebook page and Instagram Account.

Thanks Chloe for this great post and wonderful insider tips about Paris.

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