Being Prepared to be Unprepared and Joyeux Anniversaire à Nous en France

Look! I remember how to log into this blog! Which really calls more into question my password changing practices and not so much my memory…

So here I am a couple days after our anniversary of arriving in Paris… which let’s have a quick update and reflection:

Paris Season… 5ish…

So since last post:

  • Bought an apartment
That a big key!
That a big key!

I know other things have happened but seriously dudes that made my… year… decade… life.  Super happy in our own chez-nous in Paris. I keep thinking we will regret it when our loan payments come out each month but then. I just. don’t. Because it is friggin’ awesome.

17IMG_0627

Anyway this takes a lot of effort and much of our life has been a bit saturated with home-needs. We started looking last February, our offer was accepted last April, everything was official in September and we have been living here since October.  Since then lots of home projects which eventually I may share with you kind internet blog black-hole.

Other newssss:

  • Still at the same job! I speaka the French every day! And I am now moving into a new position. 😀 In the last year the product I work on has launched in France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Austria! In addition, we have released a major project which was a collaboration with the Irish team. And soon we launch in the UK and Ireland. Boy this past year at work has been… eventful and unbelievable! Lots of stress and responsibility but very rewarding and I have gotten to travel a bit with the job and work with other nationalities which is my favorite part.
  • All our siblings are married off! Which meant 3 trips to the US in the last year.
  • Still teaching dance on the side but not dancing as much as we would like
  • Returning back to Yoga thanks to the awesome Affordable Yoga Fitness.
  • Still loving France
  • Learned how to roll sushi.
  • Family came to visit and we have spent quite a bit of time in Loire lately.  And look forward to more family and Loire in the future! Life is good.
  • Plotting my next adventures thinking to take some time in Spain as I take back up Spanish (because I am loca) and Asia (I know big… but I am open)

Moral of the Story: Being an Expat = Prepare to Not be Prepared (AKA Adultness)

I will not bore you more with my Sheila News of the Year but leave you with a tidbit of reflection (still a high chance of boredom could arise).

Easy for you to say… you are a lion

Being an expat/transplant/immigrant (because let’s get real ‘expat’ is just a white privilege fancy word for immigrant) has ‘gotten easier’ as in I am now used to not being used to things.

Moving to a new country, is relearning everything (when perhaps you had not already figured everything else out in your old country) instead now you must do it again in 1 or 2 years rather than 18.

Imagine:

  • Registering/applying so you may be allowed to live there and work (a bit of the expat birth)
  • learning to speak (in the case of moving to a country with a new language)
  • learning about doctors, police, laws, social rules, where to buy random things that before never were a question like… the metal thing you put in your drain to catch stuff or Birthday cards
  • obtaining your driver’s license
  • Social Security subscription
  • Translation of all documents: marriage and birth certificates to prove you exist
  • Asking yourself questions you never thought you would have to like: ‘Will I be socially shunned if I slice the cheese in this fashion?’
    • The answer is Yes.

Now add a layer of figuring out HOW and WHERE to do the above with the vocabulary of a 2 year old.

This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!
This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!

I have not learned just how to ‘to be French’ but I have learned HOW to learn.

So I advise you several things:

  • Get used to it… the sooner you accept things will be hard and learn adapting/problem solving skills the better.
  • I know you love your expat friends and they are a great comfort and resource as they know and have done what you have done, but also meet locals! Really just meet as many people as possible. They add to your experience and comfort the blow.

Now on year 4 starting… things feel easier but then BAM! New life experience demands awkwardness/growth (now things that I have never done even back in the US that are just adult responsibility evolutions).  Like filing taxes as a home owner!

