WAKE ME UP WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS

I looked around my apartment tonight, and realized that I have run out of a lot of things I brought with me from America.

My toothpaste, bodywash, trash bags, cleaning products, soaps… slowly but surely, Crest, Olay, Glad, Mr. Clean, Ivory, have been replaced with Colgate (with only French text), Caudalie, Monoprix brand, Monsieur Propre, Le Petit Marseillais.

The little things that make up my life are transforming into French things. What a weird feeling.

I’m headed into my sixth month of living abroad (I mean seriously? Half a YEAR, already?). I didn’t have any goals per se coming into six months, didn’t set any milestones at all – if I didn’t love it, I’d have come back, no timeline impositions here. But I have (finally?) started to feel some pangs of homesickness, I’m sure entirely exacerbated by my canceled trip from a couple of weeks ago.

I had tried to predict, back in April, what would be the things I’d miss six months into my life in France. I think I could’ve guessed most of these things accurately but now that I am in the thick of missing them, it’s such a weird and palpable feeling.

  • Real Starbucks iced coffee (black coffee, double brewed, ice.)
  • Ice. GIVE ME ALL OF THE ICE IN FRANCE!
  • American Diet Coke (I love Coke Light, don’t get me wrong, but… I know it’s off)
  • An actual cheese pizza. No crème fraîche, oeufs, viande hachée… just greasy cheese and a chewy crust
  • Being able to understand everything that is happening around me. Not having to mentally prepare to venture outside and interact with people
  • Turning on the TV and just finding some shite reality show rerun and zoning out for a minute. Internet TV is not the same okay!
  • The ability to have long and meaningful conversations with somebody face to face. This one is tricky. Because I know that I can (and I have!) told my French friends anything and everything, and they are here for me with love and support (seriously I am so lucky). So this isn’t to say that I can’t have meaningful conversations period. But there is something about the ease of communication that you can have with a fellow native speaker that I miss – and knowing that I am understood just as easily. My French friends, I will say, have made herculean efforts to improve their English and I am proud to say that they all sound more American now than they did six months ago ;)
  • Being surrounded by Americans. I honestly feel like I could go for a group hug or a cuddle puddle with thirty jolly loud boisterous exclamation-mark-using Americans right now. Just for a couple of hours. That’s all I need.
  • Side story: my boss (American, been in France for four years AND IT’S LIKE HE WAS NEVER AMERICAN, I swear) chided me for using too many exclamation marks in a piece of copy and teased me about how American I was being. HOW DARE HE

And naturally, being in close physical contact with my friends back home. FaceTime, Whatsapp, Hangouts are great but it’s just not the same.

I’m worried that if I post this blah of an entry it’s going to undermine the fact that I am honestly still really happy here. I just know that it was only a matter of time before homesickness crept up and bummed me out for a weekend or two. It’s a happiness hangover, to be honest. These past six months have been the best six months of my life and I’m trying to look at this moment as an equalizer, to help  me stabilize my mentality to take me through the next six months (and beyond) of life in France. I think this feeling is something that every expat anticipates and faces eventually, and I’m sure it is different for everybody.

So to end on a lighthearted note, here is a list of things that I do after six months in France that I didn’t guess I’d be doing :)

  • Speak in Franglish. Oh yes. Every day. Putting the noun before the adjective, using overly emotional or odd words to describe simple things. I can’t even think of any specific examples because Franglish is slowly taking over my brain
  • In the same vein, I pepper my English texts and emails with French words kind of naturally now. I write terrasse so often that it took me a couple of tries to find the right spelling for “terrace” (and that still looks wrong now)
  • Pronouncing French colleagues’ names with a French accent even while speaking to Americans (come on, it’s not pretentious, it’s POLITE okay) :P
  • Taking a coffee after lunch every day. Espresso (and saying “taking” instead of “having.” There’s that Franglish)
  • Pouring drinks from bottles/cans into smaller glasses
  • Preferring smaller cups/plates to my giant American glassware. I had some people over one evening and we had ordered some food, and when I brought my plates out I WAS STRAIGHT UP EMBARRASSED. (An American salad plate is the perfect size for a French dinner. An American dinner plate it the perfect size for a French serving platter.)
  • Not batting an eye when someone blows cigarette smoke into my face. Or a child’s. Or lights up while eating a meal on a terrasse. Or noticing really. Or even caring. That’s so Parisian of me.

RISKS AND REWARDS (CARTE DE SEJOUR, PART 2)

The card said Japan.

I was really in the camp of, no one is going to look at it, or notice it, it’s a tiny snag in an otherwise perfectly smooth OFII process (except for the fact that it took two months too long), so let’s just say it’s good as-is and move on with our lives! But my HR rep (rightfully so) wanted to take it back to the prefecture since we were already there, and in case anyone at some point cross-referenced my card with my passport and saw the discrepancy, she didn’t know what kind of trouble that could cause.

