Interview with Jiangshan from China 🇨🇳

Urban Index: Hello Jiangshan, how did you end up in France?

Jiangshan: Four years ago I was working in Singapore and I wanted to shift my career to “not in the shipping industry”. I was looking for a master degree outside of Singapore, because I wanted to leave. I was thinking about Europe at the time, so I was just basically choosing a business school in Europe. 

I did some research, then I found ESSEC and I found my program, Master in Strategy & Management of International Business in the Corporate Strategy track. That’s how I ended up in France in 2019. 

Urban Index: I assume you applied as an overseas student? 

Jiangshan: Yes. There was an application process. And there’s a fee for studying as an overseas student. We have to pay to go to university in France. In terms of the application process, first of all, you need to have the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). You need to have a good GMAT-score in order to apply for the business program. 

I remember I spent six months while I was also working to prepare for the GMAT. I took the exam and I got my score, afterwards I could start my application process. If we only take into consideration the application process with ESSEC, it takes about three months. I started thinking about a master degree somewhere around the end of 2018. I got confirmation in May 2019. I came to France in September.

Urban Index: Did Essec help you with this move? Singapore to Paris is pretty significant.

Jiangshan: They helped me once I arrived in France, to organise my student hostel and also bank accounts. They didn’t help a lot.

Urban Index: Did they give you general guidelines and say you’re on your own now?

Jiangshan: Nope.Nothing. It’s on you to discover how the French system works. 

Urban Index: Do you have a Carte Vitale

Jiangshan: Yes, I have a Carte Vitale. It was a very complicated process. I remember as a foreign student we have a social security number for foreign students. I used that for about one year, but after graduation I needed another social security number which took me some time to have. When I wanted to apply for the real card I had some login problem at the beginning, the system, it just didn’t work as you would expect it to. I actually had to call customer care to explain my login problem, they in turn had to set it up manually on their side, to make the system work properly. That’s how I got my real profile on that website. I ordered my card from that website. 

Urban Index: Did you have to make that phone call in French?

Jiangshan: Yes. I asked my friends to call on my behalf. 

Urban Index: Let’s skip ahead. You studied, you graduated. How was that process of finding an apartment

Jiangshan: For me it was pretty easy because there were a lot of Chinese landlords. We have a Chinese third party platform where we can look for apartments, they’re all owned by some Chinese person. 

Urban index: How do you get access to that platform?

Jiangshan: It’s insider information. Everybody speaks Chinese on the website, everything is built in Chinese. I would assume only Chinese people will use that platform. Chinese people are much more flexible. They required less paperwork. Usually you can get things done very quickly, and they’re pretty helpful too.

Urban Index: How did you find your job?

Jiangshan: I found my first full-time job through Essec’s alumni network actually. They have an excellent network. I remember there was an entrepreneur session where they invited a lot of alumni of Esec who had started their own business. That’s how I met my previous employer.  

He ran a startup focused on the social media world. I directly spoke with the founder of the company. We talked on WhatsApp and he hired me in that process. After that job I searched for jobs on Welcome to the Jungle or LinkedIn. 

Urban Index: You’re studying, you’re graduating, you made some friends. Did a lot of these friends stay in Paris as well?

Jiangshan: French people stayed in Paris, or they went back to their own cities in France. Most Lebanese and Moroccan friends stayed in Paris. Because this was during Covid, most Chinese people went back home. I think I was the only one who stayed. Some other international people who didn’t speak French went to the Netherlands. Some of them went to Luxembourg, and some of them went to Germany. 

Urban Index: How did you go about building out your social life? Was it easy for you? 

Jiangshan: I didn’t really make an effort to meet up with people on purpose. I mean, I had a good situation at my job.We are all similar in age and it’s super easy to make friends with other international people. I will still connect with my old school friends. My friends are made up of my colleagues, school friends and some other Chinese people from Courbevoie, which is where I live, there is a large Chinese community. I didn’t really make friends with French people, I feel.

Urban Index: How come?

Jiangshan: I will take things naturally. I don’t want to make friends on purpose. If I meet some French people along the way, yeah, of course, I like to get to know them. On the other hand, I feel they’re not as open. There are also some French people that are super open-minded, like a lot of people where I work. My mom always wanted me to make friends with French people for me to get used to life and living in France. 

Urban Index: Did you ever experience any language barriers?

Jiangshan: It was hard sometimes, especially in school. I was studying in the international program, but most students were French. In my class at least 70% I remember. There also were a lot of Americans and Lebanese, so whenever they spoke, they spoke French. I felt a little bit alone sometimes but it was also good because when I stayed with the Lebanese or Moroccan people, they spoke English with me, they understood that the Chinese girl didn’t know French and adapted to me. When I stayed with a group of French people, nobody wanted to make an effort to speak English.

Urban Index: How would you describe your level of French today? 

Jiangshan: It’s a shame to say, but for now I only understand basic French and I speak basic French.   

Urban Index: I’m curious about the cultural differences that you have experienced. 

Jiangshan: In China, when we want something, we just ask directly. We don’t say, hi, how are you? Hope you’re doing well. We don’t really do smalltalk.  I’m from the Asian culture and people are most of the time more introverts and they are pretty shy. 