Expat Pokemon Evolve! photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852
Expat Pokemon Evolve!
photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852

And then suddenly Expatness feels a little less a state only for us sorry/masochist types that have immigrated more like just like…

Adult Life

– S

 

 

Finding yourself after Finding Yourself + A Life Update

Life Update

So my life has gone through… changes.  Where am I now, almost a year ago since the last post?

meandaug
On a recent trip to Amsterdam – Photo by Marilyn Suarez
  1. Got a new job nine months ago!  At a French company!  In French!  So my French speaking abilities have gone from “poor” to “workable but still shameful”. ;p  Seriously though it is going very well.  Another new intense challenge but worth it.
  2. Everyone in my family ever is getting married.  Which is awesome.  And that means trips back to the US to see them.  We have another this coming October!
  3. I am in the process of finalizing the buying of an apartment. *fingers crossed*.

Honestly, with how stressful and insecure things were for us for so long in France (whether I shared them on the internetz or not) I was not sure I would ever find this stability again.  And WHAM now after a lot of hard work I am on stable ground. *touch wood – as they say here*

 

Selfie after my last Visa Renewal.  Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.
Selfie after my last Visa Renewal. Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.

And I am happy.  Obviously we are also planning on sticking around for the long run.

Next Steps – Refinding Yourself

When you move to a foreign country (or anywhere) to find yourself, often you find yourself… in respect to your native country.

Self Questioning as an Expat

For at least the first two to three years you have one line of questioning…

How does this new experience compare to my previous in your old country?  And how should you react?

This post needs more photos, so there you go. Photo by Marilyn Suarez
This post needs more photos, so there you go, me and my husband on a train.
Photo by Marilyn Suarez

You are not finding yourself, but finding who you are as an expat from your native country and who you should be in your new country.  You become a walking stereotype and diplomat.

Then you either go home, move on to a new country or stay.

Moving on to the root question, “Who are you?”

if you stay, it is at this point (which you will reach at least by the 3 year mark as we all know Love Only Lasts 3 Years), where you start to sift through all the noise, stereotypes and confusion to figure out who YOU are and not who your country is (the new or native).

I am there now.

I love my life, my friends, my city and still appreciate my roots.  But I have taken on too much and I also have taken on too much the persona of an ‘Expat’.  Which was useful and necessary for the original transition but now is old and tired.

Photo by Corey Maynard
Photo by Corey Maynard

While being a transplant will ALWAYS affect me.  I do not want that to be me.  When I am introduced I do not want to be, ‘Sheila the American who lives in Paris’.

I want to be ‘Sheila the mobile application designer’ or ‘Dancer’ or ‘Poet’ or ‘Lover of fine cheeses’ or ‘Life Long Learner’. Or whatever I find to be my true focus. It could even be ‘Sheila the woman that loves Paris’

It is not a shedding of my national identity because I am ashamed, it is just not hiding behind it.

Plus it’s too easy

To say… I reason like this because I am American.  Yes, I am sure that is true to an extent.

But why?  Not all Americans think the same.  So why in particular do I reason like this?

Because I am me.

But who am I?

Photo by Marilyn Suarez
Photo by Marilyn Suarez

And that is nothing an astonishing view of the Eiffel Tower or a buttery croissant can tell you.  Unless you find time to self reflect while enjoying them.

– S

Author’s Note:  It may seem contradictory to post this sort of post on an Expat Blog. And you are probably right.

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo
Translation: American Flowers in Paris

First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.

While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris.  It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share.  So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often.  But we might as well get started.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

Now where were we? Season 3, looking back at the archive.  I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.

Austin is in a new job.  We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood.  We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013
Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.

Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.

Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.

And of course we love Paris more than ever.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)
Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.

After School Special

What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.

EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121: Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.
Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!

Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.

Until the next post – S

 

 

The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. 🙂

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine
Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein
    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.
  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math
    Digestif aftermath
  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?
Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S

TLDR? – 8 Bits of Advice for Your 1st Year Abroad

This is my summary of what if anything I would suggest to do/or would have done differently approaching my 1st year abroad.

1. Learn the language right away:

Just rip that bandaid off… do it.  You will want to eventually, and its way worse the more you wait… It’s less cute when you have been here a year and you ask your bank representative “Can I have elephant?”. Even for a short stay this is worth your time and in addition will help you understand the culture (as language is often closely tied to cultural view).  This is part of your epic story abroad! I discussed this in my last post… Plus, I like you so much… here jump to the good meaty advice parts about how to approach learning the language. Basically start speaking and learning the language (and only that language) right away, no matter how short or long you will be there.