So back we went.

The prefecture administrators cut up the card and told me to come back in a month, when they’d have my new card. OPTIMISM DASHED AGAINST THE WALL. A MONTH to reprint a card! And they refused to give me a letter stating that in the system, I was all legit – maybe because it was their mistake that the card had a typo. I don’t know. At any case, I then went on a weeklong journey of the heart and soul to try to determine if it would be a good idea for me to take my holiday to California as planned. So I did what any rational totally normal person would do – I did a situational analysis and drew up the potential solutions and any problems with those solutions. Any time I started to tell my mom, or a friend, or anyone that I decided to NOT take my trip to California, the same questions were always asked – can’t you get a letter? Why can’t you just return with your American passport?

THE SITUATION

  • My work visa is a 3-month visa which expired in June. The purpose was to hold me over until I received an appointment at the immigration office to get my carte de sejour, or residency card. That card then allows me to live in, work in, exit and reenter France as I please. Until I get it, my 3-month visa was only good to allow me to stay in France. (Everyone gets 3-month visas when they move here with a long contract (like I did). So it wasn’t a weird situation)
  • The immigration office took a long time to process my paperwork so my residency card appointment didn’t happen until just last week
  • I went through a two hour ordeal of medical exams, blood work, x-rays, everything at that appointment. I finally received my card and I was so happy
  • We noticed that my place of birth was wrong on the card (it said Japan). So we took it back to the immigration office. They cut it up and told me to come back in a month
  • We fought and argued and cried but it did no good. The card is gone.

THE OPTIONS

1. Leave the country and come back with my American passport, just as you would enter France.

  • Problem with this is that I have an expired visa sticker in there which will raise questions (it’s stuck inside my passport)
  • I can always say that I am a tourist (again, as you would do). I’d be permitted to remain here for 90 days.
    • Problem with this: If they note on my dossier that I returned (so soon after my visa expiration), then I will be working illegally and my company could get in serious trouble with the government
    • This could also create a problem when I go to get my new residency card – if they discover that I’ve left the country and re-entered as a tourist, it could restart the entire process over again
  • And of course there is a chance that they wouldn’t look at my papers at all, and all would be well. But it’s a risk

2. Leave the country, apply for a visa extension from the SF consulate, and come back legally

  • Problem with this is that the SF consulate has no available appointments (I’ve been in touch directly with the woman in charge of my case there). I’d have to go the first day I’m in SF and apply for an emergency appointment. Then they could or could not grant it to me. Then it could still take up to 2 weeks for my extension to be finalized. I am only IN California for 2 weeks so this is no good

3. Leave the country and re-enter with a letter stating that my residency card is in order and that it was the immigration office’s fault that I don’t have it on hand yet

  • Problem with this is that the immigration office refuses to give me documentation about this (probably because the birthplace mistake is their fault)
  • Some friends called in some favors and I have the number of the head of one of the immigration officers (not the one my case is assigned to) who said I could call him from the border if I have any trouble. Frankly this feels really scary because he’s a chief of police in Paris and I just don’t think I could do that
Gray August

My gray August

At the end of the day, I had to assess whether the risk of not being allowed back in my country and putting my job in jeopardy would be worth the risk that the border officials would look at my papers. I hope writing out the situation above at least helps to illustrate how there is so much cause and effect when you’re dealing with work visas, employers, border agents and residency status – you really need to be looking at how each piece will impact the others.

I think there are many people who would’ve made a different decision – probably not worried so much about the potential outcomes – and maybe I will be more relaxed about things like border control in the future. But for now, this is something that I don’t want to mess with. So in Paris I remain. Happy gray August!

BEST-LAID PLANS (CARTE DE SEJOUR, PART 1)

I held the card in my hand.

My carte de sejour… after waiting, blood taking, waiting, chest x-rays, waiting, medical interview, waiting, paper-signing and stamp-sticking, the woman behind the administrative desk handed me my carte de sejour. It was beautiful – my unsmiling photo laminated behind thick plastic, green and purple gradients with holograms flanking a microchip on the front, declaring that I was really, truly, legally a resident of France. For at least the next year. The card that would allow me to return to California for a much-needed reprieve from expat life, to see my dear friends and loved ones, to spend some time in Napa sunshine and San Francisco fog and Los Angeles smog, via my flight that was leaving in a week.

And then it was taken away. Ripped from my hands. Cut into pieces. And I was told to come back in a month to get my new one.

Okay, let me back up.

