By Bénédicte Mahé

Parisienne, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

(French) First of all, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Bénédicte, I am French—originally from Brittany (keep that in mind, because it is the main reason I have no objectivity at all when talking about France). I have a blog called Tribulations Bretonnes (do you see a pattern here?) that I try to update regularly. I love salted butter (big thing in Brittany), American TV shows (no one is perfect) and putting sentences into parenthesis (I’d like to think it shows my sarcastic side, but now I’m slowly realizing it may just be aggravating).

I studied many times abroad (USA, Germany, Italy), and now I am back in Paris for a mandatory internship to finish my last year of study. In short, I did a licence (3 years after high school) in English/American and German studies, then a French-German master (2 years after the licence) in Cross-Border Communication and Cooperation (Don’t know what it means? Me neither) and now I am in a mastère spécialisé (a kind of program offered by business schools) in Cultural Management.

Explaining the situation

This mastère spécialisé offered a first trimester of classes in Venice, then a trimester of classes in Paris, and then a trimester doing an internship wherever you wanted it to be. I won’t tell you how difficult it was finding accommodation in Venice (especially if you were living in Germany and had a very limited Italian vocabulary); instead, I will focus on how difficult it was to find a place to live in Paris. Yes, I hear you; it is difficult to find a place anywhere—even in Berlin—even though 4 years ago it was one of the cheapest capitals in Western Europe. Bref. Let’s go back to Paris.

I am sure the sheer thought of living in Paris makes you dream and sometimes, I wish I could see it through foreign eyes, but that will be the topic of another article. Numerous people from my class were originally from Paris, so they either went back to living with their family or went back to living in their studio/room-sharing apartment. The Italians from my class and I were left alone and haggard, looking for places and waiting to be accepted. I’d say it is harder than to find a job (okay, I may have exaggerated. It is as hard to find an apartment as to find a job) and possibly more stressful when you see the deadline approaching and you seriously consider buying a cardboard box and finding a cozy place under a bridge along the Seine. If you do not know anybody in Paris and if you do not have a fairy godmother specialized in real estate, well, get ready for some stress (but don’t panic… there is always a solution at the end).

I had already lived in Paris for two years during my licence, so I had a few ideas about where to look, and I had friends who, by now, had their own places, so I was not going to be on the streets if I did not find something on time. I was obviously looking into specific arrondissements, (that’s the posh and scared girl in me talking) which complicated my own research. I eventually found my room by chance: a guy from my class forwarded an offer from a girl from the business school they both went to. I sent an e-mail and I was chosen (kind of like Harry Potter. Okay, maybe not). I have to find another place for July, but now I am an experienced room searcher!

Getting practical

If you plan to live in Paris, many options are opened to you: les résidences universitaires, les foyers, la colocation, renting a room in a family apartment, or getting your own apartment. For a résidence universitaire, you have to look at the criteria on how to get in. It is a French equivalent of dorms in the U.S., but with single rooms; be careful, they fill very quickly. For someone who just arrived, I would recommend to live in a foyer. This is what I did when I studied in Paris the first two years of my college studies. It is cheaper than a room-sharing apartment and you get to meet people very quickly and easily. They are like private dorms. But sometimes they have opening and closing times and some of them do not allow you to have guests, so look at everything before deciding. However, it can be a nice beginning, because they often allow people to stay for short periods of time (one month minimum). Colocation is another way to live in Paris. You have to be very careful (but I guess it is the same in the U.S.), of weird and shady offers (like “45-year-old male looking to share a studio, girls only.” Right. Do you also want us to dress only in underwear?). On the other hand, la colocation is a means to meet new people without constraints, and I would say it is my second choice after a foyer if you have just arrived (because it is more difficult to find a colocation when you arrive). Of course, you can always try to rent your own apartment, but it is very complicated for a foreigner to find one in Paris, where the real estate market is crazy and where you’ll be asked for tons of documents before being allowed to rent something (keep in mind that owners want renters to stay for a long time, and that a letter of departure is required 3 months before leaving the apartment).

In short, try to look for a place before arriving in Paris (duh), but people tend to want to meet you in person, so don’t panic if you can’t find anything before arriving.

When you arrive in Paris, get busy! Visit websites, read the newspapers, use your phone to call! (Even if it’s scary to speak in French at first, you’ll get the hang of it).


Résidences universitaires: (Students, go to “étudiante”).

Foyers étudiants:

Colocations: (This is the best one, but you have to pay to access people’s contact information).

Studios & Apartments: (This site lists the documents you need to rent a place. A a garant is the person who will pay for you if you cannot pay your own rent; if you are a student, they will ask for la caution parentale).

Cell phone:
Buy a prepaid card, (otherwise you have to have a French bank account) keeping in mind that you might need to have a French address to give when you register. Ask for “sans abonnement et sans engagement” (without subscription and obligation/commitment).

Bénédicte Mahé photo - cropped DuplicateBénédicte Mahé has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages and earned a Master of Management of cultural goods and activities, as well as a Master’s degree in intercultural communications and cooperation. She works in communication and international projects management. Among her interests are drinking tea, cooking (with or without success), reading, traveling, and—of course—shopping. She started her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, My suitable place in Paris, and how I discovered my new arrondissement, by Frenchwoman Bénédicte Mahé who writes about her new apartment in Paris and her new neighborhood; a foreign place waiting to be discovered. 

Paris Hotels: Location, location, location, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who shares all the different variables that go into picking out a good hotel in Paris: from location to price to the French star system rating to simply a friend’s recommendation.  Including French to English vocabulary translations to help you pick out what you want in a Parisian hotel.

Paris: sketch and paint with artist Barbara Redmond. When in Paris, Barbara arrives ready to paint and create art with a specific theme in mind. Whether it’s a topic she has studied for months in advance or an impromptu search for pétale de rose ice cream, the city of light seems to give up its secrets to her in a new way. Including what she packs and where she buys her art supplies in Paris. 

I dream of Paris. Writer and educator Natalie Ehalt shares the quote from Napoléon, who wrote in 1795, “A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months.” To Natalie, Paris is the ultimate in elegance and style. It is old-fashioned, it is cobblestone, it is aprons, it is a chauffeur helping you step off the curb…

The hush of snow on a wintery Paris street, by Parisian Bénédicte Mahé who shares her joy of a magical moment in Paris. A time even more special because it is so rare. (French)

Text copyright ©2012 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.