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America to Paris - am I mad?(22 Posts)
A long story short - does anyone have experience in. Single parenting in Paris?
We were supposed to relocate to Paris a couple of years ago for DC's father's new job. He ended up dumping me and DC and moving there by himself. He is not in regular contact with us and doesn't appear particularly interested in DC. I have had a tough time both financially and emotionally since, but am now more or less back on my feet. My job is not secure or satisfying but offers v. flexible hours and decent pay.
I have now been offered a position in Paris and am wondering could I survive there as a single mum? Could someone knowledgeable please tell me about general office hours, school hours, cost of living and other practicalities I should consider? I have pretty much put my life on hold since my ex left us and am very tempted to be selfish in terms of both both career advancement and the pay but also very nervous about the impact this would have on DC (who despite being half French don't speak the language) and if I could make this work alone.
On one hand I am very unhappy at my current job, no career prospects and only just make the ends meet but have a good support network. On the other hand, I don't know that many people in Paris, worry about potential long hours (or is it 35h per week for everyone?), and have no real understanding of the net value of the proposed pay. We should live somewhere in the south-western part of the city for an easy commute.
I guess I'd be interested to hear if the idea of relocating for a new job is crazy. I know from experience that working full time in London and being a single mum was just not possible at my pay level. Could I make it work in Paris?
35 hour week only applies to non managerial staff. 'Cadres' are expected to work the usual hours 9.00am-7.30pm or more.
How old are your children? My initial thought was that a good support network is worth more than its weight in gold. I think you'd struggle without one, I know I do, and I'm not a single parent, nor do I live in Paris, where working hours are long. Not much difference between there and London, IMO.
I might make it dependent upon whether your dc are young enough to slot into French school or better perhaps French state bilingual school. Otherwise you will have to pay for international schools. I am not sure whether French schools still close on Wednesdays. If so, you will need someone to look after the dc on that day. So far as I am aware, this is the day French families set aside for extra-curricular activities. Have a look at the bilingual schools (if there are any) near where you plan to live.
Financially Paris will not be cheap but perhaps medical cover/dental treatment works out cheaper for you all than in the US.
There is in theory the advantage that their father is around and can perhaps have the dc half the week or help out in some way. However from your OP he doesn't Sound as if he is likely to be helpful.
I don't think it will be easy for you but if your family is in the UK, perhaps it would be a good thing for you all that they are a lot nearer.
From what I know terms and conditions in France vary greatly depending on the size and type of employer and your level in a company. In one couple we know, one partner has about 9 weeks holiday a year (due to the RTT - he works over his statutory 35 hrs and gets the rest back in holiday), he also gets loads of meal vouchers, leisure vouchers to spend on holidays etc., and is paid for a 13th month of salary (never understood that one!); the other works at about the same pay grade, gets 5 weeks holidays in spite of endless unpaid overtime, and no 'special' benefits as she works for a small business.
I think your first action should be to find out in detail about the Ts&Cs of this new job, and whether you would qualify for some of the advantages the French are entitled to in terms of childcare subsidies etc. Friends of ours pay vastly less to have their kids with an excellent childminder than we do in the UK, but I have a feeling it's not because she's cheaper, just subsidised (by the employer or the state, I'm not sure).
From my own experience, the French can be very 'closed' socially (much more than the English - my French husband would attest to this), and you'd probably find your support networks with ex-pats to start with, especially if you don't speak the language. Taking classes would be essential or you'd find it very hard to fit in over the longer term.
On the up side it could be a great adventure especially if you feel you've put your career needs second recently, and it would be a great opportunity for your DS to learn French especially if that's half his 'culture'. I'd really find out everything you possibly can about the opportunity now though, I don't think you can assume there's a one-size-fits-all approach to employment etc.
Many thanks, very helpful. I am waiting for more detailed information on the total package to understand where I stand financially. I went to Uni in Paris so know some people and have my SIL there. Is there a vibrant ex pat community? I speak passable French but have never worked there.
