Christmas Wonderland in Michigan’s Little Bavaria

By   December 19, 2010

Every time I come back to Michigan, whether it’s in December or not, I have to go to Frankenmuth and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.

Originally settled by Lutheran immigrants from Franconia, Frankenmuth today is nicknamed Little Bavaria and is probably Michigan’s most popular tourist attraction. The city itself is rather small (2.8 square miles with 4,600 people) but the architecture is undoubtedly Bavarian and they even have their own Oktoberfest each year, which is sanctioned by the city of Munich. The biggest attraction is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas store in the world.

Located only 15 minutes from my childhood home, Frankenmuth began my love affair with all things German and started the association Germany = Christmas in my mind. I went to Bronner’s on Friday for some holiday cheer that I had been missing in France.

The best part of Bronner’s is of course the Christmas around the World section, full of ornaments from other countries.

You can find ornaments saying Merry Christmas in over 100 languages.

And ornaments in the shape of famous buildings and cultural objects, such as the Eiffel Tower and bottles of wine for France.

Even the trashcans are multilingual.

And outside of the store stands the Silent Night Memorial Chapel, a replica of the original chapel in Oberndorf, Austria where Stille Nacht was written. The signs along the sidewalk are translations of Stille Nacht/Silent Night into several languages.

Now I’m ready for Christmas!

Home for the Holidays

By   December 14, 2010

My Christmas secret is out! I came back to Michigan yesterday as a surprise for my parents and will be home for the next two weeks. I had been planning this for months and even though all of my friends knew, everyone was able to keep the secret and my mom was indeed surprised.

I absolutely love Christmas in Michigan and I hadn’t been here in December since 2007. I was a bit worried about my flights because of the big snowstorm that came through the Midwest this past weekend, but everything worked out fine and I will have a white Christmas for the first time in years! Well done, mother nature. Well done.

I was excited like a little kid when I arrived in Detroit last night. The Christmas lights, the snow, even the football fans at the airport (thank you Vikings for proving that a team besides the Lions can lose at Ford Field!) made me feel right at home. It was bitterly cold (a balmy 6 F / -14 C this morning) and the roads were still covered in ice & snow, but it felt good to be home where most of my friends and family are.

I will be playing in the snow with the dog, visiting friends in Flint, experiencing Bavarian Christmas in Frankenmuth, and just enjoying my time at home so I won’t be online as much until I’m back in France for New Year’s.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tastes and Tours of the French Alps

By   December 11, 2010

The following is a guest post by Cynthia Caughey Annet, an American who also lives in Chambéry. She is the author of, a blog full of great videos, photos, recipes, travel tips, and observations on expat life in France and the French Alps.

Looking for unique gifts this holiday season? Does your spouse, best friend or relative have a love of all things French? Then check out this first gift idea – a summertime French Alps Tour.

With your loved one, wander the medieval town of Annecy, nicknamed the Venice of the French Alps, and take a boat ride on its crystal blue lake. Do you like pampering yourself on your vacations, then why not spend an afternoon at the Aix-les-Bains thermal baths inside your lakeside hotel? Are you the adventurous type? Then take a horseback ride in the Alps or fly through the trees at the High Ropes Adventure. Are you a foodie? Taste local chocolates, cheeses, wines and hazelnut oils. Are you a history buff? Then satisfy your curiosity at Lyon’s Old Town or Vienne’s Roman Temple and Museum. Or just enjoy watching the hang gliders and sunset at an outdoor apéritif on the top of a mountain overlooking Annecy’s lake. And don’t worry, you’ll have a few hours most days to explore on your own, or shop. And for the ultimate in relaxation, spend a couple of evenings in your hotel’s thermal pool and saunas in Aix-les-Bains. Visit for the detailed itinerary for the tours which take place in June and September.