The OFII appointment went great, really. Again, I was entirely overprepared with the list of paperwork that I noted in my previous post. I am convinced though that when I was brandishing my pink accordion folder in the lines and waiting rooms, the administrators decided that I LOOKED prepared and nervous enough, so it sufficed enough for them not to ask me for my papers at all. That’s right – they didn’t glance at a thing except my passport. I give a lot of credit to my HR department for this, because they pre-filed a lot of the paperwork and my photos as well. Anyway, I arrived with my HR rep at 8:30 for my 9:00 AM appointment, we waited in line with a few others, then when they opened the office doors they wouldn’t let her come in with me despite our best attempts to convince the greeter that I don’t speak any French. When I got up to the medical exam waiting room there were other people of multi ethnicities (like me) there, but I am convinced most of them spoke French much better than I. Regardless, the exams went fine – after waiting for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, I was ushered into a room where my height and weight were recorded, the nurse had me cover each eye and read off of a letters chart (remember you have to recite the letters in French! So “E” is “uh” and “I” is “ee!”) and also had me read a couple of French sentences close-up. Then she took a blood sample (ow) and sent me back to the waiting room. After another fifteen or twenty minutes I was called to wait in a narrow corridor for one of three tiny rooms to open up. Then I was to go in to one of the tiny rooms, disrobe from the waist up (leave your inhibitions in America) and go through the room to the x-ray machine. Take a deep breath, click click click, back to the waiting room. Twenty more minutes. Then a kind doctor ushered me into his office where he asked me questions (in English!) about my medical history, family history, we looked at my x-ray, and he smilingly stamped a paper saying I am a-ok to live in France. Back I go to the admin desk, she stamps some more papers, then I wait in another line for the other admin to pull up my papers (so many papers) where I saw the shiny glint of my already-ready carte de sejour.

I smiled so big when she gave it to me, that she smiled too. Not a common sight in French offices ;)

I took the card outside to my HR rep and we looked at it carefully to make sure that everything was in order. I turned the card around and it said, next to Birthplace… JAPAN.

Well, crap.

To be continued…

So close… but so far

CARTE DE PREPARATION. PAPERWORK DE SEJOUR!

Life has been peaceful, mellow – summer in France really is what everyone says, that is, everyone jets off on holiday for most of August and the métro is blissfully uncrowded and offices are quiet, Outlook auto-replies appearing by the fistful. Entire businesses close down. “Where are Elisabeth and Sam? Oh they’re on holiday. They’re in Moscow for the next three weeks. And Marine and Mathieu are in the south of France until September. Oh, Sophie? She is visiting her parents in Brittany. Back in two weeks.” It’s magical. I really didn’t know August would be like this, such a lovely “expected” time for vacations, so it was lucky that I was invited to a friend’s wedding in San Francisco for Labor Day weekend. I get to have my own little August jaunt too, only all the way to California, not to Bali or Provence or Rome. But there’s always next year ;)

To OFII with love

Anyway, in the languid sunny breezes of summer I’d almost forgotten about my immigration status, that is, I am pretty much a squatter until my carte de sejour is processed. When I received my visa from the San Francisco consulate, it was valid for three months, because the idea was that you apply for and receive your carte (residency card) within those three months. Yeah right. It expired back in June and since then I’ve had to cancel two inter-European trips because I would not be allowed back in the country with an expired visa – I’d have been deported back to the States and would have had to reapply for another three-month visa. No thanks, no way. I definitely wondered why I couldn’t just re-enter France with my American passport and say I’m coming back in for a holiday. The trick is that the visa that is stickered inside my passport is the thing that is expired, and it would be playing  a dangerous game of “is the border agent paying attention today.” So rather than take the risk (which I calculated with my HR department, I should add), Barcelona and Stockholm were canceled until further notice.

So why has it taken so long for me to get my carte de sejour? I don’t have an answer for that. But anyway after HR sends in a few forms (side note: we had originally filled the forms out in blue pen. A week after HR sent them to the immigration office, they called saying we needed to resubmit them… in black pen. So, I guess that’s why it’s taken so long… dumb shit like that) before the OFII grants me an appointment at a Préfecture in an assigned arrondissment . Now I’ve read blogs that say you need to just show up at the crack of dawn before the préfectures only take 50 appointments a day, etc. etc., but I have a paper saying I need to be at the préfecture in the 12th tomorrow at 9:00 am so I’m just counting my blessings I guess.

