When it comes to professional life, Parisians find themselves in a catch-22. They want the seriousness that makes a real job. And the sense of adventure that makes a real life.

Needless to say, such positions are hard to obtain.

“Real job” for Parisians implies either a corporate job or working for a prestigious institution. All other jobs are not serious. “Real life” implies the possibility of waking up to the ocean on the weekend and exposure to other cultures, while of course enjoying an eminently comfortable lifestyle.

Given these parameters, it will come as no surprise that Parisians love expats. Being an expat brings the best of both worlds: a good, well-paid position in a foreign yet cozy environment. Bingo!

Parisians would all like at some point in their career to be sent overseas on an expat contract. Since these days—as Parisians like to complain—”ils ne font plus de contrats d’expat”, many Parisians are given opportunities overseas on a “contrat local“. This option is acceptable for Parisians under thirty-five and for destinations where salaries are significant. If these two conditions are not met, chances are the Parisian is more into real job than real real life. Expat contracts having become scarce, those who obtain them tend to be on the efficient side and are therefore probably more into real jobs.

While Parisians look up to their fellow Parisians who go exploring on a mission, they do enjoy the possibility to socialize with foreign expats. Having an expat friends displays fantastic “ouverture internationale” and implies that the Parisian is both a gracious host and possibly a polyglot. Talking about his expat friend, the Parisian will always mention his nationality: “Tu sais, Mark, mon copain expat canadien.” He will also make mention of the quality of his position: “Il a un très gros poste chez Microsoftun type assez brillant vraiment.” The Parisian will always compliment his expat friend publicly on his French: “Non, vraiment, il parle très bien. Non, c’est vrai Mark, tu as fait de gros progrès.” The Parisian doesn’t think Mark’s French is any good but he likes to come across as the benevolent paternalist mentor.

Having an expat friend is about adding glow to the Parisian’s life. Not all countries come with the same glamorous touch. Having an American expat friend is the ultimate luxury, then comes South American, then other Anglo countries, then Italy. Having expat friends from any other country will only be acceptable in left-wing circles for whom the betrayal of having friends in the corporate world (losers) will be compensated by the unlikeliness of their country of origin.

Expats arriving in Paris are usually very keen to make Parisian friends and to work on their French. Soon enough, they give up on French and, not long after, on Parisians. Those who love the city enough end up re-creating a Parisian life with compatriots, other international folks and Parisians who have lived abroad long enough. Those who don’t just leave—disenchanted.

For Parisians with social ambitions, the proportion of expats and foreigners at the events they organize is the safest way not only to attract what they deem to be Parisians of quality but also to place themselves on a nice international pedestal—with both their expat and Parisian friends.

Interestingly enough, in Paris, the quality of a social circle will be judged predominantly on the proportion of its internationals. The higher the proportion, the more desirable the circle.

Having many international friends helps Parisians overcome their catch-22. They keep their serious job, while getting a taste of adventure through their international friends. Between real job and real life, Parisians choose not to choose: they opt for real Parisian life.


Stuff Parisians Like

Sound like a Parisian: “Je peux venir avec mon copain expat? Tu sais, l’Américain, de Boston . . . tu vas voir, il est très sympa.”

Want more? Get the full story here…

Coming to Paris soon? Make sure to put O Chateau on your list. Join us for a wine tasting, a nice glass of wine or simply to meet the author of this silly text. It’ll be a pleasure to have you.

20 replies
  1. Frau
    Frau says:

    Olivier or dear readers,
    could you please explain why the American nationality is so popular?
    I have spent a lot of time in France. People were so enthusiastic about my partner´s nationality (American): “Ah oui! Vous vendez d´ou…La Californie…Oh, j´adore.”
    I am Czech and I was almost always accepted very coldly. Most French people even struggle to recognize that there is no Czechoslovakia.
    I was hoping to make friends, I always tried to help French people who were studying in my country but overall, French people in general have left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
    So superficial, so arrogant and sometimes oh-so-ignorant.

  2. Gwan
    Gwan says:

    Ha ha, I’m not sure I qualify as an expat by your definition (not corporate, employed by the French state, not paid well), and I don’t live in Paris, but you’ve still made me suspect that anyone who compliments my French actually thinks I’m rubbish! Thanks! :)

    Frau – I have a Czech friend who lives here in France, and she always felt that Czechs got stereotyped as the sort of low-wage immigrants coming in from the new EU states and ‘stealing people’s jobs’. Perhaps there’s an element of that in people’s response to you?

