In an expat life in France, even the small stuff is worth shouting about

April 19, 2012

These Bateaux Mouches boat rides down the Seine River may feel clichéd, but what a view of Paris! Here I am during a Chicago friend's recent visit to the City of Light.

These Bateaux Mouches boat rides down the Seine River may feel clichéd, but what a view of Paris! Here I am during a Chicago friend's recent visit to the City of Light.

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.

A view of the incomparable Notre Dame cathedral from that Bateaux Mouches boat ride down the Seine. Sometimes I STILL can't believe that I'm able to savor joys like this without first getting on a plane -- just a suburban Paris train!

A view of the incomparable Notre Dame cathedral from that Bateaux Mouches boat ride down the Seine. Sometimes I STILL can't believe that I'm able to savor joys like this without first getting on a plane -- just a suburban Paris train!

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.

Ahhh... the film that started it all for me back in 2003 and helped inspire my first move to Europe. Sometimes, my daily life feels like a scene from this incredible film about reinventing yourself abroad.

Ahhh... the film that started it all for me back in 2003 and helped inspire my first move to Europe. Sometimes, my daily life feels like a scene from this incredible film, one all about reinventing yourself abroad.

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.

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!)

Here I am this winter on rue du Bas Samois, an incredibly scenic street on which I travel to get to the center of town, where the boulangerie, post office and small library are housed.

Here I am this winter on rue du Bas Samois, an incredibly scenic street on which I travel to get to the center of town, where the boulangerie, post office and small library are housed.

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 préfecture with 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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17 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Nikki Stewart  |  April 19, 2012 at 5:32 am

    This blog arrived in in box at exactly the right moment…I am a black woman who has just relocated to Turkey and I am grappling with the homesickness bug right now!!!!

    I love your hair by the way…I’ll be keeping a close eye on your blog as I hope to start one of my own very soon.

    Ciao

    Ps..I also spent a short time living in Italy xx

  • 2. urbantravelgirl  |  April 19, 2012 at 5:38 am

    MERCI for visiting my blog, Nikki — and CONGRATS to you for your move to Turkey!!! Where exactly are you? I’ll have to look you up when I finally get back there … I LOVED the week I spent in your new country.

    And THANKS for the kind words about my hair … ALWAYS a work in progress! :-)

    And you’ll have to let me know where you lived in bella Italia … what a wonderful place!!

    Let us know when you start blogging — we’ll all want to live vicariously through your adventures. And hang in there … the homesickness is no joke, but it will pass!!

    Maureen

  • 3. wintersundays  |  April 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your French joys! :-)

  • 4. Tanya  |  April 19, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Hi,

    I am living, vicariously, through you! I tried to live in Florence, Italy (my love). And, would like to relocate to France. Getting a Visa has been the biggest obstacle. Can’t figure out how to secure one.

    Can you please tell me how you secured a Visa. I would, greatly, appreciate it. Please email me if it is something you prefer not to post.

    So happy for you.

    Still in the U.S. and not happy about it,

    Tanya

  • 5. Tracey  |  April 19, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Love your post! I married a French citizen (here in the States) and even though I loved Paris before I loved him, I STILL don’t have my residency card and hope to get that accomplished very soon as I extend my trips to France every year. This year, I’ll be there for 6 weeks…perhaps we can meet pour un cafe!

  • 6. Tisch Cistrunk-Parmelee  |  April 19, 2012 at 9:43 am

    C’est magnifique! :-) I ♥ reading your blog. You are such an inspiration to me, and thanks for sharing your daily victories. I look forward to the day when I start my ex-pat journey. My passport is twitchy. LOL

  • 7. Janice Temple  |  April 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for sharing your daily adventures in France. Congrats looks like you are envisioning being there for a long time.

  • 8. Vanessa Clark  |  April 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Hey My Sistah I am inspired and encouraged by your courage and the following of your dream to make your move. I look forward to your blogs and postings! You could start another business for sistahs like me who mitght be considering a move there or vacation there by being our guide etc! The movie Under the Tuscan Sun as inspired me as well to travel there, hopefully soon!!! Be encouraged my sistah!! until your next blog, Vanessa Clark

  • 9. maureen odonnell  |  April 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Love your post, Maureen! Even in Ireland, where we all ostensibly speak the same language, so many misunderstandings and pitfalls can accompany little purchases and official paper-wrangling.

  • 10. Herbiv4  |  April 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I’m so glad that I stumbled across your blog. I’ve been a globetrotter since right after I finished undergrad in ’98 (although there were some trips out of the country with my grandmother as a child prior to that). My job sent me to Paris for 2 months (on their dime) back in 2010 and I fell in love with the place. I give myself another 3-4 years of trying to rebuild some equity before I sell my home and move just outside of Paris myself. I’m hoping that there are some ‘everyday life’ pictures included on this blog somewhere. Oh, how I long to become a permanent ex-pat…

  • 11. Sharon  |  April 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I’m glad you are adjusting very well. I love the rosé there, I found I enjoyed the paler ones. Please keep posting, I’m planning a trip back to Italy but who knows I might make my way back to France also. I too dream of being an expat. If I had won that $600+ mega lottery, I would be in Europe right now! Keep having fun.

    Sharon

  • 12. Renee  |  April 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    I LOVE it! You go, Maureen! :D (That’s a big ole grin… like I’m there experiencing it with you!)

  • 13. Nikki Stewart  |  April 20, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Hi again…thanks for the prompt response. I lived in Turin for a very short spell earlier last year. I must say that I prefer the South of Italy (Sicily).

    I am currently residing in Fethiye in South West Turkey. I came to Turkey last year and loved it. So thought I’d explore my life’s dream of living abroad and Turkey seemed like a good place to try. It’s not without it’s challenges though…as the homesickness bug is really taking root. And goodness knows how I will sort out my hair…I need to fly home to sort it out soon lol….keep in touch xx

  • 14. urbantravelgirl  |  April 20, 2012 at 4:49 am

    Ciao, Nikki –
    SO proud of you for taking the plunge and moving abroad to a place where I’m SURE there aren’t a whole lot of folks who look like you. The whole expat thing is HARD — but it’s certainly worth trying. And the hair thing? Don’t get me started on that … it’s tough even when you live near a big, multicultural city like PARIS!

    Hope you’ll keep in touch … and let us know when you launch that blog!

    Maureen

  • 15. Felicia Shelton  |  April 21, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Great to hear from you and your life in France! When are we going to meet up? I just started teaching at a fashion school here in Paris and I love it. When you come to Paris next time please contact me, I’d love to have lunch with you and talk more about your life and travels. Our next trip is going to be to Italy, maybe we can exchange information about France and Italy. Ciao Bella!

  • 16. Gail Sanders  |  April 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Congrats lady! I loved your story and passed it on to a friend who also desires traveling to Paris one day.

    With each passing birthday, I begin to get depressed and ask myself ” why, oh why, am I still living in NYC?” I’ve been to Paris. What an enchanting city!

    I’m planning to pursue certification in CELT and/or TESOL, so I too can live abroad. My favorite cities are Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome. I might try living in Montreal first, just to get my feet wet.

    Your story is truly inspiring! Thank you for blazing the trail. I’m proud of you and all the other sisters who are pursuing their dreams. Blesses and best wishes…across the Atlantic!

  • 17. GHG  |  April 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Is your hair natural? Its beautiful. How do you manage your hair abroad?

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