Comfort Food

Sadly, France doesn’t have much to offer in the way of the comfy, reassuring foods you might be used to at home, unless all you need is some Chicken McNuggets and McDonald’s fries, or you want to make something from scratch. Pre-packaged food here doesn’t really cut it. It only vaguely resembles the thing it’s supposed to taste like. Most American brands are unheard of, hot dogs are really just footlong weiners on a loaf of baguette, “beignets” are waffles with powdered sugar, and even the macaroni and cheese is actually penne, with four cheeses. So when you’re really hankering for some downhome food, it’s easy to feel stranded. That’s where substitutions come in.

I’m happy to say that if you’re like me and want Diet 7-Up when you feel sick or your stomach is upset, Lorina makes a soft drink called “Limonade Light,” which while not a dead ringer for 7-Up, comes very close. It’s not as sweet or full-flavored, and it has a bit of a tonic-y aftertaste, but it’s a decent substitute. If sugar isn’t a problem, most grocery stores also stock Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and there’s generally a selection of Schweppe’s and sparkling water. Be warned, however, most flavored sparkling waters in France also have sugar or corn syrup as a main ingredient. And of course, you can get the main varieties of Coke & Pepsi, though they will taste different from home, and I suggest skipping the canned varieties except in the case of Diet Coke with Lime.

If soup is your thing, stay well away from the liquid stuff in cartons; it’s truly horrendous, dreadful stuff. Knorr makes a line of dry soups you mix with water that are a cut above the usual powdered soup mixes and way better than any of the other powdered soups available.

If you want pasta, dried Barilla is the same dependable stuff from home and less starchy than most of the other affordable off the shelf pastas. I’d skip the stuffed refrigerated pastas, if I were you. They’re okay, but they’re not as good as the ones you find in the refrigerated case at home. Pasta sauces aren’t what you’re used to either, and I find the pesto particularly disappointing. If you use the jarred kind, you’ll want to augment it with lots of extra basil and maybe some pine nuts.

Oreo cookies can be found, if one looks for those little nibbler cups. And you can find any variety of shortbread cookie your heart desires.

Pringles can be found in regular, barbecue, and sour cream & onion flavors, and if you love Ruffles, just about any of the chips ondulées taste very close to the ridged chips from home.

Stay tuned for further food updates!


Posted by on October 4, 2006 in Uncategorized


Having Keys Made

Unlike the US, where having a copy of your key made is a pretty simple process, keys in France are complicated and patented and have to be ordered from the manufacturer. You will need the “property card” that came with the key. This is a plastic card with an identification number on it that enables the manufacturer to cut the new, blank key via computer. This helps prevent unauthorised copies of your house key, which is handy, but it also serves to make replacing a lost key a bit of a hassle. Without the card, it’s possible to get a copy of your key, but that generally entails relinquishing it for about 10 days, so that it can be sent to the manufacturer.

Sounds complicated but still straightforward, right? Well, yes…and no. See, not all keys are secure. Some keys can be copied without a card or an identity check. Only those keys with moving parts or that are so complicated as to require computerised cutting using the original template for that exact key are “safe” to leave with your mechanic. Cheap, mass-produced lock & key sets may be easily duplicated, and those keys that are simple bar keys such as we have in America are also easy to copy. And unlike America, where the words “Do not duplicate” safeguard against the locksmith blithely making a copy – of, say, the key to your post office box, they offer no legal protection in France. So if you’ve lost your key, it may be possible to get a copy without too much hassle. I wouldn’t be the farm on it, though; the French seem to have wholeheartedly embraced Murphy’s Law and made it their own. So if you lose your housekey, by all means, check to see if you can get a copy made. But your best and easiest bet is probably just to change the locks.


Posted by on September 6, 2006 in Uncategorized


Helpful Hint #12

The wise pieton (pedestrian) pays attention to where she puts her feet and avoids unidentified liquids. Especially if they are in the form of a stream and have originated against a wall or other vertical object.

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Posted by on August 26, 2006 in Uncategorized


Helpful Hint #39

There are few food debacles which can not be made palatable – or at least helped along a great deal in that direction – by frozen herbs. Buy them in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. Monoprix in particular has good ones for cheap.

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Posted by on August 26, 2006 in Uncategorized


Helpful Hint #25

Sablé (french shortbread cookie) paired with orange is yummy. Sablé and dark chocolate is yummy. Sablé with orange AND dark chocolate?

