6: Utilities & Television


The French have two companies that provide service for gas or electricity; EDF for electricity and GDF for gas.

The French electrical current is 220 volts (V) and 50 cycles (Hz). Electrical items designed for 220V/50Hz will work fine, but most likely will need plug adapters to fit the French outlets. Items with a selectable 200V/50Hz switch, i.e. computers and stereo systems, will run fine in France by simply setting the switch for 220V. Televisions and VCR’s having changeable voltage have other problems which will be discussed later in this section.

The wiring code in France is brown for live and blue for neutral. The French plug has two round prongs, different from some other European plugs, even though the voltage is the same. There are two types of light bulbs: ampoules à vis(screw-in type) and ampoules à baïonnette (bayonet type).


To connect or disconnect the gas and electricity at your home, the EDF or GDF office must be notified ten days in advance in order to read and connect or disconnect the meter(s). However, the process will usually be accomplished in a lesser period of time. Notification can be made by telephone, letter or in person. The connection/disconnection expense, and the gas and/or electricity consumption will appear on the same bill. The first payment will be an avance sur consommation (advance payment). Billing occurs every two months. Most billing is through facture intermédiaire(estimated bill) based upon prior consumption rates. Meters are read and an adjusted facture de consommation réelle (bill for actual consumption) is usually sent every six months. If you are not present when an agent comes to read the meters, you may find a card in your mailbox requesting that you fill in the numbers from your meter and mail the card back to EDF or GDF.

Note: if your meter is located inside your home or apartment, you must have the meter read at least once a year.


If you are thinking of buying NEW appliances before coming to France, you may find that buying a transformer for small appliances works well. However larger appliances may present problems. Many electrical appliances with multi-voltage choice are now sold in the USA. Transformers work well with dryers but washers present certain plumbing problems.

When deciding whether to bring these items or not, consider whether you will be able to get parts and service for your item and can it be repaired in France. Also, if you have a full-sized appliance, will there be sufficient space? Most French kitchens are small and may not accommodate a full-sized refrigerator, washer, or dryer. Many windows open like a door and will not accommodate air conditioning units that are designed to sit on the windowsill. French washing/drying machines and refrigerators have a much smaller capacity than full-sized appliances used in other countries.

When deciding whether to bring full-sized appliances, be aware that electricity is very expensive in France (and yet most everything from heating to cooking is electric). As large appliances take more electricity to operate, this fact is something to consider when deciding what to bring. Also, some houses/apartments may not be wired to accommodate the increased amperage needs required by full-sized appliances. (See Chapter 5: “Housing”.)

Plumbing can be a problem when bringing appliances from other countries. Many American washing machines and dishwashers need a hot water outlet to operate, which is not available in France; (garage or pantry spaces usually do not have hot water outlets). French washing machines and dishwashers are connected SOLELY to the cold water faucet and have an internal mechanism that heats the incoming cold water, resulting in longer cycles. If bringing an American washer, you will need to inform the person that hooks it up of this difference. Most plumbers would NOT have heard of the difference in systems. Also, if your refrigerator has an automatic ice-maker, it will need special plumbing, which may or may not be a problem.

Electrical items which are not 220V
Items manufactured for 110V will probably burn out immediately if plugged into a French socket as they would receive twice the required voltage. These types of appliances would only work correctly by means of a transformer.

Most lamps and lighting fixtures made for lower voltages (other than fluorescent fixtures) will operate without requiring rewiring, providing the bulb is changed to a 220V bulb. An incorrect voltage bulb may explode. French light bulbs can be purchased with threaded, screw-in bases that fit most lamp sockets. Enersgy saving flourescent bulbs are commonly available. LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are also making their appearance and will like one day replace incandescent light bulbs.

Electrical items which are not 50 CYCLES (Hz)
A difference in cycles (frequency) effects the speed at which a motor or drive mechanism works. A motor designed for 60Hz operating on a 50Hz system functions at 5/6th its normal speed. This is a problem for precision items such as clocks, stereo turntables, tape recorders/players, DVD and CD players, or microwave ovens, as they operate too slowly.