Perhaps your friend or spouse likes to cook. Then buy them a French culinary gift – the only Savoie and French Alps English language cookbook in existence. French Comfort Food: Recipes of Savoie and the French Alps is an e-book which features 51 regional recipes, such as Endives Blue Cheese Crumble, Savoie Brioche, Crozets with Beaufort Cheese Gratin, Orange Gratin (with Carrots), Pumpkin Sage Polenta, Tartiflette, Diots in White Wine Sauce, Steak Savoyard Mincavie, Morel Souffle, Savoyard Fondue, Turkey with Nuts and Reblochon, Chartreuse Souffle Pie, Wild Berry Confiture (Preserves), Cassis Liqueur, Tarte au Citron, Cherry Clafoutis, Fruit Galette, Wild Blackberry & Cream Scones. Buy yours for $12.99. As a bonus gift, you’ll also receive for free the Chambery Guide e-book – a sightseeing and historical overview of the charming city of Chambery in the French Alps. Click below for more information:

And don’t forget Jennie’s great French Language Tutorial e-book ($14.95) or paperback book ($29.95) to help you learn the French language. Go to the Store to order.

You have many choices this year for the Francophile in your life. Happy Holidays!

Dr. Paul Nation & Survival Travel Vocabulary

By   December 9, 2010

Anyone who has done research on vocabulary acquisition has come across Dr. Paul Nation’s articles and books. His 1990 book, Teaching & Learning Vocabulary, as well as his 2001 book, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, are the basis of most vocabulary acquisition classes at universities today.  He favors frequency lists, extensive reading, and the lexical approach to language teaching in addition to the need to teach students strategies so they can become autonomous learners. In case you haven’t read my previous posts on vocabulary in language learning, I completely agree with his methods.

Currently, Dr. Nation teaches at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and his homepage offers useful resources to download for those interested in vocabulary acquisition. The ZIP file Vocabulary Resource Booklet includes survival vocabulary in 19 languages, based on Nation and Crabbe’s 1991 article “A Survival Language Learning Syllabus for Foreign Travel” (which is also included), ideally for tourists who will be in a foreign country for only a few weeks or months. This survival vocabulary should take no more than 60 hours to learn.

Survival Travel Vocabulary

Here is the syllabus in English, from the article. Numbers in parentheses simply mean that the item occurs in more than one section.

1. Greetings and being polite

Hello/Good morning etc. + reply [there are many cultural variants of these, including Where are you going?, Have you eaten?]

How are you? + reply e.g. Fine, thank you.


Thank you + reply  e.g. It’s nothing, You’re welcome.


Excuse me [sorry]

It doesn’t matter

Delicious (6)

Can I take your photo?

2. Buying and bargaining

I want … (4, 6)

Do you have …?/Is there …?

Yes (8)

No (8)

This (one), That (one) [to use when pointing at goods]

There isn’t any

How much (cost)? (5, 6)

A cheaper one (5)

NUMBERS (5, 7) (These need to be learned to a high degree of fluency)



How much (quantity)?


all of it

(one) more

(one) less

Excuse me [to get attention] (4)

Too expensive

Can you lower the price? + reply  (Some countries do not use bargaining. In others it is essential.)

NAMES OF IMPORTANT THINGS TO BUY  (These may include stamps, a newspaper, a map.)

3. Reading signs






4. Getting to places

Excuse me (to get attention) (2)

Can you help me?

Where is …? (5)

Where is … street?

What is the name of this place/street/station/town?



Department store



Train station


Bus station







I want … (2, 5, 6)

How far?/Is it near?

How long (to get to …)?



Straight ahead

Slow down (Directions for a taxi.)

Stop here




5. Finding accommodation

Where is … (4)


How much (cost)? (2, 6)

A cheaper one (2)

I want … (2,4,6)

Leave at what time?

NUMBERS (2, 7)



6. Ordering food

How much (cost)? (2, 5)

The bill, please

I want … (2, 5, 9)



Delicious (1)

7. Talking about yourself and talking to children

I am (name)

Where do you come from?

I am (a New Zealander)/I come from (New Zealand)

What do you do?

I am a (teacher)/tourist

You speak (Chinese)!

A little/very little

What is your name? (Especially for talking to children.)

How old are you? + reply

NUMBERS (2, 5)

I have been here … days/weeks/months

I am sick

8. Controlling and learning language

Do you understand?

I (don’t) understand

Do you speak English? (7)

Yes (2)

No (2)


Please speak slowly

I speak only a little (Thai)

What do you call this in (Japanese)?


Do you agree with this list? Anything missing? Anything not that necessary for survival as a tourist?

Education Systems, Creativity, Motivation and Results-Only Environments

By   December 6, 2010

Being snowed in for a week meant watching a lot of TED talks online, and a few that really interested me focus on certain established environments and how they are not very conducive to education, creativity or motivation.