    It would be interesting to know how popular Americans are as well. I’m a New Zealander, and I always seem to hear negative things from the French about Americans (the usual stereotypes – loud, uncultured, too religious etc.), so maybe they’re only being nice to his face? :)

  3. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    That’s a funny comment, and too true, that we expats give up on French and then on Parisians. By a couple of unusual circumstances, I actually am friends with a couple of Parisians, but I certainly know better than to socialize with the French outside my small circle. Business, yes, socialize, no. I’m glad I came equipped with a husband. And I long ago gave up on French, at least here in Paris. I just live in hope that I can hold what I do know together enough to get along when I leave town.

    Though I am from San Francisco, I find that folks generally think I’m Canadian or English. One person said it is because no Americans speak any French at all, just not, as if it were an irreparable birth defect or something. I’ll take it as a compliment. As for the “Le Monde” style full-on anti-Americanism? Blessedly I have not run into that.

  4. Annie
    Annie says:

    Mon Dieu, c’est si vrai! Bravo! J’ai bcp habité à l’étranger avec mon mari; quand ma soeur (parisienne typique) parlait avec ses amis : “ma soeur qui habite à Londres…”, “ma soeur qui habite à…”, c’était exactement comme si cette “aura” d’expat rejaillissait sur elle. C’était drôle et pathétique à la fois.

  5. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Deyola… You most certainly do. Not hard a thing to do though.
    Kirstin… (Is it me or do only people I know read the blog?!)
    Frau… Well, I’m sorry to had to go through this. I’d say that what America has that the Czech Rep (along with most other countries) doesn’t is Hollywood. Hollywood has done a tremendous job at brainwashing the West (and Cz used to be part of the East bloc). That being said, if your partner was from Ohio, I’m not sure he’d get the same level of enthusiasm from the French. California and NY come with maximum glow – the rest of the US is unknown (yet mostly despised) to the French. The French are persistently certain that Central/Eastern Europe is a sad and gray version of the third world – controlled by violent mafias and ridden by prostitution. I can fully understand your resenting it.
    Gwan… I guess a good hint re your French is when French people just talk to you in French without even giving English a try. Then you know you’re in good shape!! Now, regarding Parisians’ relationship to the US, maybe you’ll find this article interesting: http://www.o-chateau.com/stuff-parisians-like/considering-americans-as-stupid.html
    Lynn… I’m not sure I’d use funny to qualify that particular comment 😉
    Annie… Tout ceci est accentué par la détestation de la France savamment distillée dans les medias depuis 30 ans et la destruction de tout ce qui la rendait aimable. Tout ceci a gentiment infusé… Et la France (et les Français) est pour partie devenue haïssable (cf commentaire de Lynn). Que l’ailleurs soit devenu si beau dans l’inconscient collectif national relève de cette même évolution. Et valide son accélération.

  6. Manuel
    Manuel says:

    I kinda got that feeling too (the social glow thing) when attending an “Internationals meeting”. But not only from the Parisians, from the expats too. I guess it goes with the “real job” way of life… If I had one advice to give expats in France, that would be to meet regular people, not people specifically looking for expats. There’s a lot of people in Paris, you’re bound to find some that you’ll get along with !

    P.S : Gwan, thanks for strengthening my belief in the NZ way of life ! 😉

  7. Lil
    Lil says:

    not sure why but i don’t see myself as expat. i guess i am, but since i’m not working in industry but academia, it’s a bit ambiguous in my mind.

    i am lucky some of my closest friends are french (they encouraged me to move to paris actually and a couple of them are parisians) and they are continuously helping me with my french. looks like i won’t be giving up french or parisians anytime soon. 😉

    bon weekend!

  8. JB Sydney
    JB Sydney says:

    Bon, quand est-ce que tu franchis le pas pour te reveiller en face de l’ocean dans un comfortable lifestyle ? On s’y fait tres vite…!
    Cheers mate

  9. Frenchified Teena
    Frenchified Teena says:

    Olivier, I am an Australian who lived in Paris for 3 yrs then twice more for a few months at a time, and this blog post really had me laughing as IT IS SO TRUE!

