Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wifi in Paris (and other good things to know)

Now that my days in Paris are winding down, all too quickly, I am reminded of a few things I've learned since spending about 7 months here.  I hope these little bits of information can be useful to all!  Of course, many are highly opinionated and reflect my personal taste and experiences, so take it for what it's worth (which is entirely up to you to decide).

Today's post covers Wi-Fi in Paris.

Free wifi (pronounced wee-fee) is available in more places than you imagine, so go ahead and bring the ipad or smartphone, even if you're going to turn off the data and cell service, including roaming, which you really MUST remember to do (do it on the airplane before you land in Paris so you don't forget), or you'll get a big surprise with your phone bill when you return.  

And by "free," I do not mean "Free," which is a cell service provider in France and is most certainly not free (as in gratuit).  So, when you see "free" pop up on your available wifi networks, that's not the one to select.  

Some no-cost wifi options are:

1.  Paris city parks.  All of them, large or small, if they are Paris parks, offer free wifi through the Orange network (that's the network's name, Orange).  Easy to access.  You'll have to sign in on a screen that pops up and type in your name and email address information, and click that you agree to their terms, but it is free and automatic.  This doesn't include the Luxembourg Gardens, because it isn't a Paris city park (it's the garden of the French Sénat, so it's French property, not Paris property, not that that's a good reason to not offer wifi, but trust me, they don't).

2.  Starbucks and McDonald's.  Do not, under any circumstances, think I am recommending their food and beverage products when you visit Paris; you have enough of it in the US and you'll see it everywhere here, too.  However, if you must, you must.  But you needn't.  You can simply walk in, pull out your iphone, catch the wifi network which automatically appears, download your emails and walk out.  Maybe that's not good consumer behavior, but you'll probably buy a coffee at least once doing that, so that's more than might otherwise occur, and I assume that's why they offer the wifi for free.  By the way, Starbucks is also a good place to hang out with your computer for long periods of time if you are more comfortable being somewhere you can be assured that no one will come up to you and ask in a language you might not understand if you want something else, or where someone will sit down next to you and begin smoking (unless you're outside, and then that happens at every café).

3.  And speaking of cafés, many of them (but by no means all), have free wifi.  If they do, probably there's a little sticker affixed to, or next to, the front door that indicates "WIFI" in some logo.  However, if they do, they all will require a password, which means you have to ask for it.  [Asking isn't hard, even if you don't speak French - smile, point at the smartphone, and say "wee-fee?"  If the reply is "oui," continue smiling and pointing to the smartphone and say "code?"]  About half the time in my experience, the server has no idea the place even has wifi, until the café's proprietor then appears and tells me the code, or tells me that, yes, they have wifi but it has never worked, shrugs and moves on.  You do get used to not exactly being able to have wifi access even when you think you're going to, and in fact, I still see more people with books and newspapers in front of their eyeballs at cafés than electronic gadgetry.  But it's a way to begin to develop and distinguish your favorite morning or afternoon coffee places, if you know you'll be able to pick up some email messages when you stop there.

4.  Your hotel.  If you want free wifi in a Paris hotel, rest assured, it's not a sure thing.  It seems that the more expensive the hotel, the more likely you're also going to have to pay for wifi.  The 2- and 3-star places I've stayed here all offered wifi for free, but sometimes not in the room - only in the lobby.  The best thing to do is check with the hotel before you reserve.  But there is no reason you need to expect to pay 10 euros or more per day for wifi when so many Paris hotels do offer it for no charge.  Also, most often it won't work without a pass code, and the front desk can give it to you.  Those codes often change each day for some odd reason and you have to ask every day for a new one.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Changing the Air

As I write this morning, I manage to avoid a few minutes (hours?) of hitting the books to study for my final exams tomorrow (oral - 15 minutes) and Saturday (written - 3 hours!!).  

My French classes at the Sorbonne Cours de Civilisation Française just ended yesterday, marking for me a full academic year of studying French as a living language right in the heart of academic Paris.  It's been a dream come true, in fact, much more than that, as I could have hardly dreamed up the pleasures, challenges and surprises this experience has brought to me.  My life has changed as a result and, probably more importantly, my perspectives on life, on my life, that is.

Of course, I expected many things, such as new food, new surroundings and challenges in communication on a daily basis, for just a few examples.  But the sweetest pleasures have been the nuanced cultural differences I'd hardly have known about in my American life.  There are too many to list or briefly describe - perhaps someday a book on that, but one that arose each and every class day made me smile, for no particular reason, just because it was so obviously different and occurred in every classroom, without fail.

The change of air.

