April 19, 2012
So it’s been 4½ months since I first arrived in France, and in many ways, the time has crept by like “dog years.” That’s not a bad thing—rather, it’s pretty much what I expected by exchanging my comfortable, big-American-city life for a slower and much different one in a French village. On days when I’m at home writing an article or blog post, I could be anywhere; on days when I or take the 40-minute train into fabulous Paris, I’m in my favorite city in the world. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I round a corner and the Eiffel Tower pops into view, when I’m breaking off a fresh piece of a crispy crusted baguette after a stop at a boulangerie, or when I look out my front window in Samois-sur-Seine and remember that the river flowing outside is the same one that snakes through Paris. WOW.
This is what I call the “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Before Sunset” part of my French experience, when my days contain happenings—or involve real-life French people—that seem right out of a Hollywood script.
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 vacation to some fabulous place like Club Med (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.
What I’ve found—and what I’m remembering from my living-in-Italy-as-an-expat experience—is that the small daily victories are worth shouting about. I’m thinking about my first trips to the Institut de Beauté (beauty salon) in the nearby village of Vulaines-sur-Seine and being able to leave with a lovely manicure, pedicure and all-important au naturel bikini wax. (Think this is no big deal? Try making sure that LAST service turns out right in a language you can barely speak!)
Then there’s my first dared return of an item to a French store. I’d bought a teapot but needed to take it back to the large Carrefour supermarket, a big deal since that whole the-customer-is-always-right philosophy never made its way to France. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pull out my limited, preschool-sounding French repertoire of protests and explanations. And I was TOO proud of myself for being able to open my first bank account in the nearby “big town” of Fontainebleau all en français, as the helpful representative handling my file spoke about two words of English. And it went like clockwork!
Then there’s the HUGE acquisition of my titre de sejour, the pink laminated card that attests to my official residency in France. After starting the arduous and time-consuming process back in Chicago in November—and making several trips to nearby préfectures, or the police administrative offices, thanks to the invaluable assistance of an kind older French friend—I’m now legally able to stay in the République Française for at least three years—and an additional three if I choose to renew it. This means I can now buy into the world-renowned French health care system (sadly, I can’t do the same in my home country—but that’s another post/rant for another day) and can come and go from France as I please. Talk about EXHALING—I was floating on air after walking out of the Fontainebleau préfecturewith this little treasure.
By nature, I’m a bit of an obsessive worrywart, someone who gets herself tied up thinking about “what if?” scenarios. But while I’m in France, I’m really trying hard to focus on life’s joys and small pleasures. You UrbanTravelGirls will love this one.
One day, I decided to stop in at this cool-looking independent wine shop called La Cave Avonnaise in the next town. Because the shop is a bit off the beaten path, I figured they’d know their stuff and would be able to advise me on some local purchases. So on my drive back to my flat, I stopped in and a cute and charming young Frenchman was working in the store. Sadly, my French is still terrible, but I’m in all-out “try” mode these days. So he helped me find a reasonably priced bottle of Champagne and an interesting rosé from an appelation not too far away from Samois itself. And after he rang up my purchase, he unexpectedly gave me un cadeau—a box of chocolate truffles as a gift. I thought he was encouraging me to BUY them, but he said, “Un cadeau—pour vous. Because you are so beautiful.” Then he introduced himself and said he’d see me soon. You SO know I’ll be back in there time and time again, stopping in often to pick up more wine. Now tell me WHEN something like that would happen in the States!!!
Can I just say that I love this country?
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