2. Research living needs, visas & important stuff yourself:

I know its boring… I know you may trust your employer/university/family to help you out with this.  But who is best to take care of your life but yourself?  You can ask for their help but in the end you need to research, double check, & triple check all facts.  Go to the closest embassy (even if the closest is far away) and then call a couple others around your country  until you get conclusive answers (a rare beast!). Contact locals you may find on social networks.  Contact future colleagues.  This is especially important when it comes to visas… living needs… apartment finding… contracts/your rights as a worker… etc. Do your research and peer review it and you will be happy for it.

3. Take care of it before you come:

Austin covered in stuff...
Austing all packed up and ready to move to Paris… wearing 4 layers of clothing and electronics so he does not trip the weight limit.

Piggy baking on the last advice, your life is not permanent here until you have your visa… so know you cannot get settled until then. In addition, there will be important things you need to settle in your home country pre- travel, so just get it done.  Flying back to settle it is expensive or dealing with it abroad sometimes impossible/stressful. So get your visa and important stuff settled before hand. 

4. Come early, give yourself time:

This may not always be possible.  But come early and resist starting work/school right away!  The difference between us and some of our colleagues is we had a month to settle our affairs in the US and then a week once we got here.  We spent that week looking into apartments, settling our bank account, getting to know our neighborhood and recovering from jet lag…  Meaning we had an apartment, where another colleague was staying at a hotel for a couple months…  It will be hard for you to get this stuff done after you start work/school, so give yourself space if possible.

5. Meet as many people as possible: 

Pizza maker in the 11th
One of the friendly locals we have met at the delicious Pizzeo in the 11th. Picture by my mother.

Fraternize with coworkers, talk to your local baker, join some meetups or learn to dance!  You will not feel like one of the people until you meet the people. 

Plus it takes a village to raise an expatriate… 

6. Find connection back home and in your new home:

Weird Cat Judges You
Our first home purchase… We did not feel quite okay until we had a weird cat perched upon our shelf. A creepy family tradition!

Conversely… still take time for yourself.  Nurture both sides: the new one and the old.  You do not want to get to the point where you are burnt out AND homesick.  Take the time to still call home when you can.  Be okay with spending a Sunday in cleaning your house. Even if a temporary home, decorate it some. Basically find some regularity in the irregularity. Dumping a fish into new water will cause shock, same will go for you.

7. Go with the Flow: 

Weird stuff will happen… be okay with it and learn. 95% of all weird/uncomfortableness/confrontations will be due to culture differences.  Observe first before reacting. Once you understand the complete situation then you will know what to expect and when you need to stand up for yourself.

8. Enjoy your time!:

On the Seine at sunset
Us Week 1 in Paris. Sunset on the Seine.
You will be stressed at points… you will be lonely at points… You may think that you will not be able to make it work!  All the more reason to try to just enjoy where you are… right here and now.  This is a once in a lifetime chance for many people… so try to sit back and enjoy it as much as possible.
So… Carpe Expatum!
– S

Life in Paris Season 3 – Living the American Dream in Paris

 

On the Seine - Picture by My Wonderful Mother
Us - Season 3

So here we are!

Parisian life Part/Year Deux.. but we in the Suarez-Flores household call it Season 3, as far as Parisian life changes go.  We have been back around a month now, after our trip to the US, but with the flourish of guests… our work schedule… and settling back in, I have barely had a moment to breath let a lone write.

Season 1 was our first job. Season 2 was the move to unemployment and then quickly luckily into new employment.  Season 3… is what I shall call… actually settling into Parisian life.

But first some reflection and advice… Primarily: Learn the language.

So what is life like?

  • We work a lot.
  • We eat a lot.
  • We walk everywhere.
  • We teach dance weekly.
  • We travel when we can.
  • We fumble around with French.