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity and the need for a “learning revolution” throughout the world:

Language Mastery also brought my attention to the neat RSA animated talks, such as Changing Education Paradigms which goes along with the above TED talk on education systems.

Dan Pink on the science of motivation:

All of the recent talk about failing education systems makes me wonder why more people aren’t advocating for a Results-Only School Environment similar to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), especially for language education. It doesn’t matter how or where or sometimes even when you do something, all that matters is that you actually do it. It’s the same principle for work or school – as school essentially is work. Why should students be forced to learn something they don’t want to when they know it will not be beneficial to their future career? Or why should they be expected to remain in a certain classroom at a specific time every week? Or spend four years earning a degree when all of the material could be learned in much less time?

Most of the research on how the brain learns, and more importantly remembers, information goes against the established school schedule and curriculum. In addition to studies showing that self-study or mixed mode classes are better for learning, more and more schools should be catering to what educational research encourages in order to help students learn the most and in the most beneficial environment.  I’ve expressed my views on self-study in the past, and I still believe it is the best way of learning for motivated people. The problem is that current education systems in place do not provide this choice to the many motivated students, besides the occasional online courses which are still bound to schedules set by the school.

I learned everything in my Anthropology 101 textbook before the semester even started, and the actual class was nothing more than lectures of the various chapters of the textbook. I did not learn anything extra by going to class, but I still had to waste 3 hours every week for 15 weeks because the professor lowered our grades if we did not attend. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that more value was placed on students occupying seats in a classroom than on learning the material. In addition, I was only taking the class because it was a General Education requirement, and not because I wanted to or because it had any direct relation to my declared majors of French and Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition. An entire year of my four year Bachelor’s degree was nothing more than Gen Ed classes, all of which were similar to the Anthropology class: class time was simply a reiteration of the chapters in the textbook. Perhaps for students who did not actually read the book, the class was helpful, but for those of us who did the readings, it was a waste of time.

Even when I was in high school, I felt that I could learn much better and much more by studying on my own, away from the distraction of American high school life where sports and popularity were more important than academics. I was always tired (starting at 7:45am, seriously?) , hungry (25 minutes for lunch!) and uncomfortable (you try sitting on plastic chairs for 7 hours) which left me in a constant bad mood. I begged my parents for years to let me be home-schooled though I knew it wasn’t possible financially. I skipped a year of French by learning everything in the textbook over the summer because the other students were just holding me back. If I learn much faster than others, why do I still have to be in the same class as them just because we’re the same age? I did graduate at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA, but I still felt that school was too easy and not enough of a challenge for me. I did not care for football or Prom; I valued education and learning. Unfortunately I wasn’t surrounded by people who believed the same.

Obviously, results-only environments cannot be applied to all forms of education and they do not work for all people, especially for those who have no interest in autonomy and think they need very specific schedules and deadlines to function properly. Nevertheless, I truly believe that simply giving students the choice and flexibility of learning the way that humans are supposed to learn would improve overall results, especially for foreign languages. When people are free to do what they want, when they want and how they want, they are more motivated and more productive – and the end result is what matters most, not how you got there. If you feel that you learn better at midnight instead of 8 am, or while eating instead of just before or after, or on the couch instead of in front of the computer, then by all means do the things that make you the most comfortable. The only question that should matter is: Did you learn something or not?

Never let your schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain

My two year-old niece will help you learn spoken French [New informal French video]

By   December 1, 2010

My two year-old niece was recently talking to David on the phone, and she asked t’es au boulot ? Are you at work? However, books will tell you to say es-tu au travail ? instead – or actually it’s more likely they will insist on êtes-vous au travail ? because foreigners never need to use the informal you, right? Most French books also still teach that using inversion is the best way to form questions, and they ignore slang vocabulary such as boulot in place of travail. Yet even my young niece knows that nobody talks like that in everyday conversations in France.