Transformers change one voltage into another; either 110V to 220V or 220V to 110V. There are different power ratings (sizes) of transformers to handle different wattage requirements, from small (200 watts) to large (1000 watts and more). Transformers do not change the frequency, therefore, any precision items plugged into a transformer which are not 50Hz (cycles), will not operate properly, as mentioned above. Physically, some transformers can be very heavy and not convenient to move from appliance to appliance or room to room. Transformers are available in France, but electrical stores do not usually carry a large supply or choice of power ratings. It is much easier to bring them from home matched to the electrical items they will be used with, or to buy them from someone who is leaving France. In order to plug more than one item into a transformer, you will need a multi-outlet adapter from your home country, such as a 3- or 5-plug outlet bar. Having a few spare extension cords is recommended.

Most electrical items are labeled with their voltage/frequency and wattage requirements. The transformer’s power rating must be large enough to handle the COMBINED (total wattage) of all the electrical items which might be connected to it and in use simultaneously. Note that having more electrical appliances connected to your voltage transformer than it is rated for can result in shorting the transformer and starting a fire.

The following items can be used with a transformer:
• Computers, toasters, hair dryers, coffee makers, sewing machines, power tools, radios, typewriters, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners (bring a few spare belts and bags, as items for an American machine may or may not be available in France)
• Precision items (50Hz) such as clocks, stereo turntables, tape recorders/players. (For music playing items which are not 50Hz, the speakers and receiver will operate fine, however the tape deck and turntables will operate too slowly).
• Microwave ovens which are not 50 Hz are not recommended for use in France (insufficient power) although some people do use them.

Television and Video Recorders
Televisions and video recorders pose a special problem aside from electrical compatibility discussed before. The problem is there are three broadcast systems used around the world. They are not interchangeable and cannot be mixed. The only television and video systems able to operate using any three of the systems are multi-system, switch selectable.

The three systems used world-wide are:
• NTSC SYSTEM: Bahamas Islands, Canada, Central America, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the USA.
• PAL SYSTEM; Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Great Britain, Holland, Hong Kong, Italy, Kuwait, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and West Germany.
• SECAM SYSTEM: Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Luxembourg, Monaco, Poland and previous Soviet countries.

As the French use the SECAM system, if your home country is not SECAM, your television will not receive the French broadcasts. In addition, French VCR tapes will not work in your VCR and your VCR will not work with a French SECAM television.

Televisions and VCRs must be of a compatible system, SECAM with SECAM, PAL with PAL, etc. If you bring a non-SECAM television then you must bring a non-SECAM VCR and tapes to accompany the system in order to use it. The best solution is a multi-system television and VCR which enables you to watch French television, British television (through a satellite dish) and also enjoy your videotapes if you are American and have an NTSC system! Some PAL/SECAM system will read NTSC. Beware! There are two types of NTSC (3.5 & 4.3). The “readers” will only read one of these. This will be a problem when trying to play home videos. Be sure to read the manual before buying your VCR to make sure the system includes both types of NTSC. The best approach is a true multi-system. These are becoming easier to find in France (PAL/SECAM /NTSC system). There are also many English-speaking families here with either PAL or NTSC videos that are regularly shared within the community.

France has recently embarked upon a program switching all terrestrial broadcasting to digital transmission, called TNT (Télévision Numerique Terrrestre). See below.

If you are considering the purchase of a satellite system, there is a huge variety of satellite television equipment and hundreds of stations available. Depending on where you live, satellite television may be accessed through a cable television provider or via a shared (in an appartment building) or individual (in a private home) satellite dish.

