For this week’s My French Career we meet tour guide for Localers, Thomas Butler, 28, from Dublin. He made an impulsive decision to move to the capital three years ago. Anyone can do it, he says, they just need to be prepared.
How did you end up living in Paris?
Well I came here on a whim, basically. I was interested in France and had studied a little bit of French at university but I had always wanted to live in Paris. I think what really attracted me was the lifestyle, which is very different to London, where I was living.
What did you do when you first arrived here?
I stayed with a friend who had a flat for a few months and initially started teaching English to earn some money. I ended up taking various odd jobs, like working in a clothes shop, to try to help me succeed in my main aim which was to learn French
How did you find somewhere to live?
It was very difficult. I mainly lived in ‘chambres de bonnes’ (maids’ rooms), which were all very small loft rooms. To find new places I used the websites LeBonCoin, Craigslist and SeLoger. The American Church of Paris also has a notice board where people advertise spare rooms but you need to get there early in the morning to have any chance.
How did you pick up the language?
Well it took me a while. I had to put in a lot of effort and do a lot of socializing. I think the language is the biggest barrier. You can live somewhere but if you can’t communicate with people then you can’t converse with them or socialize. It’s a battle, because a lot of people would speak in English so I had to tell them I wanted to speak in French. If you make that effort then eventually it will open doors for you.
How did you end up in the tourism trade?
I did a Masters in French literature at the Sorbonne University and I really wanted to work as a tour guide. I saw an advert for Localers on the website Craigslist and just applied. It’s absolutely fantastic and it’s a fascinating job. The reason I moved here was because of my love for Paris so to be able to share that passion with people who are visiting here is ideal. I work on the website as well as run a literary tour of Paris, taking small groups of visitors around mythical spots associated with the city’s literary culture and history. I try to evoke all those different periods and tell clients about the people involved. We aim to give people a unique tour of Paris. It’s a great experience and its really fresh.
What tips would you give someone hoping to find work in the tourism industry?
The good thing about working in the tourist industry in Paris is that there are a lot of small start-ups out there, which is an interesting place for people to begin with. These small companies are always looking for people. There’s a lot of room for creativity and if you speak English then that’s a huge advantage. We are always looking for new guides. Although most of our guides are locals, if an expat speaks French and has lived here for a decent amount of time and knows the city well then they should get in touch.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of coming to Paris on a whim?
You have to throw yourself in at the deep end and realize it’s not going to be easy for you. People need to be prepared for that. If you want to do anything in life you can, but you have to work hard to make it happen. I think the best advice is to be well-prepared. People should try and have a basic level of language before they come here. The thing about living in Paris is that it’s a complicated city to live in. It’s difficult to find jobs and somewhere to live, even opening a bank account although I did not have too much of a problem. Of course it’s possible to do it on a whim, but just be prepared for the difficulties.