Apartment living

In a large city like Paris, most people live in apartments and only outside the city are there houses. Overall, apartments are much smaller than in the U.S. Here are a few of the things I experienced while living in apartment buildings in Paris:

  • Concierge
    In apartment buildings, a concierge lives on the ground level of the building. Many concierges are of Portuguese decent and are typically females. They keep an eye on the entrance, receive packages, care for the building and keep the communal areas clean. Many times, the concierge also has a side job of cleaning apartments within the building for extra pay.
  • Front Door
    Typically, there are two levels of security to enter an apartment building. First, there is the street entrance door, which may or may not require a code to enter depending on the time and day. Once inside, there is another set of doors, a building directory and an intercom, from which you can communicate with the person you are visiting, who can remotely unlock the door.
  • Elevators
    Elevators are common in apartment buildings. They are typically very small, and in old buildings constructed prior to the invention of the elevator, are retrofitted within spiral staircases.

    First floor is called the rez de chaussée (sometimes abbreviated RC), and then the floors are numbered, so the second floor is actually the 1re étage (floor) and the third floor is the 2ème étage.

  • Lighting
    France takes great interest in conserving electricity and hallway and stairwell lights in apartment buildings do not remain permanently lit at night. Instead, one presses an illuminated button called a minuterie that turns the lights on for about a minute.

Household Essentials

Air Conditioning

Only in July and August do temperatures soar in Paris to merit air conditioning, and even then, it is used in moderation. Many Parisians do not have air conditioning in their apartments. Many French believe excessive air conditioning can make you sick, and one of their biggest complaints when coming to the U.S. is the overpowering air conditioning. French love to eat outside, which can be refreshing in hot weather, especially when the sun goes down.


Tissue boxes are not as abundant as they are in U.S. homes. Many French think tissue boxes are institutional, take up too much space and don’t fit with the home’s decor. Therefore, small tissue packs are more popular.

Setting the table

The French table is set a bit differently as the fork is placed with the tines down. There has been much speculation as to the reason for this, but there is no one clear reason. When eating, the French hold the fork in the left hand and cut their meat with the knife in their right and then put the fork to their mouth. Therefore, the fork is not passed from the left hand to the right hand. If there are vegetables or potatoes to be added to the fork that has just speared a piece of meat, you can place those items on the backside of the fork. The spoon is not placed to the right of the knife, but above the plate. French eat most of their desserts, including cake, with a spoon rather than a fork.

Cloth napkins are still quite common in France, which does strike me as a much more green alternative to disposable paper napkins. Even families that use paper napkins during the week usually use cloth napkins for weekend family meals.

Bedroom Linens

The only noticeably difference in the beds is the pillow one uses for sleeping. They are shaped in a square rather than a rectangle like standard American pillows.


Washing machines, usually located in the kitchen, are front loading and many are a dual-purpose washer and dryer (not a separate washer-dryer combo), which take a very long time (more than four hours) to complete a load from start to finish.

When the weather is warm, laundry is hung to dry outside. I’ve also noticed that ironing is more pervasive in France as my host mothers ironed underwear and pajamas!

Home Space and Rooms

  • Living Room
    Because most homes are small, there is usually only a living room and no family room. Therefore, the living room is planned to be more practical and is regularly used. The TV is typically located in the living room.
  • Kitchen
    Kitchens are quite small with equally small appliances. Dishwashers are standard, but sink garbage disposals do not exist, as the pipes are too old in Paris to sustain such a system. I was informed that when you buy an apartment, it typically doesn’t come with kitchen appliances (including refrigerator, oven, stove, and dishwasher) and so you either bring them with you from your previous home or buy new ones.
  • Daily meals are typically eaten in the kitchen where they usually have a TV. Nightly news is at 8:00 pm, which corresponds to dinnertime. However, Sunday and other special meals are eaten in the dining room.
  • Bathrooms
    In old apartments and homes, a toilet and sometimes a small sink are enclosed in a separate room from the bathroom containing a shower and tub. Modern and renovated homes tend to put all the facilities, including a bidet, in one space. If the shower and tub are one unit, there may be glass walls that go across only half the length of the tub, which is not to practical, resulting in wet floors. It is fairly common for bathrooms to have towel warmers. Washcloths, referred to as gants (gloves) are mitts in which you place your entire hand. Super convenient! The electric current is 220 volts (instead of 110 volts in the U.S.), which makes hair dryers hotter and heat up hair faster. The result is a shorter hair drying time, but the hot temperature dries out the hair.
  • Bedrooms
    Bedrooms do not include built in closets, but they have wall units or freestanding armoires for hanging garments. Windows have either traditional shutters or more modern rolling shutters that make the room completely dark for sleeping. The French have a strong preference for dark rooms for sleeping so that the morning sun doesn’t prematurely wake them. When French friends visited me in the U.S., we had to supplement our shades, which were not blackening shades, with dark fabric to insure total darkness.
  • Garages
    Most city dwellers have only one car and only some apartment buildings have parking. Finding a street parking space takes.
  • Outdoor Space
    In apartment buildings, it is a luxury to have a large terrace or patio. When they do, they are usually found on upper floors. More common are small balconies.