French people can also be shy sometimes, but they’re still more open than the Asian culture. I especially feel it at my work. Even in school where I met lots of people from Morocco, from Lebanon, and Latin America people, they are much more expressive. In China or Singapore, people are not usually not willing to share what they really feel, they want to hide it inside until you discover it. So what you say doesn’t necessarily mean what you want. In China, you have to feel what they really think or what they really want to say. They won’t say it directly. 

Urban Index: Did you ever get scammed or did you have any bad experiences here?

Jiangshan: I would say the tremendous effort that I have to make whenever I was doing anything related to an administration task or with the bank, or with my visa. That was all a bad experience. And the level of how digitised France currently is. 

Whenever I want to renew my visa or whenever I want to check anything in the prefecture, I remember that I always need to block half of my day, it takes me half an hour to look at the website to find out the right information, to go to the correct page and to make the correct reservation. And once I found the correct page, I have to save it immediately so that I can still find this webpage the next time. Otherwise I will spend another 30 minutes just looking for that page again. 

With the bank, I always have to find someone who speaks English. If I want to change my phone number or change my address, I need to spend lots of effort coordinating with the people. You know, in Singapore, everything is done in just like three clicks and you’re finished. Whenever you need some help, you just go to the branch. Worst case, you go to the branch and then you talk to one guy and he will settle everything for you.Here they send you to the other branch because you’re not with this branch, you’re with the branch five kilometres away, but they’re closed today because it’s Saturday. 

Urban Index: I’m assuming that when you were a student, you had a student visa.  Did your employer have anything to do with you getting your visa later, or did you have to do everything yourself?

Jiangshan: In my last company I had to do everything myself. It was a very young startup. They were unsure about how to apply for a Visa as a foreigner. My company today has an HR department who knows how to do it properly. I just need to apply online and make sure that things are properly put in progress. 

Urban Index: What do you like the most about living here and your new life here?

Jiangshan: I love the fact that Europe is so connected. If I live in Paris, I can go everywhere for my holidays. In Paris, I love the company that I’m working for. I feel lucky to have found this kind of international company in Paris. I found my job on Welcome to the Jungle. I applied over a year ago but didn’t succeed, so I subscribed to their recruitment newsletter. I kept receiving this newsletter and when they advertised a job I could do, I scheduled another call with them. I followed the recruitment process and got hired!  

Urban Index: What is your favourite place in the city?

Jiangshan: I live in Courbevoie. There are a lot of retired people and school kids. It’s more like a calm family area. We have a market every Saturday morning, which is super crowded, I love seeing all the grandmas and grandpas buy their vegetables, meat or seafood there. I like the fact that my life is separated between work and after work. Once I finish work, I leave Paris, I go to Courbevoie where it’s another world purely for resting. If I work or I want to have some fun, I go to Paris.

 If you ask me my favourite place in Paris, I would say Montmartre because it’s beautiful. It’s always beautiful. I didn’t really remember what the history is there, but I know there is a movie that was filmed there, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. After the movie I went to Montmartre and said, yes, it’s true, it’s very beautiful. But there are a lot of pickpockets! 

Blog Essential

Scams when looking for an Apartment

Today’s blog post about avoiding scams can be summarised and condensed into a two simple pieces of advice:

  1. If it looks too good to be true, it is.
  2. Never, ever pay for anything before you’ve visited the location, read the contract in detail and then sign it. 

Moving to a new city in a new country can be stressful and overwhelming.  Everything is new and you may not yet know how to navigate confidently. When you move, there are people out there who will try to take advantage of your situation and make a profit.

Particularly when you start searching for a new home while you still are in your old home or abroad, you are bound to run into scammers because they will try and target you from the get go. We hope that this blog post will help you avoid the scams we know of. 

If you think you can add to this list, please get in touch so we can publish it!

A general guide to rental scams:

Signs of a scam:

  • Watch out for the ads saying stuff like : “My *insert relative* is leaving for *insert random city* so we have this GIGANTIC apartment that we want to rent for CHEAP but you have to pay everything in advance”
  • Beautiful property at a cheap price, not from an official real estate agency
  • Lengthy emails from the landlord explaining why they won’t have so much time and want to rent it quickly and so on. Real real-estate agents generally write short emails if at all (they prefer calling). 
  • Scammers ask for a deposit before signing a contract. They ask you to pay a deposit to see an apartment (or “reserve your spot” or “send a financial guarantee that you really are interested”). 

never send money, always visit the apartment first and have a signed contract!

Good questions to ask yourself:

Is this listing fake?

Especially on public platforms like PAP, Le Bon Coin and Facebook you’re likely to come across fake listings. There are some telltale signs how to spot them: The picture will be of a beautiful, bright and large apartment or room, usually at a cheap price (so cheap you’ll feel super lucky to have found it!) rented by a private person. Not all of them are offered under market value, sometimes they are priced at a “normal” rate, so be vigilant. 

Is the Landlord legit?

Let’s say you get in touch with the owner of the listing. Often the “owner” will explain to you why the rent is low: they might live in/move to another country, or someone died and they need to rent the property fast, or they don’t want the apartment to be empty and are looking for “a kind soul” to take care of it. 

Am I on a fake viewing?

If someone is doing a scam on AirBnB, they will push you to come visit immediately so you can view the apartment while they are still in-situ. Alternatively they avoid a viewing visit altogether. They have “reasons” why you cannot visit the apartment before sending a deposit or first rental payment. Or, also popular, they ask you for a financial guarantee before booking a viewing. 

