Life in Paris amid the crisis through the lens of an expat

Expat interviews
  • Claudia
Published on 2021-05-14 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Claudia is originally from Potsdam, Germany, where she was the chief editor of German movie website. Today, she is a relocation agent in Paris, the French capital that became her new home in 2014. Claudia talks to us about her love for Paris and the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on everyday life, housing, etc.

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

My name is Claudia, and I have been living in Paris since 2014. Originally from Potsdam, Germany, I still enjoy commuting between my birthplace and France. Of course, everything is more limited due to the current situation, but I like the variety and especially the different feelings that both countries evoke in me.

What brought you to Paris? 

The first time I went to Paris was fifteen years ago with a friend. A short trip around a weekend - and the city immediately cast its spell on me. In the following years, I came back every few months, stayed in hotels as normal and decided to take a French course in 2012 because I never learned the language at school. This intense experience of really being on the spot was terrific, so two years later, I decided to move to Paris.

What made you want to leave Germany?

To be honest, it does not feel to me like I have left Germany. Since I still commute a lot, it is more of an enrichment, and I like to say that I live in both countries. But it is true that my love for Paris made me take this step. And to this day, I have not regretted it.

Did you find it hard to adapt to France? What were your main challenges, and how did you overcome them?

I did not have much trouble adjusting, but of course, I had one or two worries at the beginning. Whether my French was good enough and, above all, how I was going to open a bank account, get a mobile phone number and, of course, a flat without a fixed circle of friends and therefore without help and tips. That was really hard; I have been searching for several months. But luckily, it worked out. Since I did not have a job in France at the time and, as I said, hardly any friends, I often felt alone at first because I lacked a regular working day and the exchange with colleagues. But I then looked for distractions and started swimming, for example, and looked around in Facebook groups, met people who then became friends.

What do you like best about Paris?

I cannot be extremely specific. It is a feeling of happiness that I can live in this city. I know that many people cannot understand at all how you can live in a big city, with millions of inhabitants, noisy, dirty, little green. But when I am on the plane, and I am approaching Paris, I feel glad. Taking the bus or a taxi through the streets and seeing those wonderful Haussmann-style buildings. Thinking of summer evenings near the Seine. Somehow Paris always keeps you on your toes, and I love the dynamics of this city. 

From being a chief editor in Germany to being an independent relocation agent in Paris, how do you explain this career change?

My curriculum vitae has never been straightforward. I first studied geology, then computer science and later worked for a long time in an advertising agency. At the same time, my brother and I founded Moviejones, a German movie site, so that I could be self-employed at some point. And this independence also helped me get closer to my desire to live in Paris. But it is true that as an editor, you sit behind a desk a lot - and at some point, I really missed the exchange with people. In addition, I was often asked if I could help someone with this or with that in Paris. This gave me the idea to start my own business as a relocation agent.

What was the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on your job?

I have noticed that since the beginning of the crisis, there have been fewer requests from people who want to relocate to Paris, which was quite a normal process, considering the severe restrictions that were put in place, and especially the critical situation at the very beginning. But, on the other hand, some people had already arrived in Paris and then booked me for services other than finding accommodation. For example, to get a security insurance number or specific recommendations. 

Currently, are people still keen on moving to Paris, and for which reasons?

People are still interested in moving to Paris. Most of the enquiries come from "typical" expats who are moving because of a career change. I am mainly approached by private individuals who sometimes do not receive relocation support from their company but still want to settle in the city as easy as possible. I also get a lot of requests from people who are already in the city but cannot find a flat because of time constraints or often do not speak French well enough.

You have been helping expats find accommodation in Paris and deal with bureaucratic procedures. How difficult is this today? 

As I have only been an agent since 2019, I cannot make comparisons far into the past. Since I started, I have served various clients with many bureaucratic processes taking even longer during the Covid crisis. Just think of applying for a social security number and health insurance: that alone sometimes takes months in normal times but has been much more nerve-wracking in recent months.

Regarding buying or renting property, have there been any significant changes lately, especially in terms of prices?

I had a few conversations on the subject, including with former clients, as to whether the price situation in Paris might not ease significantly due to Corona - that was in mid-2020, and I said at the time that I definitely did not expect it in Paris. There was no relief then; rather, the housing market is still highly competitive, the application phase rigid, and the rental and purchase prices exorbitant. Paris is and remains one of the most expensive cities in the world in terms of cost of living. Unfortunately, nothing has changed.

With COVID-19 restrictions being relaxed, how is everyday life in Paris?

In the meantime, an end to the restrictions is in sight: By mid-June, our lives should feel almost like they used to, with restaurants open, cinemas as well and the curfew lifted. The last few months have not been easy. While the restrictions are not as harsh as the lockdown in spring 2020, it felt extremely bizarre to have to be home at 6 pm at times because of the curfew. Even if the French were no longer as rigorous, which was my impression. However, it was noticeable that the city was naturally much emptier because the tourists were missing. In the meantime, one can feel the anticipation that comes with the announcement and, of course, with the vaccination campaign taking hold.

Do you have any advice for people who are looking to relocate to Paris amid the crisis?

Apart from the entry requirements, there are currently no major restrictions on site. For example, flat inspections can be carried out in compliance with sanitary measures. Banks are also open if someone wants to open an account, schools are accessible, etc. The situation was completely different last year, where it was sometimes not possible to visit flats or to be out of the house for a longer period of time during the day. Currently, there are no serious obstacles anymore that make resettlement to Paris absolutely difficult.

Is there anything that you miss from your home country?

We Germans always complain that our beloved German drugstore chains (and the low prices) are not to be found in Paris. Or the good bread. Of course, there are great baguettes in France! But real good bread is another thing, and that is where we are ahead. Besides, I cannot complain that people here are less reliable or punctual: I usually get along with the local mentality - except when I must wait in line for a long time.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Definitely still in Paris! I want to keep supporting other people to discover the city and settle in. And if I can help them a little bit to feel comfortable, I am happy.

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