How is the work culture, i.e. is it ok to stay at homewith a sick child or work flexible hours and collect them from the school or would I need to pay for additional childcare after the afternoon club (I assume there is an afternoon care option at the schools?)? I guess I'd need someone for those Wednesdays and school holidays in any case. I have to say that working 9am to 7.30 pm isn't an option as with the commute I wouldn't see DC at all.
The bi-lingual school option sounds good. DC are 4 and 6. I will look into that.
An update. I was offered eur 70k with some vouchers and a 39h/week contract. The hours don't appear very long but am i expected to do more? Is the money enough for me and 2DC in Paris? My SIL offered to help during school holidays but I d need to sort the Wednesday childcare somehow. What do parents normally do?
That's quite a good salary - I assume before tax and social charges? If so, you'll probably be left with between 3500 and 3800 net (but don't quote me on it!) Can you ask HR to give you an exact figure of net pay? On that salary, I'd imagine you'd be a "cadre"? In that case, you're not meant to be counting your hours, unlike "salariés". For Wednesdays - if you're working full time, children will either go to a childminder ("nounou") or you'll have to send them to a "centre de loisirs"' (special centres with activities for kids on Wednesdays and during the holidays) The good thing about France is that loads of things are set up with working parents in mind.
Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. France is a pretty good place to be a working mother - subsidised childcare and plenty of activities for kids on Wednesdays and school holidays, as well as plenty of time off (in my last job I had 43 days of annual leave, including RTT).
Most firms are pretty flexible about staying home with sick kids etc or working from home occasionally, but it really depends on the company culture. IME American-owned firms can be slightly more inflexible than French-owned ones, but it really is specific to each company, and your individual boss.
I've always worked around my kids' hours, but often took work home for later, to make up for not staying late in the office. As long as you are good at your job, most bosses are pretty understanding, especially the current generation.
I would recommend you get your childcare sorted asap before moving, as certainly in the Paris area, there can be long waiting lists for certain nurseries etc. Most kids go to a "centre de loisirs" or sports clubs etc on Wednesdays. Some go to a childminder, but the activity schemes are much more fun .
In some cities (including mine), the school hours are changing from this September to include Wednesday mornings! My DD3's school has an arrangement with a Centre de Loisirs to collect and feed the children whose parents work, but my DD wants to take figure-skating classes instead! (DD1 will probably be taking her, otherwise I would have hired a babysitter, but she's 9, so a bit old for a childminder)
After-school care depends on the school. In our last town, it was available until 7pm every day, run as a non-profit, paid by the half-hour. In my current city there is only a homework club until 5.30, which is free, but my kids walk home afterwards and wait for me there until around 6.30 (DD1 is 14 and usually gets home first).
No idea how much your international school would cost, but the state schools here are mostly great and the healthcare system is fantastic. The state-run international schools are free, but not available everywhere and there is an entry exam in the spring for a place the following September...
In your shoes, I would seriously be considering the offer. I won't be online much over the coming week, but you're welcome to PM me if I can be of any further help...
Very encouraging, thank you. I don't think I can afford international school fees, so going for a state school. I will have to check the schools pronto. Are the centres de loisirs programmes run by the schools or where should I look for the information?
The office is located in Levallois Perret. Can you recommend a nice area with a short commute? I'd prefer a short commute and if possible some greenery and with my limited budget. Is Nanterre ok to live in? And do you know if it is complicated to rent a flat coming from abroad?
The centre de loisirs aren't run by the schools, but they should be able to give you information on them. Or try the Mairie.
Levallois is a nice area - could you rent there, then there'll be no commute! It's years since I lived in Paris, but from what I remember, Nanterre is very much high-rise office blocks, not really where you'd want to live.
Will your HR dept. give you any help to arrange accommodation before you get there? (they should, if you're coming all the way from the US!)
I would try to live as close as possible to your office, to save on commuting times. Centres de Loisirs are run by the local council (mairie) or by non-profit associations. Your local mairie should have all the info.
Levallois is a nice area, but depending on where in Levallois you'll be working you could also look at the 17th arondissement in Paris.
Imagine a spiders web from central Paris outwards, and try to follow that - don't look at other suburbs the same distance out of Paris, as the transport links are much more complicated!
It is hard renting without payslips, unless you have a guarantor, but your company should be willing to help with that!