Should I send a dossier?

We have an entire chapter on the dossier. Keep in mind that you are sending official documents to potential landlords. If you are sending it digitally, watermark your documents (using services like or doing it yourself on Photoshop). It’s not unusual to ask for a dossier upfront, but check that they are not requesting forbidden information like your bank statements or carte vitale.

Can my landlord ask for my Deposit / first Rent upfront?

If you are being scammed, they will ask for money upfront. Scammers might ask for cash or a money transfer (Orange Money, Western Union, Moneygram, Neosurf, Transcash, Toneo First, Ria) or some similar method. They might ask you for more money than usual, because you are not French. Scammers will try to get money before you see the location or before you sign a contract or get the house keys. Don’t do this. Don’t give money before you have seen the location, carefully read & signed the contract. 

Also trust your gut feeling – if you feel something is not right, walk away. The moment you give the scammers your money, you have lost your money and will get nothing in return. 

How to protect yourself:

  1. Never send money without having seen the property, read & signed a rental agreement and have the keys.
  2. Reverse-search the pictures on Google
  3. Check the average rent. Most landlords overcharge, however none undercharge, so you can check if the property you found is too good to be true.

Here are some popular scams to look out for:

The AirBnB Scam

It can happen that scammers rent an AirBnB and recycle the listing pictures for a real rental listing. They hold viewings and then sign contracts with everyone who came to see the apartment and collect the deposit and rent. When the renters are ready to move in, the apartment is not actually available.

You can protect yourself by doing a reverse-search on google with the picture of the apartment, you may find it already listed. You can also check the age of the ad online, and how hard the “owner” is pushing for you to come visit the apartment quickly. Extra points for you if you spot items in the apartment that probably don’t match the person showing you around. 

The Electricity Scam

I know someone who rented a chambre de bonne from a person who lived several floors down, owning multiple apartments in the building. This person’s landlord had swapped their own electricity bill with the tenant in the chambre de bonne. The tenant was foreign so unsure of the actual cost of electricity until noticing that something was off – paying €80+ each month for 10m2 seemed fishy, and upon calling EDF they confirmed that this is a popular scam.

You can protect yourself by taking out your own electricity contract, which is your right as a tenant. Most homes have a Linky device, so you can closely monitor your consumption and protect yourself from rogue landlords.

The Plumber / Locksmith scam

Every so often you receive a leaflet in your mailbox with convenient phone numbers, firefighters, police, locksmith, plumbers and emergency services. Often these numbers are serviced by rogue service people who will overcharge you and often not even fix the issue. These are expensive lessons that you can avoid.

You can also protect yourself when moving in, familiarise yourself with locally run businesses with reputable workers. Find out who most of your neighbours use or ask the local businesses who they have on call. You can check google reviews and even utilise the app Nextdoor. If you are prepared to call when something goes wrong, you won’t have to also worry about someone stealing your money.

Am I the only one being scammed? 

No, here are some stories from real people and the scams they encountered (these are all scams!!!)

Story 1

“My friend wants to rent an apartment and she really likes it. She has met the landlord and seen the apartment. They’re telling her that she needs to send €2000 (first month rent and agency fees) in order to apply for the apartment, but she hasn’t signed any contracts yet.”

Story 2

“Something I saw multiple times when I looked for an apartment in Paris. You find a nice apartment (photos probably stolen from an Airbnb) with a low price. The “owner” will explain to you (without being asked) that the price is low because they live in another country/in the countryside and only want someone to live in the apartment to heat it and not let it deteriorate.

They will ask you to visit the apartment the next day or very quickly which doesn’t make sense if they live far away. When you tell them no, they will try to guilt trip you, a real landlord wouldn’t spend time doing that and would move to the next person who sent their dossier.”

Story 3

“Sometimes scammers rent the Airbnb they stole the pictures from, that’s why they want you to visit the next day. They make you sign a “rental agreement” and make you pay for the first month and the deposit.”

Story 4

“I received this email when I tried to book a viewing: 

To make the reservation which will assure us of the availability of the funds and which assures you in return that we will not touch your funds here is the procedure to follow:

You will pay the security deposit which is equivalent to the deposit of 735 € (rent excluding charges) and the first month’s rent including VAT, i.e. 790 € = 1525 € by RIA DEPOSIT, the receipt for which (RIA receipt) will be given on the day of the visit after the signing of the lease contract. This procedure reassures us of the availability of funds and allows us not to travel for nothing given the distance. Since we have already made trips for visits that ended in disappointment because either the interested parties were not present or their deposit was not yet ready and cheques bounced and I would not like to waste my time again I hope you understand. 

The procedure is simple, the deposit will be made in the name of someone close to you (friend, family, acquaintance or your spouse) and not in my name. No one will be able to touch it except the beneficiary. This would be in the form of a guarantee for me and once this is done, you will send me a copy or photo of the RIA receipt to enable me to check the availability of the funds online to confirm the visit to you and to travel. The extra cost of sending it will be returned to you on the day of the visit, I hope you understand.

The documents to be provided for the signature of the Lease Agreement are the following:

  • Photocopy of both sides of the identity card:
  • Receipt RIA 1525 € (OBLIGATORY).