Upon arriving to class, I always found the window(s) wide open.  In winter, that meant the room was many degrees colder than the hallway and the door to the class often hard to push open because of the pressure against it from the wind rushing into the open window.  In rain and humidity, a bit of a damp, rainforest-like presence, unusual for an indoor sensation but equally refreshing in its own way, would greet my entrance.

And then, once the professor has arrived, the windows are quickly shut, to return the temperature to the appropriate indoor range and to permit the students to remove coats and sweaters and begin work.

This marks every class change.  Is it for health reasons, perhaps to rid the air of accumulated aerial residue of the dozens of students who enter and exit every couple of hours throughout the day?  Perhaps.  I have no idea.

I have grown to appreciate the practice, and I have found myself doing the same every time I arrive back "home" in Paris.  I fling open the two French doors to the air, no matter the temperature, no matter the precipitation, for a few minutes of what the French professors called "changing the air."

In addition to my conscious efforts to learn something here, namely, the French language, I realize I'm learning unconsciously, too.  These things, small as they may be, continue to open my eyes to a different world.  And for that, I continue to be enormously grateful.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I've been scoping out new neighborhoods in Paris - new for me, at least - beyond the well-trod historic and museum-filled center - where I'm told the "vrai parisien" lives.  Because a novel I'm currently reading is set in Belleville (a neighborhood in the northeastern part of Paris) in the post-World War II years, I decided it was time to check out the Parc de Belleville, which is situated on one side of a hill, facing towards Paris' center and, as could be expected, has wonderful views of the city.  
It's not a very big park and not much of place for a run (unless you're into hill work, which I'm definitely not); it's rather more for a slow stroll, and preferably downhill rather than up.  It's also lovely, of course, for a picnic or reading a book or taking in the rare Paris sun.

The best way to start, then, is to take the métro to the Pyrénées station.  Coming out of the métro, head in the downhill direction and turn left on rue Piat.  It's just a bit further down that street, also downhill.  

The walk itself through the park is lovely and leisurely because the path winds and turns down the hill with views so spectacular that you can't help stopping to gaze into the distance to try to pinpoint landmarks.

As for the neighborhood itself, it is much like it was in those post-war years - a melting pot of newcomers to France.  At the same time, though, it has become very popular with younger Parisians who are seeking affordable apartments and so are turning it into one of the more trendy parts of town, as has been occurring through much of the northeastern quadrant of Paris in recent years.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A room with a view

No wonder I like being a student again, when this is the view from my phonetics classroom window...
Online learning doesn't have a case, by comparison. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

No Debate

I just fell asleep during watched the French Presidential debate; it is the only one between the two final candidates before election day next Sunday.  Hey, I'm entitled.  I'm coming down with a cold, it's raining and chilly, and, besides, trying to understand all that political rhetoric in French is épuisant (exhausting).

So, to wake me up, I just had to look at these beautiful creatures I photographed the other (sunny) day at Pain de Sucre.
I was in such a rush as I walked by, I only had time to take the pictures.  What an odd priority, I know.  And, then again, I have to admit, I hadn't yet been tempted to try a Parisian guimauve (marshmallow) until I saw those.  

There's no debate that I have to go back and try them.  At least I don't have to choose between them (or, in fact, between the Presidential candidates here).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 1 - Lilies and Labor

Odd combination that it may appear, it is even odder (to me) in practice.  Today was my first May 1 in France.  It was a public holiday - May Day: La Fête du Muguet, La Fête du Travail.  It is a day to campaign for and celebrate workers rights.  It is also an occasion to present lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers to friends and loved ones.
The two have nothing to do with each other (as far as I can tell), but because it was a perfectly gorgeous day, and because of the upcoming Presidential Election here next Sunday, May 6, it was the perfect storm of manifestations (political marches), large public speeches by the candidates (as well as the candidates who didn't even make the cut after the first round), and the gifts of a sprig of lily-of-the-valley, which seemed to be carried around by everyone.

The story goes as follows:  King Charles IX of France was presented with lily-of-the-valley flowers on May 1, 1561. He liked the gift and decided to present lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1. Around 1900, men started to present a bouquet to women to express their affection. The flowers are given between close friends and family members these days.

Some images of my May 1 in Paris:

 A little street music.
 A little afternoon wine to watch the march go by.
 Street sales of the flowers, which are permitted without license on only May 1.
 Posters for Presidential candidates and their "meetings" (use of the English word to describe rallies).
 Certain political leanings are manifested through the use of strategic vandalism.
Full evidence of spring, neither requiring the buckets of lily-of-the-valley or political speeches or parades.  But in Paris, on May 1, they all happen together.