These are the culture shocks you will experience as a foreign student in Paris

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
These are the culture shocks you will experience as a foreign student in Paris
Photo: AFP

Every year the French capital welcomes tens of thousands of foreign students, but the student experience in France can be very different and disorientating, as British language student Toby Bryant found out.


My degree in Modern Languages at Newcastle University offers the opportunity to spend time abroad, either working or studying at a foreign university, so I leapt at the chance to hop across the Channel to Paris for a six-month internship.

Calling it a ‘life-changing decision’ is a cliché even more sickly than my local boulangerie’s moelleux au chocolat, but leaving the city with a group of Parisian friends and a new sense of home is evidence of how much I fell in love with the city. 

However, it’s not all easy going. There are some of things I wish I knew before I started.

1. Extortionate Paris Prices 

Student towns in the UK very much cater to the student diet of cheap booze and budget meals. Paris is not the same.

One drink at a bar can set you back €5, and that’s if you make the 5pm-8pm 'happy hours' that are dotted around the city and offer drinks deals. Otherwise, a large glass of wine or a pint of beer can creep up to around the €10 mark, depending on the area. 

Parisian life is expensive, so you'll need to budget accordingly before leaving - work a summer job if needs be. 

To get the most out of a short stay in the city, you need to be able to say yes to Parisians inviting you to “boire une verre” – the invitations won’t come often at first and it’s important to take them when they do arrive (plus they know the best bars!).

And that's even before we get talking about the rents. There is very little student-specific accommodation in Paris so you will generally have to find your own place to stay and rents are very high, even for a tiny chambre de bonne.

But many Parisian activities are free - especially the cultural ones where there are discounts for students and people aged under 26. I found myself wondering around world-famous museums such as The Louvre and The Musée d’Orsay without paying a penny, before picnicking by the Seine or in one of the city’s many green parks then getting lost in Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ quaint streets.

The plus side to paying Paris rates is that you’ll never complain about your local town’s prices ever again! 

READ ALSO From bargain chicken toe theatre deals - locals reveal how to live cheaply in Paris

Students get free access to many Paris museums. Photo: AFP

2. There's very little binge drinking. 

With such high prices, it’s probably a good thing you won’t be having many expensive big night outs. The night scene in Paris is very different from what you’ll find in the UK, where student nights tend to revolve around a heavy consumption of alcohol.

While there are bars with dance floors, clubs are few and far between.

More often than not, you'll find yourself crammed around a small terrace table with a group of colleagues chatting about the latest office gossip rather than boozing it up until the small hours in nightclubs. 

READ ALSO The apéritif - all you need to know about France's 'evening prayer'

3. But there's a lot of sport.

Did you know that at university in France sports are highly encouraged and can even count as credits? In Paris, it’s an easy opportunity to capitalise on. 

You can’t make a short journey around Paris without seeing someone running, cycling, using one of the city’s free table tennis tables or outdoor gyms or kicking a football around. There are sports teams galore in the capital, every morning and every night the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne are full of yoga classes, boot camps and exercise classes of all types (and sometimes nudists and prostitutes, but let's ignore that bit).

As a long-distance runner, I joined Urban Running, a club that specialises in training programmes and marathon preparation. It’s by joining a sports club that I made Parisian friends away from working/studying life and found my own space in the city’s bustling after-work activities. 

READ ALSO How to keep fit like a Parisian

A jogger runs through the centre of Paris. Photo: AFP

4. Working might improve your French more than studying 

A lot of international courses offer the chance for students to work whilst abroad, instead of studying, which is an option I took advantage of. 

For sure, kissing goodbye to frequent lie-ins and 14-hours a week of lectures for a badly paid 39-hour a week internship was daunting. However, it’s a decision that really made my time in Paris. 

Having gone on to study abroad in Barcelona, I realised how much more immersed in the country you become by working. The comfort of being among fellow international students at a university is an understandable attraction.

However, isolating yourself from other English-speakers and jumping in the deep end is the best way to make your stay in Paris something really worthwhile. Working is a back door into authentic Parisian life and being seen as an equal to the locals - not just a another lost foreigner. 

READ ALSO The nine noises that will make you sound like a true French speaker

Parisians enjoy a drink after work. Photo: AFP

5. Parisians aren’t actually all that mean… if you make an effort. 

Parisians all wear striped tops, berets, carry baguettes wherever they go and are probably the meanest people in the world. That’s what the stereotypes will have you to believe. 

And whilst the quantity of baguettes the city gets through every day did stun me, none of the other stereotypes are true.

Parisian people do have a stern façade - there’s nothing more daunting than the doors of a jam-packed rush-hour Metro sliding open and a formidale 60-year-old woman staring you down as you try to squeeze on. But flash a quick “bonjour” or “bonsoir”, and you’ll see the faces start to change. 

Greetings in Paris are incredibly important.

Every time I walked past someone in the office or in my block of flats, we’d exchange greetings and every time someone in the canteen tucked into some food, a rally of “bon appetite” would come from surrounding people. If you pick up on these little courtesies, try and try again every time your French fails and refuse to let their hard exterior frighten you off, you’ll leave with a bunch of new Parisian friends. 

READ ALSO The French aren't really rude, it's all just a big misunderstanding




Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also