Then, after visiting the flat and signing the lease, we will go together to the nearest RIA agency to withdraw the money. In case you don’t like my flat, which I doubt very much, you will simply cancel the deposit and your money will be back in your account.”

Story 5

“I’m Spanish and I’m currently living in Annecy, but before coming here while looking for a flat I found a good one, started to talk with the owner by mail and then by Whatsapp. She asked me for money for a ‘refundable deposit” and sent me what I thought was her ID card and phone number.

When she learned I did not have a French guarantor, she doubled the deposit and I sent her €2000. I had even spoken with whom she claimed to be her real estate agent, they all were very rude. When I finally started to realise that I was probably being scammed, I decided to back out and ask for my money back.

The landlady asked me to pay a fine because all the “papers” were already done, and that I had to pay that fine to the actual agency (which by the way I never found online) before her financial agent returned my money (because she said she didn’t actually have it).

I tried to speak with her many times, explaining that she could rest those 250€ from the actual 2000€ and return me 1750€ but she insisted that “in France things work in another way”. And there was no way she would want to pay herself for the theoretical fine and give me the rest.

Even a friend of mine who is a lawyer, sent her an email in three languages and she ignored it. Now she has blocked me on WhatsApp, and has told me to pay and not bother her.”

Story 6

“I searched on Facebook, there’s plenty of reasonably priced apartments to rent, (450-500€ in the 5th arrondissement in Paris . They want me to use Neosurf to send my deposit in advance. Is this too good to be true?”

Story 7

“I’m searching for rooms to rent in Paris and scouring through FB groups for a place. There’s one apartment that seems too good to be true and for pretty cheap so I definitely smell a rat here. However the landlord has sent me a contract which looks legit at face value as well as his identity card.

His only condition was that he transfers the deposit to an international bank account (?!) which he claims he set up because he had international students staying at the apartment.”

Story 8

“I’m new to Paris and have been apartment hunting on top of preparing for grad school, switching over my phone, getting let go from my job. In the midst of all of this, I made a very poor judgement call involving a fake Airbnb rental scam and a wire transfer and now I’ve lost a few thousand euros.

I’m using Currencies Direct as my currency wire exchange and I called them fairly soon after payment to try to stop it from going through. They reportedly put out a stop payment request to the bank but when I checked the progress yesterday, the payment had gone through and been confirmed. I’m sure at this point the money is now just gone, but anyone have any suggestions as to how to get my money back?”

Story 9

“I have sent out hundreds of messages on all of the typical websites, lodgis, leboncoin, PAP, and plenty of others. I have had three people try to scam me: one claimed to live in the US and asked me to bank transfer him €1700 and then he would send me the keys, another person who lived in Germany and needed a €500 guarantee to visit the apartment etcetera.”

Story 10

“So I was looking for a room for a couple of months and this guy that I’ve contacted from leboncoin said it is available for visit and asks for papers and money upfront on the visit. The thing is, that it kinda sounds too good to be true. He is asking for 300€ “charges inclus” 15th district. Really good looking apartment. I’ll paste here some of the stuff he was asking. Thing that scared me is. :

  • ”Récépissé du (coupon Trans-cash) des 600 € (un mois de loyer & un mois de caution)”

Also asking me for the following:

  • Photocopie recto verso de la carte d’identité ou du permis de Conduire.
  • Quittance de votre dernier loyer (facultatif)
  • Photocopie de la dernière fiche de paie ou un Justificatif de paiement (facultatif)

It turned out to be a scam, otherwise they would ask for a cheque and not cash, they would not ask for it upfront, and the other documents would not be optional. A standard dossier would contain identity proof, tax proof, guarantor certificate but no RIB or money or cheque or coupons.”

Story 11

“My friend wants to rent an apartment and she really likes it. She has met the landlord and seen the apartment. They’re telling her that she needs to send €2000 (first month rent and agency fees) in order to apply for the apartment, but she hasn’t signed any contracts yet. It says “please note that you will not be billed until the landlord accepts your rental request.”

Cities Transportation

Paris Public Transport + Passe Navigo

This article is about the Passe Navigo in Paris, click here for Marseille and Lyon

The RATP was created on 1 January 1949 by combining the assets of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris (CMP), which operated the Paris Métro, and the Société des Transports en Commun de la Région Parisienne (STCRP), which operated the city’s bus system.

By the time the STCRP was merged into the RATP, all of its streetcars had been replaced by bus routes.

RATP’s services in the Greater Paris area include 16 metro lines, 5 RER lines, 11 tramway lines, 351 bus lines2 BRT lines, and one Orlyval connecting the airport to the RER B, and last but not least, the Montmartre funicular which helps you avoid climbing 270 steps to the top of the hill.

What is the Passe Navigo?

The Passe Navigo is a contactless smart card which gives access to the Parisian public transport. 

How do I get a Passe Navigo? 

The good thing is that there is a website in English making it a bit easier to navigate. You have three options to choose from:

  1. Single Tickets
  2. Daily Tickets
  3. Travel Cards and Passes

If you’re moving here permanently and will be using the metro/bus/RER regularly, the Navigo Annual is the way to go, if you don’t want to commit to an annual subscription you can choose Navigo Monthly which costs the same. There are more options, check them out here.

