Hi, I’m Becky, and my husband and I recently moved our life (and my Etsy shop!) to Paris!
We both studied French at school, but that was more than a decade ago now, and knowing how to tell people how many siblings you have, or what’s in your pencil case, really isn’t that useful when you want to start a new life in a new city.
Although we drove to Paris with our belongings, we still didn’t have many of the things we needed to make our new apartment into a home. Yes, we had a screw driver and a sewing machine (or two!), but there are so many little things that you don’t realise you’re missing until you no longer have access to that drawer of random stuff that every home owner needs. That’s where our new favourite shop came in handy!
We initially found a DIY store when we were Googling places to buy French plugs. Top travel tip #1: if you’re bringing loads of electrical items with British plugs over to France, don’t buy an adaptor for each one! We brought our British extension leads over, and re-wired the end so they have a French plug, which goes straight into the wall without the need for an adaptor*. We didn’t think we had that many things, but with two laptops, phones, sewing machines, coffee grinder, guitar amps….it adds up!
So anyway, Google told us that there was a shop nearby which was the place to see and be seen if you needed anything to do with DIY. It was heaven! They had literally everything one would want for jazzing up a home.
When in Paris….go to the DIY shop!
In our first week in Paris we must have gone to that shop nearly every day – in addition to the aforementioned plugs, we found tomato plants, soil for the tomato plants, seeds to grow sweet peas, wire cutters (for our guitar strings), a little stool to sit on in our half-size shower, a shower curtain, a bath mat, two tea towels….and then a plunger when the bath wouldn’t drain, and a can of fly spray during the heat wave! No wonder we’re poor now, haha!
The most challenging thing to buy also turned out to be the smallest. We found a spare shelf for the kitchen cupboard, but we needed some of those tiny metal bits to sit it on:
How would you describe that if you couldn’t find it in the shop? Does it even have a name? I’ll be honest, if I were to go to a DIY shop in the UK and needed to ask for these, I’d describe them as ‘those tiny little metal bits that you push into the side of an Ikea cupboard so you can put in a new shelf’. That’s also pretty much the exact search term I used to bring up that image, so you’d know what I was talking about. But sadly for me, on a busy day, the shop assistants were NOT happy with my attempts at describing them! Most of the store is underground, so I couldn’t find an image online or try to look up the words. Instead, I managed to find some wooden dowels (see below), showed them to an assistant I’d managed to track down, and asked where I’d find ‘une pièce comme ça, mais plus petite et en acier’. I’d only been in the country for a week so I was pretty pleased with my resourcefulness, but the assistant looked at me like I’d asked for her first born child, so I tried again, adding ‘pour une armoire’ (I didn’t know the word for ‘shelf’ at this point). She still looked at me like I was crazy, which could be fair enough… it’s likely that I *do* sound crazy when I try to speak French.
Aidez moi, aidez moi!
It was at this point that another customer, who had seen me struggling, came to my rescue. She was French-Canadian, and asked me in English what I was trying to describe. I told her about the little metal bit for a shelf, like this wooden one but smaller and made of steel. She turned to the shop assistant and said, ‘Elle cherche une pièce comme ça, mais plus petite et en acier’. Exactly the phrase I’d just used!
Immediately the assistant knew exactly what she was talking about and directed me to a different floor, where I found the specific piece I was looking for. I know my pronunciation isn’t great, but surely she could get the gist?! I guess that’s how national stereotypes begin – nearly all the people I’ve met in Paris so far have been amazing, and friendly, and helpful, but it’s the crazy ones that stick in your mind, and that you end up writing blog posts about….! In any case, my French classes at the Mairie start tonight, so I’ll be speaking French like a local in no time 😉
*Be aware that French plugs aren’t fused in the same way as British ones though, so only do this for low-ampage items.
About the author
Bonjour! I’m Becky, and I’ve been living in Paris since May 2017 – so I’m very new here! Setting up a life and a business in France has been a real eye-opener – from going fabric shopping to opening a bank account, everything is new, exciting, and often unexpected! Hopefully you’ll be able to laugh and cry with me as I take a look at Parisian life, through the eyes of une étrangère.
You can find my Etsy shop here: beckyqueenoffrocks.etsy.com
Come and say ‘salut’ on social media!