Je ne parle pas français

The first week working at the OECD has been a whirlwind! For the first week, I had an hour commute to the office from my Airbnb. It meant waking up early but it also meant that I was able to finish Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please audiobook in a few days. When I arrived at the OECD, I was introduced to my team and put right to work. I only had about an hour on-boarding process and was immediately given my first few assignments. I’ve been working like a regular ever since. Currently, my work mostly entails reading and editing a book that is about to go out for publication. Once we reach the deadline (the beginning of June), I will begin working on my own work and publications. I was able to sit down with my boss and discuss both their expectations as well as my desired outcomes of the internship. It was an easy conversation to have because I came into this internship with deliverables in mind.


The workplace here in unlike anything I’ve worked in before. They have a silent workspace culture. This means when you’re sitting at your desk, it’s pretty much silent. There are “bubbles” (which are soundproof rooms) where you can go to make calls. Even when you need to communicate with individuals in your immediate vicinity, you whisper. That’s not to say that the office isn’t social. Here in France, they take their lunch hour very seriously. Each day I’ve been eating with either my team or other interns. Conversations are always interesting and center around global affairs and current events. Coffee always follows lunch. There is a cafeteria (called a canteen here) and a café on campus, with additional, automated cafés on each floor. Since I moved into my apartment I have started bringing my own lunch, but the lunch on campus is also good and will cost you about €9 to €11 per meal. You can get breakfast pastries in the café in the morning for around €1.50 as well.

Food around Paris is also divine! Obviously, the cafés around the tourist attractions are going to be a bit more expensive but you can use your phone or talk to locals to find some gems that won’t break the bank. That being said, don’t expect people to speak to you in English if you don’t speak French. I have had many people just keep speaking French to me after I speak to them in English. an unfortunate symptom of not speaking French is that you’re not always sure what you’re ordering. My second day here I ate a cold, mystery mush. It wasn’t horrible, but lets just say that the bread was the best part of that meal.


I am determined to learn some phrases in French while I am here and have been incorporating language study in my daily routine. So far my most widely used phrase is, “je ne parle pas français” which means “I don’t speak French”. I haven’t experienced any barriers in the OECD office because I don’t speak French. As long as you have a grasp of “bonjour”, “çe va?”, “s’il vous plait”, and “merci” then you should be set. That being said, I do think that whenever you visit a country that is not your own, it should be your responsibility to appreciate and learn the culture, including making an effort to learn the language to facilitate effective communication. I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people who are willing to help me learn the language and make the most out of my time here in Paris.

There are a lot of ways to meet new people, but it takes effort. I was invited to an intern lunch on my second day here. I went and met people from all over the world. Then there was an event held by the OECD at a bar on the Seine. I asked around and only one person who I knew was going. I asked if we could go together but when we were about to leave, he bailed. I could have easily gone home as well, but I decided that I would put myself out there to try and meet more people. I ended up going by myself and meeting the coolest people who instantly became my friends. We talked, ate pizza, and danced to disco music all night long. Once I started to get to know other people, I discovered that there are always little groups getting together. I had brunch on the river, went to the Eiffel tower, and explored pastry shops all with new people.

Eiffel Tower

While I’ve only been here for a short time, I’ve learned a ton and am excited to continue to learn and grow as I work at the OECD and continue to meet new people. As part of what I’ve learned so far, I’ve compiled a few helpful insights I have gained as I prepared to come to Paris and in the short time I’ve been here. They are things I wish I would have known when I was preparing to come. I’m sure I will think of more and will post about them in subsequent blog posts and perhaps compile them somewhere post-internship. Until then, enjoy!



Depending on the length of your internship (more or less than 90 days) and where your passport was issued, you may need to get a long-stay visa for the Schengen area. In my case, the organization I was going to work for (the OECD) anticipated my need and instructed me which visa I should obtain. They then sent me a letter endorsing me for the visa. My internship was going to last 92 days and I anticipated arriving a few days before the start of my internship and traveling for a little bit after. The application process was relatively simple with a few hiccups along the way. The paperwork was easy to fill out but I found conflicting information throughout the entire process. First, was regarding the permanence of the Paris address I was to put on the form. I found sources online telling me that it must be my place of residence for the duration of my stay and other sources telling me it did not matter. I stressed for a little bit until it came to the point that I needed to turn in the paperwork if I was going to get my visa back in time for my departure. I decided to get an Airbnb for the first 10 days of my stay and use that address for my application (more on housing later but it sufficeth to say that in my case, this address worked for the visa application). I then had to set up an appointment to turn in my paperwork. The organization that accepts the paperwork (VFS Global) has offices in New York City and Washington D.C. I chose to drive to D.C. just so I had more control over when I would get there. They had a parking garage under the office building. A few things to keep in mind for your appointment:

