‘This too shall pass’ – Keeping French expat life in perspective

June 28, 2012

There are many fabulous things about Paris, but sometimes you just need a reminder of good ol' American stuff. Here's the first Chipotle location to open in France -- and it's on Boulevard Montmartre, right in the city center.

There are many fabulous things about Paris, but sometimes you just need a reminder of good ol' American stuff. Here's the first Chipotle location to open in France -- and it's on Boulevard Montmartre, right in the city center.

I know I’ve waxed poetic here about the “honeymoon phase” of my move to France and appreciating the “small stuff” about my new life in the charming village of Samois-sur-Seine and within France itself. But you UrbanTravelGirls knew THAT wasn’t going to last. Reality eventually intrudes, and all those cute-and-charming quirks about French life—you know, the midday break most businesses take, the fact that nobody but you seems to be in a hurried rush—start to get on your ever-lovin’ nerves. And I’ve encountered quite a few of those quirks over the past week, frustrating me and making me wonder WHAT in the world I was thinking to trade in a relatively easy and uneventful life back in downtown Chicago for the unpredictability of one as freelance consultant and writer overseas.

To keep my annoyance from getting out of hand, I’ve had to quote myself, referring back to UrbanTravelGirl posts I’ve written in seemingly simpler and less stressful times: “But although there’s much that’s fabulous about living in France, it’s not like every day is a holiday or that I’m constantly planning a last-minute vacation to some fabulous place (my Travel writing work notwithstanding). It’s real life, with all the pressures, challenges, errands and occasional hassles that go along with it—visits to the dry cleaners, La Poste, immigration office and other havens of bureaucracy.” For this Type A workaholic, it’s not always that easy.

Take yesterday, for example. Early in the morning, I tried to buy a train ticket online from Paris to Villefranche-sur-Mer for a friend’s wedding in the south of France, and for some weekend travel from France to northern Italy. Seems simple enough, right? Well, since I needed to pick up the tickets at the Paris train station, the website wouldn’t accept U.S. credit cards, only French “Carte Bleue” ones embedded with a special chip—and my French bank account hadn’t yet credited the funds I’d transferred over from my U.S. bank last week. So I called my bank in the nearby town of Fontainebleau, asking in broken French if I could just deposit euros in my account and have immediately available funds as I would at my bank in the States. NO SUCH LUCK. It would take at least one day.

So I went to Paris’ Gare de Lyon, a large station where trains depart for places in the south such as Marseille and Provence, and Italy. An employee assured me that I COULD use my foreign credit card in a self-service machine, thus skipping the line—so I got out of the long queue. (You know where this is going.) Of course I couldn’t—so those two tries wasted 30 minutes, making me run late for my next appointment.

The taxi driver told me the ride to historic Place Vêndome would take 14 minutes, but it ended up taking 40 and costing a small fortune—AND I ended up jumping out the cab and walking the rest of the way. Every time I’d ask, “Honestly, Sir—how much longer?” he’d say, “Four minutes.” WHY can’t folks just tell the truth, even if they can’t give the answer you’d like? And then the endless queues at the supermarket last night … ARRRGGGHHH!! Last night, I was supposed to check out the VERY cool Festival Django Reinhardt, the Samois summer music fête named for the famed gypsy jazz guitarist, but after this hassle-filled day I was spent.

If I had a euro for every time a friend or acquaintance said, “Wow—you’ve got such a glamorous life,” I’d be a wealthy girl (which I’m obviously not). Sure, thanks to my work, I get to experience incredible places—such as the five-star hotels and restaurants I visited last month in St. Tropez, Nice, and Monaco—but these only pay off if I’m able to translate those into Travel and Food articles that some publication wants to buy. But folks don’t see me sitting in my PJs in the middle of the night and early morning, noisily typing on my laptop and crashing on some deadline. Or the constant back-and-forth e-mails with potential editors and clients about possible projects and story ideas. Or poring over some French-language website or brochure, French-English dictionary in hand, desperately trying to decipher some important rule and keep myself on the right side of the law.

Sure, life would be way simpler and more carefree for us expats if we were independently wealthy or living luxuriously in villas in Jamaica. But as Kelly Clarkson shouts in “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” there’s something to be said for challenges:

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself, and I
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller ….

But it’ll take more than these hassles to send me packing. (And to be fair, there have been GOOD moments this week, such as going to the French immigration office toute seule (all alone, no translating friend in tow) for a required medical exam and walking away with my “Certificat de Controle Medical,” officially stating that I meet the health conditions to legally live in France. YAY for that!!) What’s key is remembering that this is all a learning process—I shouldn’t expect to know all the answers yet. Folks who’ve been here for decades are still figuring out French bureaucracy and how the country works, so why should I be surprised when I get caught off-guard?

As I always say, it’s just more fodder for “the book!”

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2 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Connie  |  November 14, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I’m thinking of visiting Provence with girlfriends for about 10 days (hoping to stay in Grasse). Have you had any experience there or in Provence in general?

  • 2. urbantravelgirl  |  December 24, 2012 at 3:22 am

    Dear Connie,
    My apologies for the tardy response, but thanks so much for your comment! Yes, I have visited Grasse briefly during a day trip (it’s home to some French perfume factories, where you can take tours and see how these lovely scents are made and packaged). I’ve also spent a bit of time in Provence, but more along the French Riviera (in towns such as Cannes, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer). It’s an absolutely GORGEOUS part of France, so I hope that you and your girlfriends make the trip.

    But just a thought … if you’re going to want to do more sightseeing and exploring while you’re there, perhaps consider a larger, more accessible city like Nice as your “home base” for the region. It’s easier to hop on trains, ferries, etc., and discover the rest of the area — PLUS you’re less than an hour train ride from the Italian border and the city of Ventimiglia. Something to consider!

    Merry Christmas and happy travels,

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