The Navigo covers all of the Île-de-France. You can use it to get to the Marais, but you can also use it to go to Versailles or Disneyland. It includes all metros, RERs, buses, you can even turn your Navigo card into a key for the Velib’ bikes. It’s a mighty tool, and as of January 2022 even includes free entry and reductions on Paris museums, cinemas and events, to quote from their page: 

147 cinemas await you, as well as major museums such as the Quai Branly, Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Jeu de Paume and the Centquatre. Theatres and concert halls will welcome your applause: the Opéra Comique, the Théâtre Jean Vilar, the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, the Bouffes du Nord or the Théâtre du Châtelet… Festivals and cultural fairs have also joined the list of partners: Peacock Society, Rock en Seine, We Love Green, Mama Festival, Salon du Livre Jeunesse… Finally, cultural and heritage sites open their doors to you for an exciting visit: the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Château de Maisons, the Opéra Garnier, France Miniature, the Ballon de Paris, the Basilique de Saint-Denis, the Maison de la culture du Japon, the Cité de la Musique…” Find out more here.

Note: By law, your employer has to pay 50% of your public transport costs. This usually is automatically reimbursed in your paycheck.

How much does a Passe Navigo cost?

Navigo Annual costs €84,10 per month (half of which is reimbursed by your employer) and to get it you need to register online or in person, but online is easier. You can pay with a single payment at the beginning of the year or by automatic monthly bank transfer with no time limit. It can be modified, suspended or terminated at any time without charge.

Where can I buy a Passe Navigo?

Click here and select “Navigo Annual Ticket”. Here is where the website switches to French, but we got you 😉

  1. Click on this link, scroll to the bottom and click “Continuer”
  2. Create a login with your email address and a password
  3. Before confirming you have the choice to select between “J’ai un passe Navigo ou je finance le passe Navigo d’une tierce personne” meaning you already have a Navigo and are buying an additional one, or “Je n’ai pas de passe Navigo” which means you do not have a Navigo yet. Choose the appropriate option and continue?
  4. Choose your plan, click “continuer”
  5. Add your personal information
  6. Choose how you want to get your Navigo, you have the option “Recevoir à l’adresse ci-dessus” meaning they will post it to the address you have given, this takes less than 10 days after your application is validated or “Retirer dans un point de vente” meaning you can pick it up at a station, this takes less than 72h after your application is validated.
  7. Upload a picture of yourself: your face, no hats, in colour, no larger than 10MB and in the format JPEG, GIF or PNG. If you have a webcam you can take the picture directly on the page.
  8. Now it’s time to pay – add your BIC and IBAN for monthly payments or pay the whole ride in one go with a card payment.
  9. Last thing to do is to sign electronically, and then your application is sent for validation and in around a week you should have your Navigo!

Interview with Haylei, 29, from the USA 🇺🇸

Urban Index: Hello, Haylei. Tell me about yourself. 

Haylei: So, my name is Haylei. I am a 29 year old woman from California who has been living in France for four years now. 

Urban Index: Were you always in Paris? 

Haylei: I was always in Paris. I’m still in the same apartment I was four years ago. 

Urban Index: Which arrondissement do you live in? 

Haylei: I live on the border of the 11th and the 20th at Père-Lachaise, so technically it’s the 11th. But as far as accessing different neighbourhoods, the 20th is much closer and much easier to go out in. 

Urban Index: Do you love your arrondissement?

Haylei: I do. I actually really, really do! I’m one of those people that will always find something about the neighbourhood I live in, to fall in love with it. I did this in San Francisco and now that I’m living in the 11th and 20th, we have the cemetery, which has a rich, rich history. It’s beautiful. We have a lot of hipster shops, cute little épiceries, cute little dance studios. It’s really thriving and it’s up and coming as well. New shops are opening every day. 

Urban Index: What kind of people would you say live in the 11th and the 20th arrondissements?

Haylei: I would say it’s a lot of young 30-year olds who are probably buying their apartments for the first time.  It’s mostly hipsters. Young, French people. 

Urban Index: Do you think it’s French-International? 

Haylei: I would say the majority is French, around 95%. But walking around the district, you can definitely hear native English speakers. 

Urban Index: What brought you to Paris four years ago? 

Haylei: Unofficially or officially ? Both are stereotypical. I officially came here for school, I was on a student visa. I went to the Paris School of Business, as part of their international program. Unofficially I came for my boyfriend, we had met in San Francisco, where I was a super nerd in high school. I think I had a lot to compensate for and my role model at the time had gotten her masters, so I made it my mission to get my masters. I was putting all my ducks in a row to stay in San Francisco and get my masters at the same university that I had gotten my undergraduate in, so I developed really close relationships with a few professors.

I was saving my money pretty aggressively to pay for tuition. I was looking at scholarship programs, everything, and I had majored in international business, that’s how I met my boyfriend as well. We met in school and two of my professors actually mentioned they had relationships to France. I was seeking advice from both of them and they really guided me towards doing an international program. Although they didn’t have ties to PSB specifically, they helped me make my decision to look towards programs in France. Once I did, I realised that it was actually going to be easier for me to come here with my budget than it would’ve been to stay at San Francisco State University with a 50% off tuition fee. 

Urban Index: So studying overseas would’ve been only half as expensive as it would have been to stay in San Francisco? I assume living costs?

Haylei: No, just on tuition, not including living costs. Going abroad was in line with what I was studying as well. I got to stay with my boyfriend at the time, who’s still my boyfriend, and I got to experience another culture.