A satellite television system (Astra, CanalSatellite, TPS, etc.) requires the following hardware:
• a téléviseur (PAL-system, dual PAL/SECAM or multi-standard television)
• a recepteur de satellite (receiver/decoder)
• an antenne parabolique fixe (fixed satellite dish antenna); an individual dish is not required when accessing a shared dish (cable television provider, apartment building)
• a tête LNB universelle (an LNB, “Low Noise Block Amplifier/Converter”, is a hardware device for converting and amplifying a band of satelllite signals from a high frequency (usually GHz) into lower IF-frequency(usually MHz). The LNB is mounted in the focal spot of a satellite dish and so is also unnecessary when accessing a shared dish)
• câbles et connecteurs (coaxial cable and connectors), generally supplied with the corresponding equipment

Installing a fixed-dish system can be done by anyone with some mechanical aptitude, (or the supplier will install it for a fee). Installation requires only regular do-it-yourself tools, plus a compass to orient/align the dish, the most difficult part since most dishes do not have automatic fine-tuning feature. (Two people and a lot of patience are the main requirements). Most satellite service providers have websites that offer installation tips for do-it-yourselfers. System prices vary greatly depending on the type of equipment you want. A basic kit will include a receiver, antenna, cable and hardware.

The subscription packages offered by the Sky Broadcasting Network, TPS and CanalSatellite have a good variety of entertainment for adults and children. Other pay channel subscriptions are available from other European countries through outlets or mail service. Suppliers of UK satellite television advertise in the English paper “The News”, published monthly and available widely in presses (newspaper/magazine shops) in the area. Other pay channel subscriptions are available from other European countries through outlets or mail service.

Before subscribing to pay television, ensure that your equipment is compatible with the decoding system the pay channel uses; most, but not all, pay TV companies use “Videocrypt” or “Eurocrypt”. Also, if you subscribe to some German or Swedish pay broadcasts, or to Canal Plus, it would be wise to view the programs first since some can be very unsuitable for children.

DIGITAL TELEVISION (Télévision Numérique Terrestre, or TNT)

Digital TV has arrived in France and as of April 2008 all TVs must be sold with an internal TNT decoder to provide crystal clear digital TV. All analog television will stop broadcasting in April of 2011.

If you are not upgrading from the form-factor 4:3 to 16:9 and wish to receive nonetheless TNT programs, or if you bought a 16:9 form factor TV before TNT had arrived, you can buy a decoder separately from most TV appliance stores (such as FNAC or Darty or even on the Web).

Only some programs are beginning to broadcast in high-definition TV. More and more will come on-line, so you are wise to purchase an HDTV television screen. For the present, TNT on an old TV set can make objects looked “squeezed”, because the programs were broadcast in 4:3 format and are viewed on 16:9 format screens. (Which means black bands at the top and bottom if viewed on 4:3 format televisions.) This will change as more channels start program broadcasting in pure 16:9 format – presuming you have TNT on a 16:9 format TV.

You will also require a TV antenna that is compatible with TNT, though most antennas installed within the past five years are already compatible.

TNT is free (that is, it is included in your TV tax that you pay annually) and there are more than 18 channels that can be obtained, some of which broadcast TV series in English. One can also obtain for-fee Canal-Sat, which is a bouquet of TV channels, including some international like CNN, by adding a decoder to your TNT box.

Parental Lock
While it is true that sexual themes and scenes are increasingly common on American television, what your children may tune into while in France might shock you. Programming suitable only for HBO in the States is often shown during regular children’s viewing hours, films roses (“soft” porn), appear on both hertzian and satellite television (usually on Friday and Sunday evenings), and hard-core porn is shown after-hours on some channels that show programs suitable for family viewing earlier in the day.

Fortunately, parental locks are available with most satellite systems. Parents can prevent unauthorized viewing by selecting the stations to be locked from the onscreen listing available through the main menu. A code is required to access those stations that have been verrouillées. Two “regular” stations that you might wish to consider locking are M6/6 (adult-themed television in the evening) and RTL/9 (films roses on Friday evenings). Other channels for which you might prefer to restrict access, due to HBO or adult-themed programming, R-rated films, or, in some cases, soft– and/or hardcore pornography, include Canal Jimmy, Paris Première, Comédie, Série Club, Téva, ABMotors-XXL and the different film and pay-per-view channels, such as the Canal and Kiosque series.

For the redevance de l’audiovisuel (television tax), see Chapter 10.