Health & safety
A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. There is a wide variety of policies available, so check the small print. EU citizens on public-health insurance schemes should note that they’re generally covered by reciprocal arrangements in France.
You may prefer a policy which pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and then claim it back later. If you have to claim later make sure you keep all documentation. Ensure that your policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance, and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver. Ask your credit card company what it’s prepared to cover.
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In general, Paris is a safe city and random street assaults are rare. The so-called Ville Lumière (City of Light) is generally well lit, and there’s no reason not to use the metro until it stops running at some time between 12.30am and just past 1am. As you’ll notice, women do travel alone on the metro late at night in most areas, though not all who do so report feeling 100% comfortable.
Metro stations that are best avoided late at night include Châtelet-Les Halles and its seemingly endless corridors, Château Rouge in Montmartre, Gare du Nord, Strasbourg St-Denis, Réaumur Sébastopol, and Montparnasse Bienvenüe. Bornes d’alarme (alarm boxes) are located in the centre of each metro/RER platform and in some station corridors.
Nonviolent crime such as pickpocketing and thefts from handbags and packs is a problem wherever there are crowds, especially packs of tourists. Places to be particularly careful include Montmartre (especially around Sacré Cœur); Pigalle; the areas around Forum des Halles and the Centre Pompidou; the Latin Quarter (especially the rectangle bounded by rue St-Jacques, blvd St-Germain, blvd St-Michel and quai St-Michel); below the Eiffel Tower; and anywhere on the metro during rush hour. Take the usual precautions: don’t carry more money than you need, and keep your credit cards, passport and other documents in a concealed pouch, a hotel safe or a safe-deposit box.
Vigipirate is a security plan devised by the Paris city council to combat terrorism. Both citizens and visitors are asked to report any abandoned luggage or package at all times. When the full Vigipirate scheme is put into action, public litter bins are sealed, left-luggage services in train stations and at airports are unavailable, checks at the entrances to public buildings and tourist sites are increased, and cloakrooms and lockers in museums and at monuments are closed.
Paris is extraordinarily kid-friendly. Be it playing tag around Daniel Buren’s black and white columns at Palais Royal, laughing with puppets in Jardin de Luxembourg, sailing down the Seine or resting little legs with a city sightseeing tour via one of its two above-ground metro lines (2 and 6), there really does seem to be a cheap childish pleasure around every corner here.
Some restaurants serve a menu enfant (set children’s menu), usually for children under 12, though often starters or the savoury crêpes served in neighbourhood brasseries are more imaginative (steak haché and fries gets tiresome after two days). Cafétérias are a good place to bring kids if you just want to feed and water them fast and cheaply, as are French chain restaurants.
Kids aged between six and 12 and keen to cook and consume their own creations can do so at Alef-Bet.
Pariscope and L’Officiel des Spectacles both have decent ‘Enfants’ sections covering the week’s shows, theatre performances and circuses for kids. Online see the exhaustive site, www.cityjunior.com (in French).
The newspaper Libération produces an English translation of its bimonthly supplement Paris Mômes (www.parismomes.fr, in French) called Paris with Kids. It has listings and other useful information aimed at kids up to age 12; focusing on the ‘unusual’ is its philosophy.
Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children by Cathy Lanigan includes useful advice for travelling parents.
L’Officiel des Spectacles lists gardes d’enfants (baby-sitters) available in Paris.
Au Paradis des Petits (01 43 65 58 58) From €7 per hour (€10 subscription fee).
Baby Sitting Services (01 46 21 33 16) From €6.80 per hour (€11.90 subscription), €60 for 10 hours or one day.
Étudiants de l’Institut Catholique (01 44 39 60 24; 21 rue d’Assas, 6e; Rennes) From €7.50 per hour (plus €2 for each session).
Fondation Claude Pompidou (01 40 13 75 00) Specialises in looking after children with disabilities.
The following numbers are to be dialled in an emergency.
Ambulance (SAMU; 15)
EU-wide emergency hotline (112)
Fire brigade (18)
Rape crisis hotline (Viols Femmes Informations; 0 800 05 95 95; 10am-7pm Mon-Fri)
SOS Helpline (01 47 23 80 80; in English 3-11pm daily)
SOS Médecins (01 47 07 77 77, 24hr house calls 0 820 33 24 24; www.sosmedecins-france.fr)
Urgences Médicales de Paris (Paris Medical Emergencies; 01 53 94 94 94; www.ump.fr, in French)
All objects found anywhere in Paris – except those picked up on trains or in train stations – are brought to the city’s Bureau des Objets Trouvés (Lost Property Office; 0 821 00 25 25; www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr/demarches/article/service_objets_trouves.htm, in French; 36 rue des Morillons, 15e; 8.30am-5pm Mon-Thu, 8.30am-4.30pm Fri; Convention), which is run by the Préfecture de Police. Since telephone enquiries are impossible, the only way to find out if a lost item has been located is to go there and fill in the forms in person.
