08 Jan MumAbroad Life: Opera Singer Valerie Beatson in Paris
I had a mad crush on Sarkozy. No. But I did have a mad mad crush on France that started when I studied in Oxford and first travelled to Paris and then again while studying French Melodie in Nice. My work took me to theatres all over Europe but I could never seem to end up singing in Paris. I realized it could be a refreshing home base after years in Manhattan.
Having a baby in Paris was initially very scary. I was still so sure that the astronomical cost and stress I had for medical care in the USA meant is was “the best” but the French system was impressive. I gave birth at St Vincent de Paul, a public hospital very highly rated and the team was excellent and treated all the ladies alike and with great respect. I would have loved my own bathroom and divine meals at a private clinic, but we went with public care as we were told they were more equipped for any unforeseen challenges. The punchline: the equipment that saved me from a last minute cesarian was not available at the private cliniques of Paris yet.
I am a freelance opera singer and now president of the Association KidJam, a bilingual music school in Paris. It began when I realized how little there was to do with my 5 month old in our neighborhood. Particularly, activities where we truly learned something and laughed and had fun at the same time. While I finished my degree at Juilliard in NYC, I was a teacher at the inspiring Diller Quaile Music School and just loved teaching the kids (though really they taught me). So I thought I would try a few classes out at our apartment. This year we are an Association and are opening two locations for the school in the 5e and 6e. We are starting a glee club too for 7-13 year olds. I ran a choir for kids in the Bronx for years and am so excited about this project, anxiously ordering everything from Kate Perry tunes to Mozart sheet music.
It’s tricky to buy property now with not a great deal of choice out there. I would say for a New Yorker or Londoner moving here, get some good help or advice because the process is completely different especially frustrating for the “go-getter” personality. Slow and steady wins the race in gaie Paris.
We know the difference between the Quick “Giant” and a MacDo “Big Mac” now and I have stopped running out at 7am to beat everyone to the grocery store or dry-cleaners! We are integrated but as an expat it is a challenge to find a balance between your local culture, making french friends, and finding expat activities. I would suggest to anyone moving here to try a bunch of organizations without looking for the perfect one and then see what works for you. And be sure to think about yourself and not just your kids, because socializing will be easier for them.
Education and childcare is generally considerate to the working mother’s schedule (except for required pick-up times). I am new to this topic, but my concerns are more for down the line in lycee/junior high and upwards where with the French methods are currently in question, particularly concerning negative class participation and talking down to the child. But the system is changing everyday so I try to remain open-minded.
It can be tricky to make friends especially in the expat community where many people are moving from country to country. But the advantage is you have an open door to a very open-minded people who see that there is not one way to do things.
I have always found the French very polite when spoken to politely. It’s good to remember that in a shopping or restaurant situation, the french do their job but they don’t go out of their way to be your friend, like the waiter working for tips at the American family restaurant. If you ask them a question, they will simply give you an answer but they won’t finish by telling you they like your sweater and that your child is adorable. And for those expats trying to work on their french the challenge is to be strong and keep the conversation, however abysmal, going in French when the locals are eager to practice their English.
More indoor activities would be great for the kids. And some changing tables in restaurants. I keep writing emails to Starbucks who put changing tables in all their stores save in France! Our local hangout has become Loulou’ friendly diner who are adding high chairs and a changing table. They run a very family friendly establishment with great food (french and English).
If you don’t want to go to the ‘burbs for gym class, Vitamome Association is now in the 6e and at The American Church. My son loves that class (in French). Of course, Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne is always a treat. And l’Enfance de l’art, arranged by local independent cinemas where they show short films, often without sound, and reserve the theatres for just toddlers. It’s a great way to start teaching your child how to behave in a theatre and it’s affordable too. Ordering groceries online is an essential when living in central paris with kids. Shop around for the one you like best.
My advice for anyone thinking to move to Paris is sign up a couple months in advance of your move with expat organizations like Message, where you can meet moms and moms to be immediately. And don’t let relocating get the best of you. Plan a weekly family activity like “museum day” (preferably mid-week) or just pick a quarter to explore on foot.
I could not live without Paris’s unique beauty, the gardens, the seine, the pace, the joie de vivre and the Velib’ system. My son would say “the pain au lait”. As an ex-New Yorker, I would give anything for a drawer full of diverse ethnic restaurant delivery menus including some great spicy Indian food…but then again, London is two hours away!