Don't worry about registering for schools now, as they will all be closed until the last week in August! But definitely contact the Mairie once you've found accommodation, as they will pre-register your kids (for school dinners, too!) and tell you which schools you fall into the catchment area for.
I would not live in Nanterre. However Levallois is packed with US expats, all of whom work locally and walk to the office. Look there if you can (it's expensive).
Also there is an English-language network of parents called Message which will put you in touch with other English speakers local to you, wherever you end up.
I second what was said above about France being a good place for single-parent families: there's lots of state-organised childcare options, subsidised according to household income. Presumably your company will give you a decent health insurance package, so you can make full use of the excellent health care system here.
I live in the 17th, near Levallois. Levallois would be a good place to live, but rents won't be particularly cheap (a studio or one bedroom flat in the 17th can be around 1000 euros a month - Levallois will be a little less). You might look at somewhere on a bus route a little further out - maybe Puteaux or somewhere just beyond La Defense, where property is a bit cheaper.
If you are looking at the private international schools, for two children, you are looking at around 50K per annum (which may or may not include buses or after school care). As your children are small, I would definitely put them in the French system. There are loads of English speakers in the 17th and Levallois (and a great market!).
Thank you so much! I have now agreed to fly over there in two weeks to discuss all the practicalities and to meet the team. I will definitively look into Puteaux and other areas. Rents do look very high and there is surprisingly little choice available online in Levallois. Maybe my budget was unrealistic
OMG for the school fees. There is no way I can afford private education. I am now worried about DC adjusting and learning the language...
It is all very exciting but TBH I am terrified. I have lived abroad so this is not new in itself but very worried of becoming lonely and missing the family and friends. And working long hours and feeling guilty for tearing DC away again (we just moved to a new country 2 years ago).
I think that I am truly mad!
I would try to live in Levallois or the 17th if I were you, as you will get much nicer state schools and the option of some very good Catholic ( private but very cheap) for secondary.
Around the Parc Monceau there are a lot of small apartments (surprisingly) and some very decent state schools. You won't need a car if you live there and there are lots of cheap amenities of a high standard - municipal tennis courts, swimming pools, conservatoire etc.
OP - my DD is in a Catholic private, but cheap, school. It's only the international, bilingual schools that are so expensive. She had no problems picking up the language, but then she started in petite section. The school likes to take English speakers because all the other children benefit from exposure to them. I would recommend it option as a good compromise. (We are looking for a private tutor to teach her to read and write in English - you don't say how old your children are but you may need to consider that in addition to fees).
I did the exact opposite as you 5 years ago, moved from Paris to NY to follow DH
and his crazy dreams
I would say that a relocation with this budget is very doable! How old is your DC? If DC is of full time school age, ie above 4, then he will have class at least until 4.15/4.30 pm, 4 days a week. Then, in plenty of school, kids can stay up until 7p.m. at the "garderie", meaning you could get out of the office as late as 6.30 (if you pick a school nearby, which I recommend!!!).
As to where to live, I would recommend staying along the #3 metro line (or the tram #2), meaning you could keep your commute 30 min long if you live in the 17th or Boulogne for example. I used to live in the 17th (around the metro Villiers) and it is a very nice area to settle in with kids (daily market right at the exit of the metro station, the parc monceau within 10 min walk, plenty of shops including clothes and 2 other parks with ducks to feed as well as a play area). Rents are not cheap but you could find an apartment there with 2 bedrooms for 2000. Other parts of the 17th are much more expensive (Ternes for example - as you go west prices increase).
If you are willing to commute more, I would look into the 11th, 12th and 20th as well: cheaper prices and relatively easy commute (always easier to go east/west than north/south in Paris!).
Hi America. I second the advice re joining message paris. Sounds like a great opportunity for you and the kids. They will adapt fine! Best of luck
As your DC are 4 and 6 there's no need to put them into an international school. They are at the age where they will easily blend in and adapt (I grew up in 3 different countries before the age of 10).
Have a look at this site, lots of info and a forum.
Oh, and forgot to say, good for you for taking that leap into the unknown!
I live in Europe too, I love Paris!