Now before I continue with this I need to give you the #1 most important, and terribly annoying piece of advice for immigrating to France. Advice so obnoxious that if I read it before I made my move I would’ve rolled my eyes so hard that they would’ve fallen out of my head, before deleting this blog from my readers and bookmarks and silently telling the writer to go eff herself. But since this blog is the story of how I am figuring out my shit in France, I need to be honest with you. And I am sorry in advance. But the most important thing I did that is helping me navigate the labyrinthian process of immigration is… I got a French boyfriend. Who has experiences dealing with immigration to France. No kidding. After we looked at the email that my HR department sent me to finally confirm my appointment (for tomorrow!) we realized that there was a lot of information missing… I revisited my favorite blog entry from The Haute Housewife and found time to get all of this paperwork together. What’s more, is that he found a checklist from the prefecture and translated all of the requirements for me. See what I mean? Indispensable! He also kindly accompanied me to a tabac kiosk where I could purchase those weird stamps that you need to buy to pay for things like passport renewals, parking tickets, and residency cards. I don’t know the rhyme or reason but I was told to purchase two batches: one for 19 € and another for 241 €. While he chatted with the tabac clerk in French I was just so, so grateful to have his help, because it strikes me how helpless I would be without French or with just my basic rudimentary French when trying to do things like purchase weird stamps in weird denominations and decipher weirdly formatted lists of all the ridiculous paperwork I need to have with me. (Two copies PLUS the originals!) So yeah – that’s really lame advice, and I don’t really have any advice on how to GET a French boyfriend, but maybe it will happen to you like it did to me. A blog post for another time, though. :)

Paperwork requirements, translated from a loving hand

Paperwork requirements, translated from a loving hand

Here’s a list of all the paperwork I’ve prepared for my appointment tomorrow. Thankfully also, a member of the HR team is coming with me to the appointment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – how fortunate I am to have the backing of my marvelous company to help me make this move!

OFII PAPERWORK (compiled from the list from the OFII website, as well as various blogs recounting because the OFII site couldn’t possibly be complete ;)

  1. Appointment confirmation from the OFII
  2. Passport
  3. Visa page from passport 
  4. Each passport page with entry/exit stamps on it
  5. Birth certificate
  6. International Assignment letter from my SF HR
  7. Attestation d’emploi
  8. Guichet unique (this is a special letter I received from the OFII stating that my carte de sejour application was in process, so I am allowed to reside and work in France for now but it wouldn’t be enough to let me back in the country if I left)
  9.   Demande d’autorisation de travail (this is that document with your picture on it)
  10. All of my electricity bills (they want 3 months’ worth but I only have one)
  11. All of my landline/internet/cable bills (same – they want 3 months, I’ve only had service for two) – these are to prove your address
  12. Rent receipts for the past three months (I just printed out my wire transfer confirmations from my bank)
  13. My rental agreement (just in case)
  14. Two self-addressed stamped envelopes
  15. Four UNCUT ID photos, neutral expression
  16. A packet of stamps for 241 €
  17. A packet of stamps for 19 €
  18. The receipt from the stamps (Boyfriend said they could ask me for proof of payment for them! WAT!)

I think I have papers in there that are not required, but I’d rather go for ALL then risk missing something and having to make another appointment. My trip to California is just next week and I can’t wait to have that carte de sejour in my hot little hands so that my trip will really just be a holiday – because I’ll be a legitimate resident of France. Stay tuned for how the actual appointment goes and wish me luck…!

Quick shoutout to blogs that helped me compile my list! Thank you so much!

and a note to say that my Frenchman is indispensable for so much more than just immigration and language help too, of course :) <3

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (AND FIND ME)

The top three questions people ask me:

  1. What brought you to Paris?
  2. How long are you staying?
  3. Did you come with someone?!?!

I acknowledge that it’s daunting to imaging moving across the world without a boyfriend or a husband. And I acknowledge that I was, indeed, daunted. I was looking through my French lessons notebook and came across something I wrote when I had just arrived in Paris that spoke to this, and I want to share it here.

72 HOURS IN PARIS April 1, 2014

It’s only been a couple of days and already I’ve learned a few things about myself.

In all my thirty two years, I don’t think I’ve ever said this definitively: I like who I am. A few times along this journey I’d stop and say to myself how good it is that this experience is happening now and not five years ago, when I was a girl in transition, saddled with so much self-doubt and indecision about what I wanted my life to look like, that just spending an evening at home alone seemed like an exhausting and anxiety-inducing prospect. Maybe it was a function of modern life ennui, maybe it was indecision fraught with options, maybe it was depression, but whatever it was, it wasn’t conducive to being comfortable in my seat and in my place in the world.