Really not much different from Season 2… but it feels different.

The Difference

Well, the big difference is where my head is at. I am fed up.

Before, with so much uncertainty, it was okay to be confused at all times… It was okay to frown but accept weird charges on my phone bill.  It was okay, to be at odds at all times. It was okay, to accidentally order three soups instead of two. Why? Because we were new here and this is what we took as the cost of being an expat in a country where the language was not our native one.

My mother and I sont les ignorants.
"Les ignorants voyagent à Paris!" - My Mother and I posing for our favorite inside joke.

In fact, being back in the US for those 3 weeks it felt WEIRD to finally not be uncomfortable at all times  (which is a post for another time).  Not a complaint… but it made me laugh how used I had gotten to being uncomfortable.

And now I am back.. and I no longer want to be uncomfortable… I am sick of being apologetic and akward. I want a “normal” Parisian life (which will always include apology and formality I realize, as is their way).  I want my old confidence back in my surroundings… I want..

I want the American Dream!

The American Dream in Paris is to blend in.  To order wine with ease.  To meld with your sometimes bewildering French colleagues (because trust me… working in a different country is well, different). To be able to complain about the weather with your fellow boulangerie patrons. Perhaps, it is not the dream for some of the famed ugly american tourists, but it truly is for us Expats that have fallen in love, figured out how to move here and now call this mystical/sometimes mythical place home.

We want to be French.

Karma.. Karma... Chinese Lion
Me, as the social chameleon.

Or at least succeed at becoming French for our time here.

And right now, despite the support of my French and international friends I have yet to achieve that comfortability.

And its my fault.

Í have yet to achieve it because I do not know the language fluently.

There are jaded and not so jaded expatriates that will tell you otherwise about achieving this dream of fitting in… They will tell you that Paris is for the French.  That you will never fit in. I have heard this on several occasions.

Well, first of all I do not want to fit in with those types of exclusive Parisians, which I know those exist.  I just want to be able to live my life normally and interact with them if need to but otherwise interact with the awesome accepting/welcoming/funny French/Parisians that I have met.

But I will never feel at ease here until I learn the language…

Until I see a charge on my phone bill and then can call up and speak in French and explain and get although probably begrudging… but at least palpable… assistance to fix it. Or at least understand what they say when they hang up on me.

My cable has been on and off broken now for a year… And I live in fear of speaking to a human to fix it.

This is not I!

So I must learn French… I want to… I always have… but with not working in French, I have not made the effort enough outside of work to become fluent.  I am fine… I can mumble out some food words… or talk to a foreign french speaker.

But that is not enough.  As I live in fear of probably 95% of potential interactions I may have with the populace on a given day.  I need to get this down to at least a solid 25%.  Because it is isolating and damned uncomfortable.

SO THAT IS MY VOW.

So young... so strong...
Us on our Honeymoon 1.5 years ago at Place Saint-Michel - Ready to conquer... So young.

I will conquer you Paris… and your beautiful mystifying and sometimes odd sounding but beautiful language.  I will gnaw on the metaphorical skull that is your language.

And how! No really… how?

I have some tools I want to share in detail later but basically:

  1. Devouring all culture possible in French only.  Bought us an unlimited movie pass for two people for 35EUR a month!
  2. Only French spoken now at home (no joke).
  3. Flashcards… lots of digital flashcards.
  4. Reading fun stuff in French on my kindle, thanks to the help of a french dictionary I installed on it. Should probably switch to a French to French dictionary…
  5. Actually talking to people in French. Like a real person!
  6. Listening to podcasts as much as humanely possible, all in french.
  7. Hope to start journaling in French soon.
  8. Finishing my grammar lessons at home… (also a pending todo)
Really just making myself do it.. And already only a week into it.  There is a difference.
Any way here I go…

Allons !- S

Affording Paris – Setting Your Budget

This is the first part of my three part (at least) series on settling into Paris.  Most importantly finding a roof for your head.