Real French is very different from textbook French. When I think about how many years I spent learning French before I ever came across the reduction t’es or the slang word boulot, I wonder what the heck kind of French these books are trying to teach. My niece may only be two but she can teach you real French much better than any French book found in bookstores. I’ve made a video of one of the eavesdropping mp3s available on French Listening Resources, with the transcript and notes on the informal words used, featuring Mélina eating a snack and wondering where her shoes (shushu) are:

Review of Language Learning Websites II: Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla

By   November 27, 2010

Six months ago I posted my thoughts on the popular language learning sites Livemocha, Busuu, LingQ and Hello-Hello. Now I would like to review four other language learning websites that I have used recently.  The previous four sites were “communities” where not only can you use their flashcards and exercises, you create a profile and interact with other languages learners on the site via chat or messaging. Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla are not communities but do offer just as much language input and are just as – and sometimes more – useful even without the social aspect. I am more interested in the actual language provided by the website and its pedagogical implementations rather than ways to get in touch with others. Interacting with native speakers is obviously the best way to learn, but you don’t necessarily need a language community website to find native speakers.

For the purposes of self-study when you cannot or do not have a native speaker to help you, I am looking for the most useful websites with regards to receptive and productive skills involving vocabulary. I am looking for authentic language with plenty of opportunities for active listening and self-testing – criteria that language acquisition research supports, and more importantly, criteria that I know works best in my own language learning experience.

Mango Languages

Previously, I did not review Mango Languages because they only offer one demo lesson, and I didn’t feel as if that was enough to really see how the website works. Mango for Libraries, however, allows me to use all of Mango’s features for free by logging in with my American library card number. Check your library’s website to see if yours has a subscription.

Mango offers 9 foreign languages and 3 ESL courses for individual subscribers (and even more for library patrons – 21 foreign languages and 15 ESL courses) and each of the 100 lessons is based on phrases and dialogs rather than individual words. I like that you have the option of turning off the narrator since a lot of language programs rely too much on instructions in English. There are also keyboard shortcuts for advancing through the lessons, and you can choose the Main Lesson or shorter Vocabulary and Phrasebook Reviews. Grammar and culture notes also appear throughout the lessons but they are not the focus.

The main problem is that the entire program is mostly receptive. You simply listen and repeat as there are no real productive exercises for self-testing. There are often “quizzes/flashcards” in the sense that you are presented with one word or phrase and need to say (not type)  the translation, but that’s not exactly effective self-testing. The recordings are obviously scripted and rehearsed so there is no real authentic language. Nevertheless, I have used it as a refresher for pronunciation and vocabulary but I most likely would not have used it if I didn’t have free access through my library. An individual subscription is $160 for 3 months per course.


I was initially impressed by LangMaster not only because their online lessons are completely free, but also because of the number of exercises and audio files available. For example, the Italian course includes: 125 chapters, 853 interactive exercises, 1,450 pictures and photographs, 117 minutes of sound, and 3,595 audio recordings. Even their software and listening programs are reasonably priced (13-27€) with a 14-day free trial plus Collins dictionary. The free online lessons are available in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish while the software also includes Russian.

There are plenty of opportunities for improving reading, writing, and listening skills and increasing your vocabulary. The lessons are completely in the target language so you may need to keep a dictionary open in another browser. There are cultural notes and grammar notes throughout but they are mostly examples until you get to the last chapter of each lesson, where there is a review explained in English (and which you can skip if you don’t care so much for grammar.) The recordings are mostly scripted but there are also some interviews with more authentic language, and examples of realia from the countries where the language is spoken (photos of signs, menus, brochures, etc.)  Usually the transcripts are provided, whether in the same lesson or later on, so you can check your comprehension.

A few of the disadvantages to LangMaster are that it is only available in the four main foreign languages and the audio is only streaming so you can’t download it. If you like flashcards, there’s no built-in system to review vocabulary, but you could easily create your own Anki decks while working. In spite of these few faults, it is the most complete language program available online for free so I recommend it.


LinguaTV is a German company that offers videos with subtitles in 5 languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. The videos are scripted and rehearsed so they are not quite authentic language, but they are helpful for learning basic vocabulary and phrases for everyday situations. The material is designed for beginners (A1-A2 level) and you can turn off the subtitles if you prefer. Grammar reviews and transcripts can also be downloaded as PDFs for each video, but translations are not provided. The quiz section has a variety of exercises including comprehension questions, crossword puzzles, dictations, fill in the blank, etc.