Not so much.

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Posted by on August 18, 2006 in Uncategorized



How hard can laundry be, right? You might be surprised, if you’re used to American coin-op laundromats.

The first thing you need to know is that Paris laundromats come with a choice of machine sizes. Some have 3, but most seem to hold two: 7kg and 10kg load sizes. You probably don’t know how much your laundry weighs, so a lot of laundromats post descriptions of what the average load size might contain. Frankly, I don’t think you need them. If the washer will comfortably hold your clothing, you’re good. If it won’t, you need a larger washer. Don’t pack your clothes into the drum while congratulating yourself on saving a few euros. If your clothing won’t fit inside without Herculean effort, trade up to a larger machine.

Once you’ve put your clothing into the washer, close the door and make sure it clicks and locks. If you’re not sure you did it right and want to open it again, just push the button that says “porte,” and the door will open. Choose your laundry temperature, but be aware, the temps are listed in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Whites are the hottest temperatures, followed by colors, synthetics, nylon, and something called laine. If you want cold, or mostly cold, water, choose one of the last two.

Your detergent goes in the top. For most loads, you need about 300 cc’s of powder or 1/2 a cup. You might save yourself some effort by buying detergent tabs. A normal washload will use 2 or 3 of the small ones. French detergent boxes are fairly confusing. Even the French find them so, and just end up eyeballing their detergent. If you don’t have your own, there’s generally a vending machine that sells loose powder. You’ll need a cup to catch it, and there’s no choice of brands. There are two places to put soap and a place for fabric softener in the little hatch in the top of the machine. One of the big spaces is for the prewash cycle, and the other is for the regular wash. There’s usually a chart on the wall to tell you which is which and which washer settings get prewashes. Generally, both white (blanc) and color (coleur) settings have prewashes, while the others don’t.

Paris laundromats have, for the most part, gone “hi-tech,” so rather than dropping your money into the machine itself, you put it into a central box that controls all the machines at the location. Gone are the days of hoarding quarters; the control box will accept both coins and bills. Once everything is set and you’re ready to go, you’ll find the control box on one of the walls, usually in a corner. It’s about 3.5 x 2.5 feet and has a digital LCD, coin slot, bill reader, and a coin return hatch. Enter the nunmber of the machine you’re using. You’ll find that printed on the front of the machine in big digits – generally plain black ones for smaller capacity washers and white ones inside a colored circle for larger capacity machines. When you’ve entered the number of your machine, the digital LCD will tell you how much money you owe. Feed it your bill or the correct amount of change, and you’re good to go; your washer will start automatically and click off when it’s done. If you forgot to add something to your washer, at this point either you’re out of luck or it’s going in through the top dispenser.

When you’re finished washing, dryers work the same way and are generally 1 euro for 10 minutes, making drying a pretty expensive proposition. Save the cash except for heavy things like jeans and towels, and buy yourself a sèchoir à linge – a drying rack – at Carrefour. A small one will hold most of the stuff a single person will have in one load and costs around 15 euros. For 10 euros more, you can get one with about 7 square meters more space, but if you have a tiny apartment, you’ll never be able to use it. Sèchoirs are great; most of the time your laundry will dry in just a few hours, but on a really humid day, you should allow for overnight.

Happy laundering!


Posted by on July 29, 2006 in Uncategorized



Living in Paris can be rewarding, but it has its moments of stress, too. Like when the guy fails to show up for the 3rd appointment in a row to put in your phone or hook up your cable. (Word of advice? Don’t bother waiting around past the window; if he didn’t show up by 6, he isn’t coming.) There are lots of books on the subject of living in France. They cover such topics as moving your belongings, looking for work, buying a house or signing a lease, running your own business, negotiating the legal labyrinth of French regulation, and so on. This is not one of those books.

This is a blog to tell you how to actually live in Paris – how to do laundry, where to go for what you need, what to expect when you least expect it, when to get help, and who to get it from. It assumes you’ve already done all the stuff any responsible human being would do before moving to a foreign country for any period of time and gets down to the nitty gritty involved in actual daily living…the stuff everyone takes for granted and no one thinks to tell you.

I hope you find it helpful.


Posted by on July 26, 2006 in Uncategorized