John Krueger relocated with his family from the United States to Paris, France, when his wife was offered a job there. John is a stay-at-home dad who has thoroughly enjoyed helping his two children settle into Parisian life. He enjoys learning about the history of the city and exploring its chateaus and restaurants.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: My family moved to Paris from Houston, TX where we lived for 18 years.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: We are currently living in a suburb of Paris called Garches. We made the decision to live “outside” of the city since we could get a large house and it is near the kids’ school. However, it is only a 10-minute train ride into the centre of Paris.
Q: When did you move to Paris?
A: We moved to Paris in August 2010.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes. My wife and I moved here along with our two children and two cats.
Q: Why did you move to Paris; what do you do?
A: My wife’s company moved us here. She works for a CAC 40 manufacturing company based in Paris. She works in Division Human Resources for a global oil and gas supplier division of the company. I left my job of 16 years as an insurance adjuster and I am now a stay-at-home dad.
About living in Paris
Q: What do you enjoy most about Paris, how’s the quality of life?
A: I love this country’s rich history. I never was much of a history buff until moving here. Being able to walk into a church or chateau that is over 400, 500 or 1,000 years old is amazing. We live 15 minutes from Chateau de Versailles, which is my absolute favorite place in the world; especially in the spring when the magnificent gardens are in bloom. The quality of life is good here. The pace is hectic during the week much like any large city in the world, but the weekends are more family oriented, with shops and businesses closed on Sundays. This is especially true where we live out in the suburbs. Additionally, it is very easy to travel in and around France and the rest of Europe.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: One of the things I miss most about home is the variety of food (i.e. Mexican, BBQ) available anywhere and at any time of the day for the most part. However, I have started a group here that goes out once a month and discovers new places to eat and new types of food. This has been a fun way to explore Paris and to build relationships with other people here. Eating out here can be kind of expensive, as you are in one of the most expensive cities in the world, so that is also negative thing. The other thing I miss is the convenience of things in the US 24/7 culture. It was an adjustment to learn that stores may close for lunch and then they will close early around 7 or 8pm during the week. Not to mention that they will not even be open on Sundays. We have learned as a family to plan ahead – no running to Wal-Mart to buy poster board for a school project that is due the next day. It is just not possible here.
Q: Is Paris safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The city is very safe as far as major crime is concerned. It should be known that in the high tourist areas and metro (subway) stations, there are pickpockets. It is a major art form here, and they can be quite adept at it. It is hard for me to say that, as I lived here for 2½ years, and one day I let my guard down and my cash was stolen from my pocket. As long as you take precautions and are aware of who is around you, you will be fine. I haven’t visited any part of Paris that I didn’t feel safe in at any hour. It is a very safe city.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Paris? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: The metro (subway) system, trains and buses are great. You can take a metro anywhere in the city effortlessly. In addition, you can take taxis, which are plentiful, but there really isn’t a need when you have such an amazing public transport system. Since we live just outside Paris and my kids are in activities here in the suburbs, we do have a car. It is a Citroen Van. We have gotten used to having a smaller vehicle than we had in the States. However, to really answer your question, if you lived in the city, you really don’t need a car. In fact having one might be rather difficult and expensive due to parking restrictions and limited locations. Apartments do not normally come with a parking space so you would have to take your chances on the street or rent or purchase one in a garage. That can get quite expensive.
An additional thing to remember about a car is this: you can own and drive a car for a year on an international licence you can get from AAA. But after a year, you must either exchange your licence for a French driving licence (if your state has reciprocity with France) or you must take a French driving course. Now there is one English-speaking driving school, but it is expensive and most people don’t pass the test the first time. If you do not complete either of these options before the end of the first year, you will be uninsurable and your car insurance will be cancelled. However if you must have a car to run an errand or to pick something up that is heavy, Paris has recently set up the new system where you can rent an electric car for an hour or as needed. You can drive it around town then park it in the same location or another drop-off location if needed. It is a very popular and convenient program for people living in the city without access to a car.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in France?
A: We are on private healthcare insurance, so we don’t use the French public healthcare system or insurance. Further, since we are not comfortable with the French language, we use the American Hospital and the associated doctors in order to ensure that we understand our physicians. In addition, there is also a British Hospital and several other English-speaking clinics around town, so if French is not your native language you can find a doctor fairly easily to communicate with in English. I will also say that even private hospitals are inexpensive when compared to what we have paid for in the US and provide amazing service. For example, I had to go to the emergency room late one night for a severely cut finger. I was in, saw a doctor, got cleaned up, X-rayed to make sure there was no glass still in my finger, bandaged up and out in an hour. Not only that, my visit total was only 250 EUR. That was for everything. We have also found that prescriptions are cheaper here as well. The public healthcare system in France is very good. However, I am certainly not an expert on the way the system works here.
About living in Paris
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Paris as an expat?
A: Most people live in the 7th, 8th or 16th arrondissement in Paris, or in St Cloud, Garches, Vaucresson or Le Celle St Cloud. You will find a good support system for expats in those areas.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Paris?