    Love your wittiness and “take” on Parisian life, and being able to put it all so eloquently in English – merci beaucoup!

    I popped over to your blog today as I was going through photos of a trip to Paris in 2006 – and there you were in my photos – wearing a little clip-on Australian Koala I’d given you on the Champagne Cruise (my guests and I had SO much fun, thank you for making it a real treat!). Here is the photo of you: http://www.a-night-in-paris.com/drinking-champagne-on-a-river-cruise-in-paris.html

    OK bon weekend, see you next June 2012!

    Ciao ciao

  10. Patricia Laplante-Collins
    Patricia Laplante-Collins says:


    You’re great at capturing the essence of situations and making it seem light.

    Mes compliments.


  11. Hoopoe
    Hoopoe says:

    What a striking example of how desperately parisians live in their own imagination! Instead of exploring by themselves the wide spectrum of opinions and opportunities a sensible adult might encounter in his life, parisians rather feed themselves with prefabricated images and dreamlives defined by others. They get all their opinions about what happiness should be through US TV series. Parisians are too busy pretending to have culture, too busy pretending to be open-minded, too busy pretending to be happy. And most of the time they turn into contemptuous and depressive people. Au secours!

  12. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Manuel… Wisdom right there.
    Lil… Sounds like you have a good set-up here.
    JB… Talk about good set-up…
    Frenchified Teena… Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad if my articles bring back good memories of your times in Paris. Can’t believe that Champagne Cruise that was 5 years ago already!!
    Patricia… Merci beaucoup. It’s all about “making it seem” indeed…
    Hoopoe… Am I sensing love for Parisians?

  13. peter newman-legros
    peter newman-legros says:

    Just returned from the UK where people seem to think living in France must somehow be better, and how the weather must be more clement than for the long suffering Brits. I am often introduced with the tag “lives in France” though this is less a means of self associating with the perception of my “glamorous and foreign” lifestyle and more to do with the way the British so often believe themselves to be hard done by and less favoured than everyone else cf the oft cited “rip off Britain”. Complete rubbish of course and I get some satisfaction in telling them that living in France is not that different to living in the UK, yes there are differences but the fundamentals are pretty much the same. Perhaps I should be hyping it up?

  14. Chiara
    Chiara says:

    Dear Olivier, you seem to forget that expat friends are also a wonderful commodity! Parisians are always reluctant to accept new incomers into their social circle. However the expat is the “à la carte” exception.

    – He has been temporarily lent by his home country. Understand: he will go away before anyone grows bored with him.
    – He has a home somewhere else. Understand: the Parisian can always use a pied-à-terre in a remote place. “I will spend the summer at my friend’s in Malibu” will always sound rather chic.
    – He can teach you another language. Understand: the Parisian will use the new idioms to flirt with other parisians (never to communicate with foreigners).

    So pick up a good expat. Make sure he has a foreign accent and that his French is imperfect (there, we don’t want the expat to over-shine us, do we?) and make sure he never reads that blog. Better an expat left in the dark than a night without an expat!

    PS: this post works fine with a female expat too. But the span of attention of the male Parisian is drastically shortened after she’s mentioned 😉

  15. Left Bank Manc
    Left Bank Manc says:

    Wow I wish I could find some Parisiens who would accept me, an English expat, into their social circle, perhaps because I don’t have a corporate job, is teaching considered a ‘real job’?

  16. Lucila
    Lucila says:

    Hi Olivier,
    Just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed reading your book VERY much. Seriously, I’ve both laughed and learned a lot. It felt so good when I read about something I already knew (I’m not as out of the loop as I could be!). And the rest I feel I should re-read over and over again as a guide to living in Paris as an expat.
    I finished reading it a week ago and I’m having a withdrawal of sorts!!! I hope you’re proud of it, because you should be :)

  17. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Peter… Well, you live in a country that made it to the final of the World Cup: that’s a difference right there 😉
    Chiara… Very true!! You should be writing this blog, not me!!
    Left Bank Manc… Do you really? (and teaching is only considered a real job if you’re French and employed by l’Education Nationale)
    Lucila… Thank you so very much for your kind words. Glad you liked the book really. Thanks for spreading the love too. See you soon at O Chateau!!

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