When you’re undertaking a huge move and life change by yourself, you’re going to be by yourself. A lot. If you don’t genuinely feel okay with yourself – and generally enjoy spending time with yourself – you’re gonna have a bad time. And there is something so much more reflective about this particular experience of moving to a foreign country than your general traveling jags. You’re making big decisions, saying emotional goodbyes. Taking stock of your things and your memories and your next steps and what you want your days to look like. At the end of the hallway, the turn of the boulevard, the top of the jetway – there’s no one consistently there for you but you. In my readings of expat wife blogs and speaking with married expats a common theme was about how much closer – sometimes surprisingly so – the expat experience brought couples together, and I’d not be completely honest if I didn’t admit that there were times that I called a friend in tears or texted my mom at two in the morning because why should I have to go through this alone? No one to split up the paperwork with, confer with about the tough decisions, pick out a neighborhood with, learn the local scene with, work through this horrendous jetlag with…

But what I wasn’t expecting was how much this experience would get me to value myself more. When I stammer in front of a shopkeep I can giggle it off sheepishly and try again. When I’m on day 2 of my anticipated 9-day jet lag, I calmly buy myself two giant bottles of water and shut the drapes, no guilt and no stress. When I couldn’t get my key to work in my corporate housing with  my three suitcases and the fog of nine timezones weighing in my brain, I go into problem-solve mode and get myself to a hotel. When waiters respond to my French in English, I keep on trucking and continue to reply in French. Not only that, but I’ve been able to rely on my friends and loved ones in ways that I never thought I would before. Being with me to help me settle in and find the perfect apartment, keeping a steady 24-hour stream of Whatsapp messages, exchanging dashed-off emails with life updates, furrowed-brow timezone conversions to find a good time to Hangout or FaceTime – this move has made me appreciate all of them, all of you, so much more than I thought I could before. (I love you!)

 This move has made me feel: brave, smart, desired, capable, adaptable, resilient, good-natured, open, interested, and most of all, happy. And I love all of those things about myself now. And you know what? I know someone else is going to love those things about me, too, soon. ;)

Paris has already given me so much, but not least of all it’s given me the ability to be proud of the person that I am. For that, and regardless of how long this experience lasts and what future hoops await my jump-throughs, I am grateful to the very core of my being. Life is better on this side of the mirror.

pdv

Life is a canopy of leaves in Places des Vosges

DIM CORNERS

Moving abroad has made me face some truths about myself. It’s true that to be an expat, you have to put yourself into perpetual uncomfortableness. I don’t miss San Francisco but I miss my ocean breezes when I’m sitting in a non-ac’d office or scrunched into a metro seat with the windows all shut. I don’t venture too far from my tried and true lunch spots because I have my order down in French in those spots, very specifically, and the thought of ordering somewhere new without being wrapped up in a crochet of colleagues seems like a little too much bravery for a weekday. Being social is another thing – I’ve cultivated my Stranger Danger carefully and thoughtfully, I can be outgoing when I need to be but it’s always been hard for me to operate without an anchor in unfamiliar places and situations. But striking out on my own has been the most amazing and liberating thing, and the people I have met who responded to that have been an absolute blessing.  A lot of it is just the fact that I made this move happen, and I am living here, and just going for it, and I’m proud of that fact and that fact helps me face those other dim corners that aren’t life-ruining in any way, but still keep that perpetual uncomfortableness going, that little scratchy feeling that you are never sitting quite pat in the middle of your box.

The language lessons have been another bit of uncomfortable. I really, really sucked in high school Latin and those old feelings of frustration and futility bubble up every Monday afternoon when I drag myself to my tutoring sessions. I finally spoke up today, confessed to my tutor that I think we are going too fast and I really need to slow it down a little to grasp what the hell is going on, something that was NOT easy for me to admit out loud. No one likes to feel unintelligent but if you ever have a hankering to know what it’s like just take a foreign language class. The fact that I either didn’t learn or don’t remember learning English in an organized fashion, with past participles and subjunctives and possessives and blah blah blah doesn’t help me feel any better about it either. The French language education system is very formalized and requires a basic understanding of the underlying rules of grammar, and what I explained to a friend is that while I have a superior grasp of English grammar I absolutely do not know HOW it all works. Anyway, we had a come-to-Jesus talk and he told me I really need to start forcing myself to speak more French during the day, and he wants me to watch an hour of French TV a night which HONESTLY sounds like torture even though I really want to learn.

With all of the wonderful French people in my life now, they’ve all been so willing and eager to help me that I think at the end of the day it will all be ok. I’m trying to trust in the power of my brain, conscious and unconscious, to let everything settle in there in sweeps of conjugations and sparkling liaisons and hoping that one day, I too will have my Bart Simpson moment.

The_Crepes_of_Wrath_(286)

SECURITY IS AN EXACTLY EIGHT-TO-NINE CHARACTER PASSWORD

I tried to get my bank relationship manager to help me set up a wire transfer so I could finally pay my rent directly in euros. (I’d been doing wire transfers through my American bank and it was costing me a second small fortune [the first being the rent itself, obviously] from fees). It took THREE WEEKS for her to finally give me all the information, that she doled out in tiny bits and pieces like a sadistic Pavlov. Here was how the whole process was finally revealed to me.