  1. Be sure you have all of the necessary paperwork. When you make your appointment, VFS will give you a list of everything you need to bring. They will accept your application if you don’t have all of the required paperwork, but you are at a higher chance of being declined. I even brought extra paperwork (such as my flight and Airbnb receipts) which they also accepted.
  2. They will ask for passport photos for your visa. They need to be European size. I brought US size (which are just slightly bigger) and they would not accept them. I had to pay $12 for them to take new photos.
  3. Online it says that they only accept cash, this is false! In fact, they do not accept cash. Just bring your bank or credit card and you will be fine.
  4. The appointment itself only lasted about 15 minutes. They will go over your paperwork, take your fingerprints, and make you pay. There is an additional fee to have your passport sent to you if you don’t want to go back to NYC or DC to collect it. It’s an additional $35, which pays for overnight shipping (there is no other, cheaper shipping option). VFS uses UPS to ship your passport and will send you an email the day that they send it. If you do not receive your passport in the next two days, call VFS to get a tracking number that you can then search on the UPS website.
  5. They will give you a receipt with your reference number on it. You will need this!! If anything goes wrong with the processing or shipping of your passport, they will ask for this number.

Due to some shipping issues, I was able to obtain my passport the day before I left so the more time you give yourself the better!


I was advised against finding an apartment in Paris before I was in country because of the prevalence of scams. This created an issue with my visa application so I began wearily looking only for places I was pretty sure were legit. This was so hard! I was uneasy finding a place because of past horror stories while also stressed that I needed to find a place. I decided to get a cheap Airbnb on the outskirts of Paris for the first 10 days of my stay and come a few days before my internship started so that I could find an apartment.

The housing search was surprisingly online. I thought I would spend more time physically looking for housing. For me, it was most useful to create a spreadsheet with the following information:

  • Rent per month
  • Utilities per month
  • Deposit costs (be sure and make sure that the deposit is refundable)
  • Agency fee (if you aren’t subletting, these can be ridiculously high)
  • Square meters of the apartment
  • Commute time to work (I found this using Apple Maps)
  • Total costs for the entirety of the stay (in euros and in USD)
  • Budget left after all housing costs

Another thing to take into consideration is which arrondissement you want to live in. Paris is divided into 20 administrative districts called arrondissements, each with a different atmosphere from one another. These districts are numbered according to a spiral, clockwise pattern that starts in the center of the city. You want to choose the best place for you based on the atmosphere as well as proximity to where you will be working. I was provided with the following descriptions when I was choosing which arrondissement to live in:

Right Bank (Rive Droite) – Areas North of the River Seine

16th Arrondissement

Located in the western part of the city. This is where the OECD Headquarters (the Château, Conference Centre and Marshall, Franqueville and Monaco Buildings) are located. This arrondissement — in particular the northern part — is very expensive. It is very quiet and residential and borders the Bois de Boulogne (Boulogne park/woods). The southern part (Auteuil, Porte de Saint Cloud) is only a few metro stops from La Muette and is also close to Boulogne-Billancourt where the Delta Building is situated.

8th Arrondissement

Located in the north-western part of the city, also quite close to the main OECD buildings. This district houses a large number of corporate headquarters, law firms, banks – and the famous Champs Elysées. In its north-eastern corner, there is still relatively affordable housing.

17th Arrondissement

This district is residential, though livelier than the 16 th . The liveliest area is the western part around Ternes/Wagram metro stops. It has quite a lot of local shops and a couple of nice pedestrian market streets (e.g. rue de Levis close to the Villiers metro stop). On the Eastern side of the railway tracks leading out of the city from the Gare St Lazare, the arrondissement starts to look more like the 18th (Batignolles metro), less chic, but more affordable. In the southern part of this arrondissement you will find Porte Maillot close to the Bois de Boulogne and the Palais des Congrès auditorium and conference centre.

Left Bank (Rive Gauche) – South of the River Seine

15th Arrondissement

Located in the south-western part of the city. This arrondissement is across the river from the 16th and not very far from the OECD headquarters nor from the Delta building in Boulogne-Billancourt. It is residential, but less “posh” than the 16th . It is comprised of several lively shopping streets (e.g. rue du Commerce, rue Saint Charles, rue Lecourbe – usually with regular food markets) around which you will find numerous apartment blocks and parks. Overlooking the river, there is a neighbourhood comprised of skyscrapers (Beaugrenelle) if you are interested in finding accommodation in that type of building. This arrondissement, as well as the 7th described below, could be a convenient option if you will be working at the International Energy Agency (IEA), but can also be an option for staff working at La Muette or Delta if you are willing to use some public transport and walk or use a bike.