But the first question you need to ask yourself is…

Can I afford this?

 

Or really, HOW can afford this?  If living in Paris is what you desire, depending on your income/savings you may have to make some “sacrifices” in creature comforts to afford what you need.  And although I find it worth it, you will know your own limit.  Life in Paris is in no way a hardship, its just is different from in-particular lifestyles in suburbia USA.  And I am sure these same sacrifices you  need to make to live in other big cities such as NYC and Chicago.

Anyway… let’s analyze the bare minimum of what you should expect to need.

Cost of Living (minus lodging):

I find lots of cost of living sites on the internet misleading (often inflated).  Comes down to how YOU are willing to live (especially with food and entertainment). I recommend thinking about what your core basics are and then research perspective companies that might offer them, to calculate costs.  Also, try to find locals or bloggers on the internet that might be similiar to your situation to ask.

An idea of monthly living costs, as of October 2011 (for a couple):
  • Transportation – 120 EURO for two monthly metro/bus passes
    • Though personally we just walk and buy carnets (books of 10 tickets) for our occasional ride.
    • Add 30 EURO more to the pass if you live outside of the city.
  • Electricity – 50 EURO for 2 people in a 27meter squared one room apartment.  This escalates closer to 70 during the winter, depending on your heating preferences and the age of the building.
  • 2 Phones/Internet/TV – 90 EURO
    • Take 30 EURO off, if you have one phone.
    • Yes, these all come as combos usually.  As in, we didn’t want TV, but it comes with it.
    • We currently are with Bouygues.  Not super impressed… I hear FreeWifi is better and cheaper.
  • Water – 20 EURO?
    • Included in our rent so this is a guess.
  • Apartment Insurance – 12 EURO/month
    • Required to rent.  And you need it before you secure a long term apartment lease.  I went with a local agent, recommended through a friend. But I heard you can secure this via the internet.  Make sure you get coverage for theft & window/glass breakage.
  • Food for Two – 600 EURO/Month or 20 EURO/Day
    • This of course varies.  And this is if you are very good about eating in with an occasional dinner out.
    • Some meals out can cost 7EURO-30EURO per person… so its up to you.  And those on the lower end are not usually bad.  Just have to find the right spots!
  • Misc – 100 EURO
    • Medicine, cleaning stuffs, etc.
This comes out to 992 EURO/month for two people minus lodging.  That’s if you live minimumally.  Which you have to have an iron will to live as such in Paris.
For one person, I would say take off 400 (as couples share most expenses).  So 592 EURO/month for one person minus lodging.
Do not forget the Shiney Things:
  •  Entertainment and inevitable travel (you are in Paris/Europe after all!)… this could be up to 500EURO/person a month… but that depends on you!  But its foolish not to fit some of that into your budget.
  • Shopping? – I do not but… you might want to.  Depends on your tastes, the amount varies you can pay for this.
  • Booze & Other Vices – A beer or glass of wine is at least 8EURO  if you go out to a bar.  Happy hour is pretty popular here and will save you a EURO or two. Cigarettes are 5 Euro a pack.
  • And then of course the expense of traveling to/from whence you came, if you plan on going back to visit.
  • Medical Insurance? – While basic coverage free in Europe, when in an emergency you could still accrue some heavy bills.  Plus dentistry and optometry costs are not covered. If you plan on getting some supplemental insurance, plan at least 50 euro a month for a good plan.

Oh Right… Savings…

Do not forget a buffer!  For example getting locked out of your apartment could cost you from 400-1k (a blog post for another day).  So once again… look back at your budget and expected costs and perhaps cut out some shiney things to ensure you have some savings.  Saving at least 10% of what you make is a good start.

ADDENDUM: Taxes… Oh right!

Working here?  They will take out most of your taxes (up to 25%) BUT I would suggest saving an extra 10% as at the end of the year the government will be sending you a bill for the rest!  (That’s right you report your first year but the following years they calculate it for you!)  Worse comes to worse you save too much and have some to burn on travel at the end of the year!

