Monday, June 6, 2011

conversation with a paris newbie - Robyn Blaber

I was very happy for the opportunity to speak with Sir Robyn (the name he goes by) about his experiences as a "newbie" in Paris and even happier too share our conversation with you.

I met Robyn at one of the Paris Soirees (ex-pat social gathering) that we attended this past Easter Sunday (it was also our last night in Paris). I found him to be a truly interesting guy. We chatted and exchanged blog urls. I told him that I was in love with Paris and wanted to move there.

His blog, A Canadian in Paris is filled with stories about his move to the city of lights and also includes helpful tips for the newcomer (Sir Robyn is a very good writer and adds lots of humor to his stories). He also has a book. You can find the link at the end of the interview.
where are you from originally?
This is never an easy question for me.  I grew up on a small farm near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, but even as a kid I moved around a lot with my parents who seemed to have a bit of a wanderlust, though it was restricted to western Canada.  I've lived in Saskatoon, and Victoria as a young adult and when the wanderlust grabbed me, I emigrated to the US, specifically Honolulu, Hawaii.
how long have you been in Paris?
At the time of this writing I've been living in Paris for two months.  Counting my 3 month visit from last year, I guess I'm working on my 6th month.
why did you decide to move to Paris?
I've always dreamt of this European fantasy where I would be in Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, etc.  Having spent time in London and Berlin already, I made an attempt at 3 months in Rome 2 years ago.  My obligations in Honolulu proved too great, however and I ended up cancelling the trip.  Last year, while contemplating my new attempt at Rome, I was visiting a friend on Maui.  There is nothing to do on Maui, so I was reading a book; Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge."  It tells the tale of a collection of Americans living and thriving in Paris.  I was sold.  I got online and booked an apartment and a plane ticket.
how long did it take you to actually move there after you decided you wanted to live in Paris?
About two months into my visit to Paris last year (one is only allowed to stay 90 days without a visa), I decided that I felt at home in the city. Well I had fallen in love with the city really and I had to be here.  My decision was made then to part for no less than 3 months and return, with or without a visa.
are you working? If so is it a transfer from Canada or did you have to look for employment? If you obtained employment in Paris how difficult is it to find work if you are not from Paris?
There are few advantages in coming from Canada in terms of acquiring a visa, at least when compared with the US.  I'm a software architect and usually have little trouble finding work, however, I have clients in Canada and the US that suffer me to work from Paris.  Because of this I was able to apply for a Long Stay Visitor visaTo apply for a Work visa, one needs a job offer.  For a School visa, one must register in a school.  I looked at and considered each kind of visa and only the visitor and retirement visas suited me... and I'm not old (or rich) enough for the retirement visa.
do you speak French? If so how much French have you had? If not, is it difficult to communicate now that you are living there? Do you think it is necessary to speak French BEFORE you move?
No, though I am learning.  Western Canadians generally don't bother with French and may even resent what little French is used.  I have had the advantage of a few elementary school classes and French as background noise during my childhood.  This helps with my new French accent that I am developing along with the language, but I have no advantages over anyone unfortunately.  I'm very envious of my brother, who took a French immersion class and is now fluent.  Oh, it is not right for a man to be envious of his little brother.
tell us a little about your apartment. How did you find your apartment? Was it difficult to rent? How do you apply for an apartment?
For a three month stay, renting an apartment is very easy.  There are many internet sites that have vacation rentals.  They generally rent for the same price by the week as by the month, so do not rent for less than a month.  From the Internet, you can typically only rent a furnished apartment  for a maximum of three months though there are a few exceptions.  I have seen unfurnished apartments for a year lease, but they are rare.  With most agencies, the up front payments can be made with a credit/debit card.
what is required to rent an apartment in Paris?
Renting an unfurnished apartment is really a lot more difficult for some reason.  French landlords demand a French guarantor, which an ex-pat is likely not to have.  A guarantor is akin to a co-signer for a loan. They must pay the rent should you be unable to.  Now that I have a relationship with a bank here, perhaps I can arrange something for them to be my guarantor.  In the meanwhile, my lack of Frenchness has definitely hurt my apartment hunt.  Luckily, my short-term landlords have extended my lease indefinitely.  I will find just the right place for me over time. 
what are you paying in rent? what size is it, and where is it located?
Right now I'm paying about 1500 Euros a month for a furnished vacation rental.  It's about 200 sq feet.  Very tiny, but it is on the famous Isle Saint Louis and features an absolutely amazing view of the Seine.  Depending on the arrangement, this place would fetch the same amount of rent per week, but I only rent by the month.  I've been seeking a 2-3 bedroom with about 1200 sq feet and that seems to come in at about 3000 Euros per month.

how does it compare to your place or similar apartments in Canada?

There are no comparisons in Canada.  3000 Euros is about 4500 Canadian dollars, with which I could rent two of anything in any city in Canada. 
do you own a vehicle there? Is it easy to get around?
My car is still in Canada and awaits me eagerly to go and fetch it.  Meanwhile, I have been walking, taking the metro and taxis.  The metro comes in at 1.70 per trip and gets you nearly anywhere in the city in about 20 minutes.  The taxis here seem to be a bargain as I've only ever paid a lot when coming from the airport (65 Euros), but never more than about 15 Euros for a trip inside the city limits.  Walking is my favourite mode of transportation in the city.  In this way you see the most things and make the most interesting observations.
you now have your carte de sejour, what advice would you give to someone just arriving in Paris to make this process easier?
Well, I would advise that they get a nice thick dossier and make three copies of every piece of paper they have that has anything to do with their identity or financial information; a water bill especially.  Reading my blog and blogs like mine will help a prospective immigrant to Paris avoid a pitfall here or there.  Reading, re-reading and reading again the instructions for a visa application... then making a checklist and checking the checklist... and you get the idea.  My French experience with paperwork is, if you don't have it, they need it.
please share any pearls of wisdom you might have to help those of us who are in the planning stages.
Well everyone's situation is a little different.  What's important is that you have a visa situation that works for you.  The only advice I have after that is DON'T GIVE UP!  There are many pitfalls with ordinary travel, foreign emigration has thousands more.  Treat it like being with a lover who snores.  When you are in love, you can put up with a little irritation.  All the obstacles fall eventually if you are tenacious.  When things get tough, take a breath, slip on your shoes and take a leisurely stroll down the Seine.
Great advice Sir Robyn and I'll be seeing you in Paris!

Please check out Sir Robyn's blog A Canadian in Paris  (and tell him I sent you)
He's also writing a book called "A Trail of Candy" you can check it out at  It's a book about womenspecifically women from Honolulu and Paris.

What questions do you have about moving to Paris?


Julie said...

I´ve always had the same fantasy of living abroad but in South America. I also bought a book with stories of Americans in Argentina for example and I was marvelled. One day I started looking for buenos aires apartments just to see what was out there. I found one I loved and booked it at the moment. It was the best decision I have ever made!

Urbandoggs said...

I love it when people follow their dreams. I plan to do the same.Thanks for the comment.

Julie said...

No problem! I liked you blog :) I followed my dreams and I have no regrets, tell me how yours went!

Urbandoggs said...

Thank you. This blog is part of my dream for a return to Paris, but it's a 5 yr plan. I've decided to live my own life these days so I pretty much go wherever my heart leads me. It always seems to work out. Right now I have adopted a village in Africa and I am working to get them a well, a school and a medical facility.


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rather be in paris