7th Arrondissement

Perhaps this area is best known for its big park, the Champs-de-Mars, where you also find the Eiffel Tower. It is equally a very residential arrondissement – though more expensive than its neighbouring 15th . The most lively and popular residential part is around the rue St. Dominique and rue Cler – quite a cosmopolitan area (this is also where the American University of Paris is situated)

Other Areas of Paris

If you are willing to spend a little more time travelling each day, there are many other interesting areas in Paris. If you will be using the Metro, then you should avoid more than one change if possible – because this is the most time-consuming part of using the metro. A general guideline is to count the number of stops from departure to destination and multiply by 2 minutes – so that if you have 20 stops with a change, you will take approximately 40 minutes.

The Marais (3rd and 4th Arrondissements)

This is the most historic part of the city and hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. It spreads across parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If you decide 7 to live in this area, you may find yourself with a four flight walk-up (no lift) but be awarded with 17th century wooden beams in your lounge and a view over an “Hotel Particulier”. If you find a flat which is close to metro line one, you will have excellent transport connections. It is full of art galleries and fashionable boutiques, and is very touristic so can be noisy at weekends unless your flat looks over a courtyard. However, given how narrow most of the streets are, the noise of traffic is limited.

5th and 6th Arrondissements

The 5th and 6th are also historical areas hosting the Sorbonne, the Latin Quarter and SaintGermain des Prés. Even though they are highly touristic and can be busy, it is possible to find quiet courtyards in the smaller streets which is why many people love to live in these arrondissements. Once again, you are likely to find older-style buildings (always check if you need a lift), and flat rentals are likely to be on the expensive side.

13th and 14th Arrondissements

The 13th area of Paris hosts Chinatown (avenue d’Ivry and avenue de Choisy) and there is a large number of high apartment tower blocks on these avenues. The 14th arrondissement is where the Tour Montparnasse is situated. It is a lively area with lots of cinemas and restaurants. Denfert-Rochereau is also a popular “quartier”. But as always in Paris, you can easily get away from the busy avenues into the sidestreets where you can find nice apartments (this area has a good mix of modern and more traditional buildings) looking onto courtyards or small gardens. Always check the transport on the metro to get to work.

I decided to spend a little bit more on my apartment than I originally wanted to because it was really important to me that I would have an adequate kitchen so I could eat and prepare meals at home a lot. I discovered that many studios would only have a small refrigerator, a hot plate, and maybe a microwave. Also, if you’re planning on getting a studio (which I was) be prepared for it to be small, like the size a of family bathroom small.

In the end, I chose to get a flatshare with 4 other roommates. I was lucky in that the place I found was just renovated and we were going to be the first people living in the apartment and all moving in around the same. I found my apartment by initially Google searching “short-term rentals Paris”. I was directed to many resources. In the end, I found my apartment through an agency called Chez Nestor. They provide move-in ready rooms (meaning that there is bedding, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, etc. are all provided) and a flat monthly utilities rate. They also allow you to stay as long or as short as you would like, you just have to give them a 30-day notice before moving out. This was important as well because many workers go on vacation for the entire month of August and are looking for people to house sit for either free rent or very cheap rent. I justified the higher cost of this apartment by planning to live elsewhere in August.



Other websites for short- or long-term accommodations:



Paris has a very dense public transportation system. You can usually get wherever you need to go by metro or bus, or a combination of the two. Because I use the metro every day to get to work, I purchased a Navigo weekly pass. I am still trying to figure out if this is the most cost effective option for me. Paris has 5 transit zones so you have the option of choosing two zones for your pass of cover all zones. The “2-zone” pass allows you unlimited travel in those 2 zones with the option to purchase a “top-up ticket” which then costs the extra distance traveled. Unfortunately, the 2-zone passes are only available for zones 2&3, 3&4, and 4&5. Since I live in zone 1 and work in zone 2, I have to but the “all zones” pass. The price breakdown is available on the Navigo website. There are also daily unlimited passes that you can either load on your Navigo pass or purchase as individual tickets.

In Paris itself, you will generally always live within reasonable walking distance of a metro station. If you do not live on a direct line to work, try to avoid changing more than once, since the transfers are generally the most time-consuming. As a guide to how much time transport takes on the metro, you should count the number of stops and multiply by two (in minutes). For example, if your destination is 15 stops away, then the travel time will take approximately 30 minutes.

2 thoughts on “Je ne parle pas français

  1. So glad you went to the social that night! 🙂 Also, your apartment is beautiful… it was worth all the uncertainty and instability in the beginning!!

    Liked by 1 person

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