LinguaTV also has a community website called Lingorilla (in beta) where you can watch the first 9 videos in their Neu in Berlin German series, with transcripts and quizzes. They also have a section on learning languages with music videos but it’s not yet complete. Among their two websites and Youtube channel, quite a few videos are available for free so you can check them out before deciding to pay for a monthly subscription, in the range of 1-10€ depending on the language and course. I am a big supporter of using video and subtitles for teaching and learning languages, but these videos are somewhat limited in that they are not spontaneous, authentic speech.


Yabla is “language immersion through online video” and probably the most useful language website I’ve used so far. The videos come from a variety of sources, whether they are news reports, interviews, or just random scenes filmed in the country to illustrate authentic use of the language. Subtitles and translations appear under the video, which you can turn off if you’d like, and clicking on a word will search for its definition in the dictionary pane to the right.  You can also slow down the play back so the speech is slower, or put it on a loop to repeat a certain word or phrase.  Then you can choose the play game button to start the listening/cloze exercise and type in the missing word.

Currently, there are four languages available: Spanish, French, German and English as a Second Language. They’ve just added a new flashcards feature, and the Spanish & French sites also have blogs of language lessons on grammar and vocabulary. All of the languages have hundreds of videos available, and the French site does have some Quebecois videos as well. Monthly subscriptions are $9.95 a month per course, with discounts for 6 or 12 month subscriptions ($54.95 or $99.95) with a 7 day money-back guarantee.  You can download many of the videos through the website or iTunes as well to take with you instead of watching them all online.

Some of the videos are similar to the authentic/eavesdropping videos provided in the Français interactif & Deutsch im Blick online textbooks from U of Texas-Austin, but the main problem with those videos is that many do not have transcripts available unless you are a language teacher (you must prove your credentials to the university) which means they aren’t exactly useful for those who are learning on their own. The textbooks were designed to be used in the classroom however, and not as self-study materials. The advantage of Yabla, even though it is not free, is that transcripts and translations are available for everyone so it is ideal for self-study.

Chinese Food in France (Helps with Homesickness)

By   November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans, whether you are actually celebrating it or not! This week is always hard for me because I’m usually rather homesick, more so than at Christmas since Christmas actually exists in France (albeit a less excessive form of the holiday… I need an overload of decorations, people!) Luckily we did something this week that helped with the homesickness: ate lunch at an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant.

Eating out in France is not common for us since we can’t really afford it, but I make an exception for Chinese restaurants. If I could find a decent Mexican restaurant where I live, I would make an exception there too, but I’ve been having no luck finding one. Luckily there is a good Chinese restaurant near Chambéry with offers an all-you-can-eat buffet (buffet à volonté) and it reminds me of an American-style restaurant because it is huge:

Finding restaurants that serve more than French or Italian food can be hard outside of the large cities, and even in Indian or Moroccan restaurants, épicé is not what Americans would call spicy. Every time I travel I make sure to find a restaurant that serves food that I can’t find in the Alps, such as falafel and hummus. There’s only so much cheese and potatoes I can take, which is surprising because I really LOVE cheese and potatoes.

The lack of variety of food that we take for granted in the US is what makes me homesick often, and I’m not just talking about in restaurants. I would give anything to find frozen mini tacos in my local grocery store. There is usually one small section of international food, and even though you can find fajita kits, Asian soups and occasional British items, it just isn’t the same. Luckily Picard offers more choices in the frozen food department (bagels!), but some days I just really want some nachos, you know?

For now I’ll take advantage of the Chinese restaurant and its side of the highway exterior and non-French decor.

Le Palais Cantonais is just outside of Chambéry, on the borders of Barberaz and La Ravoire. Lunch is 13€ and dinner is slightly more, but there is more food available in the evening (and karaoke on weekends!). Plus they accept tickets-restaurant, so thanks French government for paying for half of my lunch.

Regional Differences in France & Italy: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis & Benvenuti al Sud

By   November 22, 2010

In 2008 when Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was released in France, it was an instant success. The plot focuses on the manager of La Poste in Salon-de-Provence, who is transferred to Bergues in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and all the negative stereotypes about the north of France, i.e. it’s always rainy and cold, the people are poor, ignorant and backwards, they speak a strange dialect of French called ch’ti, etc. This film is now the most successful French movie ever and Italy has just released their remake of the film, with one major difference – the main character lives near Milan and is transferred to the south, to a small town near Naples. Essentially the same negative stereotypes exist for people in the south of Italy as for the north of France, including the strange dialect that the main character has trouble understanding (Napoletano).

