The Wifi Struggle Is Real: Tips for How to Navigate the Net in France

Kelsey Desmond is a gap year student and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently in her second semester abroad with ISA Gap Year in Paris, France.

It’s no secret that Europe’s WiFi and mobile data coverage fall below par of the fast, reliable American standard to which most of us are accustomed. Is it because Europe’s networks are not as advanced as America’s? Maybe it’s because there are just so many people per capita that the networks can’t handle so much influx of attempted usage. Perhaps Europe just doesn’t value anywhere-and-everywhere internet connectivity above everything else life has to offer. Whatever the reason, getting adjusted to this new standard is no easy task. Voilà, some tips to help you get started:

  1. Free WiFi is your best friend. If you are planning on staying in France for a lengthy period of time, you may want to invest in a monthly phone plan. However, these phone plans often don’t have large data options, and if they do, the data is too slow for comfort. You soon become a pro at scoping out free WiFi locations. Luckily, most cafés, large stores, or tourist attractions will have free WiFi available to guests. However, if you find yourself constantly coming across a network called “FreeWifi” or “FreeWifi_secure,” this is not actually gratuit. “Free” is the name of a mobile phone company with available WiFi hotspots for customers! Other mobile phone companies who do this in France include Orange, SFR, and Bouygues.
  2. Know how to ask if WiFi is available. When I was a child, my mother used to tell me that the one phrase you needed to know before coming to a new country was “Where is the bathroom?” However, as this was before the age of anywhere-and-everywhere Internet connectivity, I think her motto needs a little readjustment. It has been my experience that when coming to France, you must know these two phrases: “Où est les toilettes?” (Where is the bathroom?) and “Est-ce qu’il y a du WiFi gratuit?” (Is there free WiFi?). Note that “WiFi” is pronounced “wee fee” in French to avoid the blank stare from natives who don’t know what “why phy” is.
  3. Do the majority of your needed Internet browsing at home. I know that you want to update Snapchat every second to cast envy on all your friends back in the States, but do you need to? Do all your necessary browsing, updating, and Skyping using the WiFi at your home stay or apartment and ditch the worry of finding Internet connectivity while out on the town.
  4. Let it go. As my good friend Elsa would (probably) say, “The WiFi struggle doesn’t bother me anyway.” When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. So when in France, you quit worrying about what’s happening on the Net. You’d be surprised at what amazing things you can see from the terrace of a French café when you look up from your phone.
Many restaurants provide free WiFi to customers. Check on the menu or ask your waiter if there is a password to the network.

The world awaits…discover it.

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