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.