NOTE: I can’t speak for all banks when I say this is the French process. I’ve only ever experienced one bank in France.

1. Set up Online Banking with a username (a randomly assigned 9-digit number that you cannot change) and a password (very strict password guidelines – 8 or 9 characters only, must be a combination of letters and numbers).

2. Log in with your username and password. It also asks you for a secret code that you created during signup (yes, a second password). Note it will ask you for a random combination of letters from your password (like, “enter the 3rd, 7th and 9th characters of your password) that changes everytime you log in.

3. Open your smartphone app (yes, to access online banking on your PC browser). Generate a secure key number through the app. To do this, you must log in with your mobile credentials (different from your Online Banking credentials, but same rigmarole). Same username (9-digit number) but a different password. It asks you for a random combination of the password characters. It cannot be the same password you use in online banking. It will reject it. It checks. I tried.

If like me, you initially set up all your shit with your American cell phone because you RIDICULOUSLY assumed that the app was tied to your username information and not your actual PHONE NUMBER, there is a form and three customer service phone numbers that  I went through before finally being able to change the number. Because once you’ve registered a phone, it will ONLY generate the keys on that ONE device. Joke’s on me, turning off my American cell phone plan like I was planning on living here long-term or something.

4. Generate the secure key number. Write it down and go back to your PC. Input the secure key.

5. It is now literally eight hours later. You are logged in and ready to pay your goddamn rent.

I’ve never had to jump through so many hoops to access my account EVERY TIME. Nor have I ever been assigned an unchangeable username or password, which actually has happened a few times here (once with this bank, another with my online credentials for my Internet provider account, yet another with my mobile provider account). Convenient, it isn’t, but secure, I guess it must be. Since I can barely crack my own codes most of the time.

SENATUS POPULUSQUE PARISII

I got home at 20h tonight and I didn’t want to go out. Sure, France was playing Ecuador in the World Cup, and a friend of a college friend whom I had met once during my first week in Paris suggested taking an apéro before maybe catching some of the game, if we felt, but it has already been a long week and I was tired. I’ve made some lovely Parisian friends, good enough that we’re even taking a holiday to Spain next month all together, but after blobbing it on my imported-from-America-via-my-French-window sofa for ten minutes, I remembered that just having three or four good acquaintances doesn’t make a WHOLE life. So I swiped on some lipstick and struck back out into the slowly fading evening light, tomorrow’s morning meetings already in the front of my mind.

I met the friend and her friend standing on the corner of a triangle block among brick buildings with green leafed terrasses blowing seductively in the subtle breeze. Double cheek bises and we’re off to find a cafe. We sit, the two (who are good friends) catching up, filling me in on a story or two, as the sun goes down and tiny 35cl bottles of rosé are shared. Between the three of us, we speak four languages (if not more), have lived in five countries, and were not shy about sharing experiences and perspectives. The friend of a friend tells us about her plans to go to Kenya for two months to work in an orphanage, in between trips to Japan and Italy to visit her and her boyfriend’s family. I’m sure it’s not a typical TripIt agenda, but it fit her quite well.

I asked the one who has lived in New Zealand a little ashamedly what the cuisine was like there (because frankly I never really thought about it) and she told me a lovely story about her going-away party when she moved to France, when the whole neighborhood came out for a traditional Maori pit cook, where they dug a hole in the ground and covered meat with ferns and roasted it in the hole until it was done. “Didn’t that take a million years?” I asked in my trademark hyperbole, and she laughed and said yes, it did, but it was so worth it.

Later in the evening we meet up with a Belgian, an American who has lived in Italy and France, his French girlfriend who has lived in Italy, myself the American expat in Paris, and the New Zealander Brit who’s lived in Paris for 6 years. So many languages, so many experiences, so many cultures all around one table. And they explained to me finally why the USA team tying in their last game was both a good AND bad thing.

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Something I’ve struggled with repeatedly during my moves cross-country, cross-state and now cross-planet is the bald fact that I leave my people. Your family and friends, the ones you made through work and through other friends and through god knows what else, who you share housewarming and birthday parties with, weekenders to Palm Springs and Santa Barbara with, gossip about work colleagues from a decade ago with, issues from your day at work with, are people that you leave when you move. I don’t think that anyone has asked me this question point-blank but the thing I nevertheless ask myself is, why do I need to leave? Why is being with them not enough? It’s one of the emotional issues that any expat must face, hell, anyone who moves cities after a year or two or six must face, and other than deciding you’re selfish, there’s no satisfactory answer.

