"Considering that my husband is French I have never had a problem with meeting people. It is of course very funny as you have some very weird conversations with people (what they think of Americans, America etc) but over all if you accept that the French are different from Americans (in my case) then you can accept them with their faults and qualities. The French are much harder to get to know. I have less French friends in France then I do American friends in America but my French friends are my family. We are very, very close" (CG, Dec 2010)"
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Paris?
-My name is Christina, I’m 35 years old and I have been in Paris for 17 years. I came here when I was 18.
Why did you decide to move there?
-I actually did not decide to move here until I was already here! I came with a school program for three months, after the three months I stayed and travelled for two months and then I once again changed my plane ticket to see if I could find a job and stay a bit more. I found a job, changed my plane ticket a couple more times and after about a year I decided to stay indefinitely.
What nationality are you and your partner?
-I’m American and my husband is French.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
-We have two girls, Chanelle who was born in November 2005 and Charlie who was born in May 2009.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
-Yes I work; we own a hotel in Paris.
What was your experience of having baby/babies in Paris?
-It was quite amazing. They really follow your pregnancy and do many preventative tests so I did not worry much with my first daughter Chanelle. With Charlie I had the chicken pocks while I was pregnant so I had to do many more tests but I had doctors meeting together and comparing notes so I knew there was not much to be worried about. Both births went well and very fast. The funny thing is you stay four days at the hospital no matter what, even if the birth went well. They really insist on this here and even more so for your second child as they think you need the time to relax and be with your new born baby before you go home and start doing the dishes!
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
-Perfectly. Chanelle speaks both French and English perfect. We try to go to the states twice a year and usually for at least a month at a time. I think this is so important for her English and I also think it is why she speaks both languages so well.
What language do you speak to your children?
-I try to speak only English with them and my husband French but sometimes it is difficult. When you are in a group of only French speaking people I feel like I need to speak to the children in French as not to be rude to the others present.
Do you think it essential for someone to speak French when relocating to Paris?
-No I don’t. I think it makes life much easier but so many people speak English here and we are such a huge community of English speaking people in Paris. I think the other way around (a French person moving to USA) would be much more difficult if you did not speak English!
How welcoming have the Parisians been towards you and your family?
-Considering that my husband is French I have never had a problem with meeting people. It is of course very funny as you have some very weird conversations with people (what they think of Americans, America etc) but over all if you accept that the French are different from Americans (in my case) then you can accept them with their faults and qualities. The French are much harder to get to know. I have less French friends in France then I do American friends in America but my French friends are my family. We are very, very close.
How would you describe a typical Parisian?
-Let’s see, they are very distant, for example everyone keeps to themselves on the metro, in line at the supermarket but if you run into a problem they intervene almost immediately. For example my father was on the metro once and he went to give some change to someone who was begging on the metro. He pulled out a hand full of money and could not figure out what to give the man. The French woman next to him looked over, grabbed his hand full of money, took a few coins, gave them to the man and then shooed him off. She then turned around and acted like nothing had happened and did not say one more word to my father. Typical Parisian.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Paris?
- The daycare system (if you can get a spot) is quite well done and they give you all sorts of financial help to keep your children at home if you want to go thru the paper work to get it. They really do assist you so that both parents can work and this can be seen in the fact that France is one of the European countries with the most children per family (I think a average of 2 ½ children per family) As for the public school system I’m not very confident in it. I think it is great that they take children at a very young age (3 years old) without a extra fee like in America but I don’t like the mentality of the system. You drop your children off and that is it. You have no say so over what happens once they cross those doors and if your child runs into problems with the teachers there is not much you can do. I’m sure there is some very good public school teachers out there but I have so many friends that have had such problems that we decided to put Chanelle in private school.
What school(s)/nursery(ies) do your children go to?
-My daughter Charlie stays home three days a week with a Manny (a boy nanny ) and Chanelle goes to Horizon Montessori in the 13th.
Why did you choose this school/these schools and are you happy with your choice?
-Yes very happy. It is a very small school, about 25 students in the 3 years to 6 years class and about the same in the 6-9 class. There is a very high teacher to student ratio so even though it is Montessori and the children are encouraged to work on their own there are many adults present in the event that they run into problems. They are also very respectful of each individual child and they really teach the children to respect one another. It is a husband and wife team that runs the school and they are there every day to talk with us and guide us not only in problems we might encounter with our children at school but also questions we may have as a parent in general.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend in Paris?
-So many places but not many restaurants (too small most of the time!). I love the Bois de Vincennes that is right near our hotel. It is a huge wooded area of Paris with lakes, horse back riding, tennis courts etc. There is the Parc Floral that has one of the largest outdoor play area in all of Paris and it is free. Most all museums have something special for children and there is so many parks on every corner of Paris.
Are there any services you’d like to recommend?
-We work with a service called Kidizen at the hotel and they are great. If you call them during opening hours they will get a babysitter to you within one hour. Everyone we have ever had from them was amazing and they even do weekend packages if you have to go away for a few days without the children. The prices are very clear, listed on the web site and they are very reasonable. Besides that our hotel! Ever since I have had children I have been working on having one of the first boutique hotels of Paris that is not only baby friendly but fully equipped for your baby. We have everything you could imagine for children and if we do not have it and you leave a comment that it would have been useful for you on your trip we will defiantly have it the next time you come. I really believe that places that do not accept children because they think that it will cause problems are very wrong and are really missing out. When children’s needs are met (something to occupy there time like books, crayons to draw with etc.) they can be very respectful of their environment. Sometimes even more so then adults!
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Paris?
-I think the advantages are that we can open them up to so many worlds. When you are from the international community you tend to have friends from all different countries. I love that Chanelle has English friends and her accent changes when she is with them or that my Lebanese girlfriend is teaching her to have such a strong powerful personality. The world is such a small place now that we are offering so much to our children when we teach them to understand and get along with people from so many different cultures. The only disadvantage I can see is you raise your children so different then how you were raised that sometimes you are a bit nostalgic. Chanelle misses out a bit on Trick or Treating on Halloween but I guess that is a small price to pay.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
-Oh goodness, we live in a city so there are many things that are not adapted to children but that can not be changed. I do wish peopled smiled a bit more here. It is a shame to see a 6 year old on the metro turn her head as if you were not there when you smile at her. I do think in America we are better at treating strangers well. I miss the smiles and chit chat with people you do not know.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Paris with children?
-Be patient and do not stress about the small stuff. Live your life and take advantage of all that Paris has to offer. You may be exhausted after a day of lugging the stroller thru the metro or not finding a place to change your baby’s diaper but in the end you will figure it all out. You will have no more shame and you will nurse your baby on the bus in front of everyone. The little old lady next to you will protect you and all of those strict faces on the bus will come up to you and tell you how beautiful they thought that was. French people are very natural and in the end they have a soft spot for children and dogs!
What couldn´t you live without in Paris?
-My feet. We walk so much.
What could you live without in Paris?
-The dog poo. Honestly what are these people thinking!