A: Housing is much different than in the States. Most people live in apartments in Paris, and those who want to live in a house live in the suburbs. Apartments, both in size and availability, vary greatly in Paris. Most but not all Paris apartments do not come with a fully furnished kitchen or bathrooms. Now I know I just scared a bunch of people with the bathroom comment. What I mean is that in the area that is supposed to be the kitchen; there are no cabinets, appliances, sinks or anything, just roughed out plumbing and maybe an industrial sink. Tenants take their kitchens, all light fixtures and cabinets (bathroom ones too) with them when they go to their next apartment. You can find apartments and houses with furnished kitchens and bathrooms, but you will need to make sure and have your relocation expert or real estate agent focus on finding those apartments. If you have a home renovation side, you can easily go to IKEA or another type of kitchen design store and put in the kitchen of your dreams if that is the only thing missing in a great apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
A word of caution, if you find the perfect location that you feel that you can live with, you must move quickly. Those apartments/houses are usually only available for one or two days then they can be off the market. The same is true if you decide that you want to purchase a property here in Paris. Therefore, the standard of housing is pretty much the same as it is for other Western countries. However, spaces are typically much smaller than in the US (other than NYC or Chicago). That can take some adjustment too if you are coming from a larger suburban house.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Paris compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living is twice as high as back in Houston, but if you were from NYC, it might not be much of a difference. One of the reasons it is more expensive is because of the amount of tax you pay on goods and services. You will pay anywhere from 19–30 percent tax. That makes a big difference when going to a restaurant, buying food, staying at a hotel, etc. However, some of the great things to do here are inexpensive such as the museums, churches and chateaus. You can even visit cemeteries like the one where Jim Morrison is buried or one of the many American cemeteries in and around Paris.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The one question all my friends ask is, “Are French people rude to you?” My answer, “No!” We have never had French people that have been rude to us, not only that, we have met some amazing people from all over the world. The way the city is set up is like little mini-cities; that includes the suburbs. It encourages you to develop relationships with those businesses around you. You find your favorite baker, butcher, cheesemonger, grocer, market and restaurants. By visiting these places over and over, you develop relationships, and the byproduct of that is you get amazing service and you meet great people. You do mix with other expats. If you work for a truly international company, there will be others at work who are from the US. Also, if you have kids in any of the English-speaking schools, you will have many opportunities to mix with other expats.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: It was very easy meeting people and making friends .There are many groups that have get-togethers of all kinds. I do think that locals can be very nice and friendly, but there is a kind of line that is not crossed by very many of them. By that I mean it is very rare to be invited into your neighbour’s home or talk to them on a regular basis. No one will typically bring over a cake when you move into your house. We are fortunate enough to have very nice older couples that live in the house next door. They have been very helpful and friendly. We have also never met the couple on the other side of our house. In fact, I think I have only seen them once. I found that they tend to keep to their set of friends that they have known for a long time or to family. There is nothing wrong with this, and we have some friends that are French so it's not a blanket statement, but I am just saying that I do not think that I will end my time in France with several close French friends.
About working in France
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: My wife had no issues getting a work visa/permit, her company had an immigration specialist who took care of this. I also was given permission to work here in France but we had decided that it was better for me to stay home and help the children adjust, then to work. Further, since I do not speak any French it would have been very difficult to find a position.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Paris is there plenty of work?
A: Right now, unemployment in France is a little over 10 percent, whereas in the US it is about 7 percent. Paris is growing (more businesses are being attracted here) and so that opens more opportunities. Of course there is the issue of the debt crisis that is plaguing many European countries. As the second largest economy in the EU, France has a huge role to play in the future of the EU, but there are issues that is going to have to address with regard to its debt and probably sooner than later.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Speaking for my wife, her work culture is a little different. In the US, she usually started her day at around 7am and left at 5pm. Here, people don’t start arriving until 9-9:30am for work and stay till around 7pm. Also, because her company has offices in Germany, Brazil, US, Dubai, she deals with many cultures – sometimes all at once.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Yes, we had a relocation company help us with our move. As it was our first move, we didn’t know what questions we should be asking and what to expect. The advice I would give people on this one is asking the following questions and what they should request. First, when moving, ask to be put up at a furnished apartment until your stuff arrives. We were told our stuff would arrive in 10 days, but it didn’t arrive for six weeks. We were trapped in a very tiny hotel room for that time, and it was not pleasant. Next, ask the landlord to provide the entire last year’s utility bills (gas, electricity and water) so you know what to expect.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: We didn’t have a problem adjusting to the new home other than we weren’t used to not having air-conditioning and no ceiling fans. The kitchen was smaller than we were used to, and so were the rest of the rooms.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: It took my kids some time to settle in. This was a shock to them (and to me to be honest since I had never lived outside the US). The language is really the biggest issue with settling in easily, but that is because we lived in the suburbs. Those I have spoken to who live in the city don’t have as many issues since they live in touristy areas.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: My kids go to the American School of Paris, which is a fantastic school. The other English-speaking schools are the International School, The British School and Marymount. The American School follows the same protocols as the schools in the US, so when your kids go back, they integrate easily back into the US school system.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I would tell them (if they have kids) to get involved at their kids' schools, be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be open to trying new things and explore the city. Join a tour group (either through the school or find one online). With the internet, you can find a plethora of information about anything about your new city, so do some research and above all… HAVE FUN!
~Interviewed December 2012