These movies are great for language enthusiasts to learn about accents, dialects and cultural differences within the same country. The French language or French culture doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere in France because it just depends on where you are in the country, which is true of every country and every language. I speak American English but I certainly don’t sound like someone from Alabama. Even if we all speak the same language, we really don’t. But in the end these comedies are about tolerance and discovering that people are people, regardless of differences in location or culture or language.

Another interesting aspect is the translations into English of the original French film. (I haven’t found English translations for the Italian film yet.) Obviously the translations cannot be exact when dealing with puns or words that sound similar in French but do not in English. Usually the English translation just add sh- to the beginning of words. However, the scene about the misunderstanding of siens and chiens (his and dogs) becomes fish and office in English. Here are the trailers of the two films in their original language, with English subtitles for the French film:

Allociné has the Benvenuti al Sud trailer with subtitles in French if you want to compare the two languages. Several clips are also available on Youtube, including Dany Boon’s cameo.

The American remake will supposedly involve both Will Smith and Steve Carell. The plot will essentially be the same, with a southerner being transferred to the north (North Dakota) instead of near the sunny coast (Hawaii).

Benvenuti al Sud will be released in France on November 24 (hopefully sub-titled and not dubbed!)

Cost of Living in France: My Personal Experience

By   November 18, 2010

How much does it cost to live in France? I’ve received a few e-mails inquiring about the cost of living in France, so here is a listing of my monthly bills and yearly taxes. Hopefully this information will be useful for those who are looking to move to France and want to compare the costs. I do not live in Paris, where the cost of living is especially high, but I do live near the Alps and Switzerland in one of the more expensive areas of France. My city is the capital of its department, and has a population of about 50,000. I live with my PACS partner, David, so most of my expenses are cut in half.

Cost of Living in France

Monthly Bills

Rent: 550€ total / my half: 275€

– one-bedroom apartment in old building (with poor electrical installation; can’t use hairdyer and microwave at same time for example…) about 10 minutes from train station and city center; 52 meters squared with two balconies and storage space in basement. Most apartments in this area are much more expensive (700-800€) which we couldn’t really afford so we chose the cheapest one possible.

Electricity & Gas: 65€ total / my half: 32.50€

– We have a gas stove & oven, but luckily regular radiators instead of those expensive electric ones (so heat is included in our rent.) Our hot water heater only heats at night during off-peak hours.

Water: 20€ total / my half: 10€

– washing machine but no dishwasher; hot water heater only holds 100 liters which is just enough for two showers and doing the dishes

Internet, phone, & TV: 30€ total / my half: 15€

– ADSL internet + land-line with free calling to US & Canada and free calls to land-lines in many, many other countries + basic “cable” channels

Groceries: 250€ total / my half: 125€

– Even shopping at Aldi and Lidl! We are trying to reduce this obviously.

Gas/Tolls: 150€ total / my half: 75€

– We only use the car once or twice a week – to get groceries or visit David’s parents. Our car is an automatic that takes the most expensive gas though.

Car Insurance: 30€ total / my half: 15€

Renter’s Insurance: 10€ total / my half: 5€

*Cell phone: 15€

– I just buy prepaid cards and very rarely need to use my cell phone thanks to the internet.

*Mutuelle: 30€

– This means my prescriptions and contacts are “free” and I get another 30% of consultation fees reimbursed. Government-run healthcare that almost everyone has (la sécu) generally reimburses the first 70%.

When I used to commute to work (100 km round-trip 4 days a week), I paid about 250€ per month for gas and tolls. David walks to work and I work at home now, so we have no public transportation costs. For reference, a monthly bus pass in our city costs 30€ while a monthly passe Navigo in Paris is between 55€ and 123€ (depending on which zones you need). However, it is now law in France that your employer must pay 50% of your public transportation costs for your commute to and from work.

  • Total Monthly Bills:  600€ (*cell phone and mutuelle are the only bills that I do not share with David)

Yearly Taxes

Residency Card Renewal: 110€ Unless you have the 10 year carte de résident, you must renew the yearly carte de séjour for a price of 110€.