Items lost on the metro are held by station agents (3246; 7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm Sat & Sun) before being sent to the Bureau des Objets Trouvés. Anything found on trains or stations is taken to the lost-property office (usually attached to the left-luggage office) of the relevant station. Phone enquiries (in French) are possible:
Gare d’Austerlitz (01 53 60 71 98)
Gare de l’Est (01 40 18 88 73)
Gare de Lyon (01 53 33 67 22)
Gare du Nord (01 55 31 58 40)
Gare Montparnasse (01 40 48 14 24)
Gare St-Lazare (01 53 42 05 57)
If you are not an EU citizen, it is imperative that you take out travel insurance before your departure. EU passport holders have access to the French social security system, which reimburses up to 70% of medical costs.
There are some 50 assistance publique (public health service) hospitals in Paris. If you need an ambulance, call 15; the EU-wide emergency number (with English speakers) is 112. For emergency treatment, call Urgences Médicales de Paris (01 53 94 94 94) or SOS Médecins (01 47 07 77 77 or 0 820 332 424). Both offer 24-hour house calls costing between €35 and €90 depending on the time of day and whether you have French social security.
Hospitals in Paris include the following:
American Hospital in Paris (01 46 41 25 25; www.american-hospital.org ; 63 blvd Victor Hugo, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine; Pont de Levallois Bécon) Private hospital offering emergency 24-hour medical and dental care.
Hertford British Hospital (01 46 39 22 22; www.british-hospital.org ; 3 rue Barbès, 92300 Levallois-Perret; Anatole France) A less-expensive private English-speaking option than the American Hospital.
Hôpital Hôtel Dieu (01 42 34 82 34; www.aphp.fr, in French; 1 place du Parvis Notre Dame, 4e; Cité) One of the city’s main government-run public hospitals (Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris); after 8pm use the emergency entrance on rue de la Cité.
For emergency dental care contact either of the following:
Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière (01 42 16 00 00; rue Bruant, 13e; Chevaleret) The only dental hospital with extended hours – from 6am to 10.30pm. After 5.30pm use the emergency entrance at 83 blvd de l’Hôpital, 13e (metro St-Marcel).
Pharmacies with extended hours:
Pharmacie Bader (01 43 26 92 66; 12 blvd St-Michel, 5e; 9am-9pm; St-Michel)
Pharmacie de La Mairie (01 42 78 53 58; 9 rue des Archives, 4e; 9am-8pm; Hôtel de Ville)
Pharmacie des Champs (01 45 62 02 41; Galerie des Champs, 84 av des Champs-Élysées, 8e; 24hr; George V)
Pharmacie des Halles (01 42 72 03 23; 10 blvd de Sébastopol, 4e; 9am-midnight Mon-Sat, 9am-10pm Sun; Châtelet)
Pharmacie Européenne (01 48 74 65 18; 6 place de Clichy, 17e; 24hr; Place de Clichy)
In 1923 French women obtained the right to – wait for it – open their own mail. The right to vote didn’t come until 1945 during De Gaulle’s short-lived postwar government, and a woman still needed her husband’s permission to open a bank account or get a passport until 1964. It was in such an environment that Simone de Beauvoir wrote Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) in 1949.
Younger French women especially are quite outspoken and emancipated but self-confidence has yet to translate into equality in the workplace, where women are not infrequently passed over for senior and management positions in favour of their male colleagues. Women attract more unwanted attention than men, but female travellers need not walk around Paris in fear: people are rarely assaulted on the street. However, the French seem to have given relatively little thought to sexual harassment (harcèlement sexuel), and many men still think that to stare suavely at a passing woman is to pay her a compliment.
Information & organisations
France’s women’s movement flourished as in other countries in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but by the mid-80s had become moribund. For reasons that have more to do with French society than anything else, few women’s groups function as the kind of supportive social institutions that exist in English-speaking countries.
La Maison des Femmes de Paris (01 43 43 41 13; maisondesfemmes.free.fr in French; 163 rue de Charenton, 12e; office 9am-7pm Mon-Fri; Reuilly Diderot) is a meeting place for women of all ages and nationalities, with events, workshops and exhibitions scheduled throughout the week.
France’s national rape-crisis hotline (0 800 05 95 95; 10am-7pm Mon-Fri) can be reached toll-free from any telephone, without using a phonecard. It’s run by a group called Collectif Féministe contre le Viol (Feminist Collective Against Rape; CFCV; www.sosviol.com).
In an emergency, you can always call the police (17). Medical, psychological and legal services are available to people referred by the police at the Service Médico-Judiciaire (01 42 34 86 78; 24hr) of the Hôtel Dieu.