"Well, we know the difference between the Quick "Giant" and a MacDo "Big Mac" now and I have stopped running out at 7am to beat everyone to the grocery store or dry-cleaners! We are integrated but as an expat it is a challenge to find a balance between your local culture, making french friends, and finding expat activities. I would suggest to anyone moving here to try a bunch of organizations without looking for the perfect one and then see what works for you. And be sure to think about yourself and not just your kids, because socializing will be easier for them" (VB, August 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Paris? Which part of Paris do you live in ?
Valerie Beatson, living in Paris for close to five years now. We live in the 5e close to the Sorbonne and Jardin du Luxembourg.
Why did you move there?
I had a mad crush on Sarkozy. No. But I did have a mad mad crush on France that started when I studied in Oxford and first travelled to Paris and then again while studying French Melodie in Nice. My work took me to theatres all over Europe but I could never seem to end up singing in Paris. I realized it could be a refreshing home base after years in Manhattan.
What is the area like where you live?
Lovely but touristy on weekends and holidays.
What nationality are you and your partner?
I am American, originally from Connecticut and my husband is of British origin but raised in Italy, France and Grenada, West Indies.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have one son who is now 18 months old, born in January of 2010 in Paris.
What was your experience of having a baby in Paris (if relevant)?
Initially very scary. I was still so sure that the astronomical cost and stress I had for medical care in the USA meant is was "the best" but the French system was impressive. I gave birth at St Vincent de Paul, a public hospital very highly rated and the team was excellent and treated all the ladies alike and with great respect. I would have loved my own bathroom and divine meals at a private clinic, but we went with public care as we were told they were more equipped for any unforeseen challenges. The punchline: the equipment that saved me from a last minute cesarian was not available at the private cliniques of Paris yet.
What was your experience of relocating to Paris with children (if relevant)?
I relocated a poodle. That was very easy as he was already a well-travelled diva dog.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I am a freelance opera singer and now president of the Association KidJam, a bilingual music school in Paris. It began when I realized how little there was to do with my 5 month old in our neighborhood. Particularly, activities where we truly learned something and laughed and had fun at the same time. While I finished my degree at Juilliard in NYC, I was a teacher at the inspiring Diller Quaile Music School and just loved teaching the kids (though really they taught me). So I thought I would try a few classes out at our apartment. This year we are an Association and are opening two locations for the school in the 5e and 6e. We are starting a glee club too for 7-13 year olds. I ran a choir for kids in the Bronx for years and am so excited about this project, anxiously ordering everything from Kate Perry tunes to Mozart sheet music.
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
We did own and now rent. Its tricky to buy now with not a great deal of choice out there. I would say for a New Yorker or Londoner moving here, get some good help or advice because the process is completely different especially frustrating for the "go-getter" personality. Slow and steady wins the race in gaie Paris.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
Well, we know the difference between the Quick "Giant" and a MacDo "Big Mac" now and I have stopped running out at 7am to beat everyone to the grocery store or dry-cleaners! We are integrated but as an expat it is a challenge to find a balance between your local culture, making french friends, and finding expat activities. I would suggest to anyone moving here to try a bunch of organizations without looking for the perfect one and then see what works for you. And be sure to think about yourself and not just your kids, because socializing will be easier for them.
What language do you speak to your children?
English, but I sing in a variety of languages to him. He goes to french halte-garderie and has a french speaking babysitter.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Paris?
Inexpensive. Considerate to the working mothers schedule (except for required pick-up times). Re: education: I am new to this topic, but my concerns are more for down the line in lycee/junior high and upwards where with the French methods are currently in question, particularly concerning negative class participation and talking down to the child. But the system is changing everyday so I try to remain open-minded.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Paris?
It can be tricky to make friends especially in the expat community where many people are moving from country to country. But the advantage is you have an open door to a very open-minded people who see that there is not one way to do things.
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Paris?
Well the cable guy and I really hit it off. (In 5 minutes, my 10 years of French studies went out the window). But I have always found the French very polite when spoken to politely. Its good to remember that in a shopping or restaurant situation, the french do their job but they dont go out of their way to be your friend, like the waitor working for tips at the American family restaurant. If you ask them a question, they will simply give you an answer but they wont finish by telling you they like your sweater and that your child is adorable. And for those expats trying to work on their french the challenge is to be strong and keep the conversation, however abysmal, going in French when the locals are eager to practice their English.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Luxembourg gardens is lovely. Anyone with a baby or toddler should be sure to check out the Roseraie but I so wish they had swing sets in the parks. More indoor activities would be great for the kids. And some changing tables in restaurants. I keep writing emails to Starbucks who put changing tables in all their stores save in France! Our local hangout has become Loulou friendly diner who are adding high chairs and a changing table. They run a very family friendly establishment with great food (french and English).
Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
Loulou as I just mentioned. If you dont want to go to the burbs for gym class, Vitamome Association is now in the 6e and at The American Church. My son loves that class (in French). Of course, Jardin dAcclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne is always a treat. And lEnfance de lart, arranged by local independent cinemas where they show short films, often without sound, and reserve the theatres for just toddlers. Its a great way to start teaching your child how to behave in a theatre and its affordable too. Ordering groceries online is an essential when living in central paris with kids. Shop around for the one you like best.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Paris with children?
Sign up a couple months in advance of your move with expat organizations like Message, where you can meet moms and moms to be immediately. And dont let relocating get the best of you. Plan a weekly family activity like "museum day" (preferably mid-week) or just pick a quarter to explore on foot.
What couldn´t you live without in Paris?
Its unique beauty, the gardens, the seine, the pace, the joie de vivre and the Velib system. My son would say "the pain au lait".
Change: Well, this is greedy, but as an ex-new yorker, I would give anything for a drawer full of diverse ethnic restaurant delivery menus including some great spicy Indian food...but then again, London is two hours away!