Urban Index: You already know that you’re going to stay at your boyfriend’s place?

Haylei: Yes, so I wouldn’t have to pay the rent. 

Urban Index: You get on the aeroplane, you land in Paris where I’m assuming your boyfriend picks you up at the aeroplane, 

Haylei: Also a dramatic story! So dramatic for a lot of different reasons, haha! I was desperately waiting for my visa to come in. I had a one year student visa, which I applied for myself in the French Embassy in San Francisco. I’m lucky enough to come from a place where we have a French embassy. 

When I went there, there were people from all over the northwest part of my country, people who had to take a three hour flight, people who had to drive five hours. I was lucky enough to take a half day off of work and deal with it. I’m pretty sure I had to pay something like a hundred dollars for it at the time. 

The documents I had to bring, if I remember correctly, were my passport, a letter from my boyfriend confirming that I would live with him, so proof of residence, bank statements to prove that I would not be a burden on the system. This is a pretty standard French request, but at the time I remember thinking that I was kind of strange. If you want to become a citizen, you have to prove that you have paid for yourself, you have carried yourself. So it would make sense that if you’re going to go there, they want to have the same kind of proof. I also remember I had an acceptance letter or something like that. 

I had paid half my tuition at that point. I remember being very stressed because they kept asking me for more and more documents, classic French, haha, and I don’t think that they had told me to bring these documents. I remember furiously running around downtown San Francisco trying to find somewhere where I can print these documents and provide them to the embassy. I remember they did an interview with me to say, who are you? Are you really, Haylei, blah, blah, blah. 

Urban Index:  So your top tip is if you have an embassy appointment, make sure you know the nearest printing shop is! 

Haylei: Yes! I mean, anyone who hasn’t already come to France but is planning to come to France, you will learn very quickly that the French administration is always asking for extra documents. I advise that even if it’s not obvious, just print it out beforehand. If they ask for it, great, you’ll have it. Print out whatever, you wasted some paper, but have it ready. 

So back to the embassy: we are all freaking out, especially the unfortunate people who weren’t from a large city in the US. I think that I’m extra privileged moving from San Francisco to Paris, because there’s a lot of similarities of living in a big city. I think it was particularly difficult for the people who had to come from a small town in not even California, from a different state to drive or fly to San Francisco, go to the embassy and then have to run around downtown san Francisco which is a city that’s not a super comfortable environment for everyone who’s not used to it to try to find a printer, et cetera, et cetera.

They took my passport, which was the first time I’ve had that happen,  and because I had already booked my flight I had missed my flight because I didn’t get my visa on time. It was my boyfriend’s birthday in September. As a gift, his parents had booked us a trip to Venice, Italy, and it was looking like I was also going to miss the trip to Venice.

I remember getting an email saying that my visa was coming and it was very dramatic because I was in between housing. I’m living out of a suitcase in a friend’s apartment, and I’m having the visa delivered to my old apartment. I remember basically getting a live UPS-tracker of my visa, where you can actually see the truck on the map and you can track the truck to the destination, so I remember racing to my old apartment where I was still friends with my former roommates at the time. I don’t remember how I got in, if I had like an extra key at that point or what, but I had gotten in the building and I was waiting for the driver. 

I got my visa, I got on my phone and I booked the flight to Paris for three hours later. I called my best friend and said I’m leaving today. It’s happening really fast. My best friend came and she helped me carry my suitcases to the Oakland airport where I flew out of. We had one last drink together and I was off! I landed at Charles De Gaulle, late at night. The next morning, Vincent and I barely made our flight to Venice. 

Urban Index: I hope you got to recover in Venice! Once you came back, did you immediately start with your classes?

Haylei: I didn’t start immediately. I had a week in-between. We had orientation and they had separated the French program from the international program, so most of the people in the international program were not French, although some of them were. All the classes were conducted in English and that was very helpful because I essentially made some of my best friends at that orientation. There are people that I text every day on the daily to this day, four years later. 

Urban Index: Was there any requirement of you knowing any French?

Haylei: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I didn’t speak it, I arrived here without speaking any French. Well, I had done Duolingo. I had done some online courses, but they weren’t structured courses. I don’t even think I could form a sentence.  I remember at the time I studied a lot on my own to try to read French, to try to write French and I remember arriving and listening to these people speak, and I couldn’t distinguish one word from the other. It was all just noise. It took me, I think, essentially a year to even distinguish words within a sentence, words that I knew that I studied. But hearing the Duolingo guys saying it versus somebody who lives here and is from here, very different. Very different. I don’t know if this is coming from a culture where we’re not exposed to many other languages, certainly not French, we’re exposed to Spanish.

Where I came from, we are exposed to some Vietnamese, for instance, but I was never exposed to French. I don’t watch French media and I don’t think the average American does. Other international people hear American media and American entertainment, it’s very prominent here. 

Urban Index: Let’s talk admin.  You’re going to need a bank account, you’re going to need a phone number, you’re going to need your Navigo. How did you do all of this?