Except for the one I found tonight. As I walked home after goodbye double bises (always with the bises!) with the same gentle nighttime breeze swaying terrasse ferns that I couldn’t see also blowing through my hair, dodging French World Cup supporters in confused states of sober/drunkenness from their tie game, I was so excited to text one of my bests in SF and tell her about my night. I am so much more interested in the world, having spent an evening with these people. I have gained some their perspectives and I have shared mine. I feel expanded.

It’s not that the people in my life before I moved to Paris weren’t interesting enough. It’s was me, who wasn’t interesting to myself — or more accurately, interested in the world — enough to feel like I deserved them. I’m so glad to have more to share now. More insight into the world and more stories to tell them. Making more reasons for them to come to visit. Making myself feel like a more interested participant in this world.

Expansion hurts a little as the seams swell. But so far, it’s felt good. And by the way – my meetings tomorrow will go just fine of course :)

HIATUS NO MORE

I locked down this blog for a while because I didn’t have time to devote to it and it was starting to feel like an unnecessary exercise. I’ve discovered that a lot of the fun, for me, has been just figuring things out as I went along, day to day. Plus I felt guilty if I would devote some time to this blog, and not to the tiny but significant stack of personal emails that friends and colleagues have been sending me to check in and get the latest. “Go read my blog!” is like the dickiest thing you can say after “Google it!” (wink to CA ;)) ya know? But I came home tonight to a beautiful package of handwritten letters from a dear friend in which she mentioned that she was enjoying following along this journey with me here, and I realized that I don’t have to treat this as a “how-to” manual. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 2.5 months here (insert emoji here that somehow conveys ‘is that it?!’ and ‘already?!’ simultaneously) is that you can prepare or you can sleep through the process, and either way there’s no predicting how things will turn out.

So, I’m back!

Here is a quick rundown of my expat life in France, to date.

FOURTH TIME’S A CHARM FOR HOME INTERNET

It took four – yes, FOUR – tries to get the technician to come and install my home Internet. The first time, I didn’t have my French mobile number yet, so the technician hung around outside for a minute and gave up. The second time, they didn’t have my door access code. The third time, we had some success as in the guy actually made it to my flat, but then it turned out the network was down on my block (?) We communicated with each other by passing my laptop back and forth on the couch typing into Google Translate (because IT IS A LIE THAT EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH IN PARIS! See next point!) which was actually really cute because after he (sort of) explained what was going on he typed in “vous êtes charmante” and I blushed and pretended not to see it – I NEEDED INTERNET, NOT A BOYFRIEND. Priorities! Anyway the fourth time, we got it right, and now I am the proud owner of a BLAZING fast Internet connection, cable TV with DVR, AND a landline all for the low introductory price of 32 € a month (less than $45). Brilliant!

NOT EVERYBODY SPEAKS ENGLISH IN PARIS. GET OVER IT

Okay, listen. If you come to Paris and only do touristy slash vacationy things – ergo, eat at restaurants, buy a baguette from a street vendor, order an apéro at a fancy cocktail bar, go to the Louvre – you will be 100% fine in only English. But once you start to have to do real-life shit – like, say, ask where the trash bags are at the grocery store (I asked for the “bags of trash” instead of “trash bags” but at least I gave the clerk a chuckle, and in writing this out only NOW did I realize what I had actually been asking for, oh god that is so embarrassing), or deal with any kind of customer service, or go anywhere off the beaten tourist path, it won’t be enough. Seriously.

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Not everyone speaks English. But why should they?

I could not reschedule those technician appointments. Online, they tell you you have to call customer service. (Which by the way is NOT a free call in France! In fact, you have to pay, it’s like a 1-900 number. Totally blew my mind) I call customer service, say veeeery politely in the best accent I can muster, that I don’t speak French, do you speak English perchance? Cue flustered stammering and finally a “non,” and then continuing in French. I went to a mobile carrier’s shop to see about a SIM card and they did not speak English. My housekeeper (don’t hate, she came with the rent and I ain’t saying no to that) does not speak English. We communicate in French via text wherein I copy/paste directly from Google Translate. And here’s the real kicker – even at work, where everyone speaks lovely English, sometimes after a long day in a big meeting they will look at me wearily and say, “Is it okay if we continue in French, please?” and I rush to say of course, no problem, I’ll get the download from someone else later, and I gather up my notebooks and laptop and scuttle out of the room like I just got called to the principal’s office. Not super fun.

This is not to scare you. Well maybe a little. Just all that nonsense about “ough eeeeeeeveryone in Paris speaks English!” is simply untrue. I got an email today about my French tutor having to postpone our lesson today – and, god, it was in French.

