I have to admit that I never intended on trying to bring a US computer over here, nor had I even planned on buying one from a French store, complete with the azerty keyboard. I was content to go ahead and pop in to the neighborhood cybercafés to check my e-mail once a week or surf around on the web. But Mr. Hall and I use the computer to keep in touch with the Anglophone world, so all of the hassle of buying a computer is definitely worth it.
Now a small disclaimer: this article is written from personal experience, and a layperson’s at that! I just want to give y’all an idea of what’s out there, what the options are, what to do when you think you can do no more (besides calling the computer help desk back in the States). This would definitely be the article that would benefit from a little bit of discussion comments from others of you out there who have also figured out how to get your computer to work in Paris.
Buying a Computer The first local computer superstore, Surcouf, opened a few years back on avenue Daumesnil in the 12th arr. since then, rival shops have flocked to the neighborhood, transforming the avenue Daumesnil into a sort of Computer Boulevard. Most of these stores sell PC hardware, from computers, sound cards and motherboards to printers, modems and DVDs, on average for 10-25% less than Surcouf. It helps to know what you’re looking for if you shop on this street, that way you’ll know if you’ve found a real bargain or not. Surcouf is a gigantesque mall of a store, where you can find everything that exists in France for PCs and Macs in its 10,000 sq meter exhibition space sprawled over three floors. Prices are generally a little better than FNAC’s, particularly in the way of consumables such as zip cartridges, toner, paper and blank CDs. They do computer repairs on-site or come to you at your home (preferable, for obvious reasons) and also rent computers out if you don’t think you’ll be around long enough to own a French computer. You can browse the catalog and order on-line at their website, but you’ll need to know French (by the way, if you don’t know French, make sure you don’t buy software in V.F–version français—it’s not a fun way to learn!)
The other big giant company is FNAC. They’re all over France, with some branches that are quite small, to the big ones that sell everything like the conveniently located and open ‘till midnight FNAC on the Champs-Elysées. Though pricierthan the avenue Daumesnil shops, they’re conveniently located all over the city, and are well stocked with software, hardware and basic consumables. Although their site is also in French, you can now purchase and download all types of major brand software on-line. Finally, there’s the customer service champions at Darty, who are a bit like FNAC, but tend to be a bit less expensive, and may not have as much of a selection. Claire got her pretty iMac from DARTY, and when she was having virus problems, they came over and fixed it up for her. Not bad—for France.
Mr. Hall had a techie at work write down the components that we would need for our level of computer usage, and we had LCD International put it together for us. They have various shops around Paris, and are ideal if you know exactly what you want at a good price (no post-purchase assistance, no fancy stores or ad campaigns). The disadvantage is that they don’t load software so you need to know someone for that (or buy it !).
Computer Rental Of course you can go to a cybercafé and rent a computer by the hour. There are even quite a few places, like the ones clustered around the Quartier d’Horloge in Beaubourg, that combine computer rental and printing services, much like Kinko’s back in the US. This is obvously a good bet if you’re just passing through or if you only use the computer for occasional projects. To actually take a computer home with you for an extended rental time, you can once again check out Surcouf, which rents PCs and Macs, as well as scanners, printers andmonitors, by the day, week or month. Check out the rates on their website. It’s always a good idea to check the ads in the FUSAC, since there tend to be quite a few computer rental and repair places listed in the Services section.
Internet Service Providers It’s a year old now, but there’s still some good advice in the Voice article called French Connection that explains some of the ins and outs of setting up your computer and finding an ISP. We started with http://www.libertysurf.fr since it was one of the first non-subsciption services and it started just as we were buying our PC. There are three access methods we looked at. 1 . France Telecom normal telephone line dial-up method—a range of rates available and tie-in deals to their Wanadoo ISP service. 2. France Telecom fast ADSL service – now being rolled out in large cities. Not for beginners! 3. NOOS cable modem — only available in certain large cities. The advantage of 2 & 3 is that you don’t have to occupy your normal phoneline during connection to internet and they are 10-15 times faster than 1. We have Lyonnaise de Cable, so we pay one bill for our cable TV and our internet use (always-on, and still cheaper than dial-up!). WebFaster seems to be a good general source for all things net-related in France. Check out the links and articles for further info about connections and ISP, etc.
Finally, if you’re really stuck and you don’t speak any French, you could always try the Yellow Pages of the Living in France magazine, where you’ll find ads for bilingual computer service companies like Micro King. In fact, anywhere in Paris where you know you’ll find Anglophones is a good place to start asking around for advice. Someone always seems to have “a friend” who just happens to be a techie expat. Like I said before, it’s bad enough trying to explain what’s wrong with your computer in English…
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.