Haylei: Luckily my boyfriend’s family really helped me out a lot. They helped me with my Navigo. To get your Navigo, there are a few ways to do it

It’s very difficult to get a bank account as an American in France. If anyone here is American reading this blog, you’ll very quickly learn that our government has a very weird way of tracking its citizens. They have standards for us that other countries do not. And so sometimes it’s easier for banks just to not work with us. LCL is the bank that I bank with, and it is known for being one of the best banks for American students. They don’t have a special program for American students, but they do have a special program for students from outside the EU. Then again, this is French culture, so you’ll learn quickly that everything depends on the person you’re speaking to. I suspect that a lot of bankers see that you’re an American. They know it’s going to be more paperwork for them. Maybe they’ve never been through the process before and they don’t want to learn the process, so it’s easier for them just to say, no, I’m sorry, we don’t work with you guys. It’s a matter of maybe trying again with somebody else.

Now I use a Neobank, I have a friend who worked at Revolut and she’s the one that recruited me to sign up with Revolut. I love it, they give you a virtual card. Contactless payment is very common in Europe which was new for me coming here. American citizens can now easily open an account with Revolut, I think it’s, it just happened about a month ago. I signed up with a referral code (insert referral code) . I needed to provide that document that was in a permanent residence, but now you can sign up using your American passport which is much easier. I think you have to pay like eight euros or something like that, a one-time fee. If you have your details, you have your passport and you have eight euros and you have data, you can sign yourself up in 20 minutes. 

Urban Index: You had a French residence card (carte de séjour)?  How do you get that?

Haylei:  I demanded it. I was on a student visa that was valid for one year. In France, you need to demand a meeting with your prefecture and you can only demand that meeting within three months of the expiration date of your current visa. There was a problem because all of the slots were taken. This would’ve been in August, 2019. I had already signed a contract for a CDI and I was supposed to start in September, but the problem was I was in between visas, so I needed to sort out my visa situation or I felt like my brand new contract was in jeopardy. The company was not going to help me with this. At this initial point they were like “good luck”. They did not help me.

I’m trying to remember to get everything straight. So I couldn’t get an appointment online. I physically showed up to the prefecture office and I cried to the security guard to let me in, because I was really upset and I knew I wasn’t going to get in and I knew my visa was going to expire. I come from a culture where, if you don’t have your documents in order, you’re screwed and you can never be let back into the country. I was at the time operating under those assumptions, which I found out later on is different in France. We always come in with our cultural assumptions and we don’t realise we’re even using those assumptions until it gets pointed out to us, right?

Long story short, I had to show up three days in a row, face the same security guard three days in a row, and beg to be let in. On the third day, he let me in. After that it was easy, it was smooth sailing. They gave me a Récépissé. It works as an official document and it gives you a temporary number, like the social security number. It allows you to work and I got it on the day when I made it into the office. It goes quite quickly.

This document is supposed to hold you over until you can finally get a real appointment to get your carte de sejour. My workplace at the time had to make a case as to why they needed me. As I was working in the anglophone markets, they needed a native speaker. My work sat down, they hired a lawyer and the lawyer drafted all of these documents for me to take into my official appointment.  When I went for my official appointment, I had gone through everything and they still didn’t give me the official card. I don’t know why,, but then Covid hit and everything was completely fucked. And there was a time where I had no documents whatsoever.

The French administration had basically said, don’t worry about it. We know you’re in the country. Don’t leave. They were, they were drowning. They couldn’t do anything about it. Anyway, after six months of not having a titre séjour, which meant that I had no official documents, which meant I couldn’t leave the country because I couldn’t enter, I had gotten an appointment. Finally after that I was granted my card and I was granted a four year visa. At this point I had already spent two years in the country. While my visa will expire in 4 years, it becomes easier and easier to renew – the first time you really had to fight, you really had to make a case. The second time they say, okay, you’ve been at a steady job for one year – it’s important that you don’t jump jobs within that first year. 

Urban Index: Are there companies that are more open to hiring Americans or jobs that are open to hiring Americans? Could you just take your pick? 

Haylei: I found my job on Welcome to the Jungle. It’s a little bit of a cheat, but I literally just typed in “native English speaker” and that’s how I found my position. I ended up in a career I really like, I think it depends on your industry. 

Urban Index: As an international working in France, how did you feel working in a French company? 

Haylei: My first company I honestly loved. Yeah. Coming from the USA, I had a very strict working background. My bosses were not so accommodating. We have no job security as they can fire you whenever they want, the hours seem a lot longer. That’s what I had experienced. If you show up a minute late, you might get a talking to for five minutes. You’re expected to buy your lunch, eat your lunch, finish your lunch within 30 minutes and most days I would eat at my desk. And so when I came here, I remember very early on into my career, I was handed a lot of prospecting tools. I had accidentally sent out an email to basically everybody in our database – I was freaking out and I was thinking, “oh God, I’ve just gotten myself fired”. Obviously I wasn’t going to try to sweep it under the rug, so I went to my manager, I was like, “oh no, oh no, help me, help me, please”. 

I remember he was just so calm and relaxed and he was like,, he laughed about it. He made a little joke and said “okay, let me see if I can stop this”. I just remember thinking that wow, everyone here is so relaxed.

Urban Index: I’m assuming you had a large portion of French people at the company? 

Haylei: My team was pretty international because I was in the expansion team. The majority of the people were French. My boss was French. The founders were all French. 90% of the company was French. 

Urban Index: Did you have a lot of contact with the French employees? 