EVERYTHING ELSE IS AMAZING

Because like I said, it’s been an adventure figuring out all of these quirks. I am extremely, insanely fortunate to have so much support, help, guidance and patience, that nothing so far has been catastrophic, so there’s that. But Paris has been really fun – remind me to tell you about the nights that everyone in this entire city stays out until the sun comes up, and make friends with each other easily, and have been so kind and welcoming. The people so far have been the best part about this place – and, like the English thing, the stereotype that Parisians suck is simply not true. They suck as much as San Franciscans, and that’s to say, just don’t surround yourself with sucky people and you will be fine no matter where you go.

But that’s an entry for another time. Bisous!

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GET TO WORK

I’ve been working in Paris for exactly one month! The start of things is always lovely because each of these little milestones is something to celebrate, and they all feel significant.

It’s been a whirlwind month already packed with plenty of ups and downs. I came in to it confident but without a chip on my shoulder (not a big one, anyway…) with all of the sage advices that friends and colleagues bestowed upon me firmly top of mind. The two key pieces – and get ready for some seriously counterintuitive stuff here, but stay with me – were to one, not overstep my boundaries and overtake initiative, and two, to not be too attached to outcomes.

I’m going to reiterate a previous post here in saying that I was honestly incapable of following that advice in my twenties. But! Your twenties are no time to feel disattached to outcomes nor to not take wildly unbridled leaps of confidence and to test boundaries to their limits. But I am glad I got that (mostly) out of my system and was able to develop a semblance of self-confidence in my professional life, because I don’t need to do those things anymore to feel fulfilled and successful. But I digress.

Before I left SF I expressed to a good friend how nervous I was that my future bosses did not seem super excited on me (based on barely anything, I will admit now) and he said, sagely, that sometimes in life you will encounter people who will not remain impressed by your gilded laurels, past accomplishments and your reputation, but that they’d rather be nonplussed until you proved yourself to them directly (thanks RPP). This was the third piece of advice that I kept in mind, too. You are entering not just a new overall culture when you move abroad – but to a new working culture where expectations and measures of success could be different. It’s not that my accomplishments in the SF office didn’t mean something to them – obviously they did because they gave me the job – but I then saw it as a unique challenge to prove that I could be just as good in an entirely different environment.

All that said, this month had its trials and tribulations all the same. By the end of my first week I was seriously in a panic spiral – they moved me clear across the planet just to be an ENGLISH PROOFREADER! And they’re going to realize it REAL SOON and kick me to the curb faster than I can Google Translate the French word for curb! And I think that panic was more pronounced than it would have been at any other “new job” because – THEY MOVED ME CLEAR ACROSS THE PLANET. My walks to work among ancient chateaus, my beautiful apartment situated in the perfect part of town, the bottles of rosé on boats with new friends, the adorably awkward moments when I say the title of a pop song out loud wonderingly to consider it for a marketing asset and my coworker says, “I Need Your Love, too, Lisa,” while the French guys around us giggle, I would have NONE OF THAT if not for this job! AND THEY DON’T REALLY NEED ME!

I’ll admit there were (just a couple) sleepless nights, and (more than a couple) stress dreams, and more moments of doubt in my waking hours than I’d care to list. But as the days went on and I got into a groove, that ol’ confidence started coming back, new situations in which I could step up presented themselves, and I fell back on the times that I’d faced similar situations BUT I did things differently this time… and now things are starting to feel much, much better.

It’s not that there aren’t more challenges on the horizon, that I’m not going to fuck up (hopefully never too badly) and drop one of these hundreds of balls that I suddenly have in their. But I am starting to understand that in this work culture (and honestly, this applies anywhere in the world I think), there are many players on the field. I will do what I can to get something to where I know it should be, but the reality is that there is never going to be just ONE person taking the ball to the finish line. We will all be sprinting full speed, our outstretched fingers overextending their bones to feel a piece of that pigskin as we cross the goal posts. I’ve decided it’s enough of a privilege to just have a corner of my fingerprint on it, having pushed it just a little further, because it has and will make a difference when it finally gets hurtled to the ground in a triumphant goal. And how’s that for a sports metaphor?!

Work, as in life overall, is made up of many micro decisions that lead to what is hopefully a desirable outcome. Wanting to have the power of a sole decision-maker is, in my opinion, too self-serving and self-defeating of a desire to reasonably have. If my month working in France has taught me anything about work and life, it’s to be conscientious and proud of what I can control, and to go home and drink a little Sancerre and eat a few snails when I get to the point where my decisions are no longer final say. CEO I ain’t, but fulfilled — I am. And CEOs have to worry about what the shareholders say, anyway. :)