Income tax: 611€ for my part.  Since I am PACSed, my income tax is lower than for a single person plus I received a credit of 194€ for the prime pour l’emploi. The amount of income tax I paid was 5% of my imposable income (about 15% of my gross income minus a 10% deduction). In France, la sécurité sociale which includes health insurance, unemployment & retirement benefits is automatically taken out of your paycheck, but income tax is NOT. I calculated that 18% of my gross income was deducted for la sécu. I have no other source of income in France because I am not eligible for CAF, or rent assistance for low-income individuals or families, that most language assistants and lecturers receive. To be on the safe side, most people say you should save almost one month’s salary to pay for income tax.

Taxe d’habitation: 368€ for my half out of 736€ total. This is a renter’s tax that you must pay on the place where you are living on January 1st, even if you move out on January 2nd. (If you own your house or apartment, you pay la taxe foncière.)  The amount of la taxe d’habitation depends on the city where you live, the size of your apartment, your income, etc. so it can be hard to know how much you will have to pay until you receive the bill in October or November. In general it should be around one month’s rent. Added to this taxe is the TV tax (or Contribution à l’audiovisuel public as it is now called) which is 121€. Every household that owns a TV must pay it. Two ways of ensuring you do not have to pay this tax is by living in university residences managed by CROUS or renting a furnished room (not apartment) in a person’s home. Sometimes you can get this tax decreased if you have a low income by explaining your situation to the tax center (a dégrèvement).

  • Total Yearly Taxes:  1,089€

At the very least, I need more than 8,300€ to survive in France each year and the above figures do not include any extra expenses such as clothes, books, entertainment, birthday & Christmas presents, etc. We never go to the movies and rarely eat at restaurants – and when we do, we use David’s tickets-restaurant. In addition, every two years we have to pay 80€ for the vehicle inspection (contrôle technique) and every year our car has needed about 600€ worth of repairs (it’s a 1986 Renault Super 5 automatic with a manual choke.) And another expense that was free in the US is a checking account. I pay 33€ a year for my account, debit card and checks.

Personally I don’t feel that life is that much more expensive in France compared to the US. Internet/phone/TV is definitely cheaper here and cell phones can also be cheaper if you rarely make calls since receiving calls is free in France. However, clothes, books and especially electronics are definitely more expensive than what I’m used to. Movies and restaurants are comparable to larger cities in the US, but expensive compared to the area where I come from. Groceries, gas, and tolls are more expensive than what I used to pay in Michigan – though gas in general is much cheaper in the US and Michigan only has freeways. It’s harder to compare income tax since I’ve always received a refund in the US and never paid much attention to how much was taken out of my paychecks. And a renter’s tax just doesn’t exist where I lived.

Nevertheless, even if bills and taxes are similar and we receive great benefits in France with regards to unemployment and health insurance, the main difference I see with the US are the incomes. It is very frustrating to know that I earned roughly the same amount working full-time in France that I earned working part-time in the US. A lot of people working full-time only earn minimum wage in France, which is 12,600€ net per year. When I was an English assistant, I earned 5,460€ and only had a 7 month contract. When I was an English lecturer at the university, I earned 14,640€ per year before income tax and the job was considered full-time (I wasn’t even allowed to get a 2nd job if I wanted to) and required a Master’s degree. Most fonctionnaires (civil servants) start out between 14,500€ and 19,000€ per year. They may have their job for life, but the incomes do not increase much even after years and years of experience. French people who make American-like incomes work in Switzerland and Luxembourg, where they average 48-72k per year. French people working the same jobs in France tend to average 18-30k.

That being said, France does a good job of taking care of people who are extremely poor. People who earn minimum wage tend to receive a large prime pour l’emploi and monthly benefits from CAF. Even unemployed people get special discounts on public transportation, library subscriptions, museum admission, etc. Young people (under 25) also get a LOT of nice discounts and families with children receive very generous benefits from the state. Once you’re over 25 and earn just above minimum wage however, you get nothing. Being PACSed or married definitely helps with regards to income tax, though it also tends to make you ineligible for CAF. In a nutshell, there’s not a whole lot you can do in France to earn more money, but you can decrease your bills by living with a roommate and/or getting PACSed.  If I were single and living in the same apartment, I’d probably end up paying 900-1,000€ in monthly bills (depending on how much I used the car) with a higher rate of income tax plus the full amount of the taxe d’habitation. So my advice to everyone is get PACSed!