Haylei: We were a small company. We were less than 60 at the time, and 40 of us were regularly coming into the office every single day. I think my experience is heavily reliant on my industry, I was in a tech startup so people will show up in t-shirts and jeans and, and sneakers and in my experience, tech guys seem to be some of the nicest people. They are just so kind and nice and positive. They are very curious about other people’s cultures and other people’s takes on things. We had a lot of discussion around my experience in France and my perspective as an American. 

Urban Index: Is there any difference you see working in France versus working in the USA? 

Haylei: Yes, the after work policy, the apéro. One thing that I felt very early on, but I couldn’t put my finger on was that French people are not more outgoing than Americans, but they are more social, they’re more convivial. They run in the same social circles, and they enjoy being in a group more than Americans do. You’re expected to show up for apéros, when you don’t, people take notice and you’re not as liked. I don’t think that you get promoted as quickly if you don’t come. One big difference that I noticed was taking an hour long lunch, my boss would order wine and order me a glass without really, you know. In that regard, it’s very Emily in Paris. 

They also respect your life. In the States, if you take a vacation, even if you have those vacation days, your boss can still say no. They respect vacation here. If you have something going on and you say, I’m sorry, I can’t, they respect that. If you need to go to the doctor, you can go, whereas in the United States you really had to make a case. When you’re looking for an apartment or have viewings or have to go to the doctor or you have an errand to run here, you just communicate it and then they let you go. It’s normal. 

Urban Index: What are the biggest life differences for you from before moving to France and now being in Paris? Do you feel that you could pick up the same lifestyle? 

Haylei: When I first moved here, I remember thinking, wow, these people never work out. Coming from the West Coast, I lived in yoga pants and sneakers. In Paris, you almost never see people in yoga pants on the street. When you do, you can tell they’re going to a yoga class. I came from a very active culture  to a culture that doesn’t value athletics as much. That was a huge difference for me.

The vacations were huge, having a whole month off in the summertime, whereas in the US having 2 weeks two weeks was a luxury.  If you did a two week vacation in my parents’ generation, you weren’t doing that again for another five years. 

Diet was hard. Diet was really, really hard. I remember getting enough fibre was difficult in the beginning. Again, coming from California, we eat salads, we have salad chains all over the place. We have Mexican restaurants, which Mexican cuisine is heavily focused on like beans and vegetables, so I remember coming to France and just feeling like, God, these people never eat vegetables. I remember girls walking around with their Contrex, diuretic water. It was the first time I had ever seen diuretic water. 

Urban Index:  In terms of building a life for yourself here, building routine like hobbies and activities and things you like to do, how did that go?

Haylei: It was very difficult.  I think I held myself back for a long time because I know my French was not up to snuff, so I felt like my own insecurity around the language held me back from doing the things I really loved. In California, I would regularly go to yoga classes. It’s much cheaper there, but the classes were in English also. 

Urban Index: Where did you find your yoga class? Where did you look for it? 

Haylei: I think Google Maps. I typed in yoga near me. It’s really hard to know where to start. You might know what you want, but where do you start looking for it? You’re in a new country. I’m a very social person and so I think going to an international program really helped with that, because I was able to form a core there. Basically all of my closest friends now somehow are related to that core. You meet people through people and then your life evolves and maybe now you don’t hang out with that core anymore, but you’re still somehow related to that. 

Urban Index: So what you’re saying is you have to be social just in order to meet people and get introduced to other people. Yeah. And you can’t really lock yourself away. 

Haylei: Even if you don’t necessarily see the person, that you’re talking to as your best friend forever, maybe that person’s going to be the person that introduces you to your best friend, you’re going to be talking to your future best friend that you’re going to be messaging every single day. That’s kind of how it happened for me.

Urban Index: Your closest friends today, are those all people you met first degree or are some of them friends? 

Haylei: Alot of them are friends of friends. Some of them I’ve met directly in a school group or something like that, but I think if you run down the top 10 contacts on my WhatsApp, it’s people of other people. They are mostly international people, but they all work and live in Paris. There’s a huge international community. If you’re an international person working in the startup worldyou’ll start to realise that everybody knows everybody. 

Urban Index: Building a life, hobbies, culture, shocks, anything negative that you’ve experienced?

Haylei:  Don’t hold yourself back. Even if you sound like an idiot (and they’ll make you sound like it). They’ll point out your flaws. Something negative about French culture I think that they’re very comfortable pointing out each other’s flaws. If you make a mistake, whether it’s in the way you speak or if you’re slightly weird, they’re going to point that out. I don’t know why they do that. I think it’s culturally a thing. People complain more here. They love it. It’s not a stereotype, it’s true. I would say they complain to do two things: they complain to connect with each other, just like English people talk about the weather,ant the other reason is that it’s easy. It’s conversation material. So when people are complaining, you don’t necessarily have to go into problem solving mode like an American would do. You can just listen and complain back. 

Urban Index: Last question. What are your favourite places in Paris? 

Haylei: Buttes Chaumont. There’s a waterfall, there are hills. It’s on the outskirts of  Paris in the 20th, so it’s kind of removed. I love La Villette, it’s very cute. It’s a nice place to get a beer in the summertime. There are all these cute little niche bars and restaurants that you can enjoy to see something different. My last favourite place is El Guacamole. It’s great for Mexican food, if you’re missing Mexican food. I guess those would be my favourite places, other than my apartment!