What about Lodging?

That is actually a separate topic as this can be greatly variable depending on your needs and wants.  In fact I encourage you to calculate the above first and THEN look at what your lodging budget will be (then of course tweak your utilities to fit the space of your abode you desire). And perhaps make some sacrifices on your shiney object budget.

Expect a post shortly talking about researching/gaining lodging.

But if you need a ball park now.  Expect to pay as little as 500 euro/month if you do not mind living in old maids quarters (10 square meters and a bathroom in the hall) to 2000 euro/month for large flat’, 2-3 bedrooms, 60-70 square meters.  We pay 850 euro/month for our 27 square meters one bedroom apartment a little north of the center of the city.

 

Til next time – S

 

Put an Egg on It & Other Ways to French it Up

You might be eating French food if….

  • Is there an egg on it?
  • Is there salmon on it?
  • Is there cheese in/on/under/smothering it?
  • Is it on a baguette?
  • Is it using Creme Fraiche? (creamy sauce)
  • Is it MEAT? (extra french points if it is raw)
  • Are there potatoes on the side?  Or on top?
  • Is it in no way spicy? 🙁
These points include fast food as well.  There are other core fundamentals I’m sure I have not experienced.  Slow cooked fowl also seems pretty darn popular.  And snails are common to find but not as stereotypically so as you might think.
But most importantly…

Is there an egg on it? 

We have found eggs:

  • In soup
  • On sandwichs
  • On burgers
  • On raw meat
  • On a pizza
  • On a salad
  • In a calzone
  • On top of pasta
And it is damn delicious.  Usually these are over easy eggs.

Pour example:

Beef Tartar – Potatoes on the side not pictured.

Austin ate this a week or so ago. Raw Beef, with an egg on top, potatoes on the side not pictured.  With a French rating of 4 out of 8 points.  Verdict: PRETTY DARN FRENCH

A Very French Lox & Bagel Twist = Lox & Baguette

 

So taking 5 of the 8 points I give you my recipe for an awesome breakfast/lunch/dinner sandwich.  Add some potatoes on the side and you got 6 French points!

Voila! Lox & Baguette

For One Sandwich You Need…

  • Third of a Baguette (We used a poppy seed one.  Best if you get a wider one as our was a little awkward to eat, being we just put two baguettes next to each other to make it wide)
  • Two slices of onion
  • Boursin – Or any herby cheese spread or soft cheese (might be good with goat cheese)
  • One Egg
  • A palm size amount of Smoked Salmon Lox

Delivery

  • Cut an amount of Baguette that fits your tummy size and split it in half to create your open face sandwich surface.
  • Cook an overeasy egg.  Sunny side up egg if you like more yolk.  OPTIONAL: I prefer to pepper and salt the egg while cooking.
  • Towards the end of cooking the egg, toast your baguette in a toaster or hot skillet.
  • OPTIONAL: In the last 30 seconds or so of cooking your egg place your salmon on top.  I personally prefer my salmon to not be cold with the hot egg.  But be careful not to cook it too much.  You can also place a lid over the skillet to expedite this (only 15 seconds though).  
  • When done, be sure to take the egg/salmon off the heat so it does not overcook.
  • Spread boursin on the baguette.
  • Onion layer comes next.
  • Egg & Salmon on top.
Voila!  You might also enjoy Capers on top.

Required Viewing:

 

Now eat while watching this:

Basically what I think of when I see an egg on EVERYTHING in France.

Put an Egg on it! – S

The French are nice

I always cringe when I am asked/told, “Oh you moved to Paris? Aren’t the French rude?” Honestly… no they aren’t!

Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m naive but in the four months since we’ve been here I’ve only had one “rude” experience.  I’ve had more random acts of kindness than I remember having in a long time. Though to be fair I’m often in need… Takes a village to move an expat.

Talk the Talk

I hear from travelers or worse case people who have never been to France boldly stating their belief that the French are rude and I should be careful.

It’s funny because I have a feeling that most of these people if a foreigner came into their work, didn’t speak a lick of their language and demanded service, they would not be so keen.

What is important, to have a good experience, NO MATTER where you go is: Learn some of the language.

To be honest I made the same error in the Czech Republic.  At first I thought the inhabitants were rude and gruff.  But once I at least learned thank you in Czech, “De-koo-yah”.  People opened up much more.  It’s making that effort.

Just try to think of it from their point of view, though maybe not always correct, if you were rushing to work (which people are apt to do in big cities like Paris) and some one stopped you and started speaking [Insert foreign language you don’t understand here], you might be abrupt.  Hence why the French in the country are considered nicer.

Why do I think the French get a bad rap?

Just my observations…

  • Mocking – They may mock you when you try to speak French.  But honestly, if we can’t laugh at our horrible butchering of their language, they might as well  But usually its just a bemused repeating of what you just said, and they are still helpful in the end.
  • They are called “serveurs” for a reason, not “waiter” – Just looking at the word itself shows the cultural belief and difference between the role of a server in France vs. let’s say America.  They serve you your food, true.  But they don’t wait on you.  You order in one go, they bring it to you.  And then they leave you be until you wave your finger in the air.  You could sit for hours.
    It’s not necessarily BETTER, though I do prefer it.  It’s just different.  To each their own!  And when you are among their own, try to appreciate it for your stay.
  • They love their language – The French really fully truly love the ins and outs of their national language.  They are proud of its poetry.  They are one of the few countries that speak a romance language that strictly stick with the formality and semi archaicness of vous vs. tous.  They love their heritage and they are conscious as to what is proper to say or not and have a million ways to say it.  So yes, maybe, they COULD scrounge up the English they learned in highschool to help you out.  But if they are able to do it via pantomime and french, they might prefer it.
    THOUGH I have found, especially young French people are super enthusiastic to try out their English on you.
  • They are “proper” – Etiquette is important to them.  No feet on the chair.  Eat with a knife and fork.  Don’t shove the whole quiche down your neck hole.  And let’s face it, people on vacation are not always proper.
  • That whole pushing out air thing they do with their mouths – To put it not so politely, its kinda a fart noise.  The French seem to do it when they are asked a question ( like directions for a confused tourist) and they are not sure, as to say, “Hmmm let me think… not sure I know.”  But it kinda put me off guard when I first got here as its not a sound I’m used to.  Until I realized they were just thinking…

On the contrary:

  • They are extremely welcoming.  They will say “Bonjour” to their neighbors several times a day.  Not something I’m used to.
  • When they say goodbye they must say it at least 3-5 times. Especially at the super market. “C’est moi.  Merci ! Bonne journée ! Bientôt ! Au revoir, merci !”
  • They kiss random strangers and loved ones alike.  Bisous is a strange at first but kinda awesome tradition.  One that has gotten Austin and I in trouble a couple of times, but nice.  He learned the hard way that guys don’t kiss male strangers.  And we have started to like it so much that when we have American visitors we find ourselves going in for the kiss… which then usually turns into an awkward hug on each side for good measure.
  • The people that work in A. a Frommerie (cheese shop) or B. a Boulangerie (bakery) might be the happiest people in the world.  Might be the fumes.  They are just ECSTATIC and not pushy in any way.  Sometimes makes me want to run away and sell cheese until an old age amongst the smiles.

Cultural Karma Chameleon

 

It comes down to that believe it or not the French are human.  And I’m sure their jerk ratio is the same as the American jerk ratio.

I really feel uncomfortable when Americans are assumed to be uncultured French haters. ;p  And now I feel uncomfortable when Americans assume the French are rude.  This is not an anti anything post… this is a pro people post!

So I suppose I am espousing the principal of “Laissez faire”.  Barring they are not kicking babies, try to blend in as much as possible when you visit a foreign country.  Do as the Romans do in Rome, etc.

You might just be surprised how nice our fellow humans can be, when